Constituency boundary changes: A missed opportunity?

By Marcus Edwards.

polling-stationThe constituency boundary changes are a necessary measure to equalise the number of voters in each constituency. This is a positive step towards a more representative and true democracy.  If we are focused however on changing our democracy for the better in time for the 2020 election, then there are many more fundamental issues we need to address as well, maybe even more important than the boundary changes.

One of the issues that has received much attention is the fact that the two million voters who registered for the EU referendum will not be accounted for in the boundary changes. This means that the boundary changes will be extremely outdated even before they come into being. Of course, many of the people not accounted for are the young people who voted for the first time in the EU referendum. We should be taking advantage of the spike in political interest on the part of young people by ensuring that they are part of future democratic exercises, rather than creating a feeling of alienation.

Another issue that is a potential cause of alienation is the lack of House of Lords reform. One cannot help feeling that the Government is attacking the wrong house. Whilst the number of MP’s is being reduced from 650 to 600, reducing constituents access to their elected representative, the House of Lords continues to grow. There are currently over 800 Lords, and aside from the logistical issues of getting them all into the House of Lords, it seems rather strange that while the House of Commons is having its wings clipped, the House of Lords has an ever increasing wing span.

ballot-box
The number of MPs in the UK is due to be reduced under new plans.

I am not intending to condemn the House of Lords, I believe it does some fantastic work. Nor am I suggesting that it should be elected, as then it will simply become another House of Commons. However, there is a stigma attached to the House that it is bloated, archaic and very costly. It is hardly the symbolisation of a bright and vital democracy, and I believe it does much to alienate young people in this country. It cannot be the case that a country of our size can be second only to China when it comes to the size of its assembly. There have been steps towards curbing the size of the Lords, such as allowing peers to voluntarily step down. There also appears to be a consensus at Westminster that the size needs to be reduced, and I believe it will happen at some stage. It does seem quite baffling that we are diluting elected representation of constituents before cutting the much larger numbers of unelected peers.

It’s not all bad though. One of the encouraging aspects of the of the boundary changes is the consultation process. This is a fantastic opportunity to ensure that the equalising effects of the boundary changes also make sense to the people of those constituencies. There may be communities that have been moved to a different constituency where the cultural and economic ties may not be as strong as they were in their previous constituency. It is vital that these opinions are heard, and that they are given the same prominence as the equalising measures. The fact that there has been a website setup solely for the purpose of this is very encouraging. The more democratic processes that take place online, the better. People have a much easier and more convenient way of having their say in the ever increasing pace of modern life. Let us hope that this is something the Government takes on board, and sees it in the broader context of digitalising democracy by introducing electronic voting for future elections.

This article is not trying to suggest that the Government is fiddling while Rome burns, the equalising of consistency sizes is important to democracy. The fact that there will be two million people unaccounted for however means that the process is fundamentally flawed. It is surely more important and straight forward to reduce the number of Lords first. There are positives though. Let us hope that the online consultation is successful, and I encourage anyone who has an issue with the way their constituency has been redrawn to go to the website. Let us demonstrate the positive virtues of a digital democracy.

Marcus Edwards is a Politics and Modern History graduate from the University of Manchester.

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