Cat Smith slams government’s one-size-fits-all boundary review approach
On 8th June the Boundary Commission for England published its first draft of the parliamentary constituencies 2023, with the first drafts from the Scottish and Welsh commissions expected separately. The process of consultation on these first drafts now begins and will run until the final recommendations which will be made by 1st July 2023 (with the exception of four ‘protected’ island constituencies).
All UK constituencies must have an electorate of between 69,744 and 77,062 based on the electoral roll of March 2020. The exception to this rule are all islands: the Isle of Wight will become two constituencies; Ynes Mon (Anglesey) and Na-h-Eileanan (the former Western Isles). Orkney and Shetland are protected in the legislation and not under review.
A review of parliamentary boundaries is long overdue, with current seats drawn up on data from two decades ago. After years of delay and indecision, the government has finally abandoned its plans to reduce the number of MPs to 600, and to remain at 650.
Covid-19 has underscored the importance of strong scrutiny over the executive during a time of crisis, yet the Tories have not missed this opportunity to sneak through a few government power-grabs. They are removing Parliament’s ability to have a final vote on boundary proposals. Instead, the approval of the boundary review will be in the hands of the government.
This is the same government that unlawfully prorogued parliament. We cannot assume that they won’t use the lack of parliamentary oversight to push through changes that give the Conservatives unfair advantages. This loophole allows for a power-grab, with no parliamentary backstop to limit the dominance of the executive.
As the legislation which set the framework for this review went through Parliament, Labour supported increasing the flexibility when it comes to the size of constituencies. In the legislation all constituencies have to be within 5% above or below of the national average electorate size, despite 10% being an international standard.
As we see from some of the examples in the first draft of constituencies, this tight quota would have created seats that include multiple local authorities that do not take account of local ties and communities. Labour has long opposed the restrictive 5% quota. A wider variance would have allowed for greater flexibility and consideration of local ties and identities.
This review has drawn up constituencies which cross county boundaries that have never previously been crossed and it will be interesting to see what public reaction is to this. When voters struggle to identify with the constituency boundaries it doesn’t bode well for how well they will be able to engage with and recognise their elected politicians. These risks weaken our democracy.
The process thus far has been beset with dither and delay, with millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money wasted on shelved reviews. Given the current boundaries are mostly 20 years old, it is right that we get a fresh set of constituency boundaries. Yet the Tories are using this process to strengthen its own power at the expense of parliamentary scrutiny. It is an insult to the House of Commons and sets a dangerous precedent for future legislation.
The Boundary Commission for England is currently consulting on these initial proposals for an eight-week period, from 8th June to 2nd August 2021. I would encourage you to take a look at how your community is affected and consider responding to this at www.bcereviews.org.uk, where you can also find more information about the proposals.