British Democracy: It Ain’t Happening
Why Won’t Anyone Just Say It?
Boundary reforms are back on the agenda, as we knew they would be if the Tories got their majority. Labour has decided to oppose these changes because their seats are more likely to be affected than Tory ones.
John Ashworth, the shadow minister who answers for Labour on these matters, said this on Radio 4:
If the question is ‘should the constituencies be of equal numbers?’ then we are in favour of the principle of more equal constituencies… But what this is doing is proceeding with a boundary review when there’s 2 million people missing from the electoral register. The effect of not using that register is to deny the voice of 2 million people.
Labour’s official line on democracy is: constituencies should be made of a similar number of people. No mention of whether or not it is fair that a vote in one constituency should be worth so much more or less than a vote in another constituency.
Their opposition to these changes is not based on an argument about whether representation is made fairer, or more equal: only that voters should be lumped equally into an arbitrary geographic area, where votes will still only count if they go to the candidate with the largest share.
Jeremy Corbyn seems to toe the same line as Ashworth. He says:
I’m very unhappy about the size of the new constituency that has been put forward. Multiple-needs areas, such as I represent, don’t need to be too big. They need to be places where MPs can represent them properly, just like anywhere else in the country.
Corbyn does not seem to realise that all areas are multiple-needs: every voter is looking for something specific to themselves and some of them may have enough in common to elect an MP together. If I were a Conservative voter in Islington North, could Jeremy Corbyn represent me ‘properly’?
I had a burst of hope for Corbyn’s recently when I read his interview with the Electoral Reform Society. He said:
Our electoral system should properly reflect the collective choices of the electorate as well as providing stable government and direct representation — in any change the constituency link must be maintained, as it has been in Wales and Scotland. Reform of the electoral system should be considered as part of a wider constitutional convention to comprehensively weigh the reforms that our constitution needs at national, regional and local level.
I appreciate that the Labour Party is in a leadership contest right now and that Jeremy Corbyn can’t make unilateral decisions on Labour policy while his authority is being contested. But Labour has promised this before.
When I went to the Labour Party website to check if Ed Milliband’s promise of a constitutional convention was still party policy, there was no page to check. Surely, it must be? In any case, as Corbyn has mentioned it above, it must at least be his official position as a leadership candidate.
So why hasn’t he given Teresa May both barrels? For Labour politicians to talk of election rigging when defending their party’s right to safe seats is not a creditable position. Labour should reject boundary changes as the wrong solution for the wrong problem; a corrupt definition of democracy where your voice is only heard if you vote Tory.
As it stands, Corbyn’s endorsement of the principle of voices matching votes is lukewarm. That it should be ‘considered’ is not the same as ‘it’s fair and right’.
I’m still waiting to hear if Tim Farron and the Liberal Democrats are going to push a hard line (as I hope they will: they’re coordinating their campaign right now). In the meantime, Caroline Lucas has thus far been the only politician bold enough to call a spade a spade.
If politicians serious about giving people a voice then they need to commit to a fair voting system. Simple as that. #makevotesfair