Friday, 2 October 2009

What's your vote worth? (1)

As Vernon Bogdanor points out in this morning's Telegraph, "In 2005, (the Conservatives) won more votes than Labour in England but 92 fewer seats. In 2010, for the Conservatives to gain the same number of seats as Labour, they need to win around two million more votes."

For anyone who wonders at this third-world bias in our electoral system, look to the glacial pace at which our mummified Boundary Commission moves in re-drawing constituency boundaries to take account of population shifts. The answer isn't to throw out our well tried and tested First Past the Post system, but to put some ginger in the rectums of the gerontocrats on the Boundary Commission.

Below are the worst five most unrepresented and overrepresented seats;

Isle of Wight - 108,000
Daventry - 89,000

SW Norfolk - 89,000
Banbury - 88,000
S Norfolk - 87,000
~
Montgomeryshire - 45,000
Cynon Valley - 44,000
Meirionnydd Nant Conwy - 34,000
Orkney and Shetland - 32,000
Na h-Eileanan an Iar - 22,000

The Electoral Quota, the number of electors per constituency that should define the boundaries of each seat, is currently around 69,000. In Australia, this is not allowed to vary by more than +/- 3.5%, and in New Zealand it's 5%. If 5% were applied to the UK, all seats with fewer than 65,550 electors or more than 72,450 would be re-drawn. As Michael Pinto-Duschinsky pointed out to the Graham Committee, we're off the radar as far as international standards of fairness go.

It's high time we had a single Electoral Quota for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland - either that, or a system by which a Scots MP's vote is worth only 0.75 of an English MP's vote in the Commons. (That's what we call fair, Gordon.)

It's also high time we reduced the number of MPs to around 550 or so. This would give us a national Electoral Quota of 82,000.

And this must be done by 2015. The nation should not have to endure any more than just the next bent and skewed election. It's a disgrace and it needs urgent action.

3 comments:

Weekend Yachtsman said...

Good post, but I take issue with you on Orkney/Shetland and the Western Isles.

These places are so remote, so different, and so self-contained, that I believe they should have separate representation despite their small populations. It just isn't reasonable to expect a mainland MP (which is what it would come to) to have any understanding of the issues affecting such places.

Anonymous said...

Even if all constituencies were of exactly the same size, the system would still be biased. This is largely for two reasons:
1) Differential turnout (so typically Labour MPs are elected on lower absolute numbers of votes).
2) Differential concentrations of voters. If there tend, for instance, to be largeish numbers of Tory voters in safe Labour seats but fewer Labour voters in safe Tory seats, this too will bias the system.
Neither of these flaws is party political and both are inherent in a first past the post system. Making boundary changes more frequent and changing the rules on constituency size will only be a partial remedy.
Possibly not coincidentally, Cameron's proposals to reduce the number of MPs will increase the bias against third parties.

Anonymous said...

Of course one could always remove the public from the equation, perhaps starting with juries....oh dear, I think there was a knock on my door, that was quick, they normally take 48 hrs to pick up this sort of revolutionary c