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  • Explain something about changing constituency sizes to me…


    by Sunny
    6th July, 2010 at 10:14 am    

    So the Coalition government has a plan to change constituency sizes by the number of people on the electoral register, rather than actual population size or people eligible to vote. Labour cllr Paul Cotterill doesn’t like the idea - he said so quite forcefully (in his understated way) at the Liberal Conspiracy Blog Nation event.

    Neither does Darrell Goodliffe, who says:

    Let’s be quite clear; the equalisation of constituencies based on voter registration is totally unacceptable. An attack on Labour as a Party it certainly is but what makes it unacceptable is the disenfranchisement of the voiceless; the making of them into ‘non-people’ as far as the government is concerned. In other words it is the antithesis of fairness and democracy; it must be opposed and stopped.

    Here’s what I don’t get. Those people who are not on the electoral register but not eligible to vote are already politically voiceless. Perhaps they want to remain that way. But if some Labour constituency sizes are reduced because they contain large numbers of people who don’t register to vote - then that is the fault of the Labour MP not of the system. The same goes for Tory MPs.

    In the US they have massive voter-registration drives to get people enfranchised and supporting candidates. The problem in the UK is that there are far too many MPs who get elected with minimal support from their local constituencies, and they have little incentive to get those people registered.

    Kezia Dugdale is right - instead of complaining, the Labour party should be organising voter registration days. That way they can get closer to their core voters and win some damn elections.

    The other problem is that these complaints of ‘gerrymandering’ aren’t going to get much traction with the public. It’s quite easy to make the argument (for the coalition) that everyone’s vote should count equally. Who will disagree with that? And how would anyone sum up opposition to that in one line? It’s a political non-starter, and I doubt there will be serious opposition to these plans even on Labour benches (though I could be proven wrong admittedly).


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      So the Coalition government has a plan to change constituency sizes by the number of peopl… http://reduce.li/tox3bb #sizes




    1. cim — on 6th July, 2010 at 10:48 am  

      Talking to people in Canada and the Netherlands, neither even has voter registration as such - they largely deduce who is eligible to vote from other sources and allow various “proof of citizenship” documents to be used as backup for people that approach misses. (The Netherlands, having a single giant constituency for the entire country, even allows anyone to vote at any polling station)

      That seems like a better way to do this in the long term.

      In the meantime, absolutely agreed. If Labour MPs are feeling that the boundary review will make their seats seem smaller than they are, then the legislation that will cause it hasn’t even got to First Reading yet, so they have plenty of time to organise a voter registration drive and get those numbers up before the boundary review starts.

    2. jim jepps — on 6th July, 2010 at 11:14 am  

      The main argument against equalising constituency size coming from Labour at the moment really just seems to come down to Labour will lose seats - which doesn’t seem much of a democratic argument to me.

      Although there could be problems with implementation it does seem quite right to me that everyone’s vote counts equally. You’ll still get the postcode lottery with AV that you do with FPTP but this aspect of the reforms is definitely moving us forwards.

      I’m typing this in a Camden constituency with 87,000 electors, a neighbouring Islington constituency has 58,000 voters, I moved from a constituency with 77,000 voters, the Isle of Wight has 110,000 voters… each one elects one MP - there’s no justification for this variability in how much each person’s vote wieghs.

      I’ll accept that the Scily Isles or something that has a distinct geographical area should have distinct representation - but part of Camden and part of Islington to have such a massive difference?

    3. Darrell — on 6th July, 2010 at 11:15 am  

      What about those that cant register to vote? If we had a system like CIM is outlining this wouldn’t be an issue but since we don’t it is. Your talking as if candidates dont actively encourage support to register already; they most definatly do, especially at local level.

      As we have also seen at the last election there are also problems with the proccess too.

    4. kr133 — on 6th July, 2010 at 1:10 pm  

      You need to distinguish (at least) three different reasons for unequal electorates:

      (i) there have been miscalculations or otherwise slipshod work by the Boundary Commission (as is arguably the case with the Camden/Islington examples given above);

      (ii) evidence of strong community ties was considered to outweigh the strict need for electoral equality (as is the case in the oversized Isle of Wight, where there is a strong lobby *in favour* of the seat remaining coterminous with the island even though it technically reduces the islanders’ representation)

      (iii) existing rules (such as the bar on crossing county boundaries) militated against better levels of electoral equality.

