The detailled legislation for the boundary review and the AV referendum is now out – if you are not a hardcore political anorak, you may wish to skip this post! For those who are left, here are the details.

Alternative Vote is the more straightforward section. The referendum is May 5th and the question is “Do you want the United Kingdom to adopt the “alternative vote” system instead of the current “first past the post” system for electing Members of Parliament to the House of Commons?”. There is no minimum turnout or anything on the referendum and it is binding – if the referendum is won, the minister must bring the provisions introducing AV (which are all in the Bill) into effect.

Rules for boundary changes are much more complicated. First, the legislation proposes boundary reviews every five years, significantly speeding up the current timetable where they occur between 8 and 12 years apart (normally at the latter end). With fixed term Parliaments of 5 years, that means seats would change every Parliament (though it would also mean that the changes were normally quite small).

There will one national UK quota, rather than seperate quotas for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. There is, however, an exception to this for Northern Ireland, where if the number of seats Northern Ireland is entitled to is more than a third away from a whole number (as it probably will be this time round), they will have their own quota to aim at, which prevents the boundary commission in Northern Ireland being left with an impossible task.

The quota will indeed be based around the electorate of the UK, minus the two protected seats, divided by 598. All seats must be within 5% of the quota, with three exceptions: the two preserved seats (the Western Isles, Orkney and Shetland), Northern Ireland under the circumstances discussed above, and any seat with an area above 12,000 sq. kilometers where the commission is satisfied it is not possible to get it within quota. As proposed before, there is a cap of 13,000 sq km on the size of consistuencies.

The Commissions may still take in account special geographical considerations, like size and shape, local government boundaries, local ties and minimal change (except, that is, for the coming boundary change, when they should not pay heed to minimising disruption). They may now also take into account the European electoral regions (making some of the possiblities I wrote about in this post less likely). All these considerations are subject to the rule on seats being within 5% of quota, which means that the boundary commissions will have to cross county boundaries if it is necessary in order to get within 5% of quota.

There is no mention of splitting council wards, but then, the old legislation doesn’t refer to them outside Northern Ireland either. In practice, the rule about seats being within 5% of quota may compel Boundary Commissions to split wards in places like Birmingham with very large wards.

In terms of speeding up the review process, the Bill is pretty brutal. Local inquiries on boundary changes are abolished – though it is slightly balanced out by the period for written representations being extended from 1 month to 12 weeks.

All of this is, of course, subject to whatever amendments get made as it trundles through the Commons. I expect some bits may have a tricky passage.

361 Responses to “AV referendum and 600 seats”

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  1. Sounds good to me. Should make the Cons happy too, if as they believe there is a slow and continual drift from labour to tory areas, not only redrawing and equalising the boundaries now, but also speeding up the process in general should help them out.

    Can’t see how anyone can really complain about that part.

    I presume the question of voter registration will be brought up however. I’m not sure it will matter. Boundary decisions have always been taken on the basis of registered electors before (unless I’m deeply mistaken).

    If labour think that their voters are less likely to be registered then labour councils and CLP’s have the freedom to do a few voter registration drives but I don’t see how that is the government’s problem.

  2. Stephen W,

    I would argue that the job of an MP is to represent all their constituents, not just those who are registered to vote, and it would thus make more sense to draw boundaries on the basis of overall population rather than registered voters. I appreciate, however, that there may be practical problems with this given the paucity of regular, comprehensive demographic surveys.

  3. 13500 square KM, God we may as well have followed Halifax in 1940 and let the Germans do what they liked.

  4. If they can tag on geographical exceptions for 3 LibDem constituencies, then I agree that a few more exceptions will also be added as this bill progresses.

  5. Roland,

    Get your MP to table amendment changing that to 500 square miles.

  6. oops, “0” missing – should be 5000 sq m.

  7. Boundary reviews every 5 years is definitely an improvement, and will hopefully be something that doesn’t get amended into oblivion by parliament. I think it’s odd how big an issue the boundary changes are being made out to be, however – while some parties will inevitably gain from it, it doesn’t look like we’re going to see the boundaries produce any major shift in public opinion.

  8. Roland
    Thinking back to an earlier contribution, you just Godwin’d.

  9. correction: it doesn’t look like we’re going to see the boundaries produce any major shift in seat distribution.

  10. Boundary reviews
    I suspect these will bring home to people how stupid constituencies are in such a small world. There is an open goal here to discover if the electorate has more intelligence than we suppose on this list.

    Smart bottom.

    ‘@PAUL HJ
    My MP is Mr Speaker Bercow mate, as the French say no feckin chance.

    The way things are traveling, they should give those seats to the Libs into perpetuity, as they will be the only ones left.

