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Theresa May and the Boundary Review

5733835918_0276881b3c_qAnd just like that my constituency disappears. Wrapping like a skeewiff cummerbund around the svelte middle of the Potteries, Stoke-on-Trent Central stretches from a hint of countryside up Stockton Brook way, and snugly grips Baddeley Green, Abbey Hulton, and Bentilee. It takes in Hanley which, confusingly for outsiders, is Stoke’s city centre (not Stoke town itself), and scoops downwards to embrace Eaton Park, Etruria, Shelton, before bending towards Newcastle-under-Lyme and making room for Hartshill, Penkhull, Boothen, Oakhill, and Trent Vale. These suburbs, estates, districts aren’t going anywhere, but in a Boundary Commission land grab the North will advance South and the South will advance North with a new border settled more or less outside my front door. Stoke-on-Trent Central is set to become a memory that, from 2018, will be recalled only by election geeks and Wikipedia. Life is set to continue, but the Potteries are losing an MP. It won’t be pretty either. Making three into two means at least one loses out, and who is that going to be? It might be all of the incumbents – others could be waiting in the wings for a chance to acquire a seat for themselves. With high stakes such as these, Labour Party politics for the next couple of years threatens to be interesting, and that’s without factoring in Jeremy Corbyn, the hundreds of new local members, and the ongoing battle for the party’s soul.

This isn’t entirely unprecedented. We have been here before. In 2011 and 2012, under Dave’s instruction, the Boundary Commission redrew the political map of Britain. Their brief was to equalise the number of electors per constituency and chop down the number of MPs by 50 to, as the government then put it, cut the cost of politics. In reality, it was a feeble attempt to link the “national emergency” posed by the deficit to the gerrymandering of constituency boundaries for Conservative electoral advantage. The Lib Dems killed it off while they were in Coalition but, unfortunately, with last year’s Tory majority the fix was always coming back. And so we have today’s first draft, drawn up again on the same principles which, if implemented, will make it much more difficult for Labour to ever win a general election. With fewer marginal seats to fight over it makes them even more important, apparently demanding a Blair-ish triangulation strategy to win over the timid, conservative-leaning voter in the timid, conservative-leaning swing seat. It’s almost as if the whole thing is designed that way.

This, however, is but the first draft. There’s to be a repeat of the consultations and public gnashing of teeth. And, to be fair to the Boundary Commission last time, they did make some pretty big changes after listening to thousands of submissions. I recall previous proposals feeding Stoke Central anabolic steroids and swelling to a silly size, biting chunks out of the North and South constituencies now poised to share its unloved carcass. This followed the first draft in which Central reached out and nicked a bit of Staffordshire Moorlands around Werrington. As a large, relatively well-to-do village, I was privy to one or two snobby letters dead set against to the proposal, claiming this leafy dormitory for folk who mainly work and shop in the city “had nothing to do with Stoke-on-Trent”. I digress. Once representations are made, I expect there will be more changes. But ultimately, the outcome is the same” the Potteries loses an MP, and Labour gets stiffed.

There are many more problems with the boundary review as presently constituted. Chief among which is constituencies are getting redrawn according to the registered electorate, not population, and those electorate figures are from December 2015. This was after hundreds of thousands dropped off the register thanks to changes to the registration process, and before two million extra people re-registered to take part in the EU referendum. It is hopelessly out-of-date and is set to recompose British politics off inaccurate data.

For Theresa May, this attempt to cook the next election’s books is a test of her alleged One Nation Toryism. As someone who’s always been sceptical about a snap general election (even putting down an amendment to the Fixed Term Parliaments Act requires Parliamentary time, which comes with plenty of warning), and as May has ruled one out, I believe she has a clear incentive to keep the boundary review going. Uncharacteristically, this is one set of findings she won’t be kicking into the long grass. And yet, if it does go through, it could store up very serious problems for British politics.

As noted recently, the reason why revolutionary movements have a tendency to either become domesticated or disappear in liberal democracies is because constitutionalism opens up political paths for the achievement of objectives without the constant mobilisation and pressure of extra-parliamentary activity, be it demonstrations, strikes, occupations, or other forms of direct action. If the constitutional path is choked off, then it is reasonable to assume that more radical, confrontational politics strike down thicker and wider roots. This is what May’s Tories are playing with. I’m not suggesting a huge revolutionary movement will rise up, but if something as simple as the everyday interests of the labour movement are locked out of official politics because of boundary fixes, they will find expression in other ways. Some of which might be sharp, militant, and violent.

And so the ball is very much in May’s court. How much does she want to see the Tories win? Is she as entirely short-sighted as per her late and unlamented predecessor, or will she stop and think for a moment? Dave, as a man afflicted with a disastrous gambling habit was happy to risk the legitimacy of the British political system for the small reward of a few dozen extra seats. Is May?

