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. @ Sue

    Why STV not some other form of PR? What’s your thinking?

  2. @Amber
    I though you had STV for local elections in Scotland in 2007?

  3. I have to say PR would be my choice as in some parts of Europe. We will adopt it at some point ! I will right as usual !

  4. PR is a fantastic system! I have many papers on this. I wrote a few articles myself.

  5. “We need Martyn and Jay to explain STV.”

    …but you have just advocated it for Labour-on the grounds of fairness,

    So I presume you can explain it Sue.

  6. In my area, Southwark, we have a high level of illiteracy, this makes STV non-viable, as it does in any area of illiteracy and inumeracy.

  7. @ Johnty

    I though you had STV for local elections in Scotland in 2007?
    We have always had STV for Holyrood. To be honest, only the SNP did much campaigning in the past. Most people, as far as I’m aware, don’t know or care too much about how STV actually works.

    I think 2011 will be different. The parties will campaign hard & there will be voter interest about how STV & AV works – because of the referendum being on the same day – so I, & other Labour campaigners, will need to make the effort to find out all about it. 8-)

  8. @Ken
    If STV is used in Northern Ireland assembly elections and for local elections in Scotland (and for parliamentary elections in the Irish Republic) then presumably it might work even in Southwark. Or are the English and Welsh more stupid than the Irish and Scots?

  9. @Amber
    I thought you had the additional member system for Holyrood.

  10. The issue of voting systems is an academic one and merely serves to act as a diversion, it obviously only appeals to losers, since winners don’t need to change anything. :-)

  11. “We have always had STV for Holyrood. Most people, as far as I’m aware, don’t know or care too much about how STV actually works. ”


  12. @JOHNTY……….The losers could be ! :-)

  13. JOHNTY

    How “double dare you” of accusing us English as being stupid!
    If STV is used for the Scots and Irish then that says it all !
    If your neighbour put his head in the gas oven would you?

  14. Indeed, we have always had AMS for Hollyrood! Though the reason Labour agreed to this was largely to make it harder for the nationalists. STV was introduced for the council elections in 2007 and is the system I prefer on balance and I don’t think you need to be particularly intelligent to work it out!

    However, any improvement on FPTP for Westminster would be desireable and everyone who agrees with electoral reform must support AV in the referendum and I would guard against playing party politics. If this is lost, reform could be set back considerably.

  15. FPTP vs PR vs AV vs STV vs AV+

    In early October I am giving a politics lecture to students at Reading University on the above systems. I would welcome any person on this site who would like to attend… Come along it’s going to be fascinating!

  16. @David1 – “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.

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

    This is incorrect. If a government loses a confidence motion they cannot continue as a minority – by precedent if not by statute. Such a situation would be completely constitutionally intolerable, when the house has made clear it does not support a government yet the government keeps going. This is why the bill has a mechanism allowing for an election following a no confidence vote but where a dissolution motion cannot be passed.

    Also, the PM does not have the power to dissolve Parliament. He can ask the monarch for a dissolution, but she is only obliged to accept that request if there is no other potential PM who can command the confidence of the house. When a PM requests a dissolution he/she is formally asked if there is another who can command the confidence of the house. Only if the answer is no (and the monarch accepts this) is a dissolution agreed. The authority lies entirely with the crown.

    This is easy to understand. Basic constitutional stuff. Were you asleep in class?

  17. @ James & Johnty

    There you go…. I thought Additional Member was a type of STV. Shows what I know :-(

  18. YouGov 41/36/14

  19. @ Colin

    We really do not know & do not care. We vote for whatever candidate(s) we like & go home – job done. 8-)

  20. @ Alec

    YouGov 41/36/14
    Thank you.

    I’m wondering if Ed Miliband winning the leadership would give Labour a boost. What do you think? 8-)

  21. @James
    Totally agree. Pople who want STV and intend to vote no are deluding themselves if they think that a defeat for AV will strengthen their cause.

    Politicos will naturally try to assess whether their tribe will gain or lose by a change in voting system. The correct question though is whether ordinary voters will gain or lose. Who honestly thinks that the right to rank candidates in order of preference actually reduces the power of individual electors?

  22. @Amber Star – not sure. I like Ed M’s record on climate change. (BTW – looks like a review of the Renewable Heat Incentive scheme is trying to downgrade it, which along with the overnight closing of the LCBP grant funding doesn’t look good for the coalitions green credentials).

