Posts Tagged ‘boundary review’

There is a way back for Labour

28/09/2016, 08:55:35 PM

by Greig Baker

Jeremy Corbyn’s politics were writ large in his conference speech. He called for unity, while he brandished a “new era”. He hoped for “economic success”, while promising more taxes, spending and borrowing. And he called the boundary reforms “nothing more than a cynical attempt to gerrymander the next election”, where they could be Labour’s last hope.

Is Labour in a hideous mess? Yes. Is Corbyn ascendant? Yes. Is it time to give up? No. Sensible people in the Labour party need to do three things: embrace boundary changes; take the argument to Corbyn; and pick a champion.

Bear with me – here’s my thinking on each one:

First, boundary changes. One of the few things that currently unites Labour is its consensus on opposing the reforms. This is wrong-headed and says more about the party’s own malaise than the iniquities of the system. Alarm bells should ring everywhere when politicians support a boundary review “in principle” but oppose it in practise. The longer reform is postponed, the more painful it will be – like any infection, rotten boroughs won’t get easier to heal over time.

You know Labour is down on its luck when it complains about “the right wing press”, just like you know the Tories are in trouble when they moan about “BBC bias”. In the same way, the opposition to boundary reform smacks of reaching for an excuse ahead of the next General Election, instead of doing the hard work to make an attractive offer to the voting public. Losers complain about the rules. Winners focus on the job at hand.


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Government doubles down on boundary review proposals. Labour’s problems just got worse

11/02/2016, 02:13:42 PM

by Greig Baker

Sometimes when my 4yr old gets told off, she misbehaves even more – thinking that if she’s in trouble already, she might as well go the whole hog. The government has taken the same approach in its boundary review for Parliamentary constituencies. The Cabinet Office’s newly published details show the government is not looking to compromise. Instead, it is upping the ante, in the hope that while many of its own backbenchers will be unhappy, the reforms are an even bigger problem for Labour – and one that, perversely, the Labour leadership might be quite happy to have.

The politics to the boundary changes is threefold…

First, the government is sticking with a maximum 5% variance in constituency size, above or below the average, which means a greater number of seats will change. This makes it more likely Cameron will stay on for as long as possible, so that he takes the flack for the reforms and leaves his successor to smooth ruffled Tory feathers. It’s also the reason Corbyn might welcome the review, as it lets his team get cracking with deselecting more of those pesky, voter-friendly, centrist Labour MPs.

Second, and vitally, the reforms will be based on the number of voters actually on the electoral register – not the local population. This is a major disadvantage for Labour and will be one of the government’s sweeteners for angry Conservative MPs.

And the third factor is probably the one the ‘essay crisis’ Prime Minister has paid least attention to – the government admits the boundary reforms will unbalance the cross-community representation in Westminster currently offered by Northern Irish MPs. Without knowing exactly what the new Northern Irish constituencies will look like, the government could be risking its relationship with unionists here, which is no small beer given the precarious nature of a Parliamentary majority that only just scrapes into double figures.

In the next 24 months we’ll find out whether these proposals are workable, or if the government has just consigned itself to the naughty step.

Greig Baker is Chief Executive at The GUIDE Consultancy

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Whip’s Notebook: The great boundary bust-up

01/02/2013, 09:00:25 AM

by Jon Ashworth

Tuesday was not a good day for the Tory whips.

There were early signs that not all was well on the Tory benches at Tuesday’s Treasury questions. In Westminster terms, the monthly joust between Ed Balls and George Osborne is usually box office and true to form the Labour benches were packed. Yet strangely the Tory benches were sparse and subdued.

A complete contrast with two and half years ago when adoring Tory MPs would try desperately hard to impress Osborne asking helpful questions here and guffawing at every “gag” there.

But now what a turnaround.

As each day goes by and we hear more grim news about an economy that continues to flat line while government borrowing and debt continues to increase, it seems Tory MPs are literally deserting their chancellor. Future leaders now talked of are Norman, Afyirie, Johnson and Gove, not Osborne anymore. No wonder his punch lines this week were greeted with tumbleweed on the Tory benches.

