The moving target for boundary changes

The Tories are moving forward their plans to gerrymander equalise the number of constituencies. The aim is to have the same number of registered voters in each constituency. Of course this will mean vastly different numbers of people in each constituency: those who aren’t registered will be invisible to this process. And those who aren’t registered are disproportionately the young, the mobile, people who rent, lower income groups – basically Labour leaning groups.

Consequently, it is due to remove more Labour seats than Tory seats, though recently it seems the hapless Lib Dems may be on the sharp end.

One thing the Tories haven’t considered and perhaps the Boundary Commission either, is how they equalise constituencies in the south east when housing changes bite. High ‘affordable’ rents, cuts in housing benefit and the introduction of the benefit cap will cause lots of people to leave expensive areas and move to cheaper ones. The Boundary Commission is going to be playing catch-up from the start, trying to equalise constituencies as significant numbers of people are forced to move.  

One report already has 82,000 people leaving London for the surrounding towns and that’s ignoring the movement within London which is due to lose 5 seats in the review. When Central London’s larger less well off families end up in outer London and surrounding south eastern towns, how will the Boundary Commission keep tabs on them?

If they don’t, it’s important the Labour Party does, or people already uprooted from their communities will continue to find themselves disenfranchised. Local Labour parties should try to engage with people early, tackle the concerns that new arrivals (from anywhere) can bring and, importantly, get them registered to vote.

With many less well off voters heading out of central London and with real reasons to be angry with the Tories, perhaps MPs in places like Enfield, Barnet, Thurrock, the Medway Towns might regret supporting their party’s housing and benefit reforms.

It’s possible that even the gerrymandering won’t be enough to help them.

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6 Responses to The moving target for boundary changes

  1. Sorry about the poor English – of course I should have said “As an aside, individual registration is in the pipeline which will further depress registration in inner city areas.”

  2. I cannot see anything wrong with the principle of equal sized constituencies, as ever it is the Tory implementation that is so wrong.

    Firstly, why does equalisation mean reduction in MP numbers? We already have more people per MP than at any time in our past (see http://warelane.wordpress.com/2010/05/26/a-look-at-the-con-lib-proposals-for-democratic-reform/).

    Secondly, I cannot understand why living on an island should give one an exemption from the drive to equality. If equality is the most important principle then to hell with what it does to the Isle of Wight or the Scottish islands.

    Thirdly, we know that under-registration is at epidemic proportions in some places, and estimated at three and a half million. I hand out voter registration forms with alarming regularity in my campaigning, and of course we should push for 100% take up. However, since the Tory-led coalition has chosen to use the December 2010 roll it will not affect the coming review.

    Fourthly, internal migration will affect constituencies, and the review process will have to be dynamic.

    • Dan Filson says:

      As I understand it, the equalisation – with which in theory nobody should object – will be based on electorates not population. There are two flaws to this. Firstly electoral registration is known to be poorer in urban areas with high population turnover, so a constituency with an electoral roll of 77,000 might have a wide range of actual populations, and what is more the urban populations often, not always, have more severe problems and more demands on their MP. So the reform will deliver unequal constituencies and overload urban MPs. Secondly, the changes, as I previously posted, once done will not be revisited for a decade or more. Population shifts happen, owing to net immigration, to internal migration around the country and between city centres and their suburbs and to differing birthrates (which are linked to the differing population age ranges in constituencies). Where new housing is being built in any numbers – this is currently rare – the population changes can be substantial. The measures on housing benefit are predicted to drive from city centres where rents are highest many poorer people (often with families) and whilst their vacated homes will be filled, the chances are they will be filled by smaller or childless households.
      For all these reasons, there is a dubious quality to this exercise. I would not personally use the word gerrymander, which usually relates to the boundaries of constituencies being rigged to pile huge majorities of one party into a small number of seats whilst enable small majorities of the other party to be spread amongst a greater number.
      I actually sympathise with the Isle of Wight problem. It is too big to be one constituency and too small arithmetically to be two. On balance rather than have it as two constituencies with one half located on the mainland and connected to its other half only by ferry, I would make an exception here and allow two seats on the island even though that probably concedes one more seat to the LibDems. In Scotland the distances within certain constituencies can be considerable, let alone distances to the nearest mainline rail station or airport to connect to Westminster. I would therefore favour a variation from the arithmetic norm to allow for slightly lower numbers of voters per MP in these areas. But to mitigate the consequence of the Isle of Wight and Scottish Islands variations from par, I would also want to allow the Boundary Commission to permit inner urban seats to have lower number of voters per MP to allow for the registration and turnover problems, provided they still fell within a 10% either way band of the par figure. So if par was 77,000 electors, I would expect some seats to be at or down to 69,3000, e.g. the two Isle of Wight and some Scottish Island seats, and some further inner urban seats with known high turnover and statistically determinable low registration rates, with the remaining seats running up to but not beyond 84,700. I don’t think those ranges affront democracy when compared to the number of voters per US Senator in Utah or Nevada compared to California.

      • Dan Filson says:

        I should have mentioned that the Boundary Commission in arriving at its new boundaries should have regard to new residential building developments and other foreseeable population changes in determining constituency sizes.

      • I am an advocate of votes at sixteen. It would be an interesting debate to be had as to whether it could go even lower – and thus making electorate and population equate to the same thing (provided there is 100% registration).

        As an aside, individual registration is in the pipeline which will further depress under-registration in inner city areas.

  3. Dan Filson says:

    But the Tory game plan is that once the constituency-reductions and redistributions have taken place, there will be no further for a decade or more; thus locking in the Tory gains for some time. And the Boundary Commission may be bound to operate on the registered voter data as at this spring, so nothing more we can do about it

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