The independent boundary review has been a source of controversy in recent months, and yet it seems like a perfectly rational idea. Putting aside the specifics of the changes – whether or not you think certain wards would be better in certain constituencies – and looking at them purely objectively, there seem to be far more advantages than flaws to the reforms.
Firstly, equalising the size of constituencies seems a thoroughly reasonable democratic desire. If we want a democracy that fairly represents its electors then it would make sense for every representative to speak for as similar number of constituents as possible. Accusations that this is unfair because recent changes to the Electoral Register have left people out of the figures are not entirely unfounded, but the simple fact is that the best aggregator of how many electors are in a constituency has to be the number of registered electors at the previous election. This is by no means an optimal figure, but it’s not as if these boundaries couldn’t be altered in future to account for population changes.
In this sense then, the boundary changes will create a more equal representation for constituents throughout the nation and thus a fairer and better democracy. This is unless of course, one believes that the electors of the Isle of Wight should have around 5 times less representation than those of Na h-Eileanan an Iar, or that English electors should have 1.3 times less representation than Welsh electors on average.
If we accept it reasonable to have equal representation for every elector in the country, then the main objection to the concept of the boundary changes must be that reducing the number of MPs from 650 to 600 will adversely affect the quality of representation. This argument doesn’t seem to stand up to scrutiny. In fact, fewer MPs ties in with the increasingly decentralised approach to power being taken by government in recent years. If it follows that fewer MPs leads to further devolution of areas of legislative control to regional centres of power, then we will see an increasingly important local government, and one able to make a real difference to its constituents.
This will have benefits for both local government and local people. Local government will profit by having greater power to influence policies in the local area and thus will be taken more seriously by voters, bringing more scrutiny, accountability and higher turnouts. Meanwhile, local constituents will benefit from having a much more personalised system of policy-making. They are able to influence their legislators because they are based much closer to them, and can also enjoy policies that are inherently grounded in local contexts and needs.
Representation will also be improved if the public have more faith in their representatives. One of the biggest concerns people have about MPs is that they simply cost too much. For these people, the boundary changes must surely provide a solution to reduce the costs associated with government. 50 fewer MPs equates to 50 fewer MPs’ salaries, 50 fewer teams of MPs’ staff, 50 fewer sets of expenses, 50 fewer offices – the list can go on and on.
With a reduced number of MPs we can see a further decentralisation of powers to local government and a resultant revitalisation of British democracy. Decisions that affect Southampton will actually get made in Southampton, and important decisions on local policy will get made in local areas across the United Kingdom. Boundary changes will lead to a more representative and democratic Britain, and a Britain where central government costs less and local government does more. That can only be a good thing.