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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    “I repeat if cost was the main driving force we would not have this ridiculous revision of the constituencies.”


    I believe the “equal sized” constituencies is seen as an element of fairness. It perhaps is intended as a counter to the perceived ” unfairness” in Labour’s
    advantage currently.

    whether it achieves a greater degree of fairness-judging by the many interesting thoughts posted here-would seem somewhat uncertain.

    “If fairness is the driving force then we should go PR”

    Well you may clainm that-but there are many who see PR as less fair. It all depends on ones view of PR, FPTP , all systems in between……and crucially…….the central objective of representative parliamentary democracy.

    On these matters there are many opinions about “fairness”.

  2. I think the boundary changes in Scotland can be achieved quite easily with very little disruption.

    After deducting the 2 protected seats, Scotland is entitled to 50 seats when the remaining 2010 electorate is divided by 76,188.

    Edinburgh area would lose 1 from 8 to 7
    Grampian area would lose 1 from 6 to 5
    Glasgow area would lose 3 from 17 to 14
    Fife & Tayside combined lose 1 from 9 to 8
    Highlands & Argyll/ Bute combined lose 1 form 4 to 3

    These changes work fairly well geographically. If anybody knows of any reasons why this wouldn’t be a good way to achieve the objectives, please let me know.

    Thanks 8-)

  3. MIKEN

    “To take your argument to its ‘logical’ conclusion, why have any MPs at all?”

    That is a silly question-with respect-and does not flow from any logical conclusion in connection with the number of MPs which is appropriate.


    600 MPs- waste of effort and time – agree wholeheartedly – 600 arbitrary – special cases will give rise to more special cases and so on and so on

    Gerrymandering – difficult to prove but highly likely – Tories tamper with the system, Labour tampers again if they get the chance – leave well alone and get on with something useful.


    “The system must be very fragile for them to resort to these unstressful tests.”

    Yes-that is the extremely worrying conclusion.

  6. @Amber Star

    Thanks for the clarification. I asked the quesion because that it what is likely to happen with many 1000’s of ballot papers. If the majority of voters did this then we are back to FPTP!!!

  7. Mike N/GrahamBC etc,

    I have asked Blues on here several times, what their reaction would have been if Lab had won a few more seats than Con and it was Brown who ended up negotiating a coalition with Libs.

    They were already accusing GB of being power mad, holding on by his fingertips and being unelected.

    Then, 4 or 5 weeks later GB announces that in the interest of “strong and stable government”, he will be fixing the electoral term for 5 years (with no consultation), that it will take more than 55% of MPs to dissolve parliament and that he was going to insist the BC cut 50 seats in Sussex, Surrey and Berkshire to make the system “fairer” and ensure “strong and stable government”.

    Can you even begin to imagine the accusations? None of them ever answer about just how fair they would have thought these changes were then.

  8. Roger – Lol

  9. Mike N and GrahamBC

    IMO you do not understand the meaning of GerryMandering nor its origin. GM was originally an American affair whereby one party so arranged the seat boundaries into sometimes very weird shapes to give advantage to their own side but not being in the least concerned to produce equal populations.

    The present suggestion of more or less equalising populations for all seats, to be carried out by an independent agency, cannot be compared with gerrymandering. Revisions to seat boundaries has happened regularly in Britain although perhaps not frequently or swiftly enough and it was always aimed at keeping registered voting populations more or less equal so why do you think it is different or “unfair” this time?

    As for PR be carefull what you wish for! Based on the results of the last election we would have had about 20 UKIP mps and 12 BNP amongst others. Also I suspect if PR had been in place before the election then these figures might well have been considerably higher. PR might be sensible for a much slimmer elected HOL but not IMO for the HOC.

  10. Re Gerrymandering – “GM was originally an American affair whereby one party so arranged the seat boundaries into sometimes very weird shapes to give advantage to their own side”

    HaHa that made me laugh out loud after the discussions further up the thread about the weird shaped constituencies that will be formed from this.

    It is also clear under any model that these changes will benefit Con not Lab.

    Hiding behind a teeny-weeny-tiny fig leaf of equal population is hilarious

  11. Sue Marsh

    If Lab had won more seats than Cons whilst having only 29% of the vote and had then arranged for Con voting areas to lose 50 seats presumably by making those constituecies have much larger electorates and not because they had small electorates in the first place but because they voted Con then that WOULD be Gerymandering!

    As for the measures concerning 55% etc I agree with you it is stupid and unnecessary – personally though I would have considerably fewer MPs – 500 would be quite enough! International comparisons suggest we have far too many i think.

