Messing about with the boundaries of constituencies to make our first past the post electoral system “fairer” is a ludicrous own goal that is only going to highlight how manifestly arbitrary the results is produces are.

One of the few benefits FPTP offers is providing communities of electors with a representative in Westminster (and it’s not even an exclusive benefit, the superior AV system that the electorate in all its wisdom slung out in May also offers this). Tinkering with the boundaries to try to make all constituencies fall within 5% of the quote of 76,641 electors is destroying cohesive community-based groupings, as this mornings report from the Boundary Commission for England shows.

As an example, take Lewes, Brighton and Hove, three towns on the South Coast. Currently there’s an MP for Lewes and an MP for Hove, and two for Brighton. The BCE are proposing constituencies for Lewes-and-one-edge-of-Brighton, a bit-of-Brighton-and-a-bit-of-Hove and another bit-of-Brighton-and-another-bit-of-Hove. And the absurd exemption for the Isle of White makes the case for preserving the link with coherent geographical communities, but only if they are surrounded by sea.

But why do it? The whole point of FPTP, we were told, is that what matters is that there is a decisive winner. And with a couple of exceptions from over 30 years ago, the largest number of seats has always gone to the party with the largest share of the vote. The changes proposed would make seats more proportional to vote share if we had a two party system, but we don’t. And because under FPTP if you don’t vote for one of the two front-runner parties in your constituency, your vote is effectively discarded, the unfairness of of using it in a multi-party system is so massive that any anomalies arising from the variations in constituency size are rendered negligible. However, the practical effect of these boundary changes will be to benefit the Conservatives at the next election…

How will it benefit the Tories? Because a lot of the smaller constituencies are in Labour areas (eg. in cities, Scotland or Wales). Also there may be other coincidental benefits from the changes through disrupting tactical voting: for example in Lewes, the Tories narrowly failed to win the seat from Lib Dem Norman Baker; with a chunk of East Brighton in the mix where their main opposition is Labour they will be able to consolidate their support against a Lib/Lab split.

And then what? Over time, as birth rates fluctuate and people move, the constituency sizes will grow in variation again. We’ll still be using the same electoral system, so the only remedy will be go through the whole daft and expensive process again.

Two things console me. Firstly, the government have inadvertently scared their MPs into rebelling. Many of them, needing to secure a new seat, will find this the most effective way of grabbing attention and getting selected. Secondly, weakening the link between communities and their representatives at Westminster may be a small contribution to prompting people to reconsider whether genuine electoral reform might not be a better idea after all.

About Simon Wood

Lecturer in medical education, lapsed mathematician, Doctor Who fan and garden railway builder. See simonwood.info for more...

5 thoughts on “76,641

  1. Hope you express your views strongly in the feedback proposed on these changes!  Trend to discourage people from identifying with their geographical communities  seems to be the current fashion cf Attali’s proposals to abolish French départements . . .

  2. For a better electoral system try DPR Voting as a direct replacement for FPTP.
    Constituency boundaries can follow natural communities, no need for frequent boundary changes.
    It is intrinsically fairer because the voting power of each party in the parliament depends on the number of votes they get in the General Election, and each vote in every constituency makes a difference to the result. More at http://www.dprvoting.org

    1. I’ve not seen DPR before, interesting idea. I’m not keen on the idea of some MP’s votes counting for more than others, though I understand the purpose of this; my head starts to boggle when I think of the implications of rebel MPs voting against their party line.

      My strong preference remains for STV: it has preferential voting, and strengthens the independence of MPs. Although boundaries would need to be reviewed, having different sizes of multi-member constituency would allow local differences to be accounted for fairly.

  3. There is no logic in, or justification for, one MP one vote. (If the justification is on the basis of how well it works, the  answer is badly). It is what we are accustomed to, but it is also the root cause of the problems we have with electoral systems in a party based representative democracy. If we didn’t have Parties, one MP one vote would work well.If we only voted for Parties with no constituency MPs, the result would be a block vote like an opinion poll with each party getting a percentage.In practice we conflate voting for the individual and the party in one vote.
    DPR voting separates out these to issues – Non party issue voting – one MP one Vote,Party issue voting – based on party strength percentage (shared out amongst the Party MPs.)
    Many MPs owe their election, and therefore their vote in parliament, to the popularity of their party rather than their individual qualities.  With DPR Voting their individual vote on Party matters depends not just on them as individuals but also on the popularity of their party nationally. 

  4. Sorry, I forgot the rebel MPs. I am not sure I have grasped your concern. How would it be different from what happens at present?

    STV has a number of problems associated with multimember constituencies, and while electors can understand how to vote, very few will understand how the votes are counted.

Leave a Reply