By Harry Phibbs
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The defeat of boundary reform this afternoon, by 334 votes to 292, is not only bad for the Conservative Party but also for democracy.
The average annual cost to the taxpayer of a Member of Parliament is £590,000 a year (a peer costs us £130,000 on average while a Euro MP comes in at 1.79 million a time.) Of course it could be argued that reducing the cost of politics by reducing the number of MPs by 50 and saving a few million a year is modest set against state spending £700 billion. You could say the same about that element of our bill which covers MPs expenses. Yet it still matters. There is a question of MPs setting an example when the size of the rest of the public sector workforce is being cut.
There is also the matter of democracy. That constituencies should have equal number of votes so that votes have equal value.
The arrangement where the Conservatives have to secure a 7% lead over the Labour Party in votes to have an equal number of seats is unfair. If the Labour Party get more MPs but fewer votes than the Conservatives at the next election which party would the Lib Dems regard as having greater democracy legitimacy?
What would the country make of it if Labour won an overall majority in the House of Commons while securing fewer votes than the Conservatives?
More immediately the consequence is a souring of the relations between the Conservatives and the Lib Dems. They failed to honour the Coalition Agreement which said:
We will bring forward a Referendum Bill on electoral reform, which includes provision for the introduction of the Alternative Vote in the event of a positive result in the referendum, as well as for the creation of fewer and more equal sized constituencies. We will whip both Parliamentary parties in both Houses to support a simple majority referendum on the Alternative Vote, without prejudice to the positions parties will take during such a referendum.
If the Conservatives had faied to deliver an AV referendum then the Lib Dems would have had a point. As it is there was nothing in the Coalition Agreement which the Conservatives have broken. There was a pledge to set up a committee on Lords Reform – not to approve whatever it might propose.
Finally there is also likely to be considerable ill feeling against any Conservative MPs who voted against boundary reform for their own selfish reasons.