The coalition’s boundary changes will disenfranchise millions

The new boundaries will ignore the 3.5 million voters not on the electoral register.

The coalition's Constituencies Bill returns to the Commons today, offering MPs another chance to scrutinise its many flaws.

In its rush to reform constituency boundaries, the coalition will in effect disenfranchise the 3.5 million voters not on the electoral register. The new constituencies (equalised at 76,000 voters apiece) will be based on the current roll, producing a skewed electoral map that ignores millions of eligible voters.

Among those most disadvantaged by the reforms will be young and ethnic-minority voters. An Electoral Commission investigation found that under-registration is concentrated among 17-to-24-year-olds (56 per cent not registered), private-sector tenants (49 per cent) and ethnic minorities (31 per cent).

Conveniently for Cameron and Clegg, many of the missing voters are in historically Labour-voting areas.

At the very least, as the shadow justice secretary, Sadiq Khan, has argued, the government should delay the changes for a year and launch an intensive voter registration programme. As things stand, the coalition will compound the problem by abolishing public inquiries into boundary changes – an extraordinary act of non-consultation.

Meanwhile, there is little evidence that the changes will correct the electoral bias in favour of Labour. At the last election, it took 33,000 votes to elect a Labour MP, 35,000 votes to elect a Conservative MP and 119,000 votes to elect a Liberal Democrat MP. But this disproportionality is not the result of unequal constituencies.

A recent report by the University of Plymouth concluded:

The geography of each party's support base is much more important, so changes in the redistribution procedure are unlikely to have a substantial impact and remove the significant disadvantage currently suffered by the Conservative Party.

Professor Michael Thrasher added: "[Labour's] real advantage currently stems largely from a better-distributed vote – it acquires fewer surplus and wasted votes than its rivals. It is also benefiting more than other parties from the general decline in electoral turnout, requiring fewer votes for its victories."

The coalition's decision to bundle its partisan boundary changes with the AV referendum has poisoned the electoral reform debate. Its arithmetical rigidity reflects a profoundly unconservative disregard for historic boundaries and old communities. It should think again before passing a bill that will do much damage and little good.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Theresa May’s stage-managed election campaign keeps the public at bay

Jeremy Corbyn’s approach may be chaotic, but at least it’s more authentic.

The worst part about running an election campaign for a politician? Having to meet the general public. Those ordinary folk can be a tricky lot, with their lack of regard for being on-message, and their pesky real-life concerns.

But it looks like Theresa May has decided to avoid this inconvenience altogether during this snap general election campaign, as it turns out her visit to Leeds last night was so stage-managed that she barely had to face the public.

Accusations have been whizzing around online that at a campaign event at the Shine building in Leeds, the Prime Minister spoke to a room full of guests invited by the party, rather than local people or people who work in the building’s office space.

The Telegraph’s Chris Hope tweeted a picture of the room in which May was addressing her audience yesterday evening a little before 7pm. He pointed out that, being in Leeds, she was in “Labour territory”:

But a few locals who spied this picture online claimed that the audience did not look like who you’d expect to see congregated at Shine – a grade II-listed Victorian school that has been renovated into a community project housing office space and meeting rooms.

“Ask why she didn’t meet any of the people at the business who work in that beautiful building. Everyone there was an invite-only Tory,” tweeted Rik Kendell, a Leeds-based developer and designer who says he works in the Shine building. “She didn’t arrive until we’d all left for the day. Everyone in the building past 6pm was invite-only . . . They seemed to seek out the most clinical corner for their PR photos. Such a beautiful building to work in.”

Other tweeters also found the snapshot jarring:

Shine’s founders have pointed out that they didn’t host or invite Theresa May – rather the party hired out the space for a private event: “All visitors pay for meeting space in Shine and we do not seek out, bid for, or otherwise host any political parties,” wrote managing director Dawn O'Keefe. The guestlist was not down to Shine, but to the Tory party.

The audience consisted of journalists and around 150 Tory activists, according to the Guardian. This was instead of employees from the 16 offices housed in the building. I have asked the Conservative Party for clarification of who was in the audience and whether it was invite-only and am awaiting its response.

Jeremy Corbyn accused May of “hiding from the public”, and local Labour MP Richard Burgon commented that, “like a medieval monarch, she simply briefly relocated her travelling court of admirers to town and then moved on without so much as a nod to the people she considers to be her lowly subjects”.

But it doesn’t look like the Tories’ painstaking stage-management is a fool-proof plan. Having uniform audiences of the party faithful on the campaign trail seems to be confusing the Prime Minister somewhat. During a visit to a (rather sparsely populated) factory in Clay Cross, Derbyshire, yesterday, she appeared to forget where exactly on the campaign trail she was:

The management of Corbyn’s campaign has also resulted in gaffes – but for opposite reasons. A slightly more chaotic approach has led to him facing the wrong way, with his back to the cameras.

Corbyn’s blunder is born out of his instinct to address the crowd rather than the cameras – May’s problem is the other way round. Both, however, seem far more comfortable talking to the party faithful, even if they are venturing out of safe seat territory.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

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