The Copeland and Stoke Central by-elections on 23 February followed weeks of frenzied media speculation. The media then used the results to pronounce everything from the end of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership to Theresa May’s victory in the war against socialism. But it turns out the whole thing was a farce. Because neither constituency is likely to exist in three years’ time, thanks to the Conservatives’ boundary review.
The boundary review
Almost immediately after winning the 2015 general election, senior Conservatives announced that the new government’s top priority would be to redraw the nation’s constituency boundaries.
Two years on, a radical boundary review is well underway. The BBC calls it “the biggest shake-up of our political map in anyone’s lifetime”. It will reduce the number of MPs in the House of Commons by 50. The Boundary Commission for England published its initial proposals in September 2016. The proposals have yet to be finalised but, according to most analyses of the current data, the lion’s share of lost seats – up to 30 of them – will be Labour seats. All in good time for the next general election.
Copeland and Stoke Central
Among the 50 seats facing the axe are Copeland in Cumbria and Stoke-on-Trent Central in Staffordshire.
The Boundary Commission for England proposes carving Copeland up between two neighbouring constituencies and one new constituency, and abolishing Stoke-on-Trent Central, splitting its voters between Stoke-on-Trent North and Stoke-on-Trent South. Neither seat is likely to be contested in its current form during the 2020 general election.
The government’s stated reason for its boundary review is to “make votes of more equal value”. Basically, Britain’s constituencies vary substantially in size. After the review, each constituency will need to contain within 5% of the electoral quota of 74,769. So the UK’s four boundary commissions are charged with proposing the best way to chop up, merge and abolish constituencies to make that happen.
So far so reasonable. But there’s a catch. The electoral quota doesn’t refer to the number of constituents. It refers to the number of constituents who are registered to vote. So Labour constituencies, which are traditionally more disenfranchised than Conservative constituencies, will get hammered.
Worse, the Conservatives are basing the review on data from 1 December 2015 – just after the government deleted hundreds of thousands of names from the electoral register. Those names disproportionately come from deprived, urban and university areas – i.e. they are more likely to be Labour voters. Since that time, more than 2 million voters have joined the electoral rolls, but they’re all being left out of the calculations.
In short, the UK’s new boundaries will be based on outdated and manipulated data. As a result, Labour could lose 10% of its seats, according to some analyses. The Lib Dems – whose participation in the Coalition government helped set the stage for these changes back in 2011 – could lose an eye-watering 50% of their seats. The Conservatives, meanwhile, may lose just 4% of theirs.
After the by-elections, journalists wasted no time in proclaiming Labour to be electorally dead in the water. The results meant the end of Corbyn’s leadership. They represented a final victory for Theresa May in the war against socialism.
But, without exception, the media ignored the real threat to Labour’s future: the Conservatives’ use of a boundary review to launch a radical attack on multi-party democracy. As the BBC’s Shaun Ley has written:
This boundary review… could finish off the Labour Party’s chances of ever returning to government.
Permanent Conservative rule
Both by-elections were taking place in seats facing the axe. The media response made a mockery of our democracy. Instead of holding our governing party to account over its industrial-scale gerrymandering, our entire media used the by-elections as an opportunity to attack the Leader of the Opposition. And now, the Conservative government looks set to lock itself into power for a generation or more.
– Our media is failing to hold the government to account, but you can still make a difference. Right now, the Boundary Commission for England is running a public consultation. It’s seeking comments on all previous responses to its proposals. Please get stuck in with comments about your area. You can also find out more about the proposals put forward by the boundary commissions for Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.
– Support The Canary so we can keep bringing you the news that matters.
We need your help to keep speaking the truth
Every story that you have come to us with; each injustice you have asked us to investigate; every campaign we have fought; each of your unheard voices we amplified; we do this for you. We are making a difference on your behalf.
Our fight is your fight. You’ve supported our collective struggle every time you gave us a like; and every time you shared our work across social media. Now we need you to support us with a monthly donation.
We have published nearly 2,000 articles and over 50 films in 2021. And we want to do this and more in 2022 but we don’t have enough money to go on at this pace. So, if you value our work and want us to continue then please join us and be part of The Canary family.
In return, you get:
* Advert free reading experience
* Quarterly group video call with the Editor-in-Chief
* Behind the scenes monthly e-newsletter
* 20% discount in our shop
Almost all of our spending goes to the people who make The Canary’s content. So your contribution directly supports our writers and enables us to continue to do what we do: speaking truth, powered by you. We have weathered many attempts to shut us down and silence our vital opposition to an increasingly fascist government and right-wing mainstream media.
With your help we can continue:
* Holding political and state power to account
* Advocating for the people the system marginalises
* Being a media outlet that upholds the highest standards
* Campaigning on the issues others won’t
* Putting your lives central to everything we do
We are a drop of truth in an ocean of deceit. But we can’t do this without your support. So please, can you help us continue the fight?