It’s easy to get distracted with politics. Between Labour’s antisemitism row and the foreign secretary’s lies dominating the headlines, Theresa May might hope her latest possible U-turn would go unnoticed. But we all need to pay attention. Because it’s one that could lock the Conservatives into power indefinitely.
The Evening Standard has reported that senior Tories now believe May is planning to revive plans to change constituency boundaries; plans that Labour and the Liberal Democrats believe would boost Conservative election chances.
Proposed boundary changes for parliamentary constituencies are nothing new. Former prime minister David Cameron proposed the current review shortly after the 2015 election. The review was described as “the biggest shake-up of our political map in anyone’s lifetime” by the BBC. It would have seen the number of UK MPs slashed from 650 to 600 and a radical redrawing of our constituencies.
The government’s suspected motive for the changes was to increase the number of Conservative constituencies, so it could garner a stronger majority in parliament. According to research by Conservative peer Robert Hayward, the changes may affect 200 Labour Party seats. He said Labour could lose 30 seats completely.
But things didn’t go according to plan. Already faced with opposition from some Conservative MPs who were worried about losing their seats, May’s alliance with the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) meant the plans were apparently abandoned as the original proposals meant the DUP would see its 10 MPs reduced to seven.
So let’s redraw the map
The answer, it seems, was to redraw the map. The final recommendations will be published by the Boundaries Commission by 1 October 2018. But the proposed revised map [pdf] would allow the DUP to keep all 10 of its seats.
A Conservative minister told the Evening Standard:
It is certainly not dead now, I think the DUP will be on board.
And while the minister also said some Conservative MPs are concerned about their own jobs, those MPs could be offered peerages by May.
The peace process
The new plans could have far-reaching consequences for the Northern Ireland peace process. Speaking about the proposed changes in January 2018, Sinn Féin MP Francie Molloy warned that a new map favouring the DUP:
would mean that the Tories have again acquiesced to the DUP’s anti-democratic agenda… That is entirely unacceptable and further evidence of the British Government’s ongoing refusal to act in an impartial manner as they are obliged to under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement.
The Good Friday Agreement requires the UK government to act with “rigorous impartiality on behalf of all the people in the diversity of their identities and traditions”.
When the Conservatives struck their £1bn deal with the DUP to keep themselves in power, political figures from former UK prime minister John Major to recent Irish premier Enda Kenny warned that it could put the peace process at risk.
Democracy, my arse!
The Conservatives are so desperate to cling to power that it seems they are willing to ride roughshod over the Northern Ireland peace process. And it seems the party cares little for our democratic rights. If the Conservative minister is right, then May is essentially buying votes with peerages.
And while there are areas of parliament that desperately need reform, these proposals are nothing short of a power grab.
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