A common complaint about the constitutional reform programme pursued by the Labour governments of 1997–2010 was that it was disjointed. The same problem has recurred under the Coalition since 2010, even in those bits of ‘the biggest shake up of our democracy since the Great Reform Act of 1832’ (Nick Clegg, 2010) that have been seen through to completion.
Two of these changes have created a particularly malign combination. These are the changes that were introduced in 2011 to the way parliamentary constituency boundaries are drawn, which were paused rather than cancelled in 2013, and the radical changes to the basis of electoral registration.
After May 2015 the two measures will collide horribly. The current government intends (subject to Parliamentary approval) to purge the electoral registers in late 2015. Even if (and this is doubtful) Individual Electoral Registration produces a more complete and accurate register in due course, the post- transitional register in December 2015 is likely to be severely incomplete.
The paused 2011 Act changing constituency boundaries, though, insists that a boundary review begins exactly then, and that constituencies will be strictly based on registered electors. The result could be a fiasco that would also be extremely vulnerable to the charge of being a gerrymander.
This paper suggests methods for a government to avert the dangers that are looming in 2015–20, and also offers a more permanent and reliable method of determining how to draw the boundaries.
This publication presents the personal views of the author and not those of The Constitution Society, which publishes it as a contribution to debate on this important subject.