A key component of the proposal to reduce the number of MPs to 600 will be a fresh boundary review and maybe this is the time to seize the opportunity to restore some equity into the system.
At the moment there are two distinct sets of rules covering boundary reviews – one for local government in England (Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland have similar but distinct rules) and one for parliamentary reviews. Again, the rules for Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland are different as they have a guaranteed minimum number of seats regardless of population.
The local government rules require local councils to produce figures for the electorates of each polling district or parish based on a five-year forecast.
The parliamentary rules are based on actual electorates at the date that the review is ordered. The ‘new’ 2010 boundaries were, therefore, drawn up based on electorates as at 17th February 2000. Ten years of actual population movements are totally ignored.
Parliamentary boundaries use local government wards as their building blocks so it has been the custom to complete a local government review before embarking on a parliamentary review.
However, even though a local authority’s ‘new’ wards were created to take account (on a five-year forecast basis) of known housing developments, estimated patterns of depopulation and similar factors, these are all ignored as the parliamentary review uses actual electorates on a given date.
And this is where the equity in the system needs to be addressed.
Because parliamentary constituencies use a snapshot of the electorate on a specific date, and the whole process takes several years before implementation, the electorate in any given constituency can vary widely from the theoretical quota of electors per constituency.
The electoral quota for parliamentary constituencies in England is (currently) 69,934.
A rough analysis suggests that there are currently 44 English seats with an electorate of 62,941 or less (that is a maximum of 90% of the electoral quota) and 42 English seats (excluding the Isle of Wight) with a population of 76,927 or more (a minimum of 110% of the electoral quota).
So nearly one fifth of the ‘new’ 2010 English constituencies are already 10% or more away from the electoral quota and these variations will only get worse as time passes and more people move from inner-cities to suburbs and market towns and from north to south.
Surely it is time for the parliamentary boundaries to be based on fresh five-year forecasts for each ward so that when the new constituencies come into being there is a chance that the disparities between electorates are minimised.