In two weeks’ time, the Boundary Commission will publish its first draft of the new constituency boundaries, a seemingly mundane act that could trigger one of the biggest rebellions of this parliament. The Tories’ decision to couple the boundary changes with a reduction in the number of MPs from 650 to 600 has created a class of legislators with a vested interest in blocking the reforms. Hundreds of others, who will see their majorities fall, are similarly troubled by the changes.
It’s therefore unsurprising to see today’s FT report that the proposals could collapse when they are voted on in 2013. Labour, which has consistently denounced the reforms as gerrymandering, will vote en masse against them, as will a significant number of Lib Dems, many of whom no longer feel obliged to support the reforms after David Cameron betrayed his promise to play only a limited role in the No to AV campaign. Lib Dem MP Andrew George said: “Will we object? I think that some of us will when it comes to it.”
Almost everyone can find something to dislike about the boundary changes. The plan to equalise constituency sizes will disrupt traditional boundaries and historic communities without correcting the electoral bias towards Labour (which is not due to unequal constituencies), and the redrawn boundaries will take no account of the 3.5 million people not on the electoral register, producing a skewed electoral map that ignores millions of eligible voters. Meanwhile, the accompanying 8 per cent reduction in the number of MPs will not be matched by a commensurate reduction in the number of ministers, further reducing parliamentary accountability and swelling the payroll vote.
Cameron will continue to proclaim that the reforms will benefit both his party and democracy but asserting something does not make it true. One suspects that an increasing number of his own MPs will conclude as much.