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. ……but this recession has so far been markedly different from other recessions in the last 40 years in terms of the translation of economic woes into social impacts.
    So Gordon Brown can at least claim to have: Ended the pain of boom & bust. ;-)

  2. Thanks Anthony – just to be sure I’ve understood this properly, the quota is still UK wide (except for NI) but English seats would on average be very slightly over the quota, rather than the commission taking the English electorate and dividing it by 503 to make a separate English quota?

  3. Chris Todd said: So any discrepancy in the electoral system would seem to be just 0.5 million votes. It takes the Conservatives 10.7 million to win 306 seats and Labour 10.2 million to win 306 seats.
    Does anybody disagree with Chris’s maths?

    I came to roughly the same conclusion which is why I thought it possible that the Boundary Commissions – whilst being, as always, rigorously non-partisan – could accidently arrive at a result which breaks equally for the two main parties. 8-)

  4. My guess is that the AV referendum held next May will be lost for a number of reasons.
    1. People like myself voting against as a form of protest to bring the coalition down.
    2. The impact of the cuts will be taking effect by next Spring with the VAT rises, public sector pay freeze, redundancies etc.
    A referendum defeat would mean the Libdems would have little reason to stay in coalition with the conservatives beyond saving their cabinet jobs.

  5. Yes I disagree with those Maths. To a certain extent votes per seat won should break slightly in the favour of the party (between the big two) who won the most seats simply because they have more seats per candidate standing (by way of comparison in 2005 Labour won 26,908 votes per MP elected vs 44,368 for the Tories) so if Labour had won 306 their average would have been lower and so it would alot more than 0.5 million votes. And anyway that 0.5 million equates to roughly 2% of the national vote. Why should one party have to poll 2-4% higher than the other to win the same number of seats? Its just unfair.

  6. Perhaps a seminar “Humanly possible to be rigorously non-partisan” by the BCs for the benefit of us poor UKPR posters? ;)

  7. Nicholas j Alcock,
    ‘For the Conservatives and Nick Clegg the Coalition works better than ‘Confidence and Supply”? It guaranteed 5 years of government for the Conservatives while it avoided a GE for the hard-up Lib Dems.’

    With respect , the Coalition deal does not guarantee 5 years of government. Whilst it might have been the intent at the time, the LibDems can still walk out should they so wish. For this to happen might well mean ditching Clegg , but the LibDems have shown themselves to be as ruthless as the Tories in disposing of leaders who have ceased to serve their best interests.

  8. @ DaveC

    Scotland Lab -4 Lib -1 SNP -1 Con -1
    I think you have looked at present seat sizes & math to arrive at the conclusion that Lab may currently have 4 Labour MPs who would not have their existing constituency.

    That is a fair conclusion. I am looking to the next election, where the movement of Labour voters into adjacent seats would result in seats that are currently SNP or coalition being diluted to the point where Labour would be the likely winner of the new, combined seat.

    Therefore, I should emphasise that all my projections are based on the likely outcome in the new seats post election if % of vote remained the same as 2010 i.e. I have looked at % of vote for each party & how that would likely move around if the constituencies were equalised.

    I have used FPTP & taken no account of AV. If I tried to do that, my brain would start leaking out through my ears. 8-)

  9. Nick, Anthony,
    Sorry: I thought I could spot the difference between Sainte-Lague and d’Hondt. I will have to go back to electoral systems school! Sainte-Lague would appear more consistent, since it is used to allocate MEPs to regions (even if d’Hondt is used to allocate seats within regions).

  10. @ TONYOTIM

    I was asking about the math for the 2010 election… can you lay out your calculations in the way that Chris did to arrive at the vote discrepancy you claim, please?

    I’d like to do a comparison of methods. Thanks 8-)

  11. Nick – you are right, there is no provision in the proposed legislation for separate English, Welsh and Scottish quotas, they all need to be within 5% of the UK quota.

