Saturday, 22 October 2011

Electoral Registration and Boundary Changes are Blatant Gerrymandering

The ConDem government’s proposals to reduce the number of Parliamentary constituencies from 650 to 600 in total have been published by the Boundary Commission, and there is still time left for the public to have their say.

The government is spinning that this will save money and make MP’s work harder, coming as it does after the 2009 MP’s expenses scandal. They also claim that constituency boundaries need to be ‘equalised’ in terms of numbers of voters registered, as the present boundaries favour the Labour party, because many inner city constituencies have fewer voters than some of the larger rural constituencies, which predominately vote Conservative (or in some cases, Lib Dem).

There are sound geographical and cultural reasons for drawing boundary lines where they are in many areas, but this objective is to be scrapped by and large, with the overriding imperative now to equalise the numbers of registered voters in each constituency. This is a cynical attempt by the government to reduce the number of seats winnable by the Labour party, on the back of public disgust associated with the MP’s expenses scandal, and so make it more difficult for the Tory dominated coalition government to be kicked out of office.

Estimates of the number of seats to be lost across the UK by each of the political parties under the proposed changes, are that the Labour party will lose 25, the Tories 16 or 17, and the Lib Dems 10. This potentially would give the Tories an absolute majority in the House of Commons, if voting is the same as at the 2010 general election, in the next general election planned for 2015. So, it is easy to see why the Tories are keen to see these changes take place.

In Haringey, at present, the borough is divided into two Parliamentary constituencies, Hornsey and Wood Green, which has a Lib Dem MP, and Tottenham which has a Labour MP. The proposed boundary changes will see Hornsey and Wood Green lose Stroud Green ward to Tottenham but gain Bowes ward which is currently in Enfield Southgate constituency and in the borough of Enfield. Tottenham constituency will also gain Upper Edmonton (from Enfield) and lose Seven Sisters ward, which will become part of Hackney North constituency, and is in the borough of Hackney.

All of this will probably make little difference to who wins these seats at the next general election, as Tottenham is probably one of the safest Labour seats in the country, although it may be more difficult for the Lib Dems to retain Hornsey and Wood Green, given that the constituency will lose Stroud Green ward, which has three Lib Dem councillors, and gain Bowes ward, which has three Labour councillors, at local government level.

In a further twist, it is proposed that the law pertaining to electoral registration is also to be changed. At the moment, it is an offence for households, liable to a maximum fine of £1,000, to fail to comply with a request for information from electoral registration officers (EROs) or to give false information. This proposed change, will make voter registration ‘individual’ and also voluntary. Whilst this is being couched in terms of modernisation, i.e. doing away with the notional concept of ‘head of the household’ and leaving the responsibility to ‘individuals’, the voluntary nature of registering, is likely to reduce the number who do register. Local authorities will no longer be required by law to attempt to maximise the amount of registered voters, and voters will no longer be required to respond to requests about registering.

This policy has been described by Jenny Russell, the chair of the electoral commission, as the biggest change to voting since the introduction of the universal franchise. Russell warned: "It is logical to suggest that those that do not vote in elections will not see the point of registering to vote and it is possible that the register may therefore go from a 90% completeness that we currently have to 60-65%."

As many as 10 million voters, predominantly poor, young or black, and more liable to vote Labour, could fall off the electoral register under government plans, the Electoral Commission, electoral administrators and psephologists have warned.

So there we have it. A systematic attempt is being made to give us a permanent Conservative government, by manipulating the rules around the setting of election boundaries and the voter registration process. There is a word for this type of behaviour, gerrymandering, which is meant to be illegal, but the Tories seem to have found a way around the law. Don’t let them get away it, write protest letters, blogs, and anything else you can think of. Otherwise, we’ll be stuck with these bastards forever.


Anonymous said...

Thanks Mike. I assume you wrote this post.

Edmonton, one of the 3 Enfield constituencies, is being scattered to the winds with no regard for natural geographical boundaries. The Lea Valley!

BTW Tottenham will gain Upper Edmonton from Edmonton/Enfield.



David Flint said...

Here's what Nick Clegg said in the House on 11 October: "This Government will do everything they can to maintain the completeness of the electoral register. ... I do, however, have sympathy with the concerns expressed ... about the opt-out proposal, and I am minded to change these provisions when we bring forward the final legislation."