Tuesday, January 13, 2009

MP Numbers: A Long Overdue Tory Cut

In an interview with the FT David Cameron has said he wants to reduce the number of MPs by 60 and carry out an immediate boundary commission inquiry if he wins the next election. The aim would be to create 585 seats of equal size. This reform is long overdue. It's not as radical as the commitment by Michael Howard to cut the size of the Commons by 120, a point LibDem bloggers have already seized on. My reaction to their reaction is one of massive indifference. They tried to up the ante on Michael Howard by saying they would cut 150 MPs. Higher, higher! They live in a word of Forsythian 'Play Your Cards Right' politics.

This reform would mean that small inner city constituencies would be abolished, and the number of seats in Wales and Scotland brought into line with England. There is an argument for them having even fewer as they have their own assemblies, but let's put that one to one side for the moment.

No doubt this will be portrayed by Labour as gerrymandering, but it is surely difficult for them to argue that all seats shouldn't be roughly the same size. It is preposterous that there are more than 100,000 electors on the Isle of Wight and fewer than 50,000 in some inner city seats.

There may well have to be one or two exceptions for some of the more remote Scottish seats, or maybe not. Think of the vast areas covered by some US congressmen. Why should Scotland be treated differently? I am not, before anyone suggests it, being anti Scottish. I just believe that my vote should be worth the same as a Scottish crofter. At the moment the crofter's vote is worth at least twice mine.

The main thing is that there is a current imbalance in our electoral system and it needs to be put right. Labour can get a majority on 36% of the vote, whereas the Tories need 42% or an 8 point lead. LibDems will shout that if we had PR none of this would matter, Maybe not. But it isn't going to happen.


Catosays said...

I've always wondered why that well known sink-hole Barnsley, should have THREE MPs.

Unknown said...

Making the seats the same size will make little or no difference to your 36/42% dilemma. That is caused by lower working class turnout.

So even in two seats of 100,000 electors, with a two-party system, if the Tories win in Poshbridge by 60,000 to 20,000 on an 80% turnout, and Labour win in Estateton by 45,000 to 15,000 on a 60% turnout, the parties get one seat each even though the Tories "won" by 75,000 votes to 65,000.

patently said...

>> Higher, higher!

Careful, or Gordon will suggest reducing the number by 645.

Which will have the useful side effect of reducing rowdiness and impertinent questions at PMQs.

strapworld said...

As the House of Common has now been reduced to the role of a District Council they could have a far more drastic reduction.

IF MP's acted, as they should, as true representatives of their electorate and not just party cannon fodder, perhaps people would have far more respect for them.

Lets have One MP for each County Council Area as a starter.

TheBoilingFrog said...

Considering the EU makes 80% of our laws, there's a case for reducing the number of MPs even further.

Parliament is losing rapidly any power it has left to make a difference, more so when (not if) the EU Treaty gets ratified.

Yet another example here:


Irrelevant of course whether we (the silly voters) agree or not, it will be implemented.

Anonymous said...

Yes I think the numbers of MP's should be cut to save money. It will be an excellent economy of scale plus make the electoral system less biased in Labour's favour.

I would also hope that the bigger seats would have a similar affect to that of Euro seats on the Lib Dems! I think the LD's only ever won a couple of Euro seats under FPTP! Obviously the seats would not be quite that big! But it might help to make sure that theri is no LD resurgence after they are wiped out at the next election!

Anonymous said...

lower, lower!

Look into Sheffield too!

Gareth said...

It is gerrymandering.

Any reduction in the number of English MPs should be accompanied by a proportionate reduction in Scottish MPs, especially as Scotland now has a legislative parliament and national government which have the effect of reducing the caseload of Scottish MPs whilst providing fewer opportunities for them to represent the legitimate interests of their constituents at Westminster (and they will be excluded from Committee and Report Stages under Ken Clarke’s scheme).

Why maintain Scottish numbers when the Tories only have one Scottish MP?

1. The Tories do not want to antagonise Scottish nationalists in anyway, and they will resist any measure that could lead to them being cast in the role of the anti-Scottish nasty-party.

2. The Tories want to ensure they have at least one Scottish MP, and maintaining Scottish representation at Westminster is the surest way of achieving their goal.

