Saturday, 14 February 2009

All electors are equal, but some are more equal than others

I'm in the process of writing up a pamphlet that pulls together many of the strands about which I blog on our national political health. One thing that's becoming horribly apparent is the fundamental imbalance of the UK Parliament because of the astonishing deviations from the electoral quota that exist. The national electoral quota is about 68,000 - that is, one MP for every 68,000 voters. But the departures from this are staggering. Voter figures are provisional and from 2004 to 2006 and don't take account of the recent minor boundary changes:-

TOP 15 UNDER-REPRESENTED UK CONSTITUENCIES

Daventry - 89,000
SW Norfolk - 89,000
Banbury - 88,000
S Norfolk - 87,000
Devises - 86,000
NE Cambs - 86,000
SE Cambs - 85,000
Northampton S - 85,000
Stratford on Avon - 85,000
Harrow E - 85,000
Taunton - 84,000
Ealing Southall - 84,000
Kingswood - 84,000
Westbury - 83,000
Bracknell - 82,000

TOP 15 OVER-REPRESENTED UK CONSTITUENCIES

Na h-Eileanan an Iar - 22,000
Orkney and Shetland - 32,000
Meirionnydd Nant Conwy - 34,000
Cynon Valley - 44,000
Montgomeryshire - 45,000
Caernarfon - 47,000
Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross - 47,000
Vale of Clwdd - 49,000
Ynys Mon - 50,000
Ross Skye and Lochaber - 50,000
Rhondda - 50,000
Aberavon - 50,000
Wrexham - 51,000
Islwyn - 52,000
Ceredigion - 53,000

That a Scots voter's vote is worth more than four times as much as an English voter's vote in the worst case is deeply disturbing. Michael Pinto-Duschinsky in giving evidence to the Committee on Standards in Public Life (the Graham Committee) in 2006 said:
Clearly, it is difficult in a majoritarian democracy to draw boundaries properly because on the one hand you want mathematical fairness, you want constituencies to be of equal size; on the other hand you do not want to be changing them every five minutes because of population movements. You want to take account of local communities, local government boundaries. However, the problem with the British system is that we take account of everything else apart from mathematical equality and so the result is that the difference between the largest and smallest constituency in electorate is just unacceptably large. I think that you would find it certainly is against OECD standards and, dare I say, the standards of the UN Committee on Human Rights, if that is a consideration. I think that it would also probably be against the UN Declaration of 1949 which says that elections have got to be fair. Clearly, if you have one constituency which is four times the size of another, then its electors have one quarter of the voting power of those in another constituency and therefore the situation is unfair.

If I can just give briefly the situation in, say, Australia where the system allows up to 3.5% deviation from an electoral quota, New Zealand up to 5%, Germany up to 15%, Canada up to 25% and Singapore up to 30%. We are beyond that so we are off the radar as far as international practice is concerned. I think that causes some real problems of mal-distribution of seats in Britain.
EDIT

Ahem. Readers have just reminded me that the Isle of Wight, with 108,000 voters, is by far the most under represented one. Apols.

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

How did you forget the Isle of Wight? 108,000 electors!

Blue Eyes said...

If you want to really irritate yourself, you should take a look at The Great Boundaries Scandal - a Bow Group pamphlet published 30 years ago which covers this very same issue. Our system seems to be designed to be consistently many years out of date. All in the name of "fairness" you'll understand...

Blue Eyes said...

R - where did your figures come from? In my head I had the Isle of Wight and Hammersmith & Fulham as in the top few?

Raedwald said...

All from the Boundary Commission websites - 5th Report for England 2007 (latest one available) and the latest reports from the Scots and Welsh Boundary commissions.

Yes, I've missed the Isle of Wight - listed as 108,000 voters in 2006, but no Hammersmith and Fulham - just Hammersmith (69,000)

Thanks both - I'll amend

Blue Eyes said...

The Hammersmith figure must be the new boundary rather than the one fought in 2005.

Alfred the Ordinary said...

and Swindon. 2001 population 180,051, but has probably topped the 200,000 now, with only two MPs. Swindon North MP also represents some people outside of the Swindon town area, so his electorate figure might be even higher than half of the 200,000. However, at a well publicised local meeting on saturday he only had 13 electors turn up, so that figure is highly illusory.

it's either banned or compulsory said...

My, one MP, city is under-represented but whenever they suggest hiving off part into a surrounding rural constituencey the public tell them to get stuffed.