Saturday, September 15, 2012

Trying to make sense of Constituency Boundary Changes

Soon after I was elected MP for Montgomeryshire in 2010, I was asked by my whip what I thought of the new Coalition Gov't's proposals to reduce the number of MPs from 650 to 600, equalising constituency electorates at the same time. Must admit to using unparliamentary language to explain that I thought it a most unwise proposal - but that I would support a bill brought forward to implement the changes because it was a manifesto commitment. Conservatives had promised a reduction in number of MPs to 585, and the Lib Dems a reduction to 500. My concerns were that it would cause huge disruption, would be seen (unfairly) to be partisan, and would end parliamentary democracy as we've known it in the most sparsely populated areas (mid Wales).

Well, after months of bad-tempered debate, MPs passed an act to do exactly what I'd dismissed as unwise. There remains just one small step to be taken. The Boundary Commissions of England and Wales are having to redraw the map of the 600 new constituencies, with MPs nodding then through in October 2013. It was all to be a 'formality'. But Mr Nick Clegg has intervened. Because MPs refused to endorse his silly plans to reform the House of Lords, he's announced (without any justification) that as an act of revenge he's going to instruct his MPs to vote against the new boundaries - which looks as if its going to totally scupper the changes. Most Conservative MPs are outraged - but I have to admit that from a personal standpoint I am absolutely delighted.

If the new boundaries are adopted, the historic seat of Montgomeryshire would be ripped asunder, with the bits cast upon the four winds. My view is that parliamentary democracy as we understand it would be obliterated in mid-Wales. Locally, I have made it clear that I could not be a candidate in 2015. All my adult life I've worked for the interests of Montgomeryshire, and I could not face starting all over again in a seat which covers a huge chunk of North Wales, attractive though it is. I wouldn't even live in the constituency!

So let us consider the crazy position we are now in. All main political parties have decided to begin adopting candidates for the 2015 General Election on the current boundaries in two months time. Later this month, I will inform the Montgomeryshire Conservative Association that I would like to be considered for selection as their candidate. No doubt, the Association will begin planning and campaigning. And then towards the end of next year, (well into our campaign plans) we will have a vote in Westminster about whether we should introduce new boundaries, wiping Montgomeryshire and other equally loved constituencies from the electoral map - with all parties starting again and selecting a whole new slate of candidates. Its such a bizarre situation that I'm not confident I'll be able to explain it to anyone. Equally bizarre will be the position of the current Montgmeryshire MP if he's faced with a 3-Line Whip from his party to vote for new boundaries and an instruction from his constituency association to vote against! Even I'm beginning to find this whole scenario difficult to grasp. So better stop now.


WitteringsfromWitney said...

While agreeing the entire matter is a typical political mess, just one query:

Was not parliamentary democracy ended with the ECA 1972?

Fancy a little debate on the subject?

Just asking, you understand......

Glyn Davies said...

Witterings - I take your point. My record is quite good in that I campaigned to withdraw in 1975! But its another debate for another day. In fact I expect a few debates on this issue over next few months.

WitteringsfromWitney said...

But is it another debate for another day?

I liken the present situation to a long conveyor belt starting in Brussels and ending in Westminster in which every item on that belt then gets covered in 600+ rubber stamps. It matters not whether it is 600+ or 500+ rubber stamps, does it?

There may well be a few debates to come in the next few months - and no doubt they will be whipped!

Oh - and any chance you can help arrange for me to have a new MP? He and I have met a number of times......

Anonymous said...

I have to ask Glyn- why is it that we are obsessed in this country of having an electorate purely based on population NOT area?.

Surely a mix of the two should be best. So the electorate should be X thousand people- but also have a limit saying that an area cannot be X acres or X journey time. Otherwise at this rate I think we could end up with one massive constituency for North/Mid Wales with hundreds of seats in S.Wales and London. Personally, I don't find this democratic.

Why can't we go back to the Shire system. Allow each shire an MP but then give some Shires two or three MPs if their population is large enough? It happens in Ireland, and to some extent in the US too. This will mean that there is at lease one voice in every (smilar sized) corner of Wales/UK.