  12. @Graham, Walk out when the Lib Dem ratings are at 14%? Walk out when a large proportion of LD MPs hold government jobs? Walk out when the LD PP supported the emergency Budget? Walk out when no LD MP publicly opposed the ‘Coalition’ agreement? David Cameron has ensured every Liberal Democrat’s hands are covered in blood! Hardly any LD member opposed the ‘Agreement’! Nick Clegg has agreed to a National Government style arrangement as in 1931 which ultimately saw the bulk of The Liberal party walk into the Conservative party!

  13. ALEC
    “Please Roland – a bit of self regulation wouldn’t go amiss……. British Crime Survey figures are highly regarded ”

    Self regulation is something Anthony urges on all of us Alec:-

    BCS is a systematic victim study, carried out by BMRB Limited on behalf of the Home Office. The BCS seeks to measure the amount of crime in England and Wales by asking around 50,000 people aged 16 and over, living in private households, about the crimes they have experienced in the last year.

    BCS excludes all under 16s and residents of communal establishments. It offers no statistics for so-called “victimless” crimes, such as those concerning the abuse, possession and trafficking of drugs. It fails to record crimes against businesses, commercial premises and vehicles and (because it is a victim survey) instances of murder and manslaughter.

    Professor Ken Pease, former acting head of the Home Office’s police research group, and Professor Gary Farrell of Loughborough University, estimated in 2007 that the BCS was underreporting crime by about 3 million incidents per year due to its practice of arbitrarily capping the number of crimes one can be victimised by in a given year at five.This might not affect the long-term trends, but undercounts repeat victimisation in crimes such as domestic violence,& so called “anti-social” behaviour-what we used to call violent yobbery.

  14. Actually, have the Boundary Commission been instructed to respect country boundaries? One assumes they will but I haven’t read anything saying they must.

    The protection afforded the geographically large seats will, I think, be accounted for in the constituency sizes over the entire country. 8-)

  15. “Nick Clegg has agreed to a National Government style arrangement as in 1931 which ultimately saw the bulk of The Liberal party walk into the Conservative party!”

    Were this to happen, would it be good or bad for Lab?

    I assume that the remains of the LDs would naturally align with Lab. They would have to stop dreaming of replacing Lab as the opposition to the Cons.

  16. Amber – yep, the new legislation rules out any seats crossing national boundaries, so no England/Wales seats or Scotland/England seats.

    Since there are still going to be separate boundary commissions for England, Scotland, Wales and NI, they wouldn’t have happened in practice anyway, but nevertheless, they will be illegal.

  17. @ Mike N

    Tories out of government for 13 years, no Conservative majority 2010, no sign of Labour imploding… methinks Dems were dreaming of replacing the Cons as opposition to Labour. ;-)

  18. @ Anthony

    Thank you for confirming country boundaries will stay. :-)

    And again, I emphasise that I was not casting aspersions on the Boundary Commissions – the opposite was my intention, so I apologise for any offence I may have caused. 8-)

  19. Amber Star

  20. @Alec

    Nice try but no cigar for Trichet also said:

    “The success of a fiscal consolidation strategy strongly depends on its design. Adjustment on the spending side, accompanied by structural reforms to promote long-term growth, has typically been the best strategy, especially when combined with a credible long-term commitment to fiscal consolidation.”

  21. Amber,

    The point is that as a party wins more seats their vote average per seat gradually comes down. (Hence why the Tories average is much lower this year than in 2005). The inequality in the current system is shown by the fact that Labour still have a lower vote per seat average than the Conservatives despite winning significantly fewer seats.

    Assuming uniform swings and taking votes fairly equally from Cons and Libs, if Labour had got 10.2 million votes they would probably have won about 315 seats not 306 seats. If they had got the 10.7 million votes the conservatives did get, they would have won an absolute majority with around 340 seats.

    Because of this shift in average the more seats you win, the actual discrepancy in votes needed for Labour to get the same number of seats as the Tories is closer to 1 million than 0.5 million but you can’t work it out exactly in the way Chris has done because the average itself shifts and isn’t constant.

