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We are all familar with the LibDems’ campaign for "fair votes" (a populist name for proportional representation – the case for which was demolished by William Norton here and here).  Perhaps the Conservatives need to be campaigning for "fair seats" or "fair constituency sizes" or something that rolls off the tongue a little more easily?

The unfair electoral system was the core theme of an article by Michael Brown in this morning’s Independent.  He notes the huge gap between Brown losing his majority (he only needs to lose 32 seats) and of Cameron winning a majority (the Tory leader needs to win another 130 seats).  Mr Brown, a former Conservative MP, concludes that "a hung Parliament is now becoming the most likely outcome in 2010" and that it is in the interests of the Tories to move in the direction of PR because of the "bias and unfairness in the electoral system".

Michael Brown jumps to the wrong conclusion.  What we need isn’t a change to our electoral system but a revolution in the process by which constituency boundaries are updated.  It currently takes, William Norton has noted, 26,908 votes to elect a Labour MP but 44,373 votes to elect a Conservative.  A large part of the explanation for this is the fact that southern and rural seats (which tend to be Tory) are decidedly larger than northern and urban seats (which are more likely to be Labour).  This difference in size reflects an often yawning gap between census reviews and boundary commission reviews – a yawning gap that Labour has little incentive to remedy.  Changes to constituency boundaries can take place many years after a population has shifted towards the south and the countryside.  There is also a problem of Scottish and Welsh constituencies being smaller although this is less of an issue than it was.

Perhaps Ken Clarke’s Democracy Taskforce could investigate ways of accelerating the boundary review process?

71 comments for: “Fair seats”

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