Wednesday, September 14, 2016

The Tory plot to lock themselves into power forever


The Tory Party are planning to rig the Westminster electoral system in an attempt to lock themselves into power forever. There's no other way of putting it. All of the commonly attempted Tory justifications for the boundary changes are woeful at best. In this article I'm going to detail just a few of the main objections.

The House of Lords


During his six years in power David Cameron stuffed an additional 213 unelected peers into the House of Lords, many of them major Tory party donors and his own personal cronies (his hairdresser, Samantha Cameron's stylist ...). In fact he stuffed unelected peers into the House of Lords at a faster rate than any Prime Minister in history.

The idea that it's necessary to cut the number of elected MPs by 50 in order to "reduce the cost of politics" is an extraordinary attempted justification when the Tories have just added over 200 politicians to the unelected £300 per day for life club. As aresult of all of this crony-stuffing the House of Lords is now the second biggest legislative chamber in the entire world (second only to China) and by far the biggest unelected legislative body on the planet!

What contempt the Tories must have for the electorate to claim that their boundary changes are motivated by a desire to reduce the cost of doing politics when they've spent the last six years stuffing the unelected and already hopelessly bloated House of Lords full of their cronies.

One of the first priorities for any party that is genuinely serious about reducing the cost of politics would be the democratisation of the House of Lords and its reduction in size to a much more manageable level.

The (elected) upper chambers in other large developed nations have far fewer members.

Canada (population 36.2 million): Senate 105 elected members

Spain (population 46.4 million): Senate: 266 elected members
Italy
 (population: 60.7 million): Senate: 315 elected members
France (population: 66.7 million): Senate: 348 elected members
Germany (population: 82.2 million): Bundesrat: 69 elected members
Japan (population: 127.1 million): House of Councillors: 242 elected members
United States (population: 324.1 million): Senate: 100 elected members


UK (population: 65.1 million): House of Lords: 807 unelected members

It's absolutely clear from these figures that the unelected House of Lords is massively bloated in comparison to other developed nations. If it was democratised and the number of members halved, it would still be significantly bigger than any comparable upper chamber in the developed world.

The English democratic deficit

Devolution for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland has led to an appalling constitutional mess where residents of these nations have proportionally elected parliaments, while all of the English regions outside of London (which has its own proportionally elected assembly) have none.

The English regions should be given a referendum on whether they want regional autonomy and their own parliament (like London) or whether they want to be part of a wider English parliament. Regional autonomy could work well for big regions like Yorkshire (which has a similar size population and economy to Scotland) and also for smaller regions like Cornwall (which has its own unique cultural identity and language). Other areas might prefer to be part of a wider parliament of the English regions.

It's completely unacceptable that residents of the English regions continue to be treated as second class citizens of the UK with no proportionally elected parliament like residents of Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and London.

Any attempt to define the Tory electoral boundary changes in terms of "fairness" is absolutely absurd when no effort is being made to address the English democratic deficit.

The incomplete voting register

Another factor that makes the proposed Tory boundary changes incredibly unfair is the way they have decided to use an incomplete voting register to base the new constituency sizes on.

It's bad enough redrawing constituencies in line with the number of registered voters instead of the actual population of the areas, but using an out-of-date register to make the calculations with is utterly ridiculous.

The Tory decision to base the rejigged boundaries on the electoral register in December 2015 (just after they threw millions of people off it by introducing individual registration) is transparently unfair when it's now clear that two million people have joined the electoral register since (presumably to vote in the EU referendum).

In many areas there are discrepancies in the tens of thousands between the number of people registered in December 2015 and those registered in June 2016. Lewisham is the worst example with a discrepancy of 31,025 voters, which represents a huge 18.6% change in the registered electorate in the space of half a year.

It's literally impossible for Tories to argue that these boundary changes are being done to "more fairly represent the size of the electorate" unless they cynically ignore the fact that the size and distribution of the registered electorate has changed dramatically since the figures they're basing their changes upon, meaning that they're already terribly outdated.


The power imbalance

Reducing the number of MPs while keeping the number of government ministers the same will obviously reduce the ability of parliament to hold the government to account, because there will be fewer non-ministers to scrutinise all of the legislation.

This problem of reduced accountability will be exacerbated by the fact that each MP will experience an average 8.3% increase in their constituency workload on top of the fact that there will be fewer MPs to hold the government to account.

The UK political system is already terribly over-centralised, with the Prime Minister and their cabinet members operating without proper scrutiny, accountability or censure. A reduction in the number of elected MPs would only make this situation much worse.


A growing population and a shrinking parliament?

