Monday, August 02, 2010

'Gerrymandering' - or protecting an unfair bias?

Must admit that I'm not keen on the proposals to equalise the size of Parliamentary constituencies at the same time as reducing the total number of MPs from 650 to 600. I'm just not sure its worth the rumpus. But I really cannot see how it can be called 'gerrymandering' as some pseudo-apoplectic Labour MPs are claiming. The protests seem to be loudest in Wales. Lets consider what's actually being proposed here.

First thing worthy of note is that what's proposed is exactly what David Cameron made clear he would do before he became Prime Minister. In fact the proposal is not quite so radical. The cull of MPs is 50 rather than the 65 previously proposed. Secondly, I cannot see how anyone can dispute the fairness of expecting all MPs to represent a roughly similar number of constituents. Its possible to argue that greater note should be made of historic boundaries, or that sparsity should be a factor - but not 'gerrymandering'.

Lets consider how these proposals apply to Wales, which currently sends 40 MPs to Westminster. It seems that this number will fall to 30 (or thereabouts) - a bigger reduction than will happen anywhere else in the UK. All this tells us is that Welsh MPs must be currently representing fewer constituents than other parts of the UK. What's being proposed is an end to this imbalance. If the Bill is approved, the arithmetical calculations can produce no other result. "Its logic Captain". And contrary to some of the devious comments I've heard used, its nothing whatsoever to do with devolution. The 600 figure does not take any account at all of the fact that MPs in England will have wider responsibilities. Several areas of policy have been devolved to the National Assembly. The worst aspect of this is that those who squeal 'gerrymandering' must know that there is no justification for their desperate cries as they pursue retention of their unjustified self-interest.


Sandy Jamieson said...

So how many more electors need to be added to Montgomeryshire to bring it up to the new quota? It woul be difficult to take from Brecon & Radnor since it is smaller than new quota amyway.

You can't really bring Oswestry into the new Constituency- that is one boundary that is sacrosacnt. I'd still look North and it strikes me that Llangollen, Berwyn and Corwen might be logically brought into Montgomery while other parts of the old Clwyd SW constituency could be added to Wrexham

Anonymous said...

I hope the Coalition goes through with this despite, or especially, because of the sanctimonous stuff spoted by Welsh Labour MPs. Owen Smith is hilarious, calling a cull of Welsh (Labour) MPs 'colonial'. Eh?

Labour are over-represented, or rather, the seats they tend to represent have stagnated in population over the decades.

There's a need to bring Westminister down to 600 MPs and there's a very strong argument to bring Welsh MPs down to 30.

This is a once in a lifetime chance, don't miss it.


Glyn Davies said...

Sandy - Montgomeryshire has around 50,000 voters, while the new constituency will have to be around 75,000. At this stage I have not a clue about what will happen. Like you, I would prefer to look at the old Powis area, rather than the current Powys - which does mean looking North and West.

Anon - The Government is determined to drive this through, and it will be debated on our first day back on Sept 6th. It will be a major battle in Parliament during the September sittings.

Oscar said...

So a former shadow minister when he visited Llandudno was correct when he told Guto that Aberconwy would dissapear under the new constituency proposals.
Poor bugger may end up being a one term MP through no fault of his own.

Glyn Davies said...

Oscar - at present no-one knows what is going to happen. First things first though. The Bill has to make it through the House of Lords - and in time for the new boundaries to be redrawn in time for the next Genersl Election, which there are no guarentees will be held at the proposed date in 2015. Truth is that no-one is safe. Even seats with an electorate of 75,000 could be split up to increase the size of neighbouring constituencies.

James D said...

There are, however, a number of seats in Wales where we can be quite sure of what a boundary commission with a 75,000 quota would do, precisely because there is only one thing a reasonable boundary commission could do.

The easiest one to envisage is Ynys Môn. There is little risk there of the existing constituency being split between two constituencies, but it does only have an electorate of around 50,000. So about 25,000 electors (or more than half its ~42,000) would need to be moved in from Arfon, obviously taking the Bangor end of the constituency. The remaining 17,000 only adjoin one constituency (Dwyfor Meirionnydd) and adding these on would reach 72,000 in that constituency (so the question would become whether a boundary commission would seek to include Nant Conwy -- I think they almost certainly would, as Conwy county has about 80,000 electors). That is Gwynedd and Ynys Môn counties essentially complete.

Continuing along the coast, Denbighshire has almost exactly the right number of electors for one constituency, and Flintshire and Wrexham combine to give three times the new quota. Seeing how much boundary commissions are meant to stick to principal area boundaries, it's only the detail of the Flintshire/Wrexham constituencies that I don't have a best guess for in the North.

Of course there are (at least) two slightly interesting implications of this:
1) I don't think it's very likely Montgomeryshire would be extended north by a boundary commission; and:
2) from that limited sample, that looks like a move from 6S-2C-2P to 4S-2C-1P -- I don't think it's Labour who are going to be most self-interestedly miffed here somehow!

I also on similar grounds don't think there's much chance of heading west -- the numbers look just too good for two Carmarthenshire constituencies, a southern Pembrokeshire constituency, and northern Pembrokeshire and Ceredigion constituency. I wouldn't be too surprised if they jiggled that around to add the Carmarthenshire bit of Teifiside to Ceredigion instead, with knock-on cross-boundary stuff between Carmarthenshire and Pembrokeshire, but I don't really expect much flexibility as to the eastern boundaries of that area.

With all that in mind, I suspect the most likely approach to reducing Powys to quota would be to split Brecon and Radnor, with pieces possibly going to one or more of the Monmouth, Merthyr Tudful, and Neath constituencies (but I don't think a constituency relying on the Llangynidr mountain road is very likely!). So my notional money's on Montgomeryshire, Radnor, and Builth ending up being a constituency.