Govt. announces big constitutional changes


3:52 pm - July 5th 2010

by Sunny Hundal    


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The government today made these announcements:

1. The government is increasing the threshold required to dissolve Parliament from 55% to 2/3rds of all MPs.

2. 5th of May 2011 is confirmed as date for referendum of vote reform.

3. The numbers of MPs will be reduced by 50 to 600 in total, to save £12m annually in expenses.

4. Constituency sizes will be made roughly equal in number, with two exceptions.

5. There was no announcement that there will be a referendum on changing constituency sizes or reducing the number of MPs. This means the referendum will most likely be on AV reform alone.

Updates

6. Frank Dobson made the Labour case by saying this wasn’t just about constituency sizes, but also of number of people on electoral register. Nick Clegg hit back by saying Labour itself did nothing to increase the number of people on the electoral register either.

7. Nick Clegg explicitly confirms that a review of constituency boundaries will not be subject to referendum and will not be part of the question on AV.

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Sunny Hundal is editor of LC. Also: on Twitter, at Pickled Politics and Guardian CIF.
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Reader comments


Um, constituency sizes to be *increased* surely? Unless this boundary review will be carried out on New Math.

What are the exemptions? The Isle of Wight and the Northern Isles?

That first proposition is completely undemocratic. Ridiculous.

@2:

It’s identical to the system in use in Scotland now, as passed by Labour in the 1998 Scotland Act.

“That first proposition is completely undemocratic. Ridiculous.”

No it’s not, unless you believe fixed term parliaments to be undemocratic, in which case you’re still wrong.

@1

If so then Anglesey would be a third.

All looking good to me. Egg on the faces of those who declared that the conservatives would never let the lib-dems deliver, I guess.

#1 is fine, and a much better idea than 50% + 1 or 55%. Maybe once it’s passed, the lib dems and labour will club together and no-confidence cameron, then form a government together?

OK, maybe not 😉

#2 – win win win. Even if not proportional.

#3, #4 – both very good ideas, and ‘fair’. Which is a word not used very often in the context of electoral reform, amazingly enough.

#5 – keeps the process nice and simple, I guess.

7. Tony Kennick

@Tom Miller (2): I disagree, if this was replacing the ability for the house to conduct a vote of no confidence you would have an argument. Confidence votes will remain a simple majority and there will be a 14 day time limit to reform a government after one.

D’oh. Referencing #1 above, I guess they’d need to get the support of the tory far-right to muster the requisite two-thirds…

Double d’oh – even I can’t keep them straight.

Simple majority to dump the current government. Two-thirds majority to get a new election.

I am curious how that first fits in with ‘her majesty’s government must carry on’, though. If there’s a vote of no confidence, does DC stay prime minister while people try to work out who should be the next one?

“There was no announcement that there will be a referendum on changing constituency sizes or reducing the number of MPs.”

Why would / should there be a referendum on boundary changes?

11. sdv_duras

Classic anti-democratic move, decrease the number of representatives… increase the democratic deficit…

Nick: I believe that 55% was picked originally as it was the figure at which Lib Dems and Tories together could call an election and break out of the fixed parliament time frame. This way they don’t hold a PM style power as the people in office.

I believe everyone but the tories (and Irish weirdness) hold a 51% seat threshold, so would be welcome to no confidence cameron and form their own government, still bound to the 2015 election date.

“does DC stay prime minister while people try to work out who should be the next one?”

This election shows that yes, the current government essentially “care take” until a new government is form.

14. Tony Kennick

@1 Orkney and Shetland & Na h-Eileanan an lar are the exceptions

Does anyone know whether the adjustment of constituency sizes is being done:
a) by population
b) by registered voters
c) by turnout?
a) would be correct; b) would be a bit of thieving Tory dodgery; c) would be unforgivable.

16. macuser_e7

Reducing the number of seats is only acceptable if there is voting reform. Otherwise larger seats will mean more safe seats, and more people being effectively disenfranchised as the parties focus their resources on winning the shrinking pool of marginals.