9 Comments

  1. jeffrey davies says:

    off course she is fixing it so that only tories rule ouch

  2. Hazel Malcolm-Walker says:

    The whole thing is based on incorrect data, and is ignoring millions of voters.
    A boundary review is legitimate, but only if it increases the representation of the people, not cut it on the spurious grounds of saving money.
    you can’t put a price on democracy and social justice, but clearly the Tories can – because they have a price for everything and a value for nothing!

  3. David Pavett says:

    Phil B-C doesn’t challenge the central principle of the review that constituencies should have roughly the same numbers of electors. And how could that be challenged? There is only one major objection and that is the one he points to: out of date data used to count those electors. Within that there are obviously arguments to be had about particular border changes.

    But if it is fairness and democracy that concern us rather than the advantage that this or that determination of borders will bring to Labour then we need to talk about the inherent problems of first past the post systems and how these might be overcome with some form of proportional representation. This needs a proper debate without summary dismissals and on the basis detailed examination of the arguments.

  4. Robert Green says:

    The capitalist Westminster parliament can no longer even pretend to be an institution that represents the electorate. It is already impossible with 650 MPs for them to keep the executive in check and with 50 fewer and with the size of today’s cabinets they have no chance. I’m not worried about the boundary changes as crumbling capitalism is proletarianising thousands by the day which makes a Labour majority in England more and more possible even despite the obvious attempts at gerrymandering but this is formal democracy and if a radical government even threatened to come to power a fascist counter movement would soon emerge to ensure that it is met with violent repression. The working class must prepare for power and that means replacing this wretched Parliament with a Federation of Sovereign Nations ruled through the democratic organs of the proletarian revolution.

  5. Tony says:

    I do not accept the argument, widely made across the political spectrum, that we have too many MPs.
    Comparisons with India and the US are wrong because the political systems are different there.
    What we do need are fewer ministers. Why do we still have, post devolution, a secretary of state for Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland? Of course, this gives the prime minister great powers of patronage and control over the legislature. Reducing the number of MPs will, as has recently been pointed out, make this problem worse.
    And there is also the question of the House of Lords and special advisors.

    If the boundary changes go ahead, then at least many of those Labour MPs who were parachuted into their constituencies will face a challenge. There are about two dozen Labour MPs who I would love to see the back of.

    1. Craig Stephen says:

      Only two dozen?

  6. Barry Hearth says:

    The poster wonders if May will be BETTER than DAVE???
    Sorry but I don’t see that, she was a poor home Secretary bordering on incompetent, why would anyone thinks she’s magically improved just because her title and job description has?

  7. Bazza says:

    Yes I agree it should be based on the total eligible adult population in areas.
    We should also argue it should include 16 year olds.
    Reducing 650 MPs to 600 at a stroke increases the case workload of MPs and I would argue would result in a poorer democratic service and poor value for money for citizens.
    But I do agree with equal numbers per each of the 650 constituencies although it could be argued in poorer constituencies the workloads are greater for MPs so I would increase funding for MPs in these areas for constituents support so it is based on population and NEED.
    What many people seem to have forgotten is that the Tories with the Lib Dimwits in 2010 changed local government settlement rules from ones based on population and NEED under a Labour Govt to one based on population only which basically meant no cuts for Tory Southern Councils!
    We also need to get back to household registration instead of individual registration which has been a Tory disaster!
    But perhaps we also need to make voting easier for citizens i.e. on-line and why not have voting over weekends and polling clerks emailing citizens who haven’t voted or sending a text or making a call perhaps once on the Sunday evening to chase citizens up and people can vote there or then or declare they are not voting which is their right.
    We also use the figures from 2016 when 2m extra signed up for the EC Referendum and not 2015 and citizens and democrats would welcome this increase.
    You just seem to get the feeling from perhaps some on the right that increasing the electorate – CITIZENS are almost seen as a threat when it is a democratic opportunity but the Government proposals to reduce the number of MPs is increasing the distance between MPs and the public when public support for MPs it could argued is at an all-time low!
    So I am for keeping 650 MPs and I personally hope left wing democratic socialists will nominate, support and select left wing democratic socialist Parliamentary candidates in each of these 650 constituencies – because this is my democratic perspective I will in my area and perhaps others should too.
    We then hopefully give people a reason to vote.
    Solidarity!

  8. Kate Thomas says:

    The data used for this exercise are the wrong data. Boundary changes should not be based on voter registration numbers. That excludes under-18’s, people who have not registered to vote and others who are ineligible to vote. Our elected representatives are there to represent ALL the people in their electoral area, not just those who have registered to vote. The Boundary Commission have done well within the rules thay’ve been given but the rules are undemocratic and exclusive. There’s the UK government trying to sell democracy to countries throughout the world, yet it’s quite happy to be opaque and gerrymander to get desired outcomes.

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