Same sized Parliamentary boundaries has long been an ambition of the Conservative Party’s top brass. The feeling that the electoral boundaries have been skewed in Labour’s favour for decades is a commonly held belief at CCHQ and the numbers seem to bear that out. When counting registered voters (and remember the Boundary Commission only counts registered people not actual people) then Tory seats in the south tend to have many more people than Labour’s northern constituencies.
The new boundaries might ‘even things up a little’ and help address the perceived imbalance between Tory and Labour seats but they’re not without their detractors. Principally for three reasons: the first reason is perhaps the most intractable: politics. Those opposed to the changes point to the boundary changes helping the Tories the most. The blue team argues that Labour has enjoyed electoral benefits of representing smaller constituencies for many decades. Labour MPs retort, not so, just smaller numbers of registered voters not actual people. It’s true that generally speaking Labour seats tend to have greater turnover of population with more people from BAME backgrounds, students and those from poorer backgrounds – all groups being the least likely to register to vote. And that matters because the crux of the complaint is this: even before a single vote is cast Labour looks like losing 30 seats due to these changes. As the Tories pick up most of the lost Labour seats remember that number isn’t just 30 extra it is actually 60 on a majority. You can see why same sized boundaries is such a contested policy – the keys to Downing Street literally hang on it.
Secondly, and being a bit cheeky, it might be easier to sell the case for reducing the number of MPs to ‘cut the cost of politics’ if the Government eased up a tad on creating new expensive Peers on lifetime terms to sit in the House of Lords (another eight joined the Upper House this week for instance). Culling the numbers in the Lords would likely be popular but that’s not on the cards just yet.
Finally, the means to achieve the reduction in the number of MPs is based on what Jeremy Corbyn, whose own seat is to be abolished, describes as “an out of date electoral register”. That’s because it doesn’t take into account the surge in registrations ahead of the EU referendum. It is also a much shorter register of voters because having introduced Individual Electoral Registration there are now two million fewer voters to count and therefore distribute into new constituencies. While Labour MPs are complaining the loudest a small number of Tory MPs are also voicing concern. With a slim majority of only 12 it doesn’t take many unhappy Tory MPs who are losing their seats for this proposal to fall when it comes to the Commons for a vote in 2018. Of course, if there’s an early poll before then that contest will be fought on current boundaries so it might be a bit academic anyway. Let’s see.