Fair political boundaries are crucial to ensure our communities are fairly represented in Parliament.
We keep seeing governments using boundary changes to give them advantages on polling day. Too often they offer a vision of equality where the maths mattered but our communities didn’t.
We now have an opportunity to put voters first. It’s time to rethink the way we draw the political map in Britain.
What are the issues?
Missing voters. The new set of boundaries are currently being drawn on an incomplete electoral register. This will mean areas where people move on a regular basis, for instance those with a high concentration of certain demographics – students, private renters and especially young adults, and there for have lower rates of registration, will be under represented in parliament.
Constituency size. One of the principles of a fair Parliament is equal-sized constituencies to ensure more equal representation for all citizens. At the moment, constituencies vary in size from less than 22,000 to more than 110,000. Keeping constituency sizes up-to-date will require more frequent boundary reviews, which may disrupt the link between MPs and voters. Whilst the numbers are important, it is also crucial to have a system that does not awkwardly split up or graft together different communities.
Unfair representation. One of the main issues with the current law is that unregistered, but eligible, voters are not considered when drawing up constituency boundaries, although they are obviously still entitled to support from their MP. Urban and socially deprived areas where registration is low will be under-represented while affluent areas where registration is high will have disproportionate representation.
Unbalanced power. It’s the job of Parliament to hold the government to account. If you reduce the number of MPs in Parliament without reducing the number of ministers you increase the power of the executive and make it more difficult to challenge. This could reduce the ability for Parliament to offer meaningful dissent and therefore to do its job effectively.
Who is responsible?
The four national Boundary Commissions are the independent bodies responsible for reviewing constituency boundaries in the UK.
Who will be affected?
Under our current electoral system swing seats are incredibly influential in deciding elections, and a boundaries review may well mean voters shifting from a safe seat to a marginal without having to move house. Reducing the number of seats to 600 will cause MPs from the same party to compete over fewer seats and the survivors will be burdened with increased casework.
In the boundaries debate, attention tends to be on the fate of politicians. But most of us will be affected in some way. Some people will find the number of voters served by their local MP goes up or down. Our MP may change and we may even find ourselves living in a new seat with a different party in charge.
What we propose:
- We support the principle of equalisation but there should be more flexibility on numbers to help constituency boundaries reflect actual communities. We support raising the equality constraint up to +/- 10% to minimise disruption for both citizens and elected representatives.
- The next boundary review should be based on a more accurate and complete data source than the electoral register to ensure all citizens are counted. We recommend using census population statistics complemented by citizenship information provided by passport data.
- The population used to draw constituency boundaries should be fair to citizens and political parties. We recommend drawing boundaries on the basis of the total population of eligible electors (based on the data sources above).