I live in a super-safe Labour seat and the last election may as well have not happened for all the ‘effort’ put into the campaign. Labour knew they’d win so didn’t bother, the Tories knew Labour would win so didn’t bother, the LibDems selected a candidate at the last minute and then didn’t bother getting anyone to vote for him. The Greens failed to even put a leaflet through the door (a particularly Zen approach to electoral campaigning).

17. macuser_e7

@ John B (4:14)

a) and b) would be the same if you had (and enforced) compulsory voter registration.

What are the odds of that though?

#1 So the government is saying that once you’ve got us, you cannot get rid of us. Nice. Have they not learned from the expenses scandal? The government should be making it *easier* to throw out a discredited government, not an artificial bar. A vote of no-confidence is pointless if the loss does not lead to a dissolution. This is a deeply cynical and anti-democratic decision and only one that could have come from CameronClegg.

#3 Oh fuck off. 12 million fucking quid? This reduction is not about saving money. Anyway, that is an over estimate. 50 MPs earn £3.2m a year, so is Cleggy saying that they claim £9m a year expenses and staff costs? The other MPs will have larger constituencies and so their costs will go up.

#4. Cleggy, dear boy, have you ever thought what the organisation called the Boundaries Commission does? Their mandate is to make constituencies equal. Sheesh, this government is so full of shit. If Cleggy thinks that this can be done in two years he is either an idiot (a possibility) or he’s planning to circumvent the usual public consultation that goes with boundary changes. The latter is called gerrymandering. Beware.

19. Watchman

Reducing the number of seats is only acceptable if there is voting reform. Otherwise larger seats will mean more safe seats, and more people being effectively disenfranchised as the parties focus their resources on winning the shrinking pool of marginals.

I’d have thought that reducing the number of seats would have no automatic effect on numbers of safe seats or marginals, since the new boundaries will be drawn up by the non-partisan Electoral (?) Commission, not the government. So it will simply be the best fit for equally-sized seats, which may have some interesting effects.

20. Roger Mexico

#15 and #17

Constituency size will be, as it always has been, by registered voters. Using population would count under-18’s and non-Commonwealth/Irish citizens towards representation.

We already have compulsory voter registration – no seems to get done for not registering though.

21. Ken McKenzie

Why, exactly, can’t we wait for next year’s census before we make boundary changes?

Are the Tories concerned that such changes might not be to their advantage?

(That was a rhetorical question).

15. Clegg has been saying it’ll be by registered voters, with a change to individual registration. The controversy is that it’s likely that the boundary changes would happen before individual registration so there could be an inequality straight away.

“Why, exactly, can’t we wait for next year’s census before we make boundary changes?”

The census means bugger all to boundaries, which are based on registered voters.

18 – I can’t for the life of me think that the current boundaries commission does a particularly good job. Consider York Central vs. York Outer, for instance. I live here, and I honestly don’t understand it.

As for the government/parliament thing, easy to get confused, I did too when I /thought/ I’d smart-arse off the back of my perceived understanding! Government = get-riddable-of by parliament, just as before. Parliament, however, stays around. Which is interesting, and not undeniably bad – it could actually be quite good.

All in all, it’s certainly a /change/. Does it work for you?

If the only exceptions are the two island seats in Scotland, then we will be getting Isle of Wight East and Portsmouth South. I wonder what Andrew Turner and Mike Hancock think of that new seat?

I’m just going to pimp my older post about fixed terms and parliaments.

http://niaccurshi.blogspot.com/2010/05/on-fixed-term-parliaments-and-what-it.html

I disagree with every one of the proposals, but if you’re going to have fixed term parliaments (which I disagree with) then 66% is fairer than 55%. I would prefer there was no distinction between a no confidence vote & voting for a dissolution though, on the grounds that if a government is going to re-form I’d rather it was the public who decided what colour it was.

The worst proposal is certainly reducing the number of MPs. (Btw, you could save more than that by paying them all the median wage.) I defy anyone to come up with an argument that says that is not anti-democratic.

