A blog by Luke Akehurst about politics, elections, and the Labour Party - With subtitles for the Hard of Left. Just for the record: all the views expressed here are entirely personal and do not necessarily represent the positions of any organisations I am a member of.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Tories: Gerrymanders R us

Today's FT carries an interview with David Cameron where he calls for a 10% cut in the number of MPs.

Fair enough, maybe we could manage with say under 600 instead of 650 given that the House of Commons is on the large side compared to other lower chambers in other countries.

But the catch is that Cameron has already decided which 50 seats he wants to chop - and guess what, they are Labour ones.

I think that is known in the trade as Gerrymandering.

He wants to cut the number of seats in Wales, which has always had a minimum number to ensure its distinctive voice as a separate nation is heard. But unlike in the recent reduction in Scottish MPs he is not linking this to greater devolved powers for the Welsh Assembly.

The articles says he also wants to scrap "inner city constituencies in places such as Liverpool ... to reflect the shift in population to the Tory suburbs". But we've only just had a parliamentary boundary review that did exactly that - and the next one isn't due for about a decade. The law already requires the Boundary Commission to aim to get constituencies of roughly equal size. And since when did politicians pre-judge and try to steer the outcomes of the strictly neutral boundary reviews conducted by the Boundary Commission?

He wants to break the current - and historic rule - whereby the Boundary Commission never cross County boundaries when they draw up constituencies, so we'd end up with absurd combinations bringing together communities that had been in different local authorities throughout their history (bits of East Lancs & West Yorks?), just to squeeze in an extra Tory seat here or there.

In the article Prof John Curtice says that a smaller Commons would in itself “improve the Tory chances of winning”.

Tory strategist Rob Hayward - who I had the pleasure of helping eject from the Commons when I worked on Roger Berry MP's campaign in Kingswood in 1992 - "said speedier boundary reviews would favour the Tories as they would reflect Britain’s shift from urban to rural areas."

But is the Boundary Commission capable of running speedier reviews in a way which allows for proper public consultation and consideration, and do voters really want the disruption of having their constituencies chopped and changed around every 5 years?

This whole scheme sounds as though it is more about partisan advantage than anything else. But what would we expect from the party that abolished the GLC and Metropolitan counties when they inconveniently elected Labour administrations?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Labour on 33%, Tories on 43%.

What is staggering is that anybody is sympathetic to Labour.

I blame the educational system.

10:33 am, January 13, 2009

Anonymous Allan Davies said...

Actually what is staggering is anyone voting Tory? History quite clearly shows that the Conservatives turn their back on the working class and catastrophically fail to redistribute wealth to those in dire need. And here is their gormless leader suggesting that inner city Labour constituencies be abolished! The bare faced cheek is quite astounding!

12:09 pm, January 13, 2009

Anonymous Arcturus said...

Umm, hello? Has anyone wondered why the Tories need a 10-point lead to be sure of an overall majority? It's because the current boundaries give Labour a disproportional advantage based on an equal share of the vote.

Lab: 35%
Con: 35% = Labour Government

Lab: 35%
Con: 41% = Hung Parliament

Lab: 35%
Con: 45% = Small Tory

Now I don't know about you, but I don't see how that's very fair or democratic! It's high time that balance was restored.

12:51 pm, January 13, 2009

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Allan Davies -
Sorry Tories turn their back on the working class?! Get back to the 1980s would you...do you not recall the great leader Tony Blair proclaiming we live in a classless society?! Which party did he hail from?! Oh wait yes that's right...the champagne socialists.

The New Labour project has hardly done much to break class boundaries and has actually slowed social mobility to a stand still.

On redistribution - keep that filthy word to yourself. I work hard for my money, and I'll be damned if the state or anyone else should take anymore of it than they already are. I think the majority of genuinely 'working' class people, actually feel similarly to ensure low taxation so they can accumulate wealth and property. Not everyone wants or needs the state to prop them up.

1:00 pm, January 13, 2009

Blogger Bill said...

It's because the current boundaries give Labour a disproportional advantage based on an equal share of the vote.

