Wednesday 2 February 2011

Gerrymandering and other Animals

"Watch the tiger when it's licking your ear." That's what my Dad always said. So, when Wee-Willie-Hague emerged from those secret negotiations that totally bypassed further democracy and presented the UK with a coalition that it hadn't voted for (policy wise), I was aware of tiger-saliva dribbling all the way down my neck.

"This parliament will last for 5 years" he declared confidently as he emerged blinking into the spring morning. "The next election will be held on 7th May 2015" . Fixed term parliaments were a done deal, despite no mention before the election. Hmmmm, I wonder why 5 years.... Could it be that they were about to make such a mash up of the country, that only 5 years might see any hope of a light at the end of the tunnel? Why 5 and not the more usual 4?

Alongside this constitutional bombshell, we heard that parliament would now require a vote of 55% or more to dissolve itself. With a combined Lib/Con seat tally of 364, it meant that to get rid of the Tories, parliament would need to dredge up 357.5 MPs to vote them out. Considering that ALL non Tory MPs add up to 343, it would mean that 14 (and a half) of their own MPs would need to vote against their own party for the government to fall. No-one was sure whether this applied to votes of no confidence or not - even their own MPs. "Oh but it will make democracy more stable" purred Tiger-Willie (in the way that Zimbabwe and other dictatorships are "stable" I presume?) "Labour did this in Scotland and Wales" they soothed. "Oh did they? Well I'm not happy about that either."

As far as I know today, (seemingly supported by previous link) votes of no confidence will still pass on the traditional 50% + 1 vote, but then what? You can't get rid of the government that have lost our confidence. "It's to give time (14 days) for an alternative government to be formed" they assured. Then they decided to go with 66% to dissolve parliament anyway. Two thirds. If this lot really do fail spectacularly, it's going to take a pretty incredible vote to get rid of them.

Then we have the reduction of MPs from 650 to 600. Of course, when the idea was first put to David Cameron, it's unlikely anyone came to him and said, "Look Dave, this will lose you seats, but it's right for democracy" **Before anyone dares to tell me it's all to redress a current built in bias against the Tories blah blah please read this by Anthony Wells at UKPR, or you'll just look ignorant.

That tiger is slurping again! Does anyone in the country actually believe it was to reduce the cost of parliament? Fewer MPs would be a good thing? Well, if they do, a few squints at the likely outcome should put them straight. Would it surprise anyone to know that it's extremely unlikely that seats will be lost in Sussex, Surrey or Berkshire? If I then go on to say that the worst affected areas are likely to be Scotland, Wales and the North are you starting to see a pattern here? How many southern seats are Labour? How many in Scotland and Wales Tory? Just to be sure it all goes through though, they're removing the right of local boundary appeals. (Oh, just to complete the mockery, it wasn't going to work in three seats, so they're to be excluded from the new rules on constituency size. And they're all LibDem!! How about that!!)

 Today, Michael Crick reports for the BBC that
"a new unit has been set up inside Conservative HQ to manage the process in an orderly fashion, and to fulfil a promise recently made by David Cameron to the 1922 that no Conservative MP would lose out from the reduction in the total number of MPs from 650 down to 600"
Come on guys! At least keep up the pretence that this is democratic.

Then, to really nibble our ear lobes, those Tiger-Tories, wrapped it all up in the same bill with the AV referendum. Any points of argument or dissent look like hypocrisy. To oppose gerrymandering, we must oppose AV! Which we don't oppose! Strategy wise, even I'm impressed.

So, nice work Shere Khan! You really put together a package didn't you? You are in the process of making our country even more undemocratic and most of it's already been passed. When the Lords sat up all night on their recent filibuster, there were some very, very, important issues at stake, but hey, let's not knock "cats in wheelie bins" or the "wrong kind of snow" off the news eh?

We can protest against cuts, write to MPs about student fees and blog about the NHS until we're blue in the face, but actually, all the while we're happy to allow these constitutional changes to go through, quietly unchallenged, we might as well give up. Without at least a semblance of a democratic Parliament, we have no power anyway.


