The Tories are ‘gerrymandering’ democracy to turn England blue
A website has plotted the proposed boundary changes to Great Britain’s parliamentary constituencies on a map. Based on the 2019 election results, it would increase its majority and lock Labour out of power. Some people are calling it Tory “gerrymandering”. So, will we need a “progressive alliance” of opposition parties to stop the Tories?
Pushing the boundaries
As The Canary previously reported, parliamentary constituencies are changing. The UK has a boundary commission in each of the four nations. In June, England’s commission published its plan. According to the Guardian, the proposals would mark the biggest change to parliamentary boundaries “in decades”. The number of constituencies in England would increase from 533 to 543. Since then, Wales’ and Scotland’s commissions have released their plans.
The process began in January. The commissions must complete it by 1 July 2023 when the recommendations will be “implemented automatically”. As it stands, the current plans will mean the following shifts in constituency seat numbers:
- England 543 (+10).
- Scotland 57 (-2).
- Wales 32 (-8).
- Northern Ireland 18 (no change).
For England, this would see the South East gain seven seats, the South West three, the East three, and London two. The East Midlands would lose a seat, and the North West, North East, and West Midlands would lose two each.
On Wednesday 20 October, PA reported that the North of Ireland boundary commission released its proposals. The number of constituencies is staying the same. But there are other changes, like the transfer of areas from County Down into the current South Belfast and Strangford constituencies to create South Belfast and Mid Down and Strangford and Quoile. Fermanagh South Tyrone, Mid Ulster and Lagan Valley are also set for changes. But all 18 constituencies are to be altered to reflect population changes.
So, what does that physically look like? Thanks to the website Election Maps UK, we now know.
England: getting bluer?
It tweeted just what the political landscape of Great Britain (without the north of Ireland) would look like based on the 2019 general election result:
Here they are in full, the first draft of the 2023 Boundaries for Great Britain:
(2019 Equivalent Seat Projections from New Statesman for England, and Electoral Calculus for Scotland/Wales). pic.twitter.com/63ENX5Z573
— Election Maps UK (@ElectionMapsUK) October 19, 2021
You can view the interactive map here. Now, while England and Wales look Tory blue and Scotland SNP yellow, the devil is in the detail. Election Maps UK found that based on the 2019 election result, seat numbers would be as follows:
CON: 373 (+8)
LAB: 197 (-5)
SNP: 48 (=)
LDM: 10 (-1)
PLC: 2 (-2)
GRN: 1 (=)
Speaker: 1 (=)
Conservative majority of 96 (+16)
So, the Tories would increase their majority. This would be nowhere near the size of Tony Blair’s in 1997 (bearing in mind the SNP wasn’t strong in Scotland then). But this is only if the 2019 election was replicated. One Twitter user claimed to have crunched the numbers based on recent polling. And they found that the Tories’ majority would actually be 99 (+18):
For those wondering, if an election was held tomorrow, and the vote shares were the same as the current polling average, these would be the seat results: pic.twitter.com/tmyYZBYkpI
— hmslion (@hmslion2) October 19, 2021
Some people were saying that a boundary review is actually overdue. The last one was implemented in 2010 and the UK population has changed since then. So, is this gerrymandering by the Tories? Well, it’s not that straightforward.
The boundary commission: a complex issue
As Ballot Box Scotland wrote, one issue is that under our First Past the Post voting system, the commissions’ reviews were always going to be “garbage”. The new rules require each constituency to have a total electorate that’s within 5% of 73,393 people. That is, every seat in the UK has to have roughly the same number of voters in it.
Ballot Box Scotland noted that in Scotland the current boundaries are based on data from 1999. So, they are completely out of date. Moreover, as it wrote:
there is absolutely nothing sinister or unfair about this… The simple reality is that within the UK the population of England, especially in the South, is growing much faster than the other nations. That naturally leads to areas with slower population growth ending up with slightly fewer seats than before, whilst areas with high growth have slightly more.
On this basis, a boundary review would seem logical. And on the face of it, it may seem the Tories aren’t gerrymandering the process. But it’s when you factor in other changes that the reality becomes clear.
As The Canary previously reported:
Labour MPs have expressed frustration that the… [boundary commissions have] set flexibility over new constituency populations to 5%, rather than their preferred 10%. …
The boundary shifts follow proposed changes to elections, which would require a form of photo ID to vote.
Opposition MPs criticised the plans, saying they would decrease turnout among minority communities that are less likely to vote Conservative.
Also, the Tories are changing the voting system for metro mayors to FPTP. Couple with a decline in the poorest people voting, and you have a perfect storm for the Tories potentially subverting democracy even more. But what to do?
A progressive alliance?
As writer Alex Tiffin tweeted, a progressive alliance of opposition parties who would enact a proportional representation (PR) voting system could be an answer:
Keir Starmer needs to get behind a #ProgressiveAlliance for all our sakes.
These new boundaries require it, or it's a Tory government forever.
Process: Run as an alliance on a platform to introduce Proportional Representation ➡️ Gain power ➡️ legislate PR ➡️ hold election. https://t.co/p6ctVyQfjP
— Alex Tiffin (@RespectIsVital) October 19, 2021
Keir Starmer has flip-flopped over this issue in recent months: going from saying he might consider a political alliance in July, to saying Labour wouldn’t form a coalition with the SNP in August, and then refusing to back PR at the party conference in September. But is a progressive alliance all it’s cracked up to be?
As Dr Kevin Hickson and Dr Jasper Miles outlined, it might actually not be in the public’s best interests. Among their reasons against it, they noted that the SNP and Plaid Cymru:
would challenge Labour’s Unionism – also a problem for the Liberal Democrats. Labour believes in economic expansion and redistributing the proceeds of growth.
The Greens believe in restricting economic growth in favour of the environment. The Lib Dems continue to support European integration and obsess over proportional representation, two policies which are unlikely to go down well with a sceptical electorate, especially in the Red Wall seats Labour needs to win back.
Also, many voters will recall the Lib Dems’ role and support in the Coalition Government for austerity, hardly a benchmark for a ‘progressive’ party.
In addition, policymaking in the Labour movement is difficult enough: adding minor parties into the mix will make things even more complex, attempting to satisfy the Parliamentary Labour Party, and broader Labour movement, and the factions in different parties.
No way out?
So, it seems for the moment the Tories’ changes to democracy could well cement their political power – which for the rest of us could be very bad news.
You can find out how to submit your views to the boundary commissions’ consultation processes here.
Featured image via Wikimedia and Election Maps UK – screengrab and additional reporting by PA
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