Interesting analysis of where we are in reforming the boundaries of Parliamentary constituencies are dominating the front page of today’s Daily Telegraph. It’s a long informative piece but completely glosses over one of the most important aspects of the debate. It focuses on the unacceptable position of differing constituency populations leading to unfairness in our electoral system. It is indeed ridiculous that the 2022 General Election will be fought on the same basis as in 2000, despite major movements in population, and constituency size. There is a very strong case for equalisation of constituencies. And I suspect there would be a comfortable majority in Parliament, at least in principle, for proposals to achieve this.
But what today’s Telegraph article ignores is the implication of a reduction in constituencies from 650 to 600. This proposal causes huge turbulence and has always been contentious. It has caused a great deal of concern amongst MPs. My view, which I’ve expressed whenever asked about the redrawing of constituency boundaries is that the Act passed should be changed in two respects. Firstly, the number of constituencies should remain at 650. I can see no case whatsoever for the proposed reduction. And secondly the margin of difference in constituency sizes should be set at a higher level than the currently proposed 5%.
Of course I’m influenced by the position in Wales, where at present there are 40 constituencies. I do accept that there should be a reduction. If a position of equality were to be adopted across the UK at 650 seats, there would be a reduction to somewhere around 33 constituencies in Wales. The reduction to 600 parliamentary seats means the number of Welsh MPs would fall to just 29. And a tolerance of just 5% difference in constituency size almost completely ties the hands of the Boundary Commission for Wales.
The new proposals are scheduled to be put before Parliament within the next 12 months. If they had been based on 650 seats, I have not the slightest doubt that they would have been implemented in time for the 2022 Election. Lots of my Parliamentary colleagues tell me they think the current proposals based on 600 is far more uncertain to win Parliamentary approval - and the gross unfairness of hugely different sized constituencies could will continue in the direction of the ‘rotten boroughs’ of old. Let’s wait and see.