Tories lose boundary review vote, Lib Dems vote against Coalition partners for first time

The Boundary Commissions - book coverThe BBC reports this afternoon’s vote:

Plans to redraw constituency boundaries before 2015, backed by the Tories, have been defeated in the House of Commons. MPs voted by 334 to 292 to accept changes made by peers, meaning the planned constituency shake-up will be postponed until 2018 at the earliest. It was the first time Lib Dem ministers have voted against their Conservative coalition colleagues in the Commons. The two parties have been in dispute since proposed elections to the House of Lords were dropped last year.

I think I’ve probably said all I want to say on this issue before…

… Here: Constituency boundary changes are dead.* Unlike the House of Lords.* (14 January 2013)

Wholesale boundary review threatened one of the major factors which may see Lib Dem MPs successfully defend their seats at the next election: incumbency based on existing constituency boundaries. While Lords reform was a reality that was a trade-off the party was — with real reluctance — prepared to concede. No longer.

As a result, constituency sizes (and therefore individual votes) will become increasingly unequal. That’s bad for democracy. But so too is the perpetuation of an unreformed House of Lords against the promise of all three parties at the last election, and the two governing parties in our Coalition Agreement. I don’t think either the Lib Dems or Tories comes out of this particularly well, and even if “they did start it” — that’s rarely a pretty or successful argument with the public.

And here: The Coalition Agreement does not commit Lib Dems to supporting boundary changes (5 Aug 2012)

My best guess of what will happen next is this: Lords reform will fall and the boundary changes will fall in due course. Neither event is good for democracy. The public should be able to elect those who make the laws we all have to live by; and the public should expect their vote to be worth the same no matter where they live. Political machinations have brought us to where we are, and it’s not pretty to watch… let alone be part of.

* Stephen was Editor (and Co-Editor) of Liberal Democrat Voice from 2007 to 2015, and writes at The Collected Stephen Tall.

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  • “Lib Dems vote against Government” – but we’re part of the Government. We can’t all against something that we are an intrinsic part of.

    The Leader of the House made it clear that there was no agreed Government position on this vote.

  • Tony Greaves 29th Jan '13 - 7:23pm

    Typical LDV to get a wholly wrong headline. The Liberal Democrat MPs voted, gloriously, against the Tories, not against he Government.

    But Coalition fanatics might not notice the difference.

    Tony Greaves

  • @ Duncan Stott – Thanks for pointing out, have amended the headline.

  • Stephen: but in the url it’s there for perpetuity 😛

  • @ Jennie – Pah.

  • Nick (not Clegg) 29th Jan '13 - 8:03pm

    Is my recollection correct that Nick Clegg’s role, as Deputy Prime Minister, was to be in charge of constitutional reform? So what is he doing now that there isn’t going to be any?

  • It is perhaps a tad disappointing that the first split vote within the Coalition is about something which the electorate may not see as being significant or bearing directly upon their own plight. Even more so that it is a vote where the official reason for voting is that it is a counter ‘ for the Tories’ behaviour in another vote.

  • Nick, at least he is making sure that the electoral system is not less representative than it was before this government came to office, which is what would have happened. Reducing the number of constituencies under FPTP only makes the unfair voting mechanism more unfair.

    Of course he could try to push to allow local government to choose its own preferred voting system, but this was not in the coalition agreement so I doubt it would get anywhere at all. The other area that could do with improvement is the system used for European elections. Perhaps he could find traction by arguing the need to address the so called ‘democratic deficit’ (a phrase that rings rather hollow in the UK).

  • So, OK Martin, what exactly is the democratic deficit in the EU? Are you referring to the Closed List system of election currently used, and how totally alien to British political culture it is? And how it would be much better to have STV? You and I might see that as a great improvement, but I can tell you that would have no “traction” either with the overbearing media, or, therefore, with the public. Or do you mean more power for the Euro Parliament, and less for Council of Ministers? That would go down like a lead ballon with the Mail and the Express. But those are practical ways of addressing the “deficit”.

  • This was bound to happen after the onslaught inflicted by Conservatives during the referendum campaign on AV which meant the loss of a far fairer voting system than the one we’re still left with at Westminster.
    So it wasn’t just the abandonment of Lords’ reform that saw the Conservatives’ attempt to redraw boundaries doomed until after the next election, which they may have just lost.
    The irony of the fact that the scuppering of Lords’ reform meant that “the great, the good, the wise”, in the words of former hereditary peer John Thurso, had been able to produced these amendments scuppering the boundary changes seemed completely to have escaped our coalition partners and was a joy to behold.

