Carl Sacklen     Freelance Portfolio     Blog

A Well Needed Update to Representative Democracy

It’s been referred to as “daft” and gerrymandering by some, laudable and required by others. The redrawing of constituency boundaries has once again become a hot topic now that the potential 600 constituencies (down from 650) have been released.

But why has this seemingly necessary update caused so much controversy? Well, looking deeper it is clear why such a row has been sparked. Those against it claim that it gives the Conservatives, also the party currently in government, better prospects at the next general election – which, considering the Labour Party’s tumbling electoral chances, adds salt to the wounds of many on the left. Those in favour claim that it is a mere update that is required to maintain our representative democracy as it seeks to bring the constituency populations closer to an equal figure.

With some eligible voter populations topping 100,000 and others dipping to under 40,000, there is a clear disparity in the number of people electing each MP, and hence a massive difference in the power of each vote. Due to the technicalities of the FPTP voting system, a single constituent’s vote in Arfon, north Wales for instance - which has a voter population of under 38,000 – will have a greater electoral impact than, say, the Isle of White constituents simply because there are 105,000 of the latter.

The redraw should therefore be seen as an attempt to redress the imbalance that has come about due to voter mobility. From this aspect it can hardly be defined as gerrymandering, especially considering the Boundary Commission “don’t take into account the political ramification of [the] proposals”.

Another motivation for the reduction in seats is that the houses have become rather bloated, and although the lower chamber is not as packed as its red and gold sibling, the MPs forced to stand during events like PMQs undoubtedly wish they could find a place to sit. A slight reduction in voices echoing in the chamber would also make the whole legislative process slightly more efficient and tax-payer friendly. A critique of this however is that with a reduction in MPs you potentially lose potential opportunities for scrutiny and debate as the diversity of opinion may be reduced. Jeremy Corbyn’s Islington North seat is said to be in the firing line for instance.

However, there have been legitimate concerns over the methods used to determine the constituencies. The Electoral Roll used, for instance, dates to the seemingly distant pre-EU Referendum epoch which means 2 million voters, many young ones, haven’t been accounted for in the re-jig. Then there’s the issue that the constituencies have been designed using the Electoral Roll and not actual populations that can be found in the census. However, whilst MPs represent all those living in her or his constituency, even those who didn’t vote for them, it makes total sense to divide up the constituencies using the list of registered voters because otherwise you may incur the same problems of voting power depending on variations eligibility to vote in certain constituencies.

Whilst it is not optimum that the reshuffle hasn’t taken into account the new two million voters, these voters can still vote in the next elections. Moreover, the issue of disparity has still been fixed to an extent, which is better than to no extent. It may improve Tory electoral chances come 2020 due to new majorities in both constituencies and the Commons, but this is a necessary update to representative democracy that goes beyond a single election.