Just before Christmas ConservativeHome raised the issue of "unfair seats". On Monday’s Platform Conor Burns explained the problem in much more detail:
"If Labour and the Conservatives had the same vote share [at the 2005 General Election] Labour would still have won 111 more seats. If the Conservatives had the same lead over Labour as Labour did over the Conservatives, Labour would still have had 57 more seats. Only a Conservative lead of 6.4% would have resulted in equality of seats and the Conservatives would have required a lead of 11.8% before gaining an overall majority."
Read Conor’s full arguments here.
There are many ways of addressing the problem of unfair seats. Options include more regular boundary commission reviews. A greater willingness to allow boundaries of Westminster seats to cross natural or local authority boundaries. Equalisation of the size of Welsh, Scottish and English seats. During the course of 2008 we’ll be examining all of the options and pressing the Conservative Party to then make a manifesto commitment to address this issue. I hope ConservativeHome readers like Tim Roll-Pickering, who has consistently made intelligent comments on this issue, will help us achieve a good final proposal.
Our bottom line is that the electoral system needs to be fairer and it needs to be reformed so that the election of a majority Conservative Government isn’t such an uphill struggle.
"It’s time we had fair votes in the UK – and no – I don’t mean Proportional Representation!! Votes in different parts of the UK have different values due to the wide variations in the size of constituencies. This strikes at the heart of the democratic principle of equal voting rights for citizens. We should end the disparities by introducing a fixed electoral quota – the electorate divided by the number of seats – with only a small margin to avoid splitting council wards. Currently the Boundary Commission chooses not to cross county boundaries and uses old electoral data in making its final recommendations. This creates an urban bias in the system and fails to take adequate account of net migration from the cities. We should change the Regulations to put maintaining an equal quota as the rule with priority over other considerations."
The current shadow cabinet minister with responsibility for this issue, Nick Herbert, Shadow Secretary of State for Justice, doesn’t go as far but in a statement issued to ConservativeHome opens the door to a manifesto promise:
"Ideally electoral boundaries would stay as closely linked to established county or district borders as possible, but population growth often makes this impossible. On balance, it’s more important that MPs represent roughly the same size of population than we remain wedded to old boundaries that allow population disparities to grow widely. I think boundary reviews should be conducted more frequently to take account of population changes, and they should use more up-to-date data."
Mr Herbert describes Labour’s inaction on "fair seats" as "yet another example of Labour’s willingness to allow distortion of the electoral system for their partisan ends."
Both Oliver and Nick issued much fuller statements and you can read a pdf of them here.
This is the first of ten items on ConservativeHome’s ‘Agenda 2008′. All agenda items reflect the opinions of the ConservativeHome Members’ Panel. in the end-December poll 84% agreed that "parliamentary constituencies for the House of Commons should roughly be of the same population size." Other findings of that survey will be released soon.