  12. Regarding the politics of the changes I outlined above:

    Glasgow area: 3 smallest seats are Lab; there is 1 Dem in the area. She will almost cetainly be the loser in the end.
    *** Conclusion Lab -2 Dem -1

    Highlands & Argyll/ Bute all Dem.
    *** Conclusion Dem -1

    Grampian: Neck & neck between Lab (Anne Begg) & Nat for initial loser. The Dems could be the ultimate loser. This really is almost too close to call; my partisan view is ultimately, it will be a Nat loss.
    *** Conclusion Nat -1

    Fife & Tayside: Nats the likely initial & ultimate casualty.
    *** Conclusion Nats -1

    Edinburgh: 1 Lab initially (Ian Murray has smallest seat) but Lab have much higher % of total area vote so the 1 Dem is likely to be squeezed out.
    *** Conclusion Dems -1

    **** Over-all Scotland likely to be:
    Lab – Lose 2
    Dem – Lose 3
    Nat – Lose 2

    This forecast is all under FPTP & based on 2010 election.
    What might the impact of the coalition be?
    What about AV?

    You must wait for further instalments of Amber’s number crunching for answers to those questions.

    I’m sure you are all breathless with anticipation.

  13. Sue M

    You make me laugh!

    Evidently you believe in keeping the present system because it obviously favours Labour and therefore any change will benefit others. Equal populations is not a fig leaf and I repeat that historically this has always occured but just too slowly and too infrequently.

    Just because labour will not be able to get whopping majorities with less than 40 % of the vote whilst the Cons can only just get a bare majority at that level is not a good defence for keeping the present boundaries. Also we have not yet seen what boundaries the commision will come up with so it is a bit premature to say they will be weird just based on conjecture here.

  14. @ David

    Thanks for the clarification. I asked the quesion because that it what is likely to happen with many 1000’s of ballot papers. If the majority of voters did this then we are back to FPTP!!!
    Yes, indeed. In the Scottish devolved elections, I only ever vote for Labour candidates. 8-)

  15. ‘mike P – “As for PR be carefull what you wish for! Based on the results of the last election we would have had about 20 UKIP mps and 12 BNP amongst others.”

    But that’s democracy. Effectively what you are saying is that the elites should put in place barriers to representation as they know best what’s good for us. Personally, while I am pretty much diametrically opposed to everything the BNP stands for, they are representing a constituency that the mainstream have ignored. A few BNP MPs would in my view greatly enhance UK democracy by highlighting how many of us the elites have left behind.

    @Aleksander – thanks for the detail. Less of a ‘stress test’ and more of a ‘mildly concerned’ test.

    On David Davis – most commentators seem to have missed the most significant thing reported from the ‘Brokeback Coalitiongate Scandal’. DD spoke at some length apparently on whether Tories should step aside against 20 – 25 right wing Lib Dems in order to destroy the party a la 1922 and swallow up their remaining MPs.

    Poor old Nick Clegg is increasingly looking out of his depth and reminds me of the child who stacked up the chairs to reach the sweety jar on the top shelf, made one last lunge to grab the jar, then realised he had a long, long way to fall.

  16. @ Sue Marsh

    Can you really not see the difference between:

    (i) weirdly shaped constituencies that result from equalising electorate numbers;


    (ii) weirdly shaped constituencies that result from including or excluding voters in specific geographical areas for party political advantage?

    Only the latter is gerrymandering even though both may result in weirdly shaped constituencies.

  17. @ Alec

    I agree – the Dems will not achieve a reverse take-over of the Conservative Party; & any thoughts of replacing Labour as 2nd Party are shot to pieces.

    The likely outcome is that Clegg & Co. will agree to fight the next GE as a coalition because they have no idea how to divorce themselves from the Tories & re-assert an independent identity.

    IMO, Campaign money will also be offered by the Tory donors… Clegg, Laws & Alexander would grab this offer with seven hands! 8-)

  18. @Alec

    Yes you are absolutely correct – it is one type of democracy ! I was just making the point (perhaps too obliquely) that many people who propose it do so because they think it will benefit their party without realising what would really be the outcome.

    Some countires with PR do put certain barriers in place by for example requiring that a party receives art least a minimum percentage of the total vote. I do not know of any country with a PR system without conditions – perhaps you coud enlighten me?

  19. MIKEN

    ““To take your argument to its ‘logical’ conclusion, why have any MPs at all?””

    Just a further thought on this remark-which I have already responded to.

    I note that you feel PR represents the greatest degree of democratic “fairness”-so I assume you would prefer it.

