A Strong Voice for Croydon Central - Gavin Barwell MP
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Fairer constituency boundaires
01/03/2011 15:26:00

Questions to Government Ministers, like buses, seem to come in twos or threes.

Each day, Ministers from a different department answer questions. Any backbench MP can submit a question and then the Table Office does a draw to determine which order they are asked in. In practice, only the first few will get asked. I've gone several weeks without being shortlisted but this week I was first out of the bag both for the Prime Minister tomorrow and the Deputy Prime Minister today.

My question today was about the Government's plans to ensure that Parliamentary constituencies are more equally-sized in future. The Office for National Statistics published some new figures last Wednesday which show just how unfair the current boundaries are. Croydon - which currently has 3 MPs (myself, Richard Ottaway and Malcolm Wicks) - had 243,641 electors as of 1st December 2010; the borough of Wirral on Merseyside - which currently has 4 MPs - had just 239,479. So roughly speaking that's 1 MP for every 60,000 people in the Wirral but 1 MP for every 80,000 people in Croydon.

And this unfairness is replicated around the country in a way which favours the Labour Party. A report by the highly respected and thoroughly independent British Academy calculated that it was worth an additional 18 MPs to them last May.

Thankfully, the Government has passed an Act to require reviews every 5 years, which will put more weight on numerical equality. The Boundary Commissions will be publishing their draft proposals later this year and the new boundaries should be in place in time for the next Election.

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Readers' Comments

On 02/03/2011 22:07:00 Robert King wrote:
Before the 2010 election, the most extreme examples in England were Sheffield Brightside with 50,801 electors, Salford 53,294 and Bootle 53,700 and at the other extreme was the Isle of Wight with 109,042.

So the Isle of Wight, which is Conservative, should really be allowed to have two MPs and guess what? Those three small constituencies were all Labour strongholds.

The examples above were changed (a bit) for the 2010 election but if nothing were done massive differentials would have crept in again before the next boundary review 10 years later. With public opinion so hostile to Parliament in the wake of the expenses scandal, reform has become a priority and the Government is right to cut the total number of seats for the House of Commons at the next election to 600 from 650, thus saving taxpayers money.

The situation in Wales is even more unbalanced - the average size of their constituencies is even smaller than in England yet they have had a fixed number of 40 MPs for years and furthermore Wales has its own Assembly which is requesting more powers, so they shouldn't need as many MPs at Westminster as England anyway!

On 18/03/2011 15:20:00 Anthony Miller wrote:
All constituencies should be approx 70,000 and their boundaries calculated using a logical mathematical method such as the shortest splitline algorithm. Anything else is just gerrymandering by the party in power.
On 31/03/2011 09:59:00 Gavin Barwell wrote:

That's a bit harsh! Parliament has agreed the total number of seats (600 - a reduction of 50 from the current total). The ideal electorate size is then calculated by dividing UK total electorate by 600 and all seats (apart from the Isle of Wight, Orkney & Shetland and the Western Isles and possibly a seat in the Scottish Highlands for reasons of geography) have to be no more than 5% bigger or smaller than that. An independent commission then determines the precise boundaries taking account of local opinion on community identity. I don't think you can call that gerrymandering.

On 06/04/2011 14:08:00 Anthony Miller wrote:
"An independent commission then determines the precise boundaries taking account of local opinion on community identity. I don't think you can call that gerrymandering."

Surely "taking account of local opinion on community identity" is the definition of gerrymandering. We all know what happened in Northern Ireland when people took account of local opinion on community identity to determine precise boundaries. I don't believe in any independent commission - I've never seen a UK boundary map that didn't look to some extent gerrymandered.

Even if these people are as independent and impartial as humanly possible it is just human nature for the ruling party to try to fix the system. Didn't David Cameron start talking about 55% to disolve parliment when he came to power only to have to dump the idea because it is too obviously not democracy?

In so far as the boundary commission contains human components it is not possible for it to ever be totally impartial.

Even if there is not intentional meddling with boundaries there is a very strong motive for a lot of people not to point out flaws?

It's not so much that I believe all politicians are plotting to undermine democracy, just that it's very easy when in power to convince yourself anything is right.

I've never been entirely convinced, for example, by the argument that boundaries must encompass local government authority boundaries in a "logical" way.

So I raise the question - why not just use a mathetical model if one exists?




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