The vote, defeated in the House of Commons, this week on whether the boundaries commission should alter the constituency boundaries for the next election, raises a number of important issues for the coalition and the future of our democracy.
Our parliament is elected on the basis of old constituencies that now bear little relevance to the population distribution of our islands. Specifically there has been a migration of people from inner cities to the suburbs and satellite towns, creating constituencies with highly variable numbers. This is important because MP should all have the same face value, today there are some MPs are elected by over 100,000 people and others that have only 30,000 constituents. This population change has benefited the Labour Party hugely – some estimates calculate that the current imbalance gifts Labour about 30 seats, or nearly 10% of the number required for a working majority.
It seems pretty weird to me that MPS are allowed anywhere near the subject of constituency boundaries, this invokes the the wiff of rotten boroughs and gerrymandering. Should this not be handled by an independent group who have strict terms of reference.
The Liberal Democrats voted down the proposed changes in a tit for tat spat around House of Lords reform, which the Tories had refused to support. The Tories opposition to ‘Lords’ reform was based on the irrelevance of the measure and it’s pretty obvious to all that Parliament has more pressing issues – the economy for one. Actually the real reason was the earlier, and much more painful, defeat on proportional representation, whether the Tories honoured the commitment to a referendum and then defeated the Libdems roundly!.
The Liberal Democrat party have some excuses for the poor quality of their decision making – the small number and poor quality of their MPs being their best justification. Ask yourself the question - how many friends at university did you have who wanted to be a Libdem MP? But their leadership should have been wise enough to realise that ignoring the convention of adopting fair constituency boundaries is a dangerous departure for a minority party.
Who will listen now when the Libdems bleat on about fairer elections and proportional representation when they have acted instinctively against this measure of fair constituencies, which the basis of free and fair elections.
Of-course one should not forget the Labour party who also opposed the measure – but they have a track record of economic gerrymandering (Gordo’s tax credits) and have the lothian (Scottish Devolution) question looming. Without the old courtesies to our constitutional conventions we may need to rip up 1,000 years of progress and try to codify our wonderfully unfettered constitution. So Clegg has proved to be a danger, not only to the election prospect of his party, but the future of democracy in Britain. SHAME