      Now, you can do something about (i) - although no review process is going to be perfect and it’s quite probable the next review will create some new anomalies of its own - and if you relax the rules you can also do something about (iii) (though not without generating more controversy) - but the anomalies in (ii) are likely to remain whatever Nick Clegg claims the new rules will be, simply because breaking community ties in most cases will cause more trouble than it’s worth.

      It’s worth remembering that the only reason this review is taking place is that the Conservatives believe themselves to be significantly disadvantaged by electorate inequality, regardless of their official justifications relating to ‘cutting the cost of politics’ and so on. This paper (http://www.ggy.bris.ac.uk/personal/RonJohnston/CurrentPapers/Electoral/electoral34.pdf), though, makes clear that based on the notional results of the 2005 General Election (it was published before the 2010 GE) Labour’s advantage from unequal electorates amounted to just four extra seats, with the remainder of the pro-Labour bias coming from other factors such as greater efficiency of vote distribution. So we are about to go into an expensive, time-consuming process which won’t even resolve the problem that the Government thinks it will, as well as creating arbitrarily drawn new constituencies which break community ties, making adequate representation more difficult.

      I agree, though, that opposing the legislation is unlikely to gain Labour much electoral traction. They should, though, ensure they are on the ball when the review process actually starts, because it is likely to be significantly more controversial than previous reviews, with a much shorter timeframe for completion - a potentially combustible mix for the government.

    5. MaidMarian — on 6th July, 2010 at 1:22 pm  

      Sunny - I have long believed that decisions are made by the people who show up. People who did not vote but who complain about benefit cuts or the war in Iraq get nothing from me.

      As I understand it, part of the problem now is the reduction of MPs which is likely to hit Labour harder rather than the equalisation per se. I am all in favour of reducing MP numbers, but these terms do seem dubious. It is also curious that the Lib Dems seem not to be set to lose out.

      Making more of an effort to get people on the register would not be a bad idea though.

    6. Sunny — on 6th July, 2010 at 3:52 pm  

      Darrell - give me examples of how people can’t register to vote and please explain how the Labour party can’re help them overcome it.

      Your talking as if candidates dont actively encourage support to register already; they most definatly do, especially at local level.

      In which case what’s the problem here? You’re complaining about the “voiceless” not getting heard - but they’re not heard right now anyway.

      If the constituency sizes change, the Labour party might lose out but I don’t see how you’re arguing that the new system would lead to MORE disenfranchisement.

    7. Darrell — on 6th July, 2010 at 7:19 pm  

      Sunny,

      Easy; those of no fixed address. Homeless people and immigrants whose status is questionable are therefore two that spring to mind. Also, if you are using this measure how do you count students who can register and vote in two seperate places? At local elections its perfectly possible and legal for a student to vote in two seperate local elections. Are they one or two people for the purposes of this measure?

      Kr33 outlined some of the broader issues is their reply. Its true in that sense that the voiceless lose out now but according to this measure they are non-people in the consideration of boundaries too.

    8. MatGB — on 6th July, 2010 at 9:45 pm  

      At local elections its perfectly possible and legal for a student to vote in two seperate local elections

      Not on the same day they’re not. Unless the law’s changed since I last read it, which isn’t impossible but don’t think is so.

      Those you list who can’t register can’t register, some can’t vote regardless. Restrictions on voting have been relaxed of late, but picking out the tiny minority who won’t be able to vote regardless as an example of unfairness is bollocks, sorry.

      I have problems with the process, mostly because it’s not my favoured method, I’d much rather STV on local authority boundaries.

      I have a problem with the cutoff being December’s register, but want to check a few facts, I think that’s the first to be published from the formes sent out September, so there’s no chance at all to chase up those not registered. If instead it’s the last to be on the current registers, then I have no problem with it, people’ve had over a year to get on it accurately, and local candidates should’ve been doing their best to get people registered. I know we were locally, and we’ll do more now.