28. Ken McKenzie

@Lee

The census tells us rather a lot about the population within each notional constituency, but the answers would not be to the advantage of the Coalition.

#25 That’s an ideal stitch-up for the Tories & Lib Dems – the Tories will be pleased to get rid of Hancock, and the Clegg won’t particularly mind (particularly if he rebels on the VAT vote later this month, as seems likely).

“I’d have thought that reducing the number of seats would have no automatic effect on numbers of safe seats or marginals, since the new boundaries will be drawn up by the non-partisan Electoral (?) Commission, not the government. So it will simply be the best fit for equally-sized seats, which may have some interesting effects.”

Well it’s clearly not that simple is it? Larger constituencies in London will lead to *less* constituencies in London. This will, in turn, lead to less representation for large swathes of the poor, who typically turn to Labour, while suburbs that may have been balanced (or not) will likely gain more Tory voters that reside in the villages and hamlets outside the boundaries of the cities and major towns.

Increasing constituency sizes has only one outcome under the way that society is currently structured geographically, and that is to include more Tories in every constituency while removing a number of constituencies that were likely very Labour. Lib Dems, I feel (personal opinion) won’t gain or lose in general.

“The census tells us rather a lot about the population within each notional constituency, but the answers would not be to the advantage of the Coalition.”

it’s still irrelevant to the drawing up of boundaries.

AIUI, the constituency boundaries currently favour labour – so if any reform /doesn’t/ favour the conservatives (relatively speaking), then – to use the ‘f’ word again – fairness will be missing.

Will the boundary changes push the system to be absolutely in favour of the conservatives? Quite possibly. It’ll be interesting to see how much they attempt to push it.

At least my constituency will be vaguely sane again.

“on the grounds that if a government is going to re-form I’d rather it was the public who decided what colour it was.”

it’s about perspective (as I say in my above post), if you think you’re electing a government you’re misguided.

There is nothing to say that during the term of parliament that the public should have a say on who physically governs, they’ve had their say in electing their local representative; and their representatives collectively will do what they feel is representative when it comes to governance.

My ultimate feeling on this is that if you want to continue to elect individuals to represent you in parliament, then the parliament should have the opportunity to exist for a period of time to get things done before the next election, and should be given the respect to act autonomously based on our decisions to elect local representatives.

If you want to elect actual governments then, and only then, should it be absolutely the case that only the public get to say who forms a government.

“the constituency boundaries currently favour labour – so if any reform /doesn’t/ favour the conservatives (relatively speaking), then – to use the ‘f’ word again – fairness will be missing.”

This much is true, of course.

#34

Your argument might technically be true, but practically it doesn’t carry a lot of weight.

Representatives rarely cross the floor, certainly not in the quantities needed to change the government. PPCs are elected as party representatives and if one particular party’s representatives get a majority, it is going to be that party that forms a government.

I am not arguing that when you cast your vote as an individual, you are voting for a government (although you may be voting to make a government of a particular colour more likely). I am arguing that the public as a whole elects a government (except where the result is so close that parliament is hung).

“I am arguing that the public as a whole elects a government”

Under “normal” conditions of FPTP, sure…but this last election showed the alternative side. Some (me included) think that another hung parliament is likely next time around too. In these situations it is abundantly clear that the public do not elect a government.

#37

A hung parliament next time will be different from a hung parliament last time, because we will have had the experience of coalition this time. It will be abundantly clear that if there is a hung parliament, we can expect the Tories & Lib Dems to form a government. People who do not want the Tories in government will, by and large, not vote for the Lib Dems next time, and equally Tory voters in Lib-Lab marginals are much more likely to vote Lib Dem.

I’m not sure I agree with you that the next election will be hung, but if it is then at least people will have had a good idea of the consequences of their vote before casting it. In those circumstances – even with a hung parliament – I think it’s legitimate to say the public elected the government.

I am arguing that the public as a whole elects a government

Why? They don’t.

