Paul Goodman has an excellent article on ConservativeHome pointing out the iniquities of the electoral boundaries. Do read the WHOLE THING, but here's a taster...
Put aside, for a moment, the likelihood or otherwise of the vote dividing up in this way. Wave away, too, the rejoinder that all things are never equal, and that regional swings, local factors, tactical voting and so on must be taken into account. The big point remains: the rules of the game work against us. (I will stick to “rules of the game” rather than “electoral system”, because the latter suggests the matter of the voting system, which is extraneous to the case I wish to make.) In the big game between blues and reds, we start off several goals down – and that’s before taking into account that we start from a base of under 200 MPs.
Our four [Boundary] Commissions don’t work from the premise that equal constituency size trumps everything else. New Zealand allows a deviation of 5% from either side of the preferred size, or quota. America permits less than 1%. Our Commissions balk only at variations of more than 20%. Constituencies can’t cross county boundaries – pushing electorates over quota in growing areas. Finally, the process is slow. Reviews take place only once a decade, and the appeals process can be lengthy: have a look at Ed Balls’ failed attempt to stop the Boundary Commission’s changes to his seat, which went all the way to judicial review.
In short, we’re running to stand still, like the Red Queen in Alice Through the Looking Glass - as voters move out of Labour’s seats into ours without the boundary reviews catching up with the change. Now stand back for a moment from the theory, and think about the practice – what all this means in brutal electoral terms.
Return, for a moment, to my first figures – that illustrative general election in which later this year we win 40% of the vote to Labour’s 30%. Now assume, for the sake of the argument, that the majority of 8 is pushed up to 20 by progress in marginal seats and tactical unwind, and that this majority sees us out for four years.
Go on to envisage that in 2014, after a tough and torrid term, we come in at 38% and Labour at no more than 30% An 8% – no mean achievement – has delivered a hung Parliament. Any Liberal inhibitions about dealing with Labour have melted away. Britain faces a Lab/Lib coalition.
Let me clear about what I’m not trying to do. I’m not assuming that the next election’s in the bag: victory must be worked for. Nor am I attempting to forecast the next election, let alone the imponderable one after, or guess that the next Parliament will last four years. My purpose is different. I’m trying, as best I can, to illustrate the unfairness of the rules of the game. The voters have the right to a level electoral playing field, and if we win they must have one.
Liberal Democrats will no doubt seek to hijack this argument with comments about more general electoral reform. That is another debate for another blogpost. But can anyone seriously disagree that under our current system, it should be an aim for all consitituencies (with one or two obvious exceptions) to be of similar size?