The bill proposing a cutback of MPs from 650 to 600, and a comprehensive redrawing of the constituency boundaries in the UK was debated and passed through the House of Lords last week. Criticisms of the proposals have been fierce, including accusations that the Coalition are attempting to ‘rig’ the parliamentary system to their own advantage through a blatant form of Gerrymandering.
The Coalition claims the constitutional changes will improve the fairness and equality of our democratic system, achieved in one way by reducing the gaping disparity between the numbers of voters in constituencies. A comparison of two ‘A’s’ should highlight the problem: Ashford in Kent has an electorate of 81,000, whereas Aberavon in West Wales has a mere 50,000. The Government says this is an unacceptable state of affairs that disproportionately benefits Labour in urban areas, particularly in Wales and Scotland.
Whilst boundaries do need to be adjusted according to population, the Coalition seems to have conveniently forgotten about the far higher percentage of unregistered voters in urban areas. This could be seen as their attempt to eschew the balance of favour to the suburbs and shires, their traditional heartlands.
The reduction of MPs seems attractive at first glance. After all, they are only mildly less unpopular than bankers in the aftermath of the expenses scandal, and any move against them will get a certain amount of populist backing. Many will also praise the reduction as good economic sense in hard times, with a reported annual saving of £12m. Yet the perils of cutting back our representatives in Parliament far outweigh any reason for it.
We have to understand that the proposed House of Commons will contain fewer MPs than at any time since the Second World War. With our population continuing to grow, each constituency will contain around 105,000 people, resulting in less representation for the electorate and less contact within constituencies.
Perhaps the reform should look instead at curtailing the amount of Ministers in Cabinet, which has steadily risen (Cameron has 14 more than Thatcher), whereas the amount of MPs has not. A reduction of MPs but not Ministers will further inhibit Parliament’s ability to perform the vital functions of scrutiny and checks and balances. The Commons is already a poor excuse for a legislative body in regard to these things; just think back to the way Tony Blair was able to force any bill through Parliament. With Cabinet left intact, it will be able to behave even more autocratically in response to a further emasculated House of Commons.
To put true Coalition intentions in the spotlight, simply observe the contradictions of how the Conservatives have pushed for the reduction of MPs and boundary changes, in the name of a fairer and more representative system, but a change that they stand to highly benefit from.
Compare this to the Conservative’s decision to campaign against a change to the more proportional AV voting system and you realise they are only seeking a better future for their part,y and not a stronger future for British Democracy.