Why the rush, Nick?

What reason is there for Nick Clegg not rethinking the process and chronology of the boundary review – unless the government actively wants to redraw the boundaries without taking account of the missing voters? If that's not the reason, then why the rush?

Our guest writer is John Costello

Nick Clegg is due to publish his constitutional reform bill this week – but the central part of that bill, the referendum on the alternative vote, is already being poisoned by its association with the unfair boundary reforms; the problem is not the principle of equal sized seats – which, within reason, everyone basically accepts – but the process for achieving them.

Clegg told the Commons last Monday that 50 seats will be cut and all but two constituencies redrawn on the basis of the electoral register as it stands in December 2010.

At the same time he acknowledged that millions of eligible voters are missing from the electoral register, and that these missing voters are dominated by people from specific social groups in particular places.

He’s right – and the problem won’t have been solved in six months.

In 2005 the Electoral Commission estimated that 3.5 million eligible voters were missing from the electoral roll in England and Wales alone. But that was based on five-year-old figures. More recent estimates suggest the figure for the UK today is closer to 6 million.

According to an Electoral Commission investigation published in March this year, “under-registration is notably higher than average among 17-24 year olds (56 per cent not registered), private sector tenants (49%) and black and minority ethnic British residents (31%)”, finding that:

“The highest concentrations of under-registration are most likely to be found in metropolitan areas, smaller towns and cities with large student populations, and coastal areas with significant population turnover and high levels of social deprivation.”

So why is the deputy prime minister rushing to reform the boundaries before these missing voters – or at least some of them – are put on the electoral roll so that they can be counted?

By failing to factor them into his arithmetical review of constituency boundaries, Mr Clegg will be distorting the electoral map of Britain for good, and diluting the representation of people from poorer social groups in the process.

Never mind the party politics, this is fundamentally anti-democratic. Many of those who campaigned for electoral reform outside Lib Dem headquarters when the coalition talks were proceeding did so because they wanted to create a more inclusive democracy in which everyone has an equal say and a Parliament in which everyone is fairly represented.

The government’s boundary review promises to deliver the very antithesis of that objective. Now it’s true that over the past 13 years boundary reviews have been conducted on the basis of the existing, incomplete electoral registers. But not on the scale being proposed here (i.e. being used as the basis for chopping 50 seats), and the process was always balanced by the opportunity for public consultation.

But in his haste to complete the review by 2013 Nick Clegg is going to do away with all that; so much for the “Big Society” and giving local communities more power over the decisions that affect them…

All this prompts the question, why the rush? Why does this all need to be done by 2013? What is so important that it justifies excluding somewhere between 8%-16% of eligible voters?

Why not work to get the missing eligible voters on the register? Perhaps set a reasonable target to get all local authority registers up to a minimum level (say 95%) before conducting the boundary review. At the moment many constituencies have 20% of resident adults missing from the register. That’s too much of a gap. Why not take a bit of time to close it?

What reason is there for not rethinking the process and chronology of this review – unless the government actively wants to redraw the boundaries without taking account of the missing voters? If that’s not the reason, then why the rush?

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19 Responses to “Why the rush, Nick?”

  1. Trakgalvis

    Why the rush, Nick? http://bit.ly/cIpH9m via @leftfootfwd

  2. Nick Panayotopoulos

    RT @trakgalvis: Why the rush, Nick? http://bit.ly/cIpH9m via @leftfootfwd

  3. voice in deep south

    RT @leftfootfwd: Why the rush, Nick? http://bit.ly/cIpH9m

  4. Penfold

    ConDem Boundary Review to ignore 3.5 million largely working-class British citizens. Smells like gerrymandering http://bit.ly/bpduVr

  5. Michelle

    RT @leftfootfwd Why the rush, Nick? http://bit.ly/cIpH9m

  6. Ralph Ferrett

    Makes things difficult for those of us lefties who passionately believe in electoral reform.

    What is being proposed is Tory gerrymandering pure and simple, it is anti democratic and makes me tear my hair out. I can’t vote to retain the FPTP system, but I cant vote to gerrymander politics to keep the tories in power indefinitely.

    What to do?

