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6 January 2020

What’s happening to the boundary review? Ask Peter Bone

The veteran Brexiteer's manifesto for the deputy speakership reflects a new consensus on the Tory benches: that the number of MPs should not be cut.

By Patrick Maguire

Tory backbencher Peter Bone is canvassing colleagues for support ahead of the elections for the deputy speakership, which takeplace on Wednesday. In an email to colleagues this morning, the devout eurosceptic makes much of his reputation as a career nuisance to governments of all persuasions. Uncharacteristically, it also offers important insight into the mainstream of Conservative opinion.

Dear Colleagues,

Peter Bone for Deputy Speaker: Poacher turned gamekeeper?

On Wednesday (8th January) the House will elect three Deputy Speakers, with the vote taking place between 10am and 1.30pm in Committee Room 8, using the Single Transferable Vote method.  

I do hope you will feel able to vote for me.  Here’s why:
• I was first elected in 2005 and have never sought ministerial or shadow ministerial office.  My aim has always been to be a parliamentarian and to constructively scrutinise the government of the day.
• For the last ten years I have been a member of the Panel of Chairs.  As such, I have regularly chaired Westminster Hall Debates, Bill Committees and Delegated Legislation Committees. I have also chaired the Commons when there has been a Committee of the Whole House. 
• During my chairmanship, I have always been scrupulously fair to members on both sides and nobody would know my own personal views on any particular issue. 
• I was a founder member of the Backbench Business Committee, which has so successfully championed the role of backbench MPs, and helped to shape its ethos. 
• I was a member of the All-Party Group, Parliament First, which sought to strengthen the ability of Parliament to scrutinise the Government and to restore trust in this place after the expenses scandal. 
• I am a senior member of the Procedure Committee, which has steered a course of parliamentary reform, which has neither favoured the government or shadow government, but has improved the working of Parliament for everyone. 
• If elected, I will seek to support the excellent new Speaker in rebuilding the standing of Parliament in the country, following the events of last year.
• Like many colleagues, I have had to deal with death threats, threats to my family and children and vile abuse.  No colleague, on any side, and regardless of their views, should have to put up with this.  I will use this experience to help put an end to this unacceptable behaviour and make sure all colleagues get the help and support they need, tailored to their specific circumstances.
• In my view, Members of Parliament have a vital role in scrutinising the Government and dealing with their constituents’ problems and the challenges facing their communities.  I do not believe that the House should be reduced in size.  It should stay at 650 members – a view I have always expressed.
As someone who is regarded as having a detailed knowledge of parliamentary procedure, and has used many of the legitimate tricks of the book over the years, no doubt some will ask is this not the poacher turning gamekeeper?  My answer would be who is in a better position to uphold the standing orders and conventions of the House than a former poacher, who knows every legitimate trick in the book.

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I believe that all Members of Parliament are equal.  It doesn’t matter what their background is, where their constituencies are, what their majorities stand at, or how long they have been in Parliament.  We are all equal.  If elected, I will treat all colleagues both fairly and equally and uphold the best traditions of the House. 

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Much of Bone’s manifesto isn’t terribly interesting, but one pledge in particular stands out: his promise to resist any move to reduce the number of parliamentary constituencies from 650 to 600, as was proposed in the boundary review shelved by Theresa May in the 2017 parliament.

It’s a pitch to the self-interest of Conservative MPs, whose ranks swelled to 365 last month. A bigger parliamentary party inevitably makes the internal politics of getting rid of 50 MPs much harder for the government, so it is no wonder that Boris Johnson is said to favour maintaining 650 even after a boundary review. The margin of the victory has also ushered in a new consensus on the review itself. Most Tories no longer believe it is quite as essential to ensuring they can win (and keep winning) elections as they once did. 

Not everybody agrees. “To make the assumption that all these newly won seats will vote Tory forever is wrong,” says one minister. “If we keep 650, then complacency has set in before we even get started. We can’t rely on Labour being in a state – and we shouldn’t be measuring ourselves against crap”

Successful or not, however, Bone has made clear which way the wind of Tory opinion is now blowing.