#39 I think I answer that in the paragraph above the one you quoted. If you don’t think so, it’d help if you could elaborate just a smidgeon more…

At the moment the constituency boundaries are sized such that a vote cast in the Isle of Wight is worth roughly half that of one cast in Wirral West. I’m sure conspirators think that’s unfair.

“At the moment the constituency boundaries are sized such that a vote cast in the Isle of Wight is worth roughly half that of one cast in Wirral West.”

Both of which have Conservative MPs. Regardless, the Isle of Wight is a special case.

#41

Not necessarily.

First of all,unless you agree with compulsory voting votes will ALWAYS be worth more in some places than others, because turnout will vary from place to place, and your vote will make up a bigger fraction of the total vote in some places than others.

So too votes will ALWAYS be worth more in some places than others because the differences between the vote parties receive will always differ from place to place, so your individual vote is more likely to make a difference in some places than others. (Note this is even true for STV.)

It’s a matter of what your priorities are. Personally I value the concept of a geographic community coming together to elect someone who will champion their interests. It is more important to me that these communities make some kind of sense (eg the Isle of Wight is clearly a community in its own right, the Isle of Wight plus a bit of Portsmouth clearly isn’t) than it is that each individual vote should have equal value. (It’s worth saying that if you INCREASED the number of constituencies dramatically you would be more likely to be able to get constituencies nearer equal size and fulfil the objective that I’ve set out too. You could also make the HoC a tourist attraction and situate parliament in, say, York, to accommodate all the new representatives!)

Maybe we should just bite the bullet and have 65 million constituencies – one per constituent?

To be frank, I’ve never cared much for the geographic nature of constituencies in the first place. They might have made a lot of sense before economic migration became so blastedly common – but I’ve not lived in the same constituency for two elections running, well, ever. And if that’s not just a product of my slightly unconventional upbringing, one wonders why the place gets reasonably stable representation, but the people do not.

Just for once, perhaps we should take a leaf out of the Israeli book? And if that gives the BNP more seats in parliament than the greens, well, so be it.

#44

The vast majority of people don’t move around as frequently as you. (In fact, most stay put.) I agree that geographic community is not as strong as it once was, but it’s very easy to underestimate it.

46. Richard P

Would the 14-day rule apply only to the aftermath of a dissolution vote, or also to the aftermath of a no-confidence vote? If it is being implied that a prime minister, having lost a no-confidence vote, should not only remain in office for up to 14 days but have the right to cobble together a new coalition instead of facing the country, I think that’s a shame.

The real disgrace here though is the proposal to reduce the number of MPs to their lowest level for more than a century, motivated as it is by a Tory desire to make the electoral system work more in their favour. They claim to support the constituency link, and yet they dilute it at the first opportunity. The current system does not have a Labour bias in the way that people think (those statistics are distorted by differential levels of turnout in safe seats and all kinds of other factors), but if the Tories were serious about having a fairer voting system, they would be supporting electoral reform rather a halfbaked dilution of the constituency system. I notice that, for obviously party-political reasons, Clegg has excluded a couple of Scottish seats from the new boundary rules.

Alun,

Both of which have Conservative MPs.

I don’t understand your point.

Regardless, the Isle of Wight is a special case.

True. Replace Isle of Wight with East Ham then. A vote cast in East Ham is worth roughly two thirds one cast in Wirral West.

There is nothing to say that during the term of parliament that the public should have a say on who physically governs

There is nothing to say that, but one of the choices is democratic, and one is less so.

Correct me if I am wrong, but this is an issue the Liberals pushed the Conservatives into accepting, rather than failed to stop them adopting, right?

If so, strange that bringing in anti-democratic measures seems to be the big new Liberal thing. Presumably the reason is a lack of trust in the voters voting for the things Liberals want them to vote for.

Maybe fair enough, but can they not at least come out and argue that point openly and honestly, say ‘we don’t think you should be allowed to make those decisions?’

tim f,

Not necessarily.

