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Tuesday, September 11, 2018

A power grab or a fair redistribution

If you are to succeed in politics then you need to start with a power base, a group of people who are going to elect you and then further groups who will support you as you rise through the ranks. There is nothing more sensitive to an MP therefore, or indeed a political party, as the integrity of their constituency.

It was inevitable therefore that the publication of boundary commission proposals that will see the number of MPs reduced from 650 to 600 was going to produce howls of anguish, not least from those who are losing out.

Nevertheless, those opposing these plans do have a point. We are about to come out of the EU. That means that the loss of 73 MEPs and their role in scrutinising legislation will inevitably lead to an increase in the workload of MPs, as that legislation is transferred to Parliament, as well as creating a demand for more effective scrutiny of the executive. It will be difficult to do this if the number of backbench MPs are cut, whilst those on the government payroll stay unchanged.

And of course there is the case that it will be the Conservative Party who will benefit most from this change, leading to cries of foul play from opposition parties. One study by Colin Rallings and Michael Thrasher, academics at the University of Plymouth, calculated that the new boundaries would have given the Conservatives an overall majority of 16 in last year’s election. The Tories would have taken 10 fewer seats than they did and Labour 30 fewer. Is that a coincidence? I don't think so.

The Guardian reports that Labour are particularly miffed: The shadow Cabinet Office minister Cat Smith said the final recommendations amounted to “an undemocratic power grab”. “With no plans to reduce the number of ministers, the government is weakening the role of parliament and creating unprecedented levels of executive dominance at the expense of backbenchers, when parliament is meant to be taking back control,” she said.

“Cutting the number of MPs by 50 as we prepare to leave the European Union is further proof this government is clamouring to tighten its grip on power. With the workload of MPs set to rise after Brexit, with thousands of pieces of important legislation expected to come through parliament, it would be utterly ludicrous to go ahead with these boundary changes.”

One of the reasons the outcome of this review is so one-sided is that the boundary commission were told to work with the electorate as it stood in 2015. Since then there has been a dramatic surge in new registrations around the Brexit referendum and the 2017 General Election, mostly of young people who may not be so inclined to back the Tories.

As a result some Labour areas have been misrepresented in the calculations leaving them with fewer winnable seats than they might otherwise expect. This was picked up at the time and Labour even tabled an amendment in the House of Lords to correct the discrepancy. They should have won that amendment but failed to get enough of their peers into the lobby to vote. They bear some responsibility for this outcome therefore.

It is just as well then that the chances of these boundary changes successfully getting through the House of  Commons is roughly comparable to Boris Johnson becoming Labour leader. Turkeys ain't going to vote for Christmas.
If the Commission's proposals go through, will that not increase the workload of AMs and strengthen the case for the Richard recommendations?

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