This week we will find out what the Parliamentary Boundaries will be that the next General Election will be fought on. But as administrative as this reform may sound it holds serious consequences for our region and its political future.
The agreement to cut back the number of MPs was made as part of the Coalition Agreement that saw the Tories win a policy that would make it easier for them to win the next General Election (new boundaries) and the Lib Dems win a policy – (the AV referendum) that if won would have made it easier for them to win the next General Election.
The Lib Dems royally screwed up the AV referendum and so now they must face the consequences of their increasingly poor deal by seeing which of their number will lose their seats before a single vote has been cast. Expect some very unhappy Lib Dem MPs from this week on.
Each political party will try to alter the boundaries to help them so says the prevailing belief among the general public. True, every 10 years or so there is a boundary review that looks again at the geographies that elect a Member of Parliament. To date, though, these have been fairly political neutral, reflecting population changes and new developments rather than political projects. But not this boundary change that will be revealed this week.
Mr Cameron’s boundary review is overtly political and partisan. Whatever the spin from Downing Street may be today – saving money, embedding the new politics, these changes are explicitly designed to cut the number of Labour MPs, and hence make it easier for the Tories to win an outright majority. In the process their Coalition partners will also lose seats; between 10 and 15 depending on the study have been suggested. Labour stand to lose double that.
The Tories argue their seats have more electors than seats Labour holds. True, on average there are three thousands or so more registered voters between the average Tory seat and its Labour equivalent. But here we need to look closely at what is being counted: registered voters.
Generalising horribly, Labour seats have a higher churn of people moving homes, living in temporary accommodation or people from groups less likely to vote: the poor, ethnic minorities, transient populations. So, the Tories may be right that their seats may have more registered voters, but it is by no means clear that they have more people in. Only in Westminster village can real people be discounted on a form-filling technicality. While many, including myself, have some sympathy for this argument there was no mass-registration drive before the numbers were determined that the review was being based on. That stinks.
So, what are the consequences for us in Devon?
Well, we will probably see a new constituency crossing the Devon and Cornwall border unbelievably to the anger of people on both sides of the Tamar.
We might see Plymouth’s boundaries change with a skew towards making it easier for Tories to be elected. Good news if your name is Oliver Colvile, Plymouth Sutton and Devonport’s Tory MP.
The media may become distracted by head-to-head contests between the big political beasts whose seats will be lost and require some movement to different constituencies: George Osborne, Danny Alexander, Charles Kennedy and Ed Balls all fit into this category.
The truth is though for the average voter this reform will mean that your MP will be more remote than before. Representing more people will mean less time for every voter, more problems in every constituency to deal with and more admin, correspondence and meetings. MPs will do themselves no favours if they talk about the increased workload. But in a time when we need our MPs to be more representative not less, this change seems bizarre. We all need to be clear about what this is: gerrymandering by the Tories plain and simple.
So, look out this week to see who will be the winners and think about who will be losing out in this new political settlement. Labour and the Lib Dems will certainly be poorer for it but so too will the average voter. The Tories will have produced another victory for themselves and a defeat of the person in the street.