  13. @ Roland

    I think the french would actually say: *gallic shrug* “C’est la vie” ;)

  14. @Roland,

    I take it you’re over 40 then with your objection to metric units. How many chains were in a furlong again?

    As for the Lib Dem seats in the north of Scotland, You have to remember that the Shetlands are as far away from Caithness as the isle of Wight is from Hull. It makes little sense to join them. The other seats are so sparsely populated that to make up the quota on population, they’d have to be the size of Wales. One of them is an SNP seat so I guess giving it to the Lib Dems in perpetuity would be quite a gift ;)

  15. By my crude calculations I make Wales the worst his with the loss of 10 seats, where the sout east would only lose 1. Labour would lose 23 seats, the conservatives 16 and the libdems 7. Based on the current parlaiment, the new parliament, using FPTP would comprise.

    Conservative 291 (plus the speaker)
    Labour 235
    Lib Dems 50
    SNP 5
    PC 2
    Green 1
    N.Ireland 15

    The region by region breakdown would be:

    Northern Ireland 15 (18)
    Scotland 52 (59)
    Wales 30 (40)
    North east 26 (29)
    Northwest 69 (75)
    Yorks and humber 53 (49)
    West midlands 59 (54)
    east midlands 44 (46)
    eastern 56 (58)
    London 70 (73)
    South east 83 (84)
    South West 52 (55)

  16. @Stephen W

    Although it might sound all very fair what is the position of second home-owners? Currently I believe they can register (but not vote) at multiple addresses. If I am correct might there not be upwards of a million second home owners and therir families registered more than once which would surely skew the “equal sized” constituencies significantly.

  17. @ Epochery

    With the 23/16 Lab/Con losses, it would be interesting if the boundary commission were accidently rigorously non-partisan & that 23/16 ended up being 20/20 with the Libs losing 8.

  18. I dont think voting intention is part of the process which of course would be gerrymandering. But it is a shame that labour will be worst effected. But in the spirit of fairness it is something that needs to happen.

  19. @Olly

    This might help

    A person’s name may appear on the electoral register only if they reside at an address within the electoral area. Residence is not defined in law, but it has been held by the courts to entail a ‘considerable degree of permanence’. Based on this criteria, it is possible for a person to be registered to vote in two different electoral areas. A person with two homes who spends about the same amount of time in each can be lawfully registered at both addresses.

    However, it is unlikely that ownership of a second home that is used only for recreational purposes would meet the residency qualification. Ownership of a second home that a voter pays council tax on but is not resident in does not qualify them for electoral registration in that area. It is for the local Electoral Registration Officer to decide in the light of an individual voter’s circumstances whether they may be said to be resident at an address, and therefore eligible for registration. Electoral Registration Officers are required to consider each case on its own merits.

    If an elector is registered to vote in two different electoral areas, they are eligible to vote in local elections for the two different local councils. However, it is an offence to vote twice in any one election. Such an offence could result in a fine of up to £5,000.

  20. Epochery

    It’s ‘affected’ IIMSS, don’t take offence..
    Just how crude are your calculations? I’m hugely impressed with them. I actually breathed a sigh of relief in the SW. Actually I groaned. Without AV I see no chance for we revolutionaries (not much with it either I admit).

  21. Epochery, thanks for the calculations. It’s interesting that West Midlands and Yorkshire would actually gain seats according to you.

    I must say I’m surprised how little difference it would seem to make, believing as I did that hordes of over-represented Scots were skewing things Labour’s way :)

    BTW, I’m surprised we’ve heard nothing about the West Lothian question lately

  22. @ Pete B, sorry that should be the other way around. I posted on here a few months back that Wales and northern Ireland had the fewst voters per seat and the south east the most. So the equalisation will obviously hurt wales, although i believe northern ireland may be protected.

    Like I said these were crude calculations based on region by region numbers of people registered at the last election. The local varainces may shift the numbers one way or the other depending on the new boundaries. But i think a useful guide at this point. Labour have a lot to lose in scotland, wales, the north east and the north west where they are the strongest. So the reduction in seats may not be proportionate.

  23. @Epochery

    Are the before and afters transposed for W.Midlands and Yorks/Humber?

  24. @Epochery

    Sorry, post crossed.

  25. Yes it should be the other way around.

  26. On the proposal to match constituencies within EU regions.

    I could have said GO regions but Mr Pickles is going to abolish those offices. I don’t mind him doing this but, for instance it will be a big dampener on the economy of Bristol amongst other consequences.

    Anyway, the UKIP will jump up and down. They have it in their heads that GO regions (being synonymous with EU regions) are a step towards EU rule. I am an ex SWRA Member and we used to be picketed by them at our meetings in Exeter. If you don’t think the largely OAP UKIP is off the wall, you should have been there, it was ghastly to behold .

