David Cameron, the leader of the Opposition in the United Kingdom, is planning to immediately cut the number of seats in the House of Commons following an election victory this year, according to reports.
Cameron’s plan involves immediately introducing legislation following an election which would trigger a rapid review of electoral boundaries in England and Wales in order to cut the number of seats by approximately 10%.
Electoral boundary reviews in the past have taken as long as seven years, and the new boundaries being used for the 2010 election are based on registered voter figures from the year 2000. Cameron’s legislation would give only 18 months for a new review.
The Conservatives are arguing that the cut in the size of the Commons, which will have 650 members after this year’s election, is intended to cut the cost of politics, not to achieve electoral gain. While it is probably a good idea to shrink the Commons to less than 600 seats, the costs of those 65 members of Parliament really don’t add up to a lot in the scheme of things.
There is some electoral benefit for the Conservatives in speeding up the process of boundary reviews. Strong Labour areas like the inner cities tend to be depopulating, which means that boundaries drawn using out-of-date data will tend to mean that the number of voters in Labour seats is less than in Conservative seats. Yet this is only a minor issue. The main bias against the Conservatives in the electoral system comes from the geographical distribution of Conservative voters. Labour voters tend to be more ‘effective’, spread efficiently over marginal seats, while Conservative voters are locked up in huge majorities in safe seats. This is the main reason why the Conservatives need to beat Labour by a wide margin to win a majority. No redrawing of the boundaries will fix this: all systems of single-member electorates favours one party over another.
Labour in the UK is crying ‘gerrymander’ over the proposal, although it seems that numerical fairness is on the Conservative side. It seems that the Conservative plan is a good idea, but won’t achieve any of the aims being spun by either side about removing the bias in the electoral system.
In other news, I have just finished the South-East England region in my map of the 1997-2005 electoral boundaries, which I am hoping to finish before the UK election later this year. Maps below the fold.