Attention on the Parliamentary Reform bill has primarily focussed on AV and the 55% majority proposed to dissolve parliament prior to the end of a fixed term. Attention should turn to the Tory aim of equalising the size of constituencies. In fact, that is always an objective of the Boundary Commission, but as Jack Straw says today:
The argument of “Labour bias” in the electoral system is based on arithmetic that shows that Labour receives on average fewer votes per MP than Lib Dems or Conservatives.
However, it is widely recognised that this is the result of:
- Urban depopulation between boundary reviews, which currently tends to favour Labour;
- Differential turnout, with Labour voters less likely to turnout both in safe seats and in unwinnable seats.
Jack Straw states a further important factor: although Labour seats in Britain as a whole are slightly smaller in terms of registered voters (by about 3 per cent, or 2,000 people) than the standard size, and Tory seats larger by a similar margin, that may not be the case when the problem of under-registration is taken into account:
Labour MPs almost certainly represent bigger electorates than Tory MPs. That is because there are, according to the Electoral Commission’s estimate, 3.5 million people missing from the electoral register. The Commission found that these missing voters are predominantly young and from lower income groups, and are mainly to be found in urban (and predominantly Labour) areas.
Jack also highlights the problem of indvidual (as opposed to household) registration which he brought in last year and which the Coalition intend to implement with increased speed:
There can be no argument against the principle of individual as opposed to household registration — and last year I brought in with cross-party agreement a new law to do just that. But it has to be done with care. Without time (and money) millions more will fall off the register…. the resulting under-registration would be much higher and impact most on urban (and Labour) areas. Whichever way one examines this part of the coalition agreement, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that these proposals have a highly partisan purpose behind them — gratuitously to hit just one party, the Labour Party.