This will also avoid any messy boundary changes in the future- we can just simple adjust the no of MPs. I mean it makes no sense for Montgomeryshire to be split between North and South just like it makes no sense for Ynys Mon (an island) to overflow onto the mainland!.

Rant over- I just think the country needs to remember the area of some constituencies.

Jeff Jones said...

Even if Parliamentary constituencies are not changed across the UK by 2015 because of the fallout within the UK coalition there is still a valid argument that Wales asa result of devolution is over represented. What is often forgotten in this debate is that Scotland has already seen a reduction in the number of MPs at Westminster based on the argument that the Scottish Parliament had law making powers.Scotland has fewer MPs in 2012 than it had in 1997. Wales has exactly the same number. Given that the Assembly also now has lawmaking powers using the same logic then the number of Welsh MPs should be reduced. Over to you

WitteringsfromWitney said...

I was waiting, hopefully, for a commenter to pick up on this constituency thingy......

Can we expand this point? Not only should it be one MP per consitutuency (or maybe two depending on the number of electors) but how about we rejig our failing democracy while we are at it?

Presently we live under what is aughingly known as Reprentative Democracy which, in effect, is no more than Democratized Dictatorship, one wherein the elected government of the day does not rule by consent.

Our host talks about parliamentary sovereignty - apologies to him, but to blazes with parliamentary sovereignty; how about the people's sovereignty? Why should government be able to simply take our money via taxation without even asking us? Why should political parties, at the time of general elections, present us with what amounts to a blank cheque?

Politicians talk to us about change and devolution of power - and all it is talk - it will never happen because to so do woud only result in a loss of their power over us; and that will never happen.

Anyone heard of the Harrogate Agenda? This demands:

1. the people are sovereign: the sovereignty of the peoples of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland shall be recognised by the Crown and the government of our nations. The people in their collective form, by giving their consent, comprise the ultimate authority of their nations and the source of all political power;

2. Local democracy: the foundation of our democracy shall be the counties (or other local units as may be defined), which shall become constitutional bodies exercising under the control of their peoples all powers of legislation, taxation and administration not specifically granted by the people to the national government;

3.Elected prime ministers: to enable separation of power, prime ministers shall be elected by popular vote; they shall appoint their own ministers, with the approval of parliament, to assist in the exercise of such powers as may be granted to them by the sovereign people of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland; no prime ministers or their ministers shall be members of parliament or any legislative assembly;

4. All legislation is subject to consent: no legislation or treaty shall take effect without the direct consent of the majority of the people, by positive vote if so demanded, and that no legislation or treaty shall continue to have effect when that consent is withdrawn by the majority of the people;

5. no taxes or spending without consent: no tax, charge or levy shall be imposed, nor any public spending authorised, nor any sum borrowed by any national or local government except with the express permission of the majority of the people, renewed annually on presentation of a properly authenticated budget which shall first have been approved by their respective legislatures;

6. a constitutional convention: Parliament, once members of the executive are excluded, convenes a constitutional convention to draw up a definitive codified constitution for the people of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, which shall recognise their sovereign status and their inherent, inalienable rights and which shall be subject to their approval.

This would restore the master servant relationship to its proper place and our country could then rightly call itself a democracy.

My apologies to our host for another little 'rant' - although it would be good if he were to debate this subject with me?

Just asking, you understand?

Glyn Davies said...

Witterings - sorry not to engage fully, but there's only so much time. I do not allow my computer to dominate me and only use internet sparingly - and this blog post is about something else.

Jeff - You make a very valid point. If the boundaries review does not go forward, we still need the Boundary Commissions to consider changes to make the system fairer. I've asked HoC Library for info about their role and will consider pitching for a debate in October about this issue.

WitteringsfromWitney said...

Sir, While I understand your position viz-a-viz internet use, I have to say that it is disappointing that whenever I try to engage a politician in debate there is always a reason why said debate does not happen - although the reason you give is a 'new' one.

Thanks for your time, anyway.