    Other than that, I really don’t know.

  23. @ Amber………….Ed Miliband, the media would have a field day, he is totally unsuitable to lead his party, let alone the country.

  24. Looks like Ed Balls is out of the race, the others don’t impress, time for some new blood, any suggestions ?

  25. @ Ken

    What makes you say that? 8-)

  26. @Amber………….Ed Balls was expecting Unite to back him, they’ve gone for Ed Mili, EB is now contemplating withdrawing from the race and backing EM. Various Sunday papers, must therefore be right. :-)

  27. @Amber……….I asked Éoin whether the Miliband’s religion would have an effect on voter preference, or international acceptance, bearing in mind he snubbed the Saudi’s, Éoin, true to form, said he felt the Brits wouldn’t care, I’m not so sure. How do you feel ?

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

    And Cameron spent much of last year demanding an election before the previous five-year term had ended, yet as soon as he beomes PM, five years is supposed to be okay!

  29. Ken
    I wondered about the Miliband’s religion too, only to be told that they are atheists. However they are ethnically Jewish, and i wondered if this would affect the Labour vote in Muslim areas.

    Also, re the AV referendum etc, I wish they would address the widespread electoral (particularly postal) fraud before meeing with the system. Otherwise we will still have acorrupt system, but it will be harder to spot and prove.

  30. @ Ken –

    “hey i am a muslim but i really wanna see him as the leader… he is the best person at the moment in labour party btw all the jews are not bad like all the muslims are not good,,, thnx”

    The above (if it helps :) ) is a faithful reproduction from a thread which contained some rants about David Miliband, who is in fact an atheist (cf Michael Foot). I suspect hardliners affected by a percieved heritage issue either do not vote on principle, or vote otherwise than Labour.

    To be brutally honest, EM is good frontbench material, but not the one for the top job imho.

  31. @Billy Bob……..I think you’re right about EM, he seems a bit lightweight, DM is the obvious choice now, but I doubt if he would inspire the electorate. I think Labour have got a problem, they need a fresh start but they are relying on the old guard, they are an easy target for the opposition, IMO, they should select someone new, fresh, and untainted by the old TB/GB years. There must be plenty of newcomers champing at the bit, but I’m no expert on Labour MP’s.

  32. The idea that a government which has not the confidence of the House of Commons might continue as a minority government is only “intolerable” if it is facing a majority which could form an alternative government. But in a three+ party system, it would be quite possible for the government’s party not to have a majority, but for the opposition parties to be completely unable to work together. Those parties might vote against the government in order to embarrass it, but at the same time be more willing to let it stay in power than let their rivals get in.

    As for the monarch, she acts on the advice of the Prime Minister. If the Prime Minister says he wants a dissolution, the PM gets a dissolution. There have been theories that the Queen could refuse a dissolution in the event that a rival government could be formed, but in practice the Queen would only make that decision on advice (presumably from the Prime Minister), not on her own initiative. While the monarchy did have a small role in resolving political disputes in the earlier 20th century, of late the monarchy has grown increasingly reticent about seeming to be involved in any sort of political decision making, even if it is only tie-breaking.

  33. @ AMBER

    “We really do not know & do not care. We vote for whatever candidate(s) we like & go home – job done.”

    …………..not having a clue who will be elected, or why, until the computer tells you ?

    Not my idea of participatory democracy.

  34. @COLIN
    Just got back online.
    “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.”

    I agree it is/was a ‘silly’ question but it makes the point that we have to have representation. Why set the number of MPs as 600? Why not 500, 400, 300, 200, 100 or even 700? 600 is arbitrary.

    “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.”

    I’m not 100% sure of what you’re saying here but in principle I agree. Of course, there should still be constituencies. And I am supportive of boundaries being regularly redrawn.

  35. How sweet, I see Colin set me a little exam after I went to bed last night!

    Still, as Graham asked so nicely, here’s why I think STV is fairer.

    STV gives voters more choice than any other system. This in turn puts most power in the hands of the voters, rather than the party heads, who under other systems can more easily determine who is elected, meaning that under STV MPs’ responsibilities lie more with the electorate than those above them in their party.

    Fewer votes are ‘wasted’ (i.e. cast for losing candidates or unnecessarily cast for the winner) with STV. This means that most voters can identify a representative that they personally helped to elect. Such a link in turn increases a representative’s accountability.

