Shifting the boundaries

Matthew Engel in the FT (£/reg) is devastating on the effects of the redrawing of parliamentary boundaries. I’ve always thought this was a terrible idea for the way it will weaken the Commons, but having read Engel’s column it’s clear this exercise is even worse than I’d feared. Engel writes:

The other day I saw a map of the constituency in which I am supposed to vote at the next election. It is called Ludlow and Leominster. It looks to me like a moose’s head. It will stretch from Ewyas Harold, in south-west Herefordshire, to Rowley in Shropshire, a journey – according to Google Earth – of 65.5 miles, taking an hour and 47 minutes.

The MP’s base in Ludlow will be an hour’s drive from Engel’s home, in an area with a different council and “totally different issues”. In effect, Engel will no longer have an MP that represents him or the area where he lives.

The Coalition claims that the plans will produce a saving of £12m a year. In my view this is a pretty lowering reason for slashing the size of parliament anyway – not to mention a hypocritical one given the number of peers which the Coalition is creating at the same time – but Engel observes that even this will be offset by the MPs that remain demanding larger staffs to handle the larger constituencies they now represent.

However, the real concern is the democratic deficit:

  • MPs will “be dealing with multiple councils, so will be less effective in solving problems”.
  • MPs will be “much less useful at supporting their communities”. How is an MP representing both the City of London and Islington South supposed to represent both those wholly different areas? “If a small pot of European money is grabbable for some small-scale scheme, will my MP fight for it to go to Herefordshire or Shropshire?”
  • The abstract and constantly-shifting boundaries will increase the disengagement between voters and their MPs. Engel cites a Labour MP who says “he will have to give up on an enterprise scheme he had worked on for years with the council because the new boundaries will render his role meaningless”.

As Engel concludes:

Above all, it will be another blow to Britain’s very fragile sense of local identity and community, and reduce politicians’ ability to help preserve that. It was Mr Cameron who invented the phrase “broken society”. Over time, this nonsense will create a few more cracks.

In short, I’ve gone from thinking this is a bad idea to thinking that this is a truly calamitous idea, one that will cause real damage to an already-weakened democracy.

The Boundary Commission has a consultation on its proposals until 5 December, but it’s hard to see what real difference this can make. The problem isn’t the work the Commission has done, but the ludicrous and inflexible rules that they have been forced to apply.

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