3. Although, in theory, a higher proportion of Scottish MPs increases the likelihood of the West Lothian Question being raised, a reduction in the numbers of inner-city Labour MPs in England reduces the chance of Scottish Labour MPs tipping the balance.

By these means Cameron increases the chances of having at least one Scottish Tory at Westminster, the Scots see him treating Scotland favourably, he reduces Labour’s parliamentary numbers, and lessens the propensity for the West Lothian Question to raised when the House divides along party lines (as it invariably does).

Marian said...

Ref your comment that "the number of seats in Wales and Scotland brought into line with England. There is an argument for them having even fewer as they have their own assemblies"

As a pragmatic Scot I am all in favour of reducing the number of Scots constituency MP's at Westmister but only providing Scotland's Government was given full political and economic control over Scotland.

Sadly at present this is not the case thanks to New Labour, as most of the political and economic powers Scotland needs to get itself off its chronic dependency culture backside and transform itself into becoming economically successful, are still reserved to Westminster.

So until such time as there is a full devolution of these powers to Scotland, it will still need to have equal status so far as the ratio of it's MP's at Westminster is concerned.

Iain Dale said...

Toque, the proposal IS to reduce Scottish and Welsh MPs too.

Anonymous said...

Its a nice headline, but i think you are wrong to talk about Congressmen.

now if you had talked about Senators that would be different as i say alittle about in my new flashy blog....*shameless plug*


Blackacre said...

The Scots had their representation lowered last time around as a result of the Scottish Parliament. This should obviously be maintained if Cameron's Cut is activated.

The issue, as well set out by jdc, is not the size of the constituencies so much as the voting system. It is farcical to say you want a fairer voting system with less inbalance under FPTP. If you want that system, you will get bizarre results - that goes with the territory and shold be accepted as such. Fairness to all parties (and voters) I am afraid requires PR. The Irish have the best system being STV.

If the Tories lose again this time (and I realise this is not looking likely currently) I wonder if a few more of them may move to that thought.

Andrew said...

Iain: "I am not, before anyone suggests it, being anti Scottish. I just believe that my vote should be worth the same as a Scottish crofter. At the moment the crofter's vote is worth at least twice mine."

Scottish seat numbers are already in line with England - there used to be 72 seats in Scotland, currently there are 59 seats.

As for the relative value of one voter's vote to another, there are always going to be different values under first past the post - the only voters who really matter are a relatively small number of swing voters in a relatively small number of seats - but the only real solution to this is some kind of PR system.e

Seats should be broadly similar, but there are always going to have to be some anomalies at the extremes for practical purposes - e.g. small seats in large sparsely populated areas, upto the 100,000 on the Isle of Wight - too big for one seat, too small to be two seats, but still one distinct community.

While we're at it, we should remind ourselves that Labour has a large majority of MPs elected in England alone - just in case the ignorant or mendacious try to suggest (again) that England has a Labour government for any reason other than how England voted!

P.S. About 15 years ago the Conservatives had an inbuilt advantage of up to 100 seats - a situation that has since reveraed - but I don't remember us complaining about that at the time. Swings and roundabouts in an ever changing democracy.

Anonymous said...

Cameron should go much further:
pay MPs the average weekly wage (it's only a part time job for most); abolish their expenses (the constituency can provide an office - what more do they need?); abolish their pensions (if the OAP is good enough for us, it's good enough for them) and London houses (confiscate Balls and Cooper's house that the tax payers are paying for) and provide service flats.
Reduce the number of ministers to fifteen and pay them two thirds of what the PM gets (ninety thousand is plenty seeing what he'll get afterwards.)

No 'advisers', no employing members of the family.

Then scale down all 'public service management' pay - Town Clerks a maximum of a third what the PM gets and scale down all 'management' pay likewise.

You won't get the good people? Looking at people like Shoesmith, we're not getting them anyway.

Chris Paul said...

Where are all these inner city 50,000 voter constituencies Iain? Ours are 80,000 and thereabouts. We've just had a chuffing parliamentary boundary commission for england.

