By Campaign Agent George Royce
In 2009, the MPs expenses scandal blasted a chasm in British politics. Unfortunately, it symbolised how out of touch politicians were with the people and proved the suspicions of many of how shameless Parliament can be. And so, during the 2010 General Election campaign, David Cameron pledged, as part of his manifesto, to reduce the cost of politics by reducing the size of the legislature.
David Cameron supported decreasing the number of MPs in the House of Commons, and thus the number of constituencies, from 650 to 600. This can be seen as an attempt to reconnect with the electorate who were quickly losing faith in the legislature. Previously, the review of constituency boundaries occurred between 2004 and 2006. One year after the election, the independent Boundary Commission was made to be required to redraw the political map every half a decade to coincide with the changes in the UK’s population. Presumably, this was to ensure that the abolishing and merging of constituencies would not be done so arbitrarily.
It’s prudent to acknowledge at this point that every party except the Tory Party has witnessed a decline in the number of registered voters in a majority of their constituencies. This in turn means less serious opposition to contend with. However, the process for beginning the proposal – which was now in the Tory Party manifesto – was rejected by the Lib Dems in 2013. Cameron also faced internal opposition as many MP’s who had supported him during the election were in the firing line and faced losing their seat. It was also opposed by some prominent figures such as Graham Brady; Chairman of the 1922 Committee.
Due to the process not getting the green light in 2013, nothing changed for the General Election in 2015. After winning a slim majority, David Cameron finally gave the Boundary Commission the go-ahead to start a new review in 2016. Due to the review still being conducted, the snap General Election in 2017 was held using the same political map.
Another thing to note is that the report does not account for the recent increase in registered voters. In 2016, in the run up to the EU Referendum around 300,000 citizens registered to vote, while 200,000 registered for the 2017 General Election. This would amount to an increase of approximately 833 extra voters per constituency, regarding the report's electoral quota figure. However, this was not included in the report, due to the review beginning before both events. One could say this large influx should have been calculated into the report, however the opposing argument is that it would simply restart the process that is already behind schedule.
The Boundary Commission has taken one issue very seriously while going through the three-stage consultation with the electorate, MPs and local associations. The social and cultural ties of constituencies is being held in the utmost regard. In the final recommendation report, published on 10th September, the commission stated it had taken account of 35,000 public comments, listened to many passionate views and taken onboard the sentiment and recommendations of local communities.
In terms of numbers, the report states England will be reduced from 533 to 501 constituencies. Whilst Scotland will be cut from 59 to 53, Wales has, it argues, been overrepresented for a long time and as such sees the biggest proportional reduction- from 40 to 29. Northern Ireland constituencies will be reduced by just one, from 18 to 17. Bear in mind that four of the 600 are protected constituencies. The electoral quota figure is 74,769, putting the minimum as 71,031 and the maximum as 78,507.
As previously mentioned, the changes are influenced by the bias towards parties that have a majority of small constituencies. The Tories are projected to lose 10 seats, whilst Labour look set to lose around 30- most notably, Jeremy Corbyn’s North Islington. In Wales, Labour are on course to lose 6, a figure which is doubled for the Conservatives. The SNP escape relatively unharmed, losing just 2, whilst Plaid Cymru’s share will decrease by half, from 4 to 2. The Lib Dems are going to lose around 5, whilst the all-important DUP will be entirely unaffected.
This is the period of calm before the storm, as there is potential for vicious internal battles to emerge in all parties. Tories set to lose their seats include prominent Brexiteers such as David Davis, Priti Patel and Boris Johnson. George Osborne’s former seat, now held by Esther McVey, is also on the chopping block. With Corbyn’s seat gone, he will be in direct competition with the surrounding London Labour MPs, no less than Dianne Abbott and Emily Thornberry.
All of this leaves many questions left unanswered. Will less-known MPs give way to important figures in their own party and simply step down after being elected by their constituents to represent them? How will their loyalty be rewarded, if at all? What if the peripheral MP doesn’t want to stand down and make way, will they be disciplined or even booted out? Will there be several local coups to oust said MP? What if the MP that takes over is not voted for by the same and now angry electorate that voted in the MP they just shafted? What if they fail to win the constituency anyway, due to an increased number of voters that support other parties? The most nail-biting scenario is the DUP losing any one of their seats and thus failing to prop up Theresa May in the Commons.
Although we like to think that Parliament would automatically support a fairer system, it is asking the turkeys to vote for Christmas. In fact, we may have come full circle back to where this all began. A fairer system was proposed to regain the faith of the British electorate after the ‘pigs at the trough’ scandal of expenses. So now, will MPs stay true to their word and vote through the Boundary Commission’s proposals, even if it means some of them will be out of a job? Currently, it seems like the vote will pass by a slim majority. If it doesn’t, we will be heading into the next General Election with a system that is 20 years out of date.
Sources and further reading
Nicholas Watt, ‘David Cameron claimed over £1,000 a month on second home’, The Guardian (10 December 2009)
Patrick Wintour, ‘Lib Dems vote with Labour to reject constituency boundary review’, The Guardian (29 January 2013)
Peter Dominiczak and Ben Riley-Smith, ‘'No Tory left behind' pledge amid boundary change fear’, The Telegraph (1 January 2016)
Boundary Commission for England, ‘The 2018 Review of Parliamentary Constituency Boundaries’, Boundary Commission for England (10 September 2018)
BBC Staff, ‘Boundary changes: Final proposals published’, BBC (10 September 2018)
Michael Thrasher, ‘Labour and Lib Dems biggest losers under boundary change plan’, Sky News (10 September 2018)
Sophie Williams, ‘Jeremy Corbyn's seat axed in constituency boundary shake-up’, Evening Standard (10 September 2018)
Jack Maidment, ‘'Dozens' of Tories ready to vote against boundary review plan to cut number of MPs from 650 to 600’, The Telegraph (10 September 2018)
Tariq Tahir, ‘Seat Battle Parliamentary boundary changes – what are they, what politicians will be affected, how do they change constituencies and when will they happen?’, The Sun (10 September 2018)
‘Call to bring forward vote on cutting Commons to 600 MPs’, BBC (19 February 2018)
Image: UK Parliament @flickr