Friday, July 02, 2010

Labour's special pleading

There seems to have been a bit of special pleading recently by Labour over the reduction in the number of parliamentary constituencies. Jack Straw, in the first Deputy Prime Minister's Questions recently presented a case for special treatment for urban areas where, he claimed, too many people were not registered to vote. Whilst I appreciate there is a problem in voter registration being too low, this is not an issue just for urban areas. It affects rural areas as well. Basically Labour are pleading a special case for urban areas which by an unbelievable coincidence, happen to be mainly Labour areas.

Equality in the size of constituencies is a fundamental feature of a fair electoral system. It is one of the demands of the Chartists still to be realised. Small size, Labour rotten boroughs distort the representation of the people. Before 2004, I represented the largest ward in Gateshead whilst down the road was a safe Labour ward which for years had only half the electorate of mine. This was grossly unfair to the people I represented. Fortunately, a long delayed boundary review equalised the wards in Gateshead in 2004. Such discrepancies are an unfair feature of the current system which needs reform.

Interestingly, Labour's over representation based on small constituencies, does not always help to give them a majority in Parliament. Blair temporarily cracked that problem by picking up a large number of seats in Tory (mainly southern) shire areas but with that ability now largely lost, Labour could get holed up in urban areas with a shrinking electoral base. No wonder they are pleading a special case.

I heard the Labour case this morning made again. I was at a council advisory group looking into how the election was handled and at forthcoming electoral matters. Ian Mearns, now Labour MP for Gateshead, and someone for whom I have quite a bit of time, argued that urban ares could lose out under the boundary review due to people not being registered to vote. As I said previously, there is a problem but it affects many different areas.

Restoring balance to the constitution needs to be more than just equalising constituencies. Voting reform is crucial as well.
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