    Coming back to “logical conclusions” for having no MPs, it is arguable that PR leads to such a conclusion.

    If you believe that the make up of The HoC should be proportionate to the party shares of the national vote, then how -and by whom-individual constituents are represented becomes academic.

  20. John S and Mike P

    You assume equalising populations is the point (they are already equalised as far as possible now anyway, it is the cutting)

    Which came first the chicken or the egg?

    (Chicken) Did someone point out to Dave that equalising population COMBINED with 50 fewer seats would work very well indeed for the Tories?


    Is it just a lovely coincidence that he was unaware of?


    It’s like me arguing that all cities should get 2 extra seats to reflect the more challenging environment of urban areas. I’m sure I could make an argument all day long for that, but you’d know it was just fixing the system.

    I’m sure you wouldn’t waste a second in pointing it out to me, either.

  21. One of my contacts has just emailed me to say that we can expect the first defection from the ranks of Lib Dem MPs before the recess.

    I think this may be a malicious rumour as it seems a bit early for any Lib Dem to be bailing out – we shall see,

  22. Ed Balls reportedly considering withdrawing from the Leadership race, after being snubbed by the unions-EM seems to have cleaned up there.

  23. The 55% canard is getting tiresome. Under the current system, not even 99%+ of the MPs can dissolve parliament. The power to dissolve parliament rests not with parliament but with the Prime Minister. Giving parliament some control over its own dissolution is a shift of power from the executive to the legislature. It does not deprive parliament of a power which it never had.

    50%+1 of parliament can vote no confidence in the government. Then, by convention, the government must resign. That does not mean, however, that parliament is dissolved. After a vote of no confidence, the Prime Minister can attempt to form a new government with a new lineup of parties or individuals. The Prime Minister can also opt to continue as leader of a minority government. The Leader of the Opposition can also attempt to form a government. Only if there is no possibility of forming a government is the Prime Minister under any pressure to call an election, and it is solely his or her call whether to do so. Elections as the direct result of a no-confidence vote are, in fact, extremely rare.

    To repeat: as of this date, the Parliament of the United Kingdom does not have and never has had the power to dissolve itself against the wishes of the government. A bill which gives Parliament that power — whether by a 55% vote or a two-thirds vote or a 99% vote or any number whatsoever — is giving Parliament an entirely new power, and removing that power from the Prime Minister.

    This is easy to understand. Basic constitutional stuff. One wonders why so many people fell asleep in class.

  24. Again, 5 year parliaments are a nonsense and everyone knows it.
    Had they said 4 years, it would probably have produced barely a flicker of interest, but 5 is so obviously set for the needs of this particular government it makes you blush.

  25. Sue’s point about the motivation behind the changes I made earlier, the motivation is to make it better for the tories. If I told the Boundary Commision to change the seats to make Sue’s suggestion of extra seats in the urban areas, I cannot then say I have not fixed the system just because it is the Boundary Commision not I that makes the seat changes. The frame of reference ties the BC up. They have been independent, they will not be quite so independent if this becomes law. PR is fairer, yes this may lead to parties that the majority may not want to see represented, live with it.

    I keep talking about AMS, the Germans have strong stable coalition government. “Undesirables” get into parliament but not government an 5% threshold avoids splintering and there is one MP for a constituency. There are then other “top up” Mps to make the outcome proportional. Works good for that nation.

  26. I’ve decided STV is definitely the way to go for Labour. They should ask for it to be added into the AV referendum. and make it a part of future policy decisions.

    STV is much fairer than AV.

    It would send out a welcoming message to disenfranchised Libs too.

  27. I wrote in a previous thread how the present of other such undesirable parties may benefit democracy as it would help prevent the inexorable pull to the centre of 3 party politics.

  28. “I’ve decided STV is definitely the way to go for Labour. They should ask for it to be added into the AV referendum. and make it a part of future policy decisions.
    STV is much fairer than AV.
    It would send out a welcoming message to disenfranchised Libs too.”

    Can’t believe you are serious. This is not going to happen. The time to have done this was 1997!

  29. DAVID1

    Thank you.

  30. Five years was the length of the last Parliament: 2005-2010. If it was good enough for Gordon Brown, why is it bad for anyone else?

    Five years is the current maximum length of a Parliament in any case. If parliaments prior to the last have been somewhat shorter, it is because previous Prime Ministers saw an electoral advantage to calling earlier elections, and called them at the politically most advantageous opportunity — a tool denied to the opposition, and tending to benefit incumbents.