First of all,unless you agree with compulsory voting votes will ALWAYS be worth more in some places than others, because turnout will vary from place to place, and your vote will make up a bigger fraction of the total vote in some places than others.

I’m talking about numbers of registered voters, which is what constituency boundaries are based on, not turnout.

if you INCREASED the number of constituencies dramatically you would be more likely to be able to get constituencies nearer equal size

True.

tim f

If you don’t think so, it’d help if you could elaborate just a smidgeon more…

OK – it’s not how our system works.

OK – it’s not how our system works.

By which presumably you mean ‘it won’t be the way it works after we have changed it to not work that way’.

Which I suppose is true, but would also be equally true of any other change.

Soru, who is the “we” in your sentence, “it won’t be the way it works after we have changed it to not work that way”?

I am neither a Tory nor in a position to change the system. Nor do I agree with the proposed changes.

“the public as a whole elects a government”

That’s not how our system works.

1. The person who can command the support of more MPs than anyone else tends to become PM and around the same time he and his supporters will be forming the (potential) government.

2. A substantial proportion of the public may not vote for (candidates belonging to the) party / parties that go on to form the government. In 2005 Labour formed the government with 21.59% of the electorate’s support (note: this is not the same as the proportion of the vote, 35.19%). public != electorate != voter.

So there are two areas where the public is divorced from how governments are formed.

“I don’t understand your point.”

No Evidence Of Systematic Bias.

“Personally I value the concept of a geographic community coming together to elect someone who will champion their interests”

Exactly. Single member constituencies that don’t do this are worse than useless; they’ve been increasing in number since 1983 and the situation will get significantly worse if the proposals of the National Government are implemented.

“Would the 14-day rule apply only to the aftermath of a dissolution vote, or also to the aftermath of a no-confidence vote? ”

The aftermath of a no-confidence vote only, actually. The process would be either…

a) No confidence and a dissolution vote held one after the other (in that order).
a i) No confidence passes, so the whole parliament votes to dissolve at higher than 66%, general election announced
a ii) No confidence fails, dissolution vote doesn’t go ahead (would have clearly less than 66% support)
a iii) No confidence passes, but then only the largest party (i.e. here the Tories) vote to dissolve at 49%.

or

b) straight dissolution vote, most likely called by the party in power, which can fail or not.

in this final case (a iii) the 14 day rule would kick in, basically (to put it in todays terms) Labour, Lib Dems and the rainbow parties would have two weeks to prove they can put together a stable government, if they can’t then it’ll automatically dissolve parliament.

“If so, strange that bringing in anti-democratic measures seems to be the big new Liberal thing. Presumably the reason is a lack of trust in the voters voting for the things Liberals want them to vote for.”

You’re quite frankly wrong if you think a fixed term system, where power of dissolution is devolved to the house, is less democratic than our current system.

The system, as it currently works, is as follows: MPs can vote for a no-confidence, this does not mean by any process other than one of tradition that parliament gets dissolved. If he wanted, under the current system, Cameron could refuse to dissolve parliament when no-confidenced and demand that the parliament forms another government. Some might say under this current parliament that would be the right thing to do.

The power to dissolve parliament lies in the hands of one person, the PM as given by the Queen.

These changes would take the PM (and the Queen) out of that equation completely, it would become an entirely democratic proces to dissolve the house, as decided BY the house.

There’s also the fixed term element, and that merely is a decision over whether you prefer party leaders to have the power to call elections…and if you’re giving power away from the PM to the whole of the house you kind of need to respect that by ensuring the parliament/government has a fair chance to sit out a full term.

The people, in any of these situations, have never had anything other than a coincidental say over who our government specifically is made up from. It is not undemocratic for them/us to not have this ultimate say either.

I *personally* believe there should be a public threshold for invoking an election too, an ultimate safety valve for a corrupt and poorly functioning parliament…but in practical terms it should never have to be used while we decide to reform through the measures to AV (and then hopefully at a later date to STV) and keep our MPs more loyal to their constituents.

You’re quite frankly wrong if you think a fixed term system, where power of dissolution is devolved to the house, is less democratic than our current system.