That's a result of the constituency link, and unevan turnouts. In Liverpool, Labour can win a seat with 4,000 votes (IIRC), and have a 3,000 majority to boot. The Tories, in their heartlands, need 24,000 and will still only get a 3,000 majority. Because they are clustered in their heartlands, a big increase in their vote results in many ineffective votes, whereas they can't overturn labour majorities elseplace. As JS Ross demonstrated, it isn't equality of constituency size, its single member seats that cause the disparities (even under Brown's tentatively favoured AV).

1:49 pm, January 13, 2009

Blogger Paul said...

I would guess that inner city seats also generate far more case work, have far more organisations that need to be listened to and have a much higher rate of non-registration as well as low turnouts.

4:42 pm, January 13, 2009

Blogger Mark said...

I fully concur with arcturus.

It's pretty rich for Labour to be squealing about this when your failure to follow through on your 1997 election commitment for a referrundum on electoral reform means that the electoral system is still massively biased in your favour. That's effectively gerrymandering through inaction - allowing an iniquitous system to remain as it is to your electoral advantage.

9:56 pm, January 13, 2009

Anonymous Dirty Euro said...

It is despicable that the tories want to cut the numbers of seats in the celtic nations. It is just being little Englanders.

Also the main reason labour do better with smaller votes is we have two left wing parties, as the left wing vote is split.
In 1983 the two left wing parties added up to well over 50% of the vote but the tories won a massive majority, and brought in vastly unpopular right wing measures the same happened in 1987.

In 2005 the two left wing parties added up to nearly 60%, this is why labour won a majorty. When given a choice between left and right the left won, that is why the left won.

You have to take into account it is two left wing parties against one centre right party. The tories benefit from the electoral system of the split in the left wing vote and have done for most of the last 100 years.
I am sure tyhe same happens in reverse in some other nations, with a first past the post system.

1. Can a tory explain why if a centre left labour got 32% and the left wing lib dems get 20%, why that would entitle the tories to a majority government when the will of the people is for left of centre not right wing.

This is why labour technically does better in number of seats, than pure poll % suggests. It is tough for tories to work that out, I know so it is easier to come with conspiracy theory that even when the tories were in power the left managed to fix the electoral system.

10:53 pm, January 13, 2009

Anonymous Dirty Euro said...

So can any tories explain why it is fair to fix the system, with first pas the post, so that even when the two centre left parties add up to well over 60% that the tories desrve to be in power.
How can anyone justify the 1983 election result. The tories got 40% of the vote while the two centre left added up to well over 50% yet the tories got a landslide majority.
It is not the boundaries that mean the labour party win elections unfairly, it is merely the centre left will of the people being represented but people voting for centre left parties in their seat. This is why the lib dems often do better in elections result than their opinion poll results suggest. It is also why labout often does a few points worse, the tactical voters switch to the lib dems.

10:56 pm, January 13, 2009

Anonymous Dirty Euro said...

Actualy in 2005 the left wing parties added up to just under 60% but it was still clear that the people wanted centre left policies not right wing policies.

10:59 pm, January 13, 2009

Anonymous Arcturus said...

Dear Dirty Euro,

You're repeating the old canard that there is a single British "Left" - when we all know that the Left likes to split the way Tony Blair likes to tell lies.
The Lib Dems and Labour represent two very distinct groups of people, and it would be ridiculous to amalgamate their votes. If they _were_ interchangeable, then they would have to be a pretty stupid bunch to have kept losing by landslides while commanding 60% of the vote...

11:17 pm, January 13, 2009

Blogger Luke Akehurst said...


I'm allowed to complain because I've always supported electoral reform.

11:20 pm, January 13, 2009

Blogger Mark said...


Fair enough. I did not know about your support for electoral reform. You must be pretty frustrated with the way your party has behaved over this issue since 1997 then.

I have seen quite a lot of Labour activists compaining about this suggestion by Cameron though and I am sure not all of them support electoral reform so there is hypocrisy on this issue out there.

If we were to get a much more proportional system then changing the number of seats would make very little difference to the overall result (with e.g. STV multi-member constituencies as advocated by the Electoral Reform Society) unlike at the moment where a change like this could make a huge difference.

8:50 am, January 14, 2009

Blogger Luke Akehurst said...