    My original use of the average was to show that if the new boundaries produced the 23/16 split of seat reductions that was being suggested, this produced a result that was much more equal to the votes cast for the two main parties, although less equal for Libs and others. The current system unquestionably has a built in bias towards Labour.

  22. @Mike N, The very, very clever politicos at Conservative HQ don’t want or need LD members and even less LD MPs! What they need and want is LD voters! This is the cleverest attempt at political realignment in a generation. Even old Mandy and Old Labour would have won in 1997!

  23. @Tonyotim
    You write,‘Why should one party have to poll 2-4% higher than the other to win the same number of seats? It’s just unfair’.

    The reason for the disparity is only marginally to do with constituency sizes.
    Two far more important factors are
    1. Differential turnout – Turnout in Labour held constituencies is lower than Conservative held constituencies
    2. Labour’s vote is more efficiently distributed ie less wasted votes in seats it can’t win.

    On a related point about, ‘votes per seat won’. We should be concentrating on the number of registered voters per constituency.
    In English constituencies from the 2010 election data it reveals Conservative held seats have an average of just under 73,000, whereas Labour held seats have an average just over 70,000.

  24. @ TONYOTIM

    the Tories is closer to 1 million than 0.5 million but you can’t work it out exactly in the way Chris has done because the average itself shifts and isn’t constant.
    I think Chris & I have the same 1M as you but we have treated it as a swing rather than an absolute number. If the voters move, then only 0.5M need to change from Tory to Labour to even it up. Hence the 0.5M number. Does that make sense to you, or have I failed to follow your reasoning? 8-)

  25. Those trumpeting the economic figures as a Labour triumph should consider that they are a failure: an electoral boom that came too late to swing the election. They are also a failure precisely because they arise not from a fundamental rebuilding of the economy, but a boom designed to curry electoral favour, which will inevitably be followed by a bust. That is why Labour have been anxiously promoting the idea of a double dip recession: they engineered it in the first place. It is also why fixed term parliaments are a bad idea: they encourage and exaggerate booms for elections and busts afterwards

  26. Amber,

    The 1 million I’m talking about (and the 0.5million Chris is talking about) is not a swing, but the difference in the number of votes Labour would need to win 306 seats vs the number of votes the Tories wouls win.

    If you want to talk in terms of swing 9which also shows some of inequities currently). If there was a swing of 3.55% directlty from Labour to the Tories with both finishing level on votes (about 9.6million each) this wouldn’t even up the number of seats won, but rather reverse it. Labour would win 308 seats and the Tories 254 seats.

  27. Contrbutors on this site have suggested that by the end of the year polls could well be running at 38% Tories, 38% Labour, 14% Lib Dems. This strikes me as quite a reasonable assumption.

    Lib Dem losses at such polling levels would include:
    Danny Alexander, Simon Hughes, Sarah Teather, Chris Huhne, Malcolm Bruce, Lynne Featherstone, David Heath and Jeremy Browne.

    So, if the AV referendum was lost the Lib Dems would be faced with difficult decisions- perhaps they might think of bailing out before things got even worse and offer to support Labour on a confidence and supply basis in the hope that this would stop the rot?

  28. Amber, there is one slight exception, in the minds of some in Cornwall who would say that they have a country boundary between them and Devon. There is no sign, as yet, that it will not be crossed, even though the BCE are told by the Bill to “take into account, if and to such extent as they think fit” county boundaries, since such consideration is subserviant, in the legislation to being +or- 5% from the UK wide quota.

  29. Nicholas J Alcock,
    If the LibDems come to the view that their interests are seriously threatened by remaining in the Coalition they will walk out – it is as simple as that! As for the polls, the time may come when the unpopularity of the Coalition is such that they might expect some credit from the electorate for bringing it to an end.Removing Clegg could be seen as a public rejection of his strategy – encouraging some voters to look at them again!