The number of MPs in Westminster has fluctuated slightly over the years, but the last time the number of MPs went below 615 was the 18th Century. The UK has had well over 600 MPs ever since 1801, with the absolute low point since then coming between 1922 and 1945 when the number was set at 615 (just after independence for the Republic of Ireland).

A comparison between the number of MPs and the population of the United Kingdom reveals that the Tory plan to reduce the number of MPs will leave the UK with by far it's worst level of political representation.

The absurd 5% threshold

Nobody objects to the principle that constituencies should be of more-or-less the same size, but in setting the threshold at just 5% the Tories are ensuring that there will need to be a costly and disruptive set of boundary changes after every election.

If the threshold was set at 5% of the actual population of the areas then changes in population dynamics would necessitate regular boundary changes, but setting it at 5% of the registered electorate makes it even more messy, because (as the situation in Hackney proves) the number of registered voters can fluctuate wildly..

This is yet another example of the Tories "saving money" narrative failing to make sense. If they were really concerned about saving money, they wouldn't have set their arbitrary limit so low and created the need for a costly set of constituency tampering after every single election.


Legitimacy

An awful lot of people seem to have forgotten that over two dozen Tory MPs stand accused of cheating their way to victory at the 2015 General Election by breaking the election spending limits in marginal constituencies. The Tories only have a tiny majority in parliament, and if these boundary changes are enforced it will be through the backing of these MPs who financially doped their way into parliament in the first place.

Fair Votes

If there is one flaw in the Westminster electoral system it's not that there are "too many MPs" it's that millions of people are locked out of the political system as a result of the archaic and unrepresentative Westminster voting system.

There are so many flaws with the Westminster voting system it's wise to stick to just four of the main ones in order to stop this article from getting over-long.

Safe seats

The current Westminster voting system ensures that there are hundreds of "safe seats" where the incumbent party could put up a severed pig's head with their rosette on it and romp to a landslide victory.

The existence of safe seats means that there are an awful lot of extremely complacent MPs in parliament who think they can get away with pretty much anything, safe in the knowledge that their place in parliament is assured by the tribalistic attitudes of their constituents.

One of the benefits of a multi-member proportional election system is that it could pit members of the same party against one another, meaning only the ones who best serve their electorate would be guaranteed a seat.

Disproportionality

The 2015 General Election was staggeringly disproportional. The two new contenders (UKIP and the Green Party) polled over 5 million votes between them but ended up with just two of the 650 MPs. In return for 16.4% of the vote, these parties ended up with just 0.3% of the MPs!

If you add the Liberal Democrats into the mix, UKIP, the Lib-Dems and the Green Party collected 25.3% of the votes between them and got 10 MPs. Labour got 30.4% of the vote and 232 MPs and the Tories got 36.9% of the vote and 330 of the MPs (more than half of them).

If any party is serious about "fairness" they wouldn't be tinkering with the number of MPs, they'd be ensuring that the smaller parties get a fairer representation of the MPs.

Apathy
A system that traps millions of people in "safe seats" and massively discriminates against the smaller parties is one of the fundamental drivers of political apathy. If people thought that their vote actually counted for anything, they'd be far more likely to actually get out and vote. 

Non-representation


One of the quirks of the current Westminster voting system is that the vast majority of MPs end up getting elected with less than 50% of the vote, meaning that the vast majority of voters in their constituencies actually voted against them.

The introduction of larger multi-member constituencies would put an end to this farce by ensuring that people have numerous local MPs to turn to. It's funny how Tories always harp on about competition being the driver of efficiency and good performance, but when it comes to competition between local MPs they're suddenly ever so keen to keep hold of their cosy constituency monopolies.

Imagine if you lived in a bigger constituency with six local MPs. Maybe two Tories, two Labour an Lib-Dem and a Green. You could turn to any of them with your issue. Don't you think the rivalry would give the various MPs a very strong incentive to provide the best level of service possible to people like you?


Conclusion
If the Tories were honestly committed to providing a more representative political system (rather than a means of rigging the boundaries to lock themselves into power forever), then the first thing on the list would have to be a fair voting system

The Tory rhetoric simply doesn't match their proposals. If they cared about the cost of politics they'd address the bloated unelected House of Lords, not trim down the size of the elected House of Commons. And if they cared about fairness then they'd introduce fair votes and put an end to the English democratic deficit.

They don't actually give a stuff about the cost of politics or fairness. All they're interested in is rigging the system to their own advantage by abolishing a load of mainly Labour constituencies in the elected chamber whilst simultaneously stuffing the unelected House of Lords with a load of Tory cronies.


Sign the petition

Stop the boundaries changes - on the official government petition site.


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