Perhaps Tory MPs were saving themselves for the debate later that afternoon on the boundaries and boy did they vent their spleen. Take Portsmouth Tory MP Penny Mordaunt accusing the Liberal Democrats of “spite, pettiness and self-interest”, while at the same time appearing oblivious to the fact that the pain she was experiencing from this Lib Dem “betrayal” was as a result of the gun she had taken and fired at her own foot as a Tory ringleader of the Lords rebellion last year.

Tory MP after Tory MP spluttered about the impertinence of an unelected chamber telling the Commons how it’s elected members’ constituency boundaries should be drawn. The self same Tory MPs who had defended and voted for an unelected House of Lords just months earlier.


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The damage has been done. Inside the coalition, it’s now personal

31/01/2013, 07:00:51 AM

by Peter Watt

Relations have been strained for some time now, but events on Tuesday in the House of Commons have now made it personal.  In essence, as far as the Tories are going to be concerned, the Lib Dems have increased the chances of them losing their seats at the next election.  And the numbers of Tories on the government benches assuming that the next election is now lost will rise further.

But think back.  Both the Lib Dems and the Tories had proposals to reduce the size of the House of Commons in their manifestos.  The Lib Dems linked this to a change in the voting system.  For the Tories though it wasn’t just about principle it was also a matter of pragmatism.  For election after election they had been screwed by the electoral arithmetic of uneven constituency boundaries.  The result was that it took far fewer Labour votes to get a Labour MP than Tory ones.  It made winning elections even harder for the Tories and it made them pretty cross.  To be fair, from their point of view you can see why!

So unsurprisingly the Coalition agreement contained a commitment to introduce a referendum on AV, a commitment to reduce the size of the House of Commons from 650 to 600 members and to equalise the size so that there were approximately 76,640 voters in each one.  It also contained a commitment to reform the House of Lords.  And the stated assumption was that both sides in the coalition would support all of the measures it contained.

To risk incurring the wrath of John Rentoul and his ‘banned list’ – the coalition agreement wasn’t a pick-n-mix.

The Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Act 2011 duly introduced the referendum on AV and also the aim of reducing the number of constituencies to 600.  It all started to go a little wrong when the Lib Dems felt let down by the way that the Tories campaigned against AV in the referendum.  The referendum was lost but at that point the Lib Dems could still point to House of Lords reform as a sign that their constitutional reforming zeal was far from being finished.


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2012 predictions: Dave and Nick to wed, the boundary review to be dropped and maybe Lansley too

05/01/2012, 09:17:01 AM

by Kevin Meagher

A mug’s game and a fool’s errand, but in the spirit of offering hostages to fortune, making rash and arbitrary predictions and being willing to be hoist by my own petard, please find my political predictions for 2012:

1. “With this pact I thee wed…”

This will be the year that the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats finally face up to the indisputable logic of a pre-election pact. Like a couple who have lived together for years, there is little reason to hold off from tying the knot – sooner or later they will realise this. They get on better than either side initially expected. Their candidates go into the next election with a joint record. The two parties’ fortunes are now symbiotic so there is no point manufacturing differences.

For ambitious Lib Dems, carrying on with the coalition is their best shot at retaining a ministerial career. For Cameron, Lib Dem ballast gives his government a better equilibrium, ensuring he doesn’t have to try too hard to please his right flank.

Austerity is going to stretch into the next parliament. Both sides can sell the deal as a continuation of “acting in the national interest”. Brutally, the number of marginal seats where the Tories are the main challengers to them would see off half the Lib Dems current 57 MPs. So logical and self-interested then; but will this convince both parties’ grassroots?