  • Para 3 *produced* to read produce. Dash!

  • Tim13 – Well, yes. However I do think that there could be traction in arguing for a voting system that could lead to improved MEP recognition (I am not holding my breath though).

  • Peter Watson 30th Jan '13 - 7:56am

    @Tony Dawson “It is perhaps a tad disappointing that the first split vote within the Coalition is about something which the electorate may not see as being significant or bearing directly upon their own plight.”
    Especially since there are plenty of quotes by Clegg about the benefits of the boundary review that allow this to be used as evidence that Lib Dems can’t hold a consistent position on issues. That narrative (tuition fees anyone?) could damage the party’s reputation in the longer term.

    I understand the arguments against reducing the size of the Commons (relative power of executive, representation under first-past-the-post and unreformed Lords), and I also understand the arguments originally put forward by Clegg in favour of it (e.g. fairness, cost). But can anybody point me to the first time a senior Lib Dem (bonus points if it’s Clegg) explicitly linked boundary reform to Lords reform as a package; was it before or after the failure of the latter?

  • Malcolm Brown 30th Jan '13 - 9:10am

    I am Chair of the Local Party in St Austell and Newquay and am profoundly relieved that the parliamentary boundary review has been killed off. Quite apart from all the broader arguments, this would have resulted in a constituency straddling the Cornwall-Devon border. That may not appear significant to people in metropolitan areas but generated deep opposition here. The party has been very naive and foolish in failing to take into account the impact of what it does in Government on heartland areas , of which Cornwall is probably the heartiest (remember the pasty tax furore!). I sincerely hope the criteria behind the failed review have been killed off, not just deferred to the next Parliament and that, if we are in this position again, our national leadership gets proper advice on the likely consequences of the application of statistical and other criteria to electoral reviews so that we do not get into another mess like this again.

  • “Within this Coalition there is a fight between the Tory right and the Liberal Democrats to get their way. When the Tory right decided to break the Coalition agreement on House of Lords reform, then the Liberal Democrats had to retaliate – what else could they do?”

    Perhaps they could have chosen a different policy to rebel on – something they hadn’t previously earnestly assured us was a good thing in itself. Though, admittedly, since they have been pretending (I hope) they agree with all the other Tory stuff in the government’s programme, it might have been hard to identify such a policy.

  • jbt You will know that the UK only took part in actual Euro elections from 1979 (IIRC), presumably for that reason – or that the British Govt saw it like that. The point about that defeatism is that we will never move forward WITHOUT a democratic deficit unless we develop the democratic strand of the EU (and other international organisations, too). I am sure you would acknowledge that the right wing media use jingoism as a tool to try to encourage people to vote against things they personally don’t want, even if many people would say a development is in the common interest.

    Martin – the difficulty with MEP recognition – and I agree wholeheartedly with you on the need for it – is that if we want both a proportional system, and one that delivers greater MEP recognition, we need an acceptance by the media and the public of the concept of Regions in England. We saw, even in the North East, supposedly the region with the greatest agreement on boundaries and coherence, the massive rejection of representation at regional level in John Prescott’s referendum. Speaking personally, I feel that List systems are alien to British political culture, and I was opposed from the moment the closed list system was recommended by the Labour Government. I thought at the time that Labour had brought it in to “prove” to the electorate how damaging PR is!

    When we analyse what is going on, with referenda on voting issues, you can see that it is probably linked with the widespread distrust of groups of politicians, and especially political parties – since the expenses affair, of course, this has intensified, especially the “They’re all in it for themselves” agenda. I am very pessimistic about managing to turn this around since, IMO, Leveson failed to take the right wing media on on political bias and misrepresentation. He had every opportunity to make a big issue of their bullying of parties and politicians if they step out of line on particular ideological approaches. So, on the one hand, he let off the likes of Jeremy Hunt and Cameron, with barely a caution, on the other he allowed News International and other owners the space to continue political bullying, when and where they like. There’s some evidence this is back in action even now.

  • This was something the Tories well deserved. They know only too well the reasons for last night’s outcome – they were arrogant enought when they voted down Lord’s reform and laughed off the LibDem promise of ‘consequences’. The Tory Party is no longer laughing. And this is for them, very bad news electorally. They just have to grow up and get over it. I have to give credit to Mr Clegg (for once). BUT, for me it is far too late. If only he had shown the same determination over Fees, The Cuts, the commercialisation of the NHS , EMA, cutting taxes for the wealthy, Osborne and his crasy economics…… and now his (very predictable) rejection of state education. It is because of him that the LibDems will not get my vote again. I am truly sorry for the what the LibDem Party has become.

