Boundary Reform in the UK

After a summer of political chaos, a useful story for students studying Elections and Parliament at AS Level has been making headlines this week – constituency boundary reform.

By law, constituency sizes are supposed to be reviewed with reasonable regularity (every 10 years or so) to ensure fairness. In the current system, “the size of Westminster constituencies varies wildly, ranging from 21,769 voters in Na h-Eileanan an Iar (the Western Isles) to 108,804 in the Isle of Wight” (http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2016/feb/12/number-of-mps-to-cut-from-650-to-600)- meaning one vote in one constituency might be worth more of less than another.

The proposals for extensive boundary reform were scuppered by the Liberal Democrats during the Coalition in 2013, but now that the Conservatives have a majority in Parliament these plans have reappeared. The plans would equalise constituency sizes and reduce the number of MPs from 650 to 600 ( from “533 to 501 in England, from 40 to 29 in Wales, from 59 to 53 in Scotland and from 18 to 17 in Northern Ireland”).

This can be used for lots of AS Level topics. In studying the Elections topic in Unit 1, this reform raises all sorts of questions about the fairness of First Past the Post and vote value – i.e. whether every persons vote is worth the same in the UK. Even if this reform goes through, it would not rememdy the problem of safe seats and the effect this has on vote value (outdated but very useful website – http://www.voterpower.org.uk/)

For Democracy, you could use it in an essay discussing representation (and representative democracy) – with a  reduction in MPs each MP would represent more people and this has affects their ability to adequately represent each person in the country.

Whether these reforms will even get through is up for debate, and this can be used in the Parties topic. With a majority of only 12, the Conservatives do not have this reform guaranteed to pass, and with key players like Osbourne set to ‘lose’ his seat (i.e. his boundary is be substantially rewritten – he can still run for it!) there is no guarantee of full Conservative party support. Some Labour MPs have already labelled the reforms ‘undemocratic’ (it is worth noting that the Boundary Commission is independent of party politics, unlike in the USA).

In Unit 2, this example can be used for students in the Parliament topic looking at Parliamentary reform – the reduction in MPs may go some way to making the House more modern (smaller, like many other European countries) and reducing the cost of Parliament. It is also relevant for the Constitution topic as an example of reform, although how relevant remains to be seen depending on whether it passes or not!

There is no guarantee on how this will play out – but with such a slim majority it will be fascinating to see if this reform passes. Until 5 December 2016 the Boundary Commission are consulting the public – click the link about to see what boundary reform means for your constituency and to have your say.

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