  30. David B

    Please read my posts above and be wise to take my brilliant economic and polling advice! In case you hadnt noticed the torys are up at 43/44% after many of you predicted a fall (against my advice)

    Xmas will see Con 46/48% Lab 28/30% Lib 14%
    I may be slightly out but only a 1% or less !

  31. @ TONYOTIM

    I think that the perception of the boundary changes is that the discrepancy you are calculating will be entirely done away with. As Dave C points out, it likely won’t.

    Piling up % of vote in safe seats won’t be corrected by the boundary changes. You need to look at the likeliest new boundaries then check voting % for the 2 main parties in all the seats that change & attempt to forecast the impact of shifting pools of voters.

    Epochery calculates 20 Lab 16 Con will be lost. Dave C has a slightly different calculation. I believe that the redistribution may initially appear to favour the Conservatives; but redistribution of the Labour votes from ‘lost’ seats could actually even it out resulting in equal losses for both the major parties. 8-)

  32. @WAYNE

    So, allowing for 1% margin or error, the Cons could be on between 45% and 49%! That’s a big range.

    Come on, I expect better than this otherwise I will cease taking you seriously.

  33. @DavidB
    “Contrbutors [sic] on this site have suggested that by the end of the year polls could well be running at 38% Tories, 38% Labour, 14% Lib Dems. This strikes me as quite a reasonable assumption.”

    It may sound reasonable in political terms but it runs against all polling evidence we have seen thus far.

    Tories and Labour have been benefiting EQUALLY from LibDem decline. Polling data would seem to suggest rather a split of:

    Tories 42
    Lab 35
    Lib 14.

  34. Could someone please clarify if the Boundary changes proposals will be in the same legislation as the AV referendum,.i.e are they directly linked or can you have one without the other ? So if the AV ref is defeated,will the boundary changes still proceed ?
    Also is there a min turnout required for this referendum to be declared void ? It’s just I cannot see there being a stampede to the polls or queing round the block for this one.Therefore a result with only say 30% turnout (if ur lucky) would surely not be an endorsement either way

  35. @ ALEC

    “a much faster initial recovery than expected with three quarters of growth provisionally showing 0.3%, 0.4% and 1.1% GDP growth, ”

    I suggest caution about Q2 2010 Alec.

    Stephanie Flanders is interesting and points out:-

    In Q2, 0.4 of the 1.1 was attributable to Construction-a tiny part of the UK economy, which itself grew by an astonishing 6.6% in Q2.

    Construction therefore leapt by 6.6% since March, having shrunk by 1.6% over two previous quarters.

    If-as has been suggested -there is some weather related phasing here-and if it were rephased backwards, we might be looking at three quarters of fairly flat figures at an annual equivalent rate of 1.5% growth.

  36. re end of 2010 polls.
    Thought I would have a look at the end of 2009 Yougov poll:
    Con 40
    Lab 30
    LD 17
    If the predictions on here are correct the year will show Con + 2, Lab + 5 and LD -3.

    Aren’t we all getting a little over excited? Very early days yet.

  37. Mike N
    I would be entirely comfortable with 47.5%

    Exciting Times!!

  38. @MichaelB

    The reduction of MP numbers and the boundary changes will go aheard regardless of what happens in the AV referendum

  39. @Colin – agreed, but the BCS has always been so, therefore it represents a good time series sample of the constituent crimes it counts. It shows a massive fall in these crimes since 1995, and unless we think those crimes not covered by the BCS have behaved entirely differently to those that are, we have prima facie evidence of a sustained and significant fall in crime over this period.

    Additionally you fail to mention recorded crime, which will include all the exclusions from the BCS. Again, this shows a sustained and significant fall in crime, and while there are other issues with this data the picture is broadly the same.

    I’m sorry, but I will not accept that all the evidence is wrong and that there has been a general rise in crime across this time period and I really do think it is a somewhat pointless (and politically inspired) past time trying to argue otherwise.

    @The Last Fandango – “….Adjustment on the spending side, accompanied by structural reforms to promote long-term growth, has typically been the best strategy, especially when combined with a credible long-term commitment to fiscal consolidation.”