  7. Ralph Ferrett

    RT @leftfootfwd: Why the rush, Nick? http://bit.ly/bpduVr

  8. winston k moss

    RT @leftfootfwd: Why the rush, Nick? http://bit.ly/cIpH9m

  9. Harry Barnes

    The numbers of those who qualify to vote who are missing from electoral registers is likely to grow as we move towards individual electoral registration and end the current household form of registration. This has already happened in Northern Ireland. Of course, under household registration many may be false registrations as doubled-up registrations. I pursued numbers of measures in the Commons especially between 1994 and 2000 in an effort to overcome the defects in the electoral registration system. It started with an unsuccessful Private Members Bill which then had the active support of John Smith, Tony Blair and other Labour frontbenchers – Tony Blair was shadow Home Secretary and the matter fell within his area of responsibility. A number of Ten Minute Rule Bills followed and the principles I pursued were raised as a series of amendments to what became Labour’s Representation of the People Act in 2000. The later first introduced rolling electoral registration. An improved and later varient of which allowed half a million to register late in the run up to the last General Election. But I pointed out in 2000 that this would not resolve the scale of the non-registration problems we faced. Extra changes are needed. The measures I proposed will need to be transcended, for technological change has moved on considerably in the past decade. But the principles I propounded are as relevant as ever. A group operated to press such proposals at the time which was called “Full Franchise”. The measures I pursued normally obtained certain cross-party support. I will remind those involved who are still MPs.

  10. David Boothroyd

    There is a great deal of under-registration and it specifically affects certain groups: the young, people whose first language is not English, and people living in multi-occupancy homes. The non-registered voters are not evenly spread: all those three groups are concentrated in inner urban areas. They still have issues which their Member of Parliament is called on to solve. Also there are people who are not eligible to register in the first place – foreign nationals, people under 18 – who also have problems requiring the attention of their MP. It is very well known that the caseloads of MPs representing inner urban areas are much higher than others.

    The easiest way to resolve this problem and still meet the desire for equal sized constituencies would be to define constituencies based on equal population size, not equal electorate. There are figures from the ONS for population by ward and the 2011 Census is coming up soon. This was the basis of boundary commission reviews before 1944.

  11. MT

    Hasn’t every boundary review in history been carried out using deficient figures? Why is it suddenly so controversial?

  12. Robert

    Well it will be highly unlikely i will bother anymore, voting for three Tory parties has becoming boring, if I’m forced to register then I’m sure the only party which will gain with be the smaller parties like UKIP and the BNP

  13. Paul Evans

    by rushing the vote on AV Clegg is discrediting his own case http://bit.ly/cSON0K

  14. Harry Barnes

    MT : Previous boundary reviews have not faced the level of under-registration that we are experiencing currently. The Poll Tax had a bad impact on registation as electoral registers were obliged by law to be checked for poll tax purposes. Yet the situation continued to worsen even when the Poll Tax was replaced.
    The use of population figures instead of registration numbers as suggested by David Boothroyd could, however, be used to help overcome the problem involved in the redrawing of boundaries.

    This would still leave electoral registration problems to be faced up to. If we are have to have a referendum on the the alternative vote, then the missing millions from the registers will be of some significance if the decision is a close one.

    It is also legitimate to use Clegg’s propopoals to flag up registration problems, including the need to enfrancise those who are currently excluded. We enfranchise those who settle in the UK from the Commonwealth and Ireland and not others. We also exclude those in prison, although this is in conflict with a decision of the European Courts.

    There is also a strong case for rejecting the proposal to reduce the numbers of MPs by 50. Unless there is also to be a proportionate reduction in what is called the “pay roll” vote. Otherwise legislation will reduce the ratio of back-benchers to front-benchers/PPSs’ who are all firmly in the control of the whips.

    Getting electoral alterations correct when the electoral registers are in a mess is of considerable democratic importance. It is not a party matter.

  15. Chris

    @MT – rtfa!!!

  16. Mr. Sensible

    John, there are several issues with what Clegg is proposing.

    First, as you point out, this proposal is based on an electoral register with people missing. And for all his fanfare, Nick Clegg has not told us anything new about what he will do. He says he will make registration compulsory, but this is already the case.

    A better idea would be to either do it by population size rather than number of registered voters, as David Boothroyd suggested or make it so that people only need register once and then not do so again until their details change.

    I believe I read somewhere that the latter was the case in at least 1 of the devolved administrations; can Ed Jacobs clarify that?

    Second, I fully support the principle of regular boundary reviews, but why in 3 years rather than the usual 6?

    Finally, it is untrue to say that it will ‘cut the cost of politics’; those MPs who were left will be given larger workloads, and there will inevitably be a clamor for those who remain to be allowed to pay for more staff ETC.

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