The Tories who attended the hearings wanted to throw all the old boundaries away and create peculiarly shaped, historically meaningless and perhaps just perhaps the odd winnable out of great tracts of unwinnables.

That was an attempt at gerrymandering which got thrown out without discussion and so is this.

Gareth said...

"Toque, the proposal IS to reduce Scottish and Welsh MPs too"

I think you've misread it Iain. Scottish seats were brought in line with England, reduced from 79 to 52.

The Guardian says this:

The Tories would not change the number of Scottish constituencies, which were cut at the behest of English cabinet ministers, such as Jack Straw, as the price of their support for a Scottish parliament. But Cameron would reduce the number of Welsh seats from 40 to around 30 and would cut small inner-city constituencies. These changes would benefit the Tories.

Pure and simple, it's gerrymandering England - reducing English and Welsh representation - to favour Scotland, in order to protect the Union and the Tories in Scotland (rather than any concern for Scotland itself).

John M Ward said...

I'd agree with both aspects of this: the number of MPs is now much too high, considering that the EU dictates so much of our legislation anyway, so there's little for MPs to do there.

Aslo, the boundaries are certainly hugely skewed to favour Labour rather than to serve the communities themselves, so this has to be completely reformed and irreversible legislation enacted to ensure that constituencies will always be designated to best fit community needs, not political convenience or bias.

Interestingly, local councillor numbers were reduced by 30% here in Medway just a few years ago, yet the job has become more complex. If one applied the same thinking that justified this to MPs, they would need to be cut to barely 200, and probably fewer than that.

Anonymous said...

Why don't we just ban the jocks and welsh completely and make it an English Parliament just to see how long the other two last before getting their begging bowls out?

Jason O'Mahony said...


Is it not a question of one set of vote riggers whinging about another set of vote riggers?
Sure, PR ain't going to happen unless there is some form of hung parliament, or unless Labour are so far behind in the polls that they bring it in anyway to stem their losses (A brassed necked old Mitterand trick, that.) but why should your vote be worth the same as a Scottish crofter's if you don't support a LD voter's vote being worth the same as yours, just because they choose to live in an area with less LDs?

Anonymous said...

geoff:"Why don't we just ban the jocks and welsh completely and make it an English Parliament just to see how long the other two last before getting their begging bowls out?"

by that logic if that happened, how long would you wait before suggesting doing the same to the north of england which is in pretty much the same situation as scotland (minus aberdeen(oil) and |Edinburgh(formerly banks..))

Anonymous said...

Cameron should go much further:
pay MPs the average weekly wage (it's only a part time job for most); abolish their expenses (the constituency can provide an office - what more do they need?); abolish their pensions (if the OAP is good enough for us, it's good enough for them) and London houses (confiscate Balls and Cooper's house that the tax payers are paying for) and provide service flats.

Here's an idea, and it'd work well for party and parliamentary cohesion also.

The Palace of Westminster is HUUUUUUUUUUUUGE. Turn one part of it into flats (owned by the taxpayer) and put the MPs in there.

If they don't like it - fuck 'em.

Anonymous said...


Be careful what you wish for.

I suspect that enlarging edge of urban area seats, like Chingford & Woodford Green in London or Hexham next door to Newcastle, would add to them more Labour/Lib-Dem supporting areas and turn them into marginals, possibly, further reducing our representation in urban areas.

Yak40 said...

The welfare of the British requires that boundaries are redrawn such that Labour can never get more than twenty seats, or perhaps thirty if they behave.

After all, their demonstrated utter incompetence, malevolence and cluelessness since 1997 makes it hard to justify any more than that until they grow up.

Lola said...

All I can say is, if Cameron wants to do this he'd better get it absolutely right. No messing about. No hint of gerrymadering. An open and genuine attempt to ensure that MP's are elected in a consistent way.

And despite the fact that it has given me useless, deceitful and oathesome government for the last 11 years I want to retain first past the post. PR would descend us into all the worst sort of political manoeuvering between career politicians whom no-one would have a hope in Hell of ever kicking out.

Tim Roll-Pickering said...

This reform would mean that ...the number of seats in Wales and Scotland brought into line with England.