    Precisely, and many economists view Darling’s strategy to largely eliminate the structural deficit and half the total deficit within 4 years as a perfectly credible plan. Darling had already announced some pretty severe spending cut committments, so Trichet’s words could easily be applied to his plan. Indeed, many overseas observers take the view that 25 – 40% departmental spending cuts while protecting the largest budget, is, in itself, a strategy that is not credible.

    @Mark – “It is also why fixed term parliaments are a bad idea: they encourage and exaggerate booms for elections and busts afterwards.”

    Putting aside your argument about whether the GDP figures were a failed aattempt at an inflationary boost for an election rather than an attempt to offset the genuine misery the banking collapse could have brought to many more families, your point about election timing carries no logic.

    What is the difference between a government rigging the economy for a fixed term election and rigging the economy for an election when they can decide the date? If anything the latter makes it easier, which is the experience we had under the Tories throughout the 1980’s. Ever wondered why Thatcher didn’t run for a full five years?

  40. michaelb – it’s the same legislation, but the referendum is only connected to the AV element of the legislation. The rest of the legislation would come into force regardless of what happens in the referendum.

    There is no turnout restriction on the referendum (though it one of those things that rebel MPs will probably propose when it comes before the House).

  41. @Anthony
    thank you for clarifying that.I personally think there should be a minimum turnout put on this. Such a sizemic change like this needs to have a proper level of support in terms of percentage of the population and number.Something I think will be very hard to achieve,which is a shame.

  42. WAYNE
    So, the Cons on exactly 47.5% is your prediction?

    My faith in you has been restored.

  43. WAYNE & MIKE N

    If the Tories are on 47.5% (or higher) at the end of 2010 I shall be more than flabbergasted and will contribute £50 to a charity of Anthony’s choice.

  44. A quick question for those who feel that each constituency should be the same size and that that would solve the “Labour bias” in the electoral system:

    Assume there are 100 constituencies

    And that each has 50,000 electorate

    Now assume that the Conservatives win 45 seats with a majority of 15,000 in each seat.

    And Lab win 55 seats. But they win each seat with a majority of just 5,000.

    Who deserves to form government?

    More people have voted Conservative than Labour. But Labour have the majority of seats.

  45. @Amber

    “I think that the perception of the boundary changes is that the discrepancy you are calculating will be entirely done away with. As Dave C points out, it likely won’t. ”

    I never thought it would do away with the discrepancy, but I think it will ameliorate to some extent between the Tories and Labour. It will possibly make things even less even for other parties until we get around to changing the voting system.

  46. (The point being that the inequality in a constituency based electoral system cannot be removed. You can squash it down as much as you like, but it will still be there.

    Only in a fully PR system can you be sure that there is no inequality.

    So those who really want a balanced, fair electoral system, there is no point tinkering with FPTP, you have to adopt full PR).

  47. The LDs could be looking at slumped support,
    aswell as larger seats which would probably lead to even more areas going all blue or all red – the larger the seats the more it tends to miss the detail of particular areas.

    AV would be a counter weight to those two negatives, but it’s quite clear that AV can be defeated once the arguments are put about why PR/AV is not “fair”.

    The LDs would be facing disaster.

  48. @ALEC
    I have no idea what self regulation you are talking about. What I do know is statistics nowadays need to be treated very carefully. Colins post explains this point very well.


    Your example is more to do with the failings of FPTP than the bias towards Labour in the current system. In your theoretical example you can assume they would at least be starting level. The reality is more that Labour would win 55 seats of 30,000 voters by a margin 5,000 each, whilst the Conservatives would win 45 seats of 70,000 voters by a margin of 30,000 each. (Exaggeration is deliberate for effect).

  50. @Anthony Wells

    There’s already a private members bill seeking to establish turnout requirements for all referenda, that was given it’s first reading *before* the AV Referendum bill. Of course, since it has no government support, it’s very unlikely to be given any further time for debate, and never get a second reading.

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