  • David Allen 30th Jan '13 - 6:25pm

    Well – You heard it here first! There were, in fact, good reasons of principle as well as pragmatism to reject the Tories’ unnatural boundaries. We should all celebrate having done so.

  • Tony Dawson 30th Jan '13 - 7:31pm

    @Chris :

    “Perhaps they could have chosen a different policy to rebel on – something they hadn’t previously earnestly assured us was a good thing in itself.”

    Of course, the problem was that the Lib Dem leadership initially, rather naively, assumed that the reduction in parliamentary seat numbers would be contextualised, in the next General Election and beyond, by the ‘automatic’ counterbalance of the introduction of AV and Lords reform, both of which would reduce the ability of an unrepresentative executive, supported by a minority of the electorate, most elections (ie when there is no fluke denying one or other minorities a majority) . All we needed was a fair and rational AV referendum campaign, conducted by persons of some ability when it comes to elections. Instead, we ended up with in 90 per cent of the country holding an effective referendum on the popularity or otherwise of Nick Clegg, conducted by a band of geeky intellectuals, with the results we all know.

    There is one aspect of FPTP elections which is rarely faced up to and which lurks behind any concept of reducing parliamentary constituency numbers. That is that the election result is determined largely by the distribution of housing types and demography rather than the pure preference of the electorate. The more homogeneous the constituencies, the greater the distortions. The fewe constituencies, the greater the distortions also.

  • Tony Dawson “Lib Dem leadership initially, rather naively”

    The more I see of the Lib Dem leadership, the more I see naivety and a touching faith that others will ‘play fair’. And through this naivety, the chance to reform the voting system etc has been lost for a generation at least. On another thread someone made the point that when you have lost the trust of the electorate everything you later say will be tainted by that distrust. As you say, the AV Referendum became about Nick Clegg.

  • “Of course, the problem was that the Lib Dem leadership initially, rather naively, assumed that the reduction in parliamentary seat numbers would be contextualised, in the next General Election and beyond, by the ‘automatic’ counterbalance of the introduction of AV and Lords reform, both of which would reduce the ability of an unrepresentative executive, supported by a minority of the electorate, most elections (ie when there is no fluke denying one or other minorities a majority).”

    Call me cynical, but if the Lib Dem leadership was acting on the (foolhardy) assumption that there would be AV for the Commons and some form of PR for the Lords, I think it probably supported cutting the number of both MPs and peers because it was expecting the Lib Dems to be in permanent government, and very much liked the idea of reducing the power of backbenchers in both houses.

  • I think the original idea of reducing MP numbers and some very odd cross-county constituencies was flawed, so glad this has been defeated.

    Looking at the BBC article, I’m puzzled why Naomi Long, Alliance MP voted with the Tories on this.

  • Further to Malcolm Brown’s comment above, one of the lessons that we should draw from this debacle is that when constituency boundaries are next to be redrawn, the Boundary Commissioners should be given a little greater flexibility in varying the size of electorates. It is not just Devonwall that was offensive both to locals and to common sense, but also constructs such as Anglesey with a bit of the Caernarvonshire coastline added on. Hopefully Lib Dem Voice is avidly read by our MPs, and would it be too much to ask for one of them to give us a steer as to what view our leadership takes on this issue ?

  • Former LibDem 1st Feb '13 - 9:27pm

    I’m delighted the wretched Tories won’t get their Boundary Reforms. Anything that works to the detriment of the Conservative Party can only be a good thing. However… How is it that the Lib Dems enmasse will vote against the Tories on this issue and not on others. Why is THIS the only time ALL Lib Dem MP’s have voted against their Tory colleagues? The vast majority of Lib Dem MP’s loyally supported the Tories re the appalling NHS reforms. The vast majority of Lib Dem MP’s loyally supported the Tories re trebling Tuition Fees. So why have they finally drawn a line in the sand about Boundary Reform? It wouldn’t be self interest, would it? The Lib Dems are prepared to rock the coalition boat only when it comes down to something that is likely to be of direct benefit to themselves – because they believe it may help a handful of their incumbents to hold on next time when otherwise (with radically redrawn constituencies) they would lose. Let’s face it, that’s the reason, isn’t it? Very “New Politics”. That said, I’m pleased the Lib Dems have voted against the Boundary Review. But will somebody please explain why they COULDN’T vote for the Boundary Reforms but they COULD vote for the NHS Reforms? Anyone?

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