A fixed term system is inherently less democratic: it takes a decision currently made by elected officials, and makes it by fixed rules instead. I really wish people would stop claiming ‘I approve of this idea, therefore it is democratic’. The word for an argument for fixed rules instead of legitimised decisions is _republican_.

You can’t counter that with some entirely theoretical (i.e. never came up in 300 years) stuff about how is somehow the monarch who is actually enforcing obeying a no-confidence vote. Constitutions don’t enforce themselves, whether the person responsible for saying ‘you are taking the piss, go away now’ does it in RP or not is nothing to do with anything in particular.

> It will be abundantly clear that if there is a hung parliament, we can expect the Tories & Lib Dems to form a government.

This is only presumed because we’re so used to majority governments in this country. We’ve forgotten how to do coalitions. In countries where they happen regularly, parties move from one alliance to another easily, all the time. A coalition is not the same thing as an alliance; the LibDems now are not in the same relationship with the Tories as the Coalition Liberals or the Liberal Unionists were back in the day.

It *does* look as if the LibDem leadership themselves have forgotten this, and are letting themselves merge with the Tory Party: but we don’t know if that will last. To enter the next election as an alliance would be to kill off their existence as an independent party, which I suspect is not what they went into coalition to do. They’re not stupid: they know that they need to maintain a degree of distance from the Tories – and the possibility of coalition with Labour in 2015 or whenever – for there still to BE a Liberal Democratic Party by, say, 2025.

This is not an apologia for the LibDems or the coalition: I have little time for either. But it’s important to remember that they haven’t actually been absorbed just yet.


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. Liberal Conspiracy

    MPs and constituency sizes to be reduced http://bit.ly/dkwpUC

  2. sunny hundal

    The key proposals summarised here: RT @libcon: MPs and constituency sizes to be reduced http://bit.ly/dkwpUC

  3. Liberal Conspiracy

    It also looks like AV reform will be on its own in a referendum, rather than as part of a package http://bit.ly/dkwpUC

  4. TheBiPolarBearMD

    RT @libcon: It also looks like AV reform will be on its own in a referendum, rather than as part of a package http://bit.ly/dkwpUC

  5. Malcolm Evison

    RT @libcon: It also looks like AV reform will be on its own in a referendum, rather than as part of a package http://bit.ly/dkwpUC

  6. earwicga

    RT @libcon MPs and constituency sizes to be reduced http://bit.ly/bhhXTR

  7. sunny hundal

    Heh, I wrongly said constituency sizes would be reduced @ChrispLOL @garethn – well spotted. Headline amended http://bit.ly/bhhXTR

  8. sdv_duras

    RT @libcon: MPs and constituency sizes to be reduced http://bit.ly/dkwpUC — clssic anti-democratic moves

  9. Chris Paul

    RT @sunny_hundal: Heh, I wrongly said constituency sizes would be reduced @ChrispLOL @garethn – well spotted. Headline amended http://bit.ly/bhhXTR

  10. Louise Dore

    Are they going on a diet? RT: @libcon MPs and constituency sizes to be reduced http://bit.ly/dkwpUC

  11. Andrew Ducker

    Govt. announces big constitutional changes http://bit.ly/ae3fao

  12. AV Referendum should be a ‘free vote’ for Labour…. «

    […] Implicit in a question of how we elect our MP’s is the question of the boundary changes.  Sunny Hundal conveniently wants this airbrushed out of the picture, arguing that just because it wont be […]

  13. Little Metamorphic O

    RT @libcon: MPs and constituency sizes to be reduced http://bit.ly/dkwpUC

  14. andrew

    Govt. announces big constitutional changes | Liberal Conspiracy: Liberal Conspiracy. It also looks like AV reform … http://bit.ly/cTsYMH

  15. Policy, not politics, should determine how Labour campaigns for AV « Paperback Rioter

    […] not politics, should determine how Labour campaigns for AV So, the Cleggmeister has spoken. Thou shalt have constitutional […]





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