    But, bless them, they could turn out to be right. We of the opposite tendency would very much like to see regional representation in the EU – hang on a moment, we have it and it’s proportionally elected too. All that is now needed is to get rid of national (sorry Celtics, super-national governments) and we are there. Only joking.

    I can’t remember the last poll on EU, I suppose it is because we have reverted to isolationism.

  27. Sorry Epochery – what is transposed (just to be sure).

    Could you give those figures again please?

    Most grateful.

  28. @Andy – I posted a couple of times that this could have been a practical use for the much derided and now defunct ID card… many people are conditioned into keeping paperwork to a minimum and cut out anything optional.
    I appreciate your comment about MPs representing all their constituents; it is possible that some people are happy with the colour of their constituency and don’t feel the need to add their vote.
    I can’t help thinking this has been a missed opportunity. There can be legitimate concerns for some people to feel reluctant about their name being on an electoral roll, and many practical difficulties. A properly secure ID card would overcome these problems. It is complacent to stick with the status quo on this.

  29. yougov
    con- 43
    lab- 35
    lib dem- 15

  30. Roland,

    You have my comiserations. My MP is now a (junior) minister. Having previously seen the effect on a constituency assciation of having its MP given a red box, I can well understand your frustration when yours has been given tights and a wig – even when he refuses to wear them the pompous ass.

    Your association must have some contact with some sensible MPs who don’t have their hands tied. Try writing and begging them to take up this minor amendment. I shall try the same with my contacts.

    At the risk of giving you a heart attack, did you know that the mileposts on the M25 are marked in Km ?

    The Highways Agency didn’t have the gall to move them, so, because they are at 1/3m intervals, they alternate between 0.5 and 0.6km distances between posts and you rarely see a round figure. Just how stupid or hypocritical are our civil sevrants ?

  31. Paul H-J

    All motorways are posted in km and have been for many years, it’s not just the M25. The metric system is ‘miles’ more sensible than the old imperial way of doing things and is here to stay. You are a dying breed and will become as rare as morris dancers or native Cornish speakers. Save for Odometers, Weight Watchers and beer sellers, the enlightened world is metric and will stay so.

  32. @Andy,

    An MP should definitely represent all their constituents, not just voters. Since, short of not being bothered to register this just means children it seems unlikely that this will particularly skew any MP’s responsibilities over any other.

    I think MP’s should be done on registered voters. Registering as a voter is both very easy and councils keep reminding you to do it. If you can’t be bothered to register you are almost certainly not going to vote.

    Basing MP’s on population not voters effectively means that people who are registered to vote get to cast a proxy vote for those who are not. Why should voters in areas of low registration get to cast a proxy vote for their non-registered neighbours? We have no guarantee that it would be a real reflection of their neighbours voting preference and it damages the principle of one man one vote that the whole equalisation of seats etc was meant to combat.

    I’m not saying that having large numbers of non-registered people is ideal. it is not. But the answer seems to be better attempts at voter registration rather than making some people’s vote worth more than others.

  33. epochery

    Are you suggesting that the West Midlands will go UP to 53 from 49 MPs? Do you have any idea which parts will get the 4 extra members?

    Why would UKIP picket a Speciality Wine Retailers Association meeting?

  35. Also, Yougov results.

    (Fractional) relief for the LibDems. At least after the awful results of last couple of days. Maybe just random variation around 15 and they’re not heading down to 12% quite yet.

  36. One wonders if St. Stephen’s will be one of the forthcoming constituencies…

  37. @STEPHEN W
    Hoping for a “random variation around 15%” illustrates just how far the LDs have fallen.

  38. @ Colin Green

    You are a little behind the times as Morris dancing has expirienced something of a renaissance among young people (especially fringe goth types), quite lively, raucous, musical… and they drink ‘pints’. :)

  39. I don’t have any particular axe to grind when it comes to Imperial vs metric but it has to be said that in mathematical and indeed in practical terms, metric is not ‘miles’ better than imperial.
    10 units can only be divided 3 ways. 12 for example can be divided 5 ways. Much more useful if you’re a farmer dividing sheep at a market or whatever. That’s why time isn’t divided into units of 10.
    In Poland (my wife’s Polish) which has no history of Imperial measurements, they still measure computer monitors and TV screens in inches. Probably the same in other countries.
    Couldn’t for the life of me tell you why though.

  40. I’ve said this before, people seem to believe that Labour are going to lose seats in Scotland due to the boundary changes.

    I think it is possible (perhaps even probable) that Labour will not lose a single seat. Labour has 41, Dems 11, SNP 6 & CON 1. The SNP & Dem seats have the smallest electorates; Con & Dem are adjacent. Other Dem & SNP seats are adjacent or surrounded by a sea of red.

