How important is your vote? You might think it would be just as valuable in as the next Briton’s. That would be the least you might expect from universal suffrage after all. But it depends on where you live.
Last year, approximately 45.6 million Britons were registered to vote in the general election. They didn’t live equally across all of the UK’s 650 constituencies, so this meant parliamentary hopefuls could have vastly different numbers of the electorate to woo. If they were fighting for somewhere like Arfon in Wales, they would have to try and appeal to as many of its 37,739 voters as possible. But if they picked somewhere else, like North West Cambridgeshire, they would have to reach out to more than twice as many voters: 89,991.
This means that your vote can be worth much more in certain seats than others. This state of affairs is partly due to some of these seats being drawn up based on data from 2000. Isn’t it time someone gave them a fresh look?
Step forward the independent Boundary Commission, which has unveiling its initial proposals today for how to divide voters on much fairer lines in England. This will come as part of a wider review aiming to balance the distribution of voters across 600 seats in time for the 2020 General Election.
The Commission is an outside body. It has no party allegiance. It is a professional outfit, not a bunch of Tory stooges.
This hasn’t stopped both Labour and the Liberal Democrats from taken its review as proof that Theresa May is trying to subvert democracy as we know it.
Gerrymander fears over new boundary proposals as CroydonCentral swaps 2 Labour wards for 2 Tory wards in CSouth to create safer Tory seat
Emily Thornberry has already dismissed the boundary review as a “gerrymandering sham”. “I am sure that there is no conspiracy”, she deadpanned in the Commons. Fellow Labour MP Paul Flynn said it was a sign of the Tories’ “cheating” on democratic reform, while Liberal Democrat peer Paul Tyler accused them of “blatantly attempting to fix the system to keep themselves in power”.
The Shadow Foreign Secretary is no doubt feeling sore given that the proposals suggest she’ll have to fight her shadow cabinet ally Diane Abbott to decide who has to step aside so Jeremy Corbyn can remain in the Commons. But both parties have tried to grapple with these problems before, so why are the spluttering rage?
The last Labour Goverment accepted that the boundaries needed to be redrawn back in 2007, an era when Ms Thornberry was but a new MP. In its response to the Committee on Standards in Public Life, the Government said there was “a strong case for the current legislation in relation to the conduct of parliamentary boundary work to be reviewed”.
The Lib Dems took up the cause in coalition with gusto. “It is patently obvious that individuals’ votes should carry the same weight, and if that means reforming the rules for drawing boundaries, that is what we must do,” Nick Clegg told MPs in 2012. “We do not have a 650-seat House by design; it is simply a result of the flawed rules, which have a ratchet effect on the number of MPs.”
The Deputy Prime Minister even mocked critics – namely the Labour Party – for their “barely disguised paranoia about a perfectly logical approach to redrawing our boundaries”. But now they’re out of office, the Lib Dems seem more than happy to peddle the same paranoia.
It’s easy to see why they are doing so. The Lib Dems tried to reform the boundaries in the last parliament, but the review became snarled up in coalition politics. They would much prefer to try and paint the whole process as a Tory conspiracy rather than draw attention to their own failure.
Theresa May’s opponents can only take their fight against these changes so far, as they were outlined in the Tory manifesto. The party promised in 2015 to “make votes of more equal value through long overdue boundary reforms” and to “implement the boundary reforms that Parliament has already approved”. This means that the Lords are not able to throw it out.
This means the boundary review’s critics have a choice. They could either calm down and engage constructively with the proposals, or they could dismiss it as a Tory plot. They may find that comforting, but a review of the system is overdue. Britons will not appreciate having to continue with a system where some of their votes aren’t as valuable as others simply to satisfy Labour and Liberal Democrat egos.
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