The Parliamentary boundary reviews

Earlier this month, Liberal Democrat News ran this piece from me about how the Parliamentary boundary reviews are being run.

It has long been the demand of political reformers in Britain stretching back through the 19th century and earlier that everyone should have the vote and everyone’s vote should count equally. More recently that has tended to mean debates over voting systems so that people’s votes are less likely to be ‘wasted votes’, but it also matters in terms of how constituency boundaries are drawn. The bigger the range in size of different constituencies, the bigger the difference in how much people’s votes count – for the smaller the seat, the more your individual vote counts.

Given that traditional democratic principle, it is no surprise that equalizing constituency sizes in one form or other is part of the government’s program – though of course there has  been controversy over the way in which it is being done. The resulting Parliamentary boundaries reviews, being carried out separately in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, will mean huge changes in some places – notably Wales, which has been greatly over-represented in Parliament compared to the rest of the UK. It will also mean much more crossing over of traditional boundaries, such as county councils and London boroughs.

The much stricter numerical rules this time – remember the principle of everyone’s votes counting equally – means that the knock-on effects of tweaking a boundary in one place can easily ripple on through several neighbouring areas. In England, the reviews are being carried out on the basis of European Parliamentary regions, so this limits the scope for knock-on effects somewhat, but it is still fairly broad.

What it does mean is that the Liberal Democrats are having to take a much more co-ordinated approach to the boundary reviews than in the past – because what one local party or council group wants to argue for could have a knock-on effect that does the opposite of what the next but one local party along want. Only by coordinating across the whole Euro-region (or Wales / Scotland) can we make sure that we end up with proposals and arguments which support each other rather than undermine each other.

When I first got involved in helping out the party centrally with some of the Parliamentary boundary work, I must admit I was a little sceptical at how well such coordination would work. The well known clichés about organising Liberal Democrats being like herding cats have some truth to them! But I have been pleasantly surprised at the positive approach to teamwork shown by local parties, council groups, MPs, former candidates and others across the country.

Indeed, flicking through the local newspaper stories from around the country so far about the Parliamentary boundary reviews, it is the Labour Party which looks to be having the biggest problems with different people wanting to argue contradictory positions during the review. That may in part reflect the brittleness of Ed Miliband’s leadership and hence an inability or unwillingness to get different parts of the party arguing in unison rather than with each other. Whatever the cause, it is a big change from how Labour has approached previous boundary reviews, despite the need for coordination being that much higher this time round.

The process this time round involves an initial consultation phase, including public hearings. At the end of that all the written submissions will be published, alongside full transcripts of all the hearings. There will then be an opportunity for written submissions (only) where people can respond to issues raised by others in the initial phase. The Boundary Commissions will then consider all the views and then either publish their final recommendations or (in cases where they want to make significant changes) trigger another round of consultation on the revised proposals. A final vote in Parliamentary – which will be a simple yes/no, with no scope for amending individual proposals – will take place in 2013.

If during that process you want to know more about the proposals for you area, what the party is arguing for or how you can input to that, please contact either your regional party (in England) or the Scottish or Welsh parties.

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