    A fixed term for the Parliament removes that weapon from the hands of the government, and enables an even playing field for both government and opposition. No one knows what the political climate will be like in 2015, whether favourable for Labour or the Conservatives or anyone else. If four-year elections have been good for incumbents in the past, then perhaps five-year elections will be bad for them. Only time will tell.

  31. Why not Johnty?

    Surely it would make the system much fairer?

  32. Again the issue with the fixed parliament and voting majorities is not just about what but why, what is the motivation. Is it some great reforming zeal to make the system fairer/better. Well it seems much more like an attempt to change the constitution to suit this particular government, in just the same fashion that the boundary changes is.

  33. @Sue
    Don’t dispute the fairness – but the Labour Party will not support STV. It bottled out when it had the chance in 1997 – wouldn’t even implement AV+.

  34. Many on here argued that 5 years was very bad indeed when you have a leader like GB.

    It is so common for fixed terms to be 4 years or less, There is no sensible case to be made for 5 years other than it helps this government. They are betting an enormous hand on recovery being well under way by then.

  35. I have been observing some of the comments re. STV

    STV would be a very unfair and unrepresentative system of voting.. Let’s park it please!
    Have a good look at how it really works and I’m sure people will agree with me.

  36. ‘Anecdote alert’, a straw poll in my local pub this lunchtime………mind you, it could be a drink fuelled, sunshine in the garden, vote, revealed………….not a single drinker, ( there were 18 of us in the garden ) could give a hoot about the voting system, the majority didn’t even know the meaning of the acronym’s. Just thought I would share that with you all, incidentally, our local MP is Simon Hughes the Lib/Dem Chairman.
    It is no secret to the regulars on this site that my preference is FPTP…….no reason other than, I seem to have had a reasonably comfortable life under the current system, and can’t see any improvement personally by changing. It will cost a fortune, and, according to Liam Byrne, Labour spent all the money.

  37. Johnty – Different leader, different time, and there’s actual ER debate taking place anyway, so why not extend it to a system that is actually fair?

    STV should be a Lab policy as part of the winning candidate’s way forward

  38. @ Sue Marsh

    It is so common for fixed terms to be 4 years or less, There is no sensible case to be made for 5 years other than it helps this government. They are betting an enormous hand on recovery being well under way by then.
    Recovery won’t necessarily get the coalition a win though. GB did save the banks & the country from a total collapse. Did that get him a win? No it did not.

    Therefore there is no reason to believe the electorate will be grateful to a deficit reducing government. In the event of the coalition declaring the recovery is underway, the voters may take the attitute: That’s the coalition’s job done, thank you & good-bye. 8-)

  39. I agree Amber, I just think they thought they needed every possible day to have a hope.

  40. WAYNE

    “Have a good look at how it really works and I’m sure people will agree with me.”

    I do.

    Just ploughed through the Wiki on it.

    Monstrous-transfer of something called “over quota” votes to other candidates.

    Over Quota?? !!

    And as for complexity-I would love to see some MP trying to explain to the good folk in Ken’s pub.

  41. Out of interest Amber, what would YOU think of Labour supporting STV? Wouldn’t it widen their appeal?

  42. @Sue
    Blair actually set up the Jenkins Commission to look into electoral reform and then didn’t implement its recommendations. Think GB and the egregious Straw and Prescott were main opponents – but may be wrong.
    Best of luck – but I am not holding my breath on this one! But then, I never believed that a Labour Government would join Likud and the neocons in an illegal war – so what do I know?

  43. Blimey, the Tory Response Team are out quickly tonight

  44. We need Martyn and Jay to explain STV.

  45. @Colin…………..It certainly wouldn’t be Simon, he’s a cert for a peerage and he’s been our MP for 27 yrs., he pops in quite regularly for a drink, wearing what can only be described as ‘Classic Lib’, sandals with socks, khaki shorts and a Millwall away shirt, what a man ! :-)

  46. How many other democracies have 5 years terms, I am pretty sure that 4 is the norm, although in australia the federal elections are held every 3 years and state elections every 4 years. I think fixed terms are the fairest for everybody. Although waht would happen if the government failed to command a majority?

  47. @ Sue………….Open another bottle, it’s hot. :-)

  48. @ Sue

    We have STV for the Scottish parliament. Our local expert is going to do a lecture/ Q+A session for Labour Party members before the 2011 campaign begins, so I am looking forward to that. 8-)

  49. Very glad about this and much respect to Cameron for changing what could have been a terrible mistake.

    Credit where it’s due

  50. Sorry, missing link above :

    h ttp://

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