The Boundary Commission has just about finished publishing details of the new constituencies upon which the 2009/10 General Election will be fought. As soon as this Review is completed, the Electoral Commission takes over the task of redrawing constituency boundaries. It can hardly do a worse job. Anthony Wells at UK Polling Report has drawn up an excellent anyalysis of the effect of the new boundary changes. You can read it HERE. Although the Conservatives have achieved a much better result from the changes than last time, it is still a disgrace that if Labour & the Conservatives both achieve 35% of the vote, Labour would still have 87 more seats. Anthony Wells explains the reasons for this pro-Labour bias in our system...
1) Over-representation of Wales. Scotland's over-representation was resolved by the new boundaries introduced in 2005. Wales, however, remains overrepresented. The electoral quota in England and Scotland is 69,934, in Wales it is 55,640. If Wales were to use the English quota, it would be entitled to only 32, rather than the present 40. Given that Labour holds almost three-quarters of the seats in Wales the current over-representation is to their benefit, and gives them an extra 5 seats over the Conservatives. (In practice Wales would probably still have more than 32 seats even if it did use the English quota - Scotland has 59 seats rather than the 57 it "should" have because of geographical considerations in the highlands and islands. Similar factors in Anglesey and the Welsh mountains would probably have a similar effect).
2) Time-lag. It takes several years to conduct a boundary review and to introduce the new boundaries. The rules state that the electoral figures used are those at the date the review started. The boundaries in this review will come into force at the next election, probably in 2009 or 2010, but are based on the population in 2000. Hence they will be 10 years out of date by the time they are introduced. Since 2000 there have already been major changes in the population of some seats - for example, Stretford & Urmston, Preston and Derby North have all seen their electorates fall by over 8,000 in the last 4 years. Cambridgeshire North-West, Westbury and Croydon North have all seen their electorates grow by over 6,000 in the last 4 years. The situation will obviously be more extreme by 2009/10. The trend is for the population to increase in Conservative and fall in Labour areas as people move out of declining inner-cities and into suburbs and the country (though not, it should be pointed out, exclusively - another rapidly growing seat is Bethnal Green & Bow). Therefore this time lag tends to favour Labour whose heartlands would receive considerably fewer seats were boundaries drawn up on projected population figures in the future as local ward boundaries are. Given that the changes in this review, reflecting the population movements over the nine years between 1991 and 2000, have decreased the “labour bias” by 24 seats. It seems reasonable to assume that had boundaries been drawn up on the likely population figures when the boundaries are due to be introduced (probably 2009), “Labour bias” would have been reduced by something in the same region.
3) Lower turnout in Labour seats. The British electoral system entitles everyone to representation in Parliament whether they bother to vote or not. A seat where 60,000 people turn out to vote gets the same number of MPs (one) as a seat where only 10,000 people actually go to the polling station. Since turnout tends to be higher amongst those of a higher social status (MORI estimated turnout in 2005 was 71% amongst ABs and 54% amongst DEs) and Labour tends to have higher support amongst lower status groups (MORI found a 9 point Tory lead amongst ABs in 2005, and the 23 point Labour lead amongst DEs), Labour's safe seats tend to have a much lower turnout. If every seat in the UK had had the same turnout in 2005, Labour would have led the Conservatives by 5 points, rather than 3.
4) Tactical voting – it's likely there is still anti-Conservative tactical voting, which once again means that the Conservatives get fewer seats that they otherwise would because of the efficient distribution of Labour and Liberal Democrat votes.
Obviously the LibDem counter-argument to all this would be to have proportional representation. Well assuming that one doesn't agree with PR for Westminster elections (and I don't, although I would countenance it being introduced in local elections, but let's not get sidetracked) there needs to be a new system introduced for the next Review. I hope that Sam Younger, the Chairman of the Electoral Commission, will commit to a full-scale review as soon as the Electoral Commission takes over responsibility. And let's hope all three main parties can agree on its remit.