      Darrell, the idea that some MPs represent 22,000 voters while others represent 110,000 voters doesn’t bother you, at all? That some seats, including some Lib Dem seats, are for 40,000 people, but others are for 90,000 people? The studies indicate that this will make a small diffference in Labour seats, and a slight difference for Tory seats.

      The argument that poorer people are less likely to register and thus more likely to be in the smaller Labour seats is valid, but given the massive efforts to get people registered this time around, no dice from me, if you’re not registered now, you’re not going to be, and if it’s the fault of moribund local Labour organisations that’ve taken their cosy little safe seat for granted (which you have to admit is true in some cases) then they had 13 years with a manifesto pledge to reform the voting system. Now the Tories are actually going to do it.

      If they’d had the balls to do it properly in 1997, we could’ve had multi-member constituencies and there wouldn’t be this problem. Even with top up MPs, there wouldn’t be this problem. But insisting on simgle member seats means making sure each member represents a broadly similar electorate, the boundary commission messed the last review up, there’s no other interpretation for the data I’ve been going through recently.

    9. ukliberty — on 6th July, 2010 at 10:18 pm  

      Sunny,

      So the Coalition government has a plan to change constituency sizes by the number of people on the electoral register, rather than actual population size or people eligible to vote.

      Some people, including Frank Dobson and Darrell Goodliffe seem to have the wrong end of the stick here: AIUI the Coalition isn’t changing this particular rule (see s8) that hasn’t changed since ’86. I agree with the rest of the OP.

      Darrell,

      Homeless people and immigrants whose status is questionable are therefore two that spring to mind.

      On the face of it the former ought to get a vote but why should the latter?

      And harsh as it may sound it’s irrelevant to the main argument (about the value of each vote).

      Its true in that sense that the voiceless lose out now but according to this measure they are non-people in the consideration of boundaries too.

      As I say, the measure hasn’t changed since ’86. I’m not entirely sure how one can give a “voice” to those who don’t ask for it.

      People against boundary changes must surely be able to do better than this. As Sunny says, “it’s quite easy to make the argument (for the coalition) that everyone’s vote should count equally” (or as equal as possible). Forget the Isle of Wight; why should a vote in East Ham be worth less than in Wirral West?

    10. Stanislaw — on 7th July, 2010 at 12:58 am  

      Homeless people and immigrants whose status is questionable are therefore two that spring to mind.

      As stated by another poster, I get the point for homeless people, but why would non-citizens, let alone non-citizens who maybe don’t even have a right to be resident here - have a claim on voting here anyway? If they are to be given the right to vote, one may as well also allow tourists to vote and for the rest of the world’s population to send in postal votes, should they wish.

    11. Rumbold — on 7th July, 2010 at 8:36 am  

      Good piece Sunny. We should help anyone to register to vote who wants to, but other people can only do so much. The will has to be there from the individual.

    12. kr133 — on 7th July, 2010 at 9:33 am  

      “On the face of it the former ought to get a vote but why should the latter?”

      Whether immigrants ought to get a vote is an open question but under the current laws the fact is that some of them do - EU citizens can vote in local elections only; Commonwealth citizens can vote in all UK elections if they are legally resident in the UK.

    13. kr133 — on 7th July, 2010 at 9:40 am  

      “Darrell, the idea that some MPs represent 22,000 voters while others represent 110,000 voters doesn’t bother you, at all?”

      To be clear, there’s only one of each of these - respectively the Western Isles (which is being protected in the new review) and the Isle of Wight (whose residents *explicitly want* to remain in a single oversized seat coterminous with the island - its MP Andrew Turner secured an adjournment debate on this specific point)

      When local people in various areas discover the strange and unnatural entities which are going to be created by this review it will certainly be popcorn time.

    14. boyo — on 7th July, 2010 at 2:55 pm  

      Make not voting illegal (You can always cross a “blank” to vote for no one).

    15. ukliberty — on 7th July, 2010 at 4:37 pm  

      kr133,

      “On the face of it the former ought to get a vote but why should the latter?”

      Whether immigrants ought to get a vote is an open question but under the current laws the fact is that some of them do – EU citizens can vote in local elections only; Commonwealth citizens can vote in all UK elections if they are legally resident in the UK.

      Of course. But, if you recall, we were talking about “immigrants whose status is questionable” (your words). Why should they get a vote?

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