I think Labour has been very shortsighted in not changing the electoral system to a fairer one. We got so excited by a run of landslides where FPTP benefitted us that we forgot what is was like when the boot was on the other foot in the '80s, and indeed forgot to judge the electoral system against our values of fairness and equity rather than temporary partisan self-interest. If you believe in greater economic and social equity you should also believe in greater democratic equality between citizens, which requires a more proportional voting system.

The irony is that FPTP may produce a hung parliament next time, the outcome that FPTP supporters have attacked proportional systems for.

9:11 am, January 14, 2009

Blogger Merseymike said...

Totally with Luke on this one.

I think the party system may be batter as well. I am sure that there would be two parties on both the democratic Left and Right

10:07 am, January 14, 2009

Anonymous Anonymous said...

PR, certainly STV, is the victory of mathematics over accountability - just look at how detached Euro MPs are from the electorate. It also tends to give more power to the party machine and less to local activists.

(now lets see what that stirs up)

2:38 pm, January 14, 2009

Blogger Luke Akehurst said...

That's because of the size of the Euro regions. In Ireland they have PR (STV) and the TDs are far more responsive to and accountable on local constituency issues than most Westminster MPs are.

4:28 pm, January 14, 2009

Anonymous Rich said...

Proportional representation is surely the best way forward.....Labour would vanish.

8:28 pm, January 14, 2009

Anonymous stephen said...

Actually what is staggering is anyone voting Tory?

It's probably a measure of how ghastly this government is. I used to be a staunch Labour voter but I would have no problem whatsoever in voting Tory to get rid of an identikit "ID Cards are good", "detention without trial is good" run of the mill authoritarian Labour MP.

1:18 pm, January 16, 2009

Blogger Newmania said...

Luke how very dare you .Labour can get a majority on 36% of the vote, whereas the Tories need 42% or an 8 point lead. Add to that the double counting of Scottish and Welsh votes who should have far less seats and we are in a quite ridiculous position. Are you seriously telling me that New Labour would have put up with this ? If you are then I know you are not serious
PR has pluses and minuses of its own and is a quite separate question . The idea of course is to establish a permanent Lib Lab pact and remove the accountability of MP`s both from constituents an from the country as they will be impossible to remove .
The further idea is to force those who vote Labour out of economic interest to support a Liberal agenda they , for the most part despise . There is no progressive majority try finding it in any pub . PR is actually a way of reinforcing the disproportionate power held by middleclass Liberals by bribing half their enemies with money taken from the other half . It is the very opposite of democracy and its keenest supporters are the Liberals who would then run the country on the basis of being supported by almost no-one . We would ,no longer have Parliament we would have a Court

The answer to being a small Party is to attract natural support and become a large Party , not change the rules so as to steal power . Any move now with labour sliding inexorably to defeat would be a threat to democracy at the most fundamental level . It could not possible be undertaken without referendum which PR supporters would lose….under PR.. Not one single Conservative would support it ands they would all vote and unless you can deliver the entire labour Party that is that….and you cannot because the people of this country above all else want to be able to kick the bastards out

We can be sure Labour know they are finished when they start talking about PR.

11:55 pm, January 16, 2009

Blogger Newmania said...

...and if Labour ever try it Conservatives will be forced to go for an English Parliament .It is widely supported in England ,cannot be denied and would exclude Labour and Liberals forever. In fact England could decide its own voting systems the Scots and Welsh have (designed to benefit Labour )
It would be FPTP with fair sized Constituencies and this would be support overwhelmingly
You cannot have it all ways and Labour have been the beneficiary of a massive inbuilt advantage for far too long. In fact I have previously argued this fact is what has lead labour so far from the country into a la la land of trendy irritating policies
You say you want democracy ? Not on immigration , not on international aid , not on capital punishment , not on just about every so-called progressive measure we have had inflicted upon us none of which command majority support
How very very very dare you talk abut democracy. You hate it , you love power

12:03 am, January 17, 2009

Blogger Newmania said...


12:05 am, January 17, 2009

Anonymous Rich said...

The sad thing is that there are still a few good Labour MPs left. It is unfortunate that they didn't stand up against Blair and Brown when they had the chance. Now they are out numbered by New Labour fascists they have no chance of demanding change.

The best thing for Labour now is a split and a return to its values. This way people can actually have something to vote for.

Cameron will be the next PM I have no doubts and Labour will not return to power for a generation.

3:49 pm, January 17, 2009


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