Boris fever highlights the undemocratic nature of ‘safe seats’

As the case of Boris Johnson demonstrates, safe seats are treated like aristocratic estates.

As the case of Boris Johnson demonstrates, safe seats are treated like aristocratic estates

Boris Johnson yesterday admitted something that most of us already suspected: he is looking around for a suitable seat so as to enter Parliament after next year’s General Election.

When I say a suitable seat, I really mean a safe seat: the Mayor is looking for the sort of seat that will parachute him into Parliament unopposed before he (presumably) contests the Tory leadership at some point.

There has of course been much speculation as to when Boris might try and usurp Dave, but thus far no one has batted an eyelid at the assumption that boris will become an MP simply because he wants to become an MP.

Good to know we live in a robust democracy.

More seriously, though, ‘Boris fever’, as the Mail described it, highlights a larger problem – that of so-called ‘safe’ seats. As the Electoral Reform Society puts it, safe seats are the 21 century’s rotten boroughs. They are one-party states in miniature, with most firmly in the control of the same party since the 1960s.

This means that, when a General Election comes around, one part of the British electorate matters and one doesn’t.

The media has automatically assumed that Boris will enter Parliament as an MP next year because, wherever he chooses to stand, there won’t be a genuine contest. That’s the plan, anyway, and appears to be one of the reasons he is spending so much time deliberating.

There are of course many seats where Boris could stand and no doubt get elected, and not all of those are ‘safe’ in the conventional sense – he’s a popular politician with a quality that’s so often missing from public life.

But that’s hardly the point. The point is that there are almost 400 safe seats in Britain where your domestic pet could probably get elected so long as it were wearing the correct rosette.

And what about Boris’s future constituents? Are they likely to benefit more from the Mayor’s ‘profile’ more than they would from someone who was ‘born and bred’ in the area in question? As we’ve learned from George Galloway’s tenure in Bradford, having a celebrity MP is fine – until you actually want someone to deal with local concerns like anti-social behaviour and car park charges.

Safe seats are too often treated like aristocratic estates by the major parties, passed down to their offspring or to flavour of the moment politicians. The assumption that Boris is already an MP makes a mockery of our democracy, and highlights once again the urgent need for democratic reform.

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