    Given a popular Labour Party leader, the boundary changes could simply result in the other parties being merged &/or beaten. Scotland losing 7 seats could mean SNP lose 3 & ConDems lose 4 or 5. 8-)

  41. How can anyone predict the impact of the commission before it has started its work !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    Lets focus on the principals:
    There are too many MPs (50 to 100)
    Ward boundaries are too closely adhered to
    There is too much variation in seat sizes
    Scotland and Wales’s representation should be diluted given that they have their own parliaments/assemblies

  42. @ Essexman

    How can anyone predict the impact of the commission before it has started its work !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    Because the commissions work in reasonably scientific & predictable ways within the guidelines. It’s interesting to attempt to calculate the impact.

    It’s our hobby, it’s harmless & may we please have some exclamation marks back? You’ve used up the entire quota for this thread… I’ll trade you a ? for them. 8-)

  43. @Anthony Wells

    You said “…if you are not a hardcore political anorak, you may wish to skip this post…”

    I’m torn as to whether this comment means you know your audience too poorly or too well… :-)

    Regards, Martyn

  44. @ Amber Star – “It’s our hobby”

    That’s your cover story. You are from an intergalactic civilisation that monitors human evolution on this planet.

  45. Slightly off topic, but we have the first whiff of rich Tory donor scandal. I’ve been predicting a string of these once they entered government given the Tory party’s fundraising methods, but while this one isn’t likely to rock many boats just yet it is an interesting start.

    It seems that the now patently false reason given for withdrawing the Sheffield Forgemasters loan – namely that the firms owner directors ‘were not prepared to dilute their share holding’ by raising extra share based capital, originally appeared in a letter written by a major Tory donor who has designs on the company himself. Both Clegg and Cameron repeated this falsehood in the commons (I don’t believe either have yet apologised for inadvertantly misleading the house) and it remains to be seen what linkage, if any, there is to the wishes of the doner, but it smells.

    As we move towards wholesale outsourcing of government functions and discussions on contract cuts and renewals etc, there will be some very substantial areas of conflicts of interest. Cameron’s very direct involvement in fundraising in particular will certainly come into play here and I can foresee some very difficult stories coming forward in the years ahead. While it’s rare for these issues to land killer blows, its the sort of impact that undercuts a government’s image and I suspect a return to ‘sleaze’ in some form or other before very long.

    Please don’t assume this is partisan wishful thinking. I posted about this going back to 2007/8 when I thought it pretty obvious that Cameron’s fundraising methods would leave him wide open to such accusations, whether or not they turned out to be true.


    Don’t go all metric on me: you know there are 10 chains to a furlong! Of course, a chain by a furlong is an acre, with 640 of those to the square mile. Now I’ll get off my 5 1/2 feet (rod, pole or perch).

  47. There is mention of voters with second houses, and it made me think of students.

    Given that students can choose to vote at their university address or their home address and are registered in both places, does anyone know how they will be treated under the boundary review?

    Furthermore, fixed term parliaments will ensure that elections are during term time, should students be limited to one registration?

  48. @Olly, Epochery. Large numbers of people are registered in two places: university students. They live most of the year at their university accomodation but are usually also registered by their family at “home”. There are *two million* UK students, so this is around 3% of the population and a significant bias for electoral boundaries.

    It means that areas which send a higher proportion of young people to university than average have a larger number of these phantom voters registered and thus the electorate is inflated over its true size. This, I would guess, would be the more prosperous areas – more likely to be Tory?

  49. “With the 23/16 Lab/Con losses, it would be interesting if the boundary commission were accidently rigorously non-partisan & that 23/16 ended up being 20/20 with the Libs losing 8.”

    Yet again, I *heart* Amber.

    In AWs post the phrases “Local inquiries on boundary changes are abolished” and “except, that is, for the coming boundary change, when they should not pay heed to minimising disruption” made me proud.

  50. Some rather fantastic news on the economy this morning with a stunning +1.1% GDP figure for Q2. This is way higher than forecast – nearly double what most people expected – and putting aside everyone’s personal politics it really is potentially good news on the back of better than expected European data yesterday.

    These are still retrospective figures and there might still be big problems coming from the US, but it’s encouraging.

    In terms of how this affects the political debate on fiscal tightening, as ever, it cuts two ways. Osborne can claim that a stronger economy means that cuts can be faster without risking too much damage. On the other hand, much faster growth means that cuts are less necessary to balance the deficit as growth can take more of the strain.

    Personally, I’m in the latter camp. If growth is going to be more rapid this will in turn assure markets. I see little point in cutting harshly to cure a fiscal deficit if this then builds up a social deficit that will need further correction down the tracks.

    One last point – these GDP figures are Labour figures, without question. Had Darling opted for a Tory policy prognosis over his last 12 – 18 months we really wouldn’t be sitting here talking about such a stunning set of figures.

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