    STV offers voters a choice of representatives to approach with their concerns post-election, rather than just the one, who may not be at all sympathetic to a voter’s views, or may even be the cause of the concern.

    Competition is generally a good thing. Competition to provide a good service to constituents is no different.

    There are no safe seats under STV, meaning candidates cannot be complacent and parties must campaign everywhere, and not just in marginal seats.

    When voters have the ability to rank candidates, the most disliked candidate cannot win, as they are no good at picking up second-, third- and lower-preference votes.

    There is no need for tactical voting.

    There is a more sophisticated link between a constituency and its representative. Not only is there more incentive to campaign and work on a more personal and local level, but also, the constituencies are likely to be more sensible reflections of where community feeling lies.

    I wouldn’t feel comfortable with full blown PR as I very much like the local link.

    Hope this helps Graham.

  36. @ Ken

    DM is a year or two older than the other candidates (except DA), and has a slight edge over the two wet-behind-the-ears coalition leaders.
    He was appointed to chair a policy review by the late John Smith, so predates the Blair/Brown years if only just. Wrote the 1997 manifesto.
    Old enough to have plenty of expirience in a range of ministerial positions… but young enough to still be learning fom that experience.
    I was heartened by his honesty when answering the charge that he ‘bottled’ making a challenge to GB’s leadership. “I was not ready to be PM at that stage.”

  37. @David1 – “Those parties might vote against the government in order to embarrass it, but at the same time be more willing to let it stay in power than let their rivals get in.”

    You are entirely wrong. By passing a vote of no confidence the opposition is saying it is not prepared to allow the government to stay in place. A minority government, as you say, would be prone to defeat on an issue by issue basis, but if the opposition did not want an election or attempt to form a government themselves they wouldn’t table a confidence motion. Once defeated in such a motion there is absolutely no option remaining for any government.

    Again, you are wrong on the dissolution (although granted it is a bit like debating the number of angels on the head of a pin). The PM only tells the monarch that he/she no longer commands the confidence of the house. They are then formally asked if another MP could do so. If the answer is no then they get a dissolution.

    In the event that there is an alternative government – such as a Labour/LD/Nationalist coalition at present if they decide to agree on a potential program for government, a dissolution would not be granted to Cameron if he asked for one, at least until the opposition had a chance to form a government that could command a majority.

    For example, under the rules that you think apply, Brown could have gone to the Palace and requested an immediate dissolution and been granted it once it became clear that the Lib Dems were getting into bed with the Tories, if he thought he could use this to wipe out the LDs at an immediate second election. It would have been unthinkable, which is why the constitution doesn’t allow it.

  38. @Billy Bob…………..I agree that DM is the obvious current choice, but I would question his ability to,’ connect ‘ with the electorate, he seems a bit nerdy and overly intellectual to me, a bit of a know-all. I would also be concerned about his ability to hold the party together for 4 yrs in opposition, knowing the nature of the beast that is the Labour party, I wouldn’t put it past the anti-Blairite faction to start trouble down the line a bit.

  39. Amber Star July 24th, 2010 at 6:36 pm

    Thanks Amber for your thoughts on the impact on Scotland. Were you using some spreadsheet of electorates in the various council areas in Scotland – my main source for England was the Boundary Commission for England? I would be interested in getting a copy of the ss.

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

    That isn’t how it is calculated: using that calculation gives the wrong number of seats for England, and quite possibly for any of the other parts of the UK. Scotland will get 49+2 on my calculation using the Sainte-Lague system they will use: although the precise number depends on electorates: if the electorate they use for Scotland when they calculate is about 50,000 higher that the figure I am using, then it will be 50+2 (mind you, AW calculated Sainte-Lague as giving Scotland 50+2, and it is possible that my calculation is wrong).

    It is rather tricky to know what will happen.

    One slight PS on Sainte-Lague vs D’Hondt: it actually says in the explanatory notes it is Sainte-Lague: I should have taken a glimpes at that before applying a faulty memory to what it says in the Bill itself!

  40. @ Ken – But nerdy is the new cool. :)

    I’m told he has oudles of personal charisma, not perhaps in the Bill Clinton barrow loads, but enough to keep a broad church singing from the hymn sheet.

