Fair game

The imminent loss of 50 MPs, as outlined by the Boundary Commission on 13 September, will produce a fairer electoral system and a parliament that's £12m cheaper to run once savings on salaries and pensions are taken into account. That's the promise, at least, so what's not to like? Plenty, as it turns out.

Ignore the threat to the careers of some of our better-known politicians (rest assured, George Osborne will be parachuted into a winnable seat) and the meagre cost savings - a fraction of the annual £146m bill for MPs once expenses are added - and consider the fairness argument. Namely, that the average size of the electorate in a Conservative seat is 72,418 but only 68,487 in a Labour seat. On reflection, that argument appears a little spurious.

For a start, the biggest losers in the constituency changes are the already under-represented Liberal Democrats. The University of Liverpool estimates that, across the UK, the Conservatives would end up with 16 fewer seats, Labour 17 fewer and the Lib Dems 14 fewer. If that sounds equitable, view these figures as a percentage of seats now held - 7 per cent of Labour seats, 5 per cent for the Tories and 25 per cent for Liberal Democrats. Now consider how many votes it really takes to elect an MP. In the 2010 general election, it took between 33,000 and 35,000 people to elect each Labour or Tory MP, but nearly four times that number - 119,900 - for each Lib Dem MP.

Worse still, 285,616 people put a cross next to a Green Party candidate's name in May 2010, but only one, Caroline Lucas,
was elected. And nearly a million people voted Ukip, but won no parliamentary representation.
If the concern is about fairness and proportionality, other voting systems are available.

Jon Bernstein, former deputy editor of New Statesman, is a digital strategist and editor. He tweets @Jon_Bernstein. 

This article first appeared in the 19 September 2011 issue of the New Statesman, Meet the next Prime Minister

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