  1. Where I live in the Wirral the boundary changes monster has raised it's ugly head again. The proposals being to link part of the Wirral (separated by a ruddy great river & two tunnels) with parts of Liverpool. I pity the poor MP who gets that constituency if these daft proposals get through..
    BG Xx

  2. I was always concerned about cutting the number of MPs. This seemed to be a populist response to the media fire storm of the Expenses scandal. Went down well when MPs were being seen as public enemy number one.

    The conservatives may well get it through becuase so few people understand what MPs are or can do.

    I worked as a volunteer with my MP, until he lost his seat in 2011. I saw him working 14 hour days as routine. I saw him achieving an amazing amount with really inadaquate levels of staffing.
    I helped him with the process of keeping consituents informed about the issues that were being dealt with in Westminster and ensuring that they were actively involved in the process.
    No one is doing this now.

    Much of his work was caused by the fact that the local council was very weak, and very disconnected from the electorate - most people do not know the councillors, few councillors seem to make any mark on the community.

    The democratic process is underresourced. We probably need more MPs rather than fewer, we need them to have more effective support in Westminster and in the constituencies, and we need to be resourcing the development of grass roots democracy in the constituencies.

  3. We need far fewer MPs. I don't know what Diana's chap was doing with all those 14 hours per day, but the ludicrous proposition that MPs need to do this is evidenced by Ministers' time. How could a Minister do such?

    Does that mean there are hundreds of constituencies which are deprived by having a member of the Government as MP?
    The job of MPs is to legislate, nothing more, and Sue's last contribution was correctly to moan they weren't doing it. How can you vote on complex legislation, as we have nowadays, if you are trying to sort out Mrs Duffy's heating allowance payment?

  4. Personally I'd like more, lower paid MPs Howard.
    By the way Howard you'll LOVE - they devote their ever waking hour to outing media nonsense.

  5. Had a look Sue - yes it's up my street (at least the direction is).

    Your proposal sounds like a sort of Grand Jury, presumably elected by PR. At that rate, one might as well have referendums on everything, given we all have electronic media now. Party politics will be a thing of the past in 100 years' time IMO and a good thing too.

    See we Libs are still radical.

  6. Equalising constituency sizes is a good thing in of itself. There is no good reason why Scotland, Wales or the North of England should enjoy smaller constituencies than the South.

    How anyone has the balls to call a bill to equalise constituency sizes gerrymandering continues to astonish me. It's like Labour think the definition of fairness is 'benefits Labour' and the definition of gerrymander is 'does not benefit Labour'.

    Fixed term parliaments were Lib Dem policy. Now neither you or I may have read the lib dem manifesto but that doesn't mean "no mention before the election".

    And how in any way does this make the UK more undemocratic? Equal votes, dissolution decided by parliament not PM's and an AV referendum?

    The only one that's even vaguely suspicious is cutting the number of MP's. And I can't see how that will either improve or hinder democracy in the UK.

  7. This government has proved itself utterly undemocratic before it's first year is up. It's like they've cemented themselves in. It's appalling. But I don't really know what to do about it.

    As for the redrawing of boundaries, Dorset is in need of that. We 1 for West Dorset, 1 for South, 1 for North, 1 for Mid Dorset & North Poole, 1 for Poole, 2 for Bournemouth & 1 for Christchurch. Yep, 8 MPs for one county. And all bar one one them are Tories, while the other is LibDem so she might as well be Tory. Ridiculous.

  8. Stephen Do please read the UKPR link I posted in this. It explains totally non-politically why equalising constituencies as you put it COMBINED with the particular number of 600 MPs simply creates a bias to the Conservatives - surely that's no better than one to Labour?

  9. Sue,
    I first read the UKPR article about 6 months ago, I read it before I commented and I scanned it just now.

    It goes over the contributions to the parliamentary bias: Unequal boundaries, over-representation of wales, differential turnout, support distribution, tactical voting.

    It nowhere mentions the 600 seats, nor am I sure why this particular number would be relevant. It doesn's say this would make a bias towards the Conservatives. Labour would probably still benefit from differential turnout and support distribution (and possibly tactical voting, though that's less sure post-coalition)

    And to be honest. Unequal boundaries and over-representation of Wales (now we have devolution) are things we can alter to improve the system. (Credit to Labour for already cutting the number of Scottish seats since this affected them most)

    Differential turnout, support distribution and tactical voting are just elements of the system we have no control over, so there will always be some bias in the system. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't attempt to amend those parts we can control.


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