Electoral Boundaries: Crossing the lines

Posted on: 14 September 2011 by Alexander Hay

The government is about to find out that redrawing the political landscape might not be quite as beneficial as it first seems, while its MPs begin to fear for their seats

Redrawing the political map brings its own complicationsLife is full of coincidences, but seldom in politics. How else to explain the proposed new electoral boundaries in England?

...The new boundaries reduce the total number of constituencies in England by 31, to 502. Assuming, until Scotland and Wales' boundary commissions report in the next few months, that MPs in those countries remain unchanged, the Conservatives would have been just 10 seats short of an overall majority, versus 19 at present...

The loss of constituencies, while popular among those who'd rather have less politicians in the first place, seems equally self-serving. Urban, Labour-inclined seats have been merged into others, while true-blue voting areas have been expanded or reshaped to the Conservatives' advantage. This has made it even harder for minority parties to get a foothold - perhaps it would keep undesirables like the BNP out (though, arguably, they seem bent on doing that themselves), but other voices would be crowded out too:

...The Labour party could have netted 14 fewer seats, the Liberal Democrats 10 fewer, while the Conservatives, who dominate England, might have lost just six seats. The UK's only Green MP, Caroline Lucas, would not have been able to win her seat, according to the preliminary figures...

Democracy in action! Of course, this all suggests the government, like many a military commander, fights the next war/General Election like it was the last one, which is why these changes may not necessarily work.

After five years of sky high tuition fees, reduced services and falling standards of living, the electorate may not be as willing to accept Cameron as Prime Minister - and he was only able to get the job last year care of the Liberal Democrats' connivance.

This is not to say that the redrawing of boundaries is a conspiracy in and of itself, or that the original boundaries were always fair (they weren't). But it still seems to be a conflict of interest for a government to allow these boundaries to be redrawn when it grants them a perceived advantage.

True, the previous Labour government was equally guilty of not allowing the boundaries to be redrawn during its tenure. (Again, because they would grant an advantage to the Conservatives.) Though it is interesting to note that politicians are only really interested in a fairer electoral settlement when it is to their benefit.

In any case, the real issue is the restive electorate of Scotland. Electing many of Labour's MPs (and a fair few ministers), it is that party's linchpin, alongside Wales. Since the Conservatives cannot countenance the most obvious way of cancelling out this advantage, by allowing independence to those countries, it instead seems to have settled for maximising its support in England.

Perhaps the hope is that nationalist parties will benefit from the yet-to-be-announced redesigned Scottish and Welsh boundaries and eat into Labour's support there too. But in so doing they make the breakup of the United Kingdom ever more likely.

Sometimes, one is left with the impression that political parties should just try to win the argument, rather than fiddle with the rules. In any case, even Tory MPs are unhappy with the new boundaries as they threaten their own majorities. The status quo may well be maintained for that reason alone.

[SOURCE: The Guardian]

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Alexander Hay

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