This week, the long-awaited, but probably not that eagerly awaited proposals on the new constituency boundaries were released. The remit given to the Boundary Commission was to reduce the number of MPs and to ‘equalise’ constituency sizes in terms of voter numbers. Certainly, it should be of no surprise to anybody given the general level of contempt that MPs are held in that the proposal to reduce MP numbers is a popular one – ComRes found 56% agreement with this in a poll for the Independent on Sunday/Sunday Mirror. However, the question should not be taken as support for the aim of equalising constituency sizes and for the commission’s proposals because the question only focuses on the aspect most likely to curry popular favour and doesn’t even mention the other issues nor the effects of the changes.
Let’s deal with the partisan point, this is a calculated assault on the Labour Party and it doesn’t stop with this review. The Guardian reports that ministers have proposed it should no longer be compulsory to co-operate with electoral registration officers (EROs) when they try to compile an accurate register – a move which will pave the way for a further review in 2020. This move represents a social cleansing of the poor from politics:
“John Stewart, chairman of the electoral registration officers, said the drop-off was likely to be 10% in “the leafy shires” but closer to 30% in inner city areas. He said there would be an incentive not to register as the list is used for jury service and to combat credit fraud. He said he expected large numbers of young voters would not register.”
Therefore it should be offensive to anyone who cares about our democracy – we have a big enough problem with turnout and engaging people with politics in this country without the government officially sponsoring the de-coupling of large sections of society from politics in its own self-interest. This proposal is a product of the current review and the flawed premise of the goal of equalising constituency sizes using voter numbers – equally sized constituencies do not lead to ‘fairer votes’ because the in-built problems of the system are the product of more than the number of electors. How is the disenfranchisement described above in any way fair? How is this review fair, for example, to the people of Salford whose town has been effectively wiped off the map by it?
So, what is to be done? Well, hope does exist in the level of disquiet being expressed on all sides of the House by MPs whose individual position is threatened by the changes. Of course, this dissent is self-interested but still it should is a force that can be marshaled by Labour to derail the changes in the service of the greater good – in this instance is preservation of our democracy.
If these changes go through the fact is it will be questionable whether we will even constitute a representative democracy anymore because so many will be excluded from a say in who represents them. Labour has a strong self interest in opposing these changes – but it should also make the point about the wider issue and come forward as a champion of our embattled democracy.