Scotland already has been brought in line with England. The reason there are a couple of extra seats in Scotland is because of the geography in the Highlands and Islands. This is also why some parts of England like Cumbria and Northumbria have extra seats.

Nearly all countries with constituency based systems (the US is a rare exception) have special allowance for different sized electorates to allow for the problems of representing people in rural areas. The Australian Parliament has two monster sized seats called Kalgoorlie - basically all of Western Australia minus the Perth metro area - and Lingiare - all of the Northern Territory minus Darwin. Both are hard enough to represent as it is without being expanded further.

It is preposterous that there are more than 100,000 electors on the Isle of Wight and fewer than 50,000 in some inner city seats.

The inner city seats have declined since the last review but there's a lot of confusion as the turnout tends to be low as well. And the Isle of Wight is fiercely opposed to being divided in two, with some of the Isle attached to the mainland for a second seat.

Mark Senior said...

Iain , you are under a complete misapprehension that the bias in the system is caused by uneven constituency sizes . There are in fact NO small inner city seats , the average electorate in Glasgow and South Yorkshire is pretty much the same as in Derbyshire and Suffolk for example . The real cause is of course uneven turnout with lower turnouts in inner city Labour seats and higher turnouts in safe Conservative seats .
Scotland constituency sizes are almost in line with England with an extra 2 seats which allow for the very small constituencies of the Western Isles and Orkney/Shetland . The one discrepancy is Wales which has around 8 seats too many in proportion .
Out of interest what do you define as of equal size . You presumably mean of roughly equal size otherwise electoral boundaries would have to be completely artificial and absurd bur how rough will roughly mean .
Let us have a look at the last review .
Suffolk was entitled to 7.2 seats based on the total electorate , it was given 7 , presumably you would give it 7 and tack on the other 0.2 or near enough to a constituency crossing the Norfolk or Essex boundaries .
Derbyshire was entitled to 10.68 seats it was given 11 , presumably you would only have given it 10 and combined the other 0.68 with a seat in one of the neighbouring counties .
The net result would probably be to lose a Conservative seat in Derbyshire and gain one in Suffolk/Norfolk or Suffolk/Essex not making any difference to your aim of reducing the imbalance in the voting system .
Reducing the number of seats in Wales by 8 would help very little also . One calculation is that Labour would be down 5 seats and Conservatives/Plaid/LibDems 1 each .

Old Holborn said...

Can anyone tell me why we have ANY MP's at all?

80% of our laws are made in Europe and frankly most everything else can be done by local elected councillors.

Defend the borders and police the streets but pretty much everything else can be taken care of by the individual or private enterprise more efficiently and cheaply.

Boot the lot of them out, I say.

Raedwald said...

Yes, this is part of what's needed. I've said before we're entering a period of political reform the like of which was last seen in Britain 1830 - 1860 ish. Then it was abolishing the rotten boroughs such as Dunwich, which returned 2 MPs despite having only a handful of voters, and recognising the growth of the great industrial towns. Now its hurrying the glacial pace of the Boundaries Commission in recognising population shifts.

This isn't all that's needed. Our electoral registration system is totally corrupted. As being on the electoral register is necessary to open a bank account and for a myriad of financial transactions, the register is full of false entries. In one area that had been subject to postal voting fraud, an investigation led to a 20% fall in registrations. The Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust reported in 2008 that "There is widespread, and justifiable, concern about both the comprehensiveness and the accuracy of the UK’s electoral registers – the poor state of the registers potentially compromises the integrity of the ballot." and in 2008 the Council of Europe's (NOT the same as the EU) rapporteurs found that "the electoral system in Great Britain is open to electoral fraud"

Thirdly, the UK has a massive democratic deficit. France has 1 elected official for every 116 voters; Germany has one for every 250, and Spain one for every 597. The UK has one for every 2,605.

We have only 22,000 elected councillors but 60,000 unelected people serving on 5,200 local quangos and 30,500 unelected people serving on central quangos.

(figs from Simon Jenkins 'Big Bang Localism' pub. Policy Exchange / Localis)

Yes, we do desperately need reform throughout our democratic structures. The old parties are dying, deserted by their grass roots members. But the electorate remains passionately engaged in political issues.