    DM is an intellectual, but with communication skills.
    Public generally appreciate the courtesy respect for their intelligence, as long as the speaker is prepared to meet them halfway by using clear language in short sentences.

  41. He really does have oodles of personal charisma. (I met him)
    Whether this is enough to run a country is debatable, but it is combined with a towering intellect.

  42. @Sue Marsh…………..Get in line, I think Hilary Clinton has first refusal. :-)

  43. @Billy Bob………….Does that make charismatic the new nerdy ? :-)

  44. @Billy Bob

    I tried to watch all five candidates on This Week with a subjective non-partisan view if that is possible. I hope no-one minds me adding my two pennies worth of superficial comment.

    I was most impressed with DM who was assured and eloquent. Exposure to high office seems to have made him less geeky, more normal and more confident: he seemed more comfortable in his skin.
    DA was obviously a car crash. AB came over as lacking confidence and direction. His anti-Southern, anti-media stance seems more an attempt to differentiate himself rather than heartfelt. Either way it’s too negative a strategy to succeed.
    EB was as combative as ever and he seems to relish the role of opposition. In this respect he is destructive rather than constructive. As such I cannot see him as the leader of a party, let alone a cabinet – too divisive.
    EM was the biggest disappointment to me. He came over as very much someone’s little brother. He was trying too hard to please, always looking around seeking approval. I felt he took the criticsm to heart – almost tears before bedtime. DM looked like a grown-up while EM was still at play.

  45. The Prime Minister does not have to state that he does not have the confidence of the House of Commons in order to ask for a dissolution. Prorogation and dissolution are prerogative powers, exercised by the monarch on the advice of the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister can ask for a dissolution of the House of Commons at any time, for any reason, or for no reason at all. There is no necessary connection between loss of confidence and dissolution, and much of the confusion over the reform proposals stems from failure to appreciate that they are totally different things.

    As for Gordon Brown asking for a dissolution on May 10, 2010, or thereabouts — in fact, he could have done exactly that. He would not have, not because it was unconstitutional, but because it would have been electoral suicide; and also because it would put the monarch on the horns of a constitutional dilemma, which no PM likes to do. However, other monarchs have fought down their personal dislike of various extreme measures recommended by their PMs, for partisan political reasons, and supported their PMs. I have little doubt that if the Queen were placed in that position, she would act according to the PM’s advice, and let him take the blame for it.

  46. @ Ben Foley

    I used information from electoral calculus

    h ttp://
    (remove the space between the http & the link should work).

    I saved their flat .txt file then opened it in xl using ; as the column break identifier.

    IMO, the data is very well constructed. The constituencies are divided into numbered regions & county areas. It makes it very easy to work with.

    I have copied all your comments into Word & will use them as a reference when I make my own attempt on England & Wales.

    I am interested in assessing the likely political impact of the changes so I need to go a step or two further after my guess at redrawing the boundaries.

    I’d be interested in knowing any thoughts you may have on Scotland in particular. I hope Scotland will get 50+2 rather than 49+2. If you have time to come back & explain where we differ by 1, I’d be interested in reading about it. 8-)

  47. Amber – I was wondering

    If a boundary is changed, making a seat a Con/Lab marginal, I wonder if we can decide much from previous voting? i know lots of people don’t know they are in a marginal, but many do and perhaps this changes their likelihood to vote and even who they vote for?

  48. @Aleksandar – Found your ‘non-partisan’ :) comments to be of interest… will go look for the programme you mention.

  49. @david1 – I stand corrected – I’ve just checked it out and you are quite right that the PM can indeed call for a dissolution at any time. Please accept my apologies.

    I still maintain that it would be impossible for a government to remain in office if it lost a confidence motion, and I also suspect that if there was a situation where a sitting government was defeated in such a manner with an opposition able, willing and wanting to command a commons majority, for the resigning PM to call for a dissolution would in itself be placing the monarch in a constitutionally difficult position and so they would probably would just resign and advise the monarch of who could form a government.

  50. Amber, thanks. I was using Pippa Norris’ data to give the Scottish Electorate. htt p://

    That gave 3,737,351 as the electorate minus the two constits. Electoral Calculus gives 3,809,065. The difference is enough to account for the 50th constituency. I don’t know why the two differ, or which is right (and I used a different source for England and NI, too).

    It gratifying to know your found my comments worth keeping. It is tough trying to guess re-drawn boundaries: I will continue to dabble in that myself.

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