2. A shuffling of the pack

2012 will see a significant cabinet reshuffle. Commendably, David Cameron is proving a reluctant butcher. By the spring, however, he will want to freshen up the cabinet’s middle ranks, probably waiting until after May’s local elections. At the very least, Clarke, Spelman, Gillan and Warsi are all expendable. If Boris beats Ken for the London mayoralty, he can risk promoting a generation of Cameroons. (more…)

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Show voters you care: talk about their jobs, not yours

15/09/2011, 01:00:32 PM

by Peter Watt

I have developed an annoying habit. You know the way that ex-smokers are annoying, always pontificating in a superior way about the dangers of smoking, the nasty smell and the cost? Well I am kind of like that about politics. I used to “do politics” full time. I was a real insider and all that. And then I gave it up, and now I love to tell those still addicted the dangers of the habit, the nasty smell and of course the cost.

Well this week, let me tell you, I have felt a pretty smug ex-politico and to be honest I think that I am justified, even if I am annoying.

The real anger at Westminster this week has been reserved for, wait for it, the outcomes of the boundary commission. Not the weak state of the domestic, European or even world economy. Not the worryingly high level of inflation and the real pain being felt by families struggling to make ends meet. Not the implications of the welfare reform bill for people with disabilities or the health and social care bill. No, not even the hacking of phones could come close to the levels of Westminster angst that the threat to a handful of MPs’ jobs could raise.

MPs and political parties have been getting agitated about whether MP A or MP B might or might not have a seat after the election. At the same time, mere mortals are working hard just to pay their electricity, gas and food bills. Whatever the rights or wrongs of the policy to reduce the number of Westminster seats, I am not sure that much of the public will share the dismay of many at Westminster. Well, except the dismay that the numbers are not being reduced further. (more…)

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We must ensure that fewer MPs means more democracy

14/09/2011, 01:00:13 PM

by Andy Howell

Much of practical politics is about dealing with paradox and balance. At one end of the political continuum we have creativity (risky) and at the other caution (inaction). Those at the creative end of the spectrum have to be brave enough to cope with the Daily Mail, the Express and, of course, Murdoch. Those who stay cautious may feel safe, but inaction and indecisiveness tends to see events pop up and bite them on the bum.

There is a great deal of indignation among Labour’s ruling elites about the Tory-Lib Dem government’s plans for boundary reform. They argue that this is all a fix to bash Labour; and in many senses they are right. But it is worth reflecting on lost opportunities as well as considering how we deal with the review and subsequently position ourselves on constitutional reform.

There has long been a widespread view, for which I have some sympathy, that we have too many MPs. The Lib Dems, in particular, have been vocal in pointing out that Labour did very little in power to think about representation and constituencies; our electoral law and practice is based on registered voters and not on population. Labour — they say — was simply too comfortable with falling turnout and poor voter registration. There may be some truth in this, but Labour’s real failure was in not reforming Parliament.

Quite simply, the job of a backbench MP does not look that great when viewed from outside. Why do we need so many MPs simply to act as voting fodder for the executive? Labour missed a massive opportunity to act imaginatively and decisively in renewing our system of governance. Select committees should have been given more power, more independence and — critically —more resources with which to carry out their work. Our leadership should have been more comfortable with the relaxation, or reinvention, of the traditional “whip” system.


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Wheeler Briefing: stop the great Tory seat robbery

08/03/2011, 07:45:35 AM

by Peter Wheeler

On Friday last week, the boundary commissions for England, Wales Scotland and Northern Ireland, each announced the start of the process of reviewing the boundaries of the Parliamentary constituencies on which we will (probably) fight the next general election.

This review will be conducted in line with the recent Parliamentary voting and constituencies bill, and is the Tories’ reward for agreeing to a referendum on AV.


Since 1944, independent Parliamentary boundary commissions have conducted periodic reviews of the boundaries of Parliamentary constituencies. The review launched on Friday is the sixth. Each country in the UK has its own boundary commission, which submits a report directly to Parliament, the reviews happening roughly every 10 years and coming into effect at the election after they have been accepted.

The boundary commission would publish provisional recommendations for boundaries, usually on a county or London borough basis. These would be open to public comment and, usually a public enquiry, before the boundary commission published its final proposals. Currently, the boundary commission is required to come up with seats that are roughly equal in electorates (around 68,715 in England ) but is also required to take a number of other factors into account , for example:

  • local government boundaries ;
  • geography
  • community ties (more…)
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