Only radical reform will restore the nation to democratic health. Cameron's pledge is only a beginning, but no less worthwhile for that.

David Lindsay said...

If Brown really is as ruthlessly anti-Tory as is often suggested, then here are a couple of things that he might do in the 18 months or so before the next General Election.

One is simply to legislate for each of Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and the nine English regions to have an equal number of MPs, divisible by three. In Scotland, Wales, the three Northern regions and London, these would continue to be elected by First Past The Post. But in Northern Ireland, the three Southern regions and the two Midland regions, they would "experimentally" be elected by each voter voting for one candidate and top three being declared elected at the end. Once in place, this could never be brought to an end.

The other is slightly subtler. Three hundred constituencies with equally-sized electorates would elect three hundred MPs by means of First Past The Post. Each of the English ceremonial counties, Scottish lieutenancy areas, Welsh preserved counties and Northern Irish counties (99 units in all) would elect a further three MPs by each voter voting for one candidate and top three being declared elected at the end. And each of Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and the nine English regions would elect a further five MPs by each voter voting for one candidate and top five being declared elected at the end. This gives a grand total of 657 MPs, in perpetuity. In view of the extreme safety of many of the county and regional seats (including all 195 in England) while the use of First Past The Post for the others kept the present party formations in existence, county and regional seats might reasonably be restricted to those who had been registered voters in that county or region throughout the previous five years.

The Lib Dems and others would undoubtedly vote for either of these, in view of the massively increased advantage that either would give them.

Don't put it past him.

The Grim Reaper said...

Let's face it, nobody would notice any deterioration in the running of the government if all our MPs were suddenly sent to the Bermuda Triangle and never seen again. We might even notice an improvement, you never know.

Roger Thornhill said...

If you want to sort out Wales and Scotland, have the MSP/MAs and MPs be the same person.

Anyway, as Strapworld mentions, the HoC is not doing very much now it just rubber stamps and gold plates EU diktat.

I have long said Gordon Brown is the "Town Clerk of Britain".

Jimmy said...

Surely the simplest way of cutting parliament painlessly is to scrap the Lords.

Baldwin said...


You are absolutely right and I would give David Cameron a pat on the back for making the problem a priority.

Why should the current constituency set up give Labour such an advantage.

Generally all constituencies should be of similar population size.

However, I would make exceptions of Orkney & Shetland and the Western Isles. These areas have distinct characteristics compared with mainland Scotland. In fact many inhabitants barely see themselves as Scottish at all.

Alex said...

There should be the same number of voters per MP in Scotland and Wales to give them equal representation, but they should be paid only 80% of the salary and expenses because part of their workload is devolved.

Complaints about unfairness from Labour SNP and Lib dems should be countered by saying that Conservative MPs for Scottish and Welsh seats would be paid the same.

Mick said...

Good thread Iain. But the issue raises some seriously awkward questions for your colleagues in Ulster:


On this equality criteria, Belfast is ripe for busting down to three seats... and probably one other to go as well.

Those will be Unionist or prospective Tory seats.

Michele said...

I agree with Toque - this looks good on the surface but in reality what it will do is take further representation away from those already suffering democratic deficiency.

I was going to vote for the Conservatives as the only practical alternative to this disgraceful government, but Dave Cameron's anti-English comments and his indifference to the very people who are the majority of his potential constituents has changed my mind.

He has stated he does not want to be Prime Minister of England - perhaps unless he starts to consider the real plight of the people of England he won't be Prime Minister of anything.

Conand said...

Of course due to these effects the LibDems* are rubbing their hands with glee at the thought of having a definitely disproportionate influence in a hung parliament.


Martin Shapland said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Martin Shapland said...

Iain, you might want to read page twelve of the Lib Dem 'Make it happen document' before making a snide remark about PR worthy of Labourlist and after Cameron has stolen a policy

"There are too many national politicians, and they cost too much, so we’ll shrink
Parliament by 150 MPs." Nick Clegg


Gareth said...

Whatever they have planned for England it appears that they have something different planned for Scotland.

Unknown said...

What about the constituency work MP's do? Won't cutting the number of MP's mean that there will be less chance of someone's case being raised in Parliament, and less time for an MP to spend on each case?