Summary of the UCL Public Seminar on the Parliamentary Boundaries Review


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UCL Public Seminar Summary – Parliamentary Boundaries Review

This seminar was conducted by Prof Ron Johnston, Prof Charles Pattie and David Rossiter who presented the findings of their audit of the public consultation phase of the boundary review. All commissions must present their Final Report to the Secretary of State by 1 October 2013.

What fundamental changes were made?

The criteria for determining the boundaries changed from an organic one to an arithmetic one and this fact dominates the kind of transformation that will be seen. In the past the drawing up of constituency boundaries took into account a sense of community and historical connections between places, the new system laid out in The Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Act 2011 is defined by mathematical rules. These rules require that all UK Constituencies (with the exception of four) have electorates within -/+5% of the national quota of 76,641. The effects of this mean that it has often been impossible for the Boundary Commissions to keep historically and socially connected areas together.

How much change will be seen?

The consensus of the speakers seemed to be that the process was really quite disruptive, perhaps more so than was originally thought. There were examples of old constituencies being broken up and distributed to a number of other constituencies and also of new constituencies being created from the remnants other areas or sections redistributed from other constituencies. The change to the arithmetic system mentioned above caused some strangely shaped constituencies; some did not even have direct road access from one part to another due to environmental features such as rivers and many settlements have been split between different constituencies.

How did regions fare in comparison to each other?

Regionally some areas will loose more MPs than others. Here is a quick breakdown of these numbers:
•    Overall number reduced from 650 to 600
•    Northern Ireland looses 2 MPs
•    Scotland looses 7 MPs
•    Wales looses 10 MPs
•    England looses 31 MPs

How did parties fare in comparison to each other?

In terms of political parties some will be affected more than others:
•    Conservatives:
-> Constituencies not changed 51
-> Constituencies not changed but with wards added 45
•    Labour:
-> Constituencies not changed 18
-> Constituencies not changed but with wards added 27
•    Lib Dems
->Constituencies not changed 7
-> Constituencies not changed but with wards added 4

Were there differences in approach from the separate Boundary Commissions?

The difference in the approaches of the Boundary Commission for Scotland and the Boundary Commission for England were highlighted. While the BCS often chose to break up wards to make new boundaries the BCE preferred to move whole wards to different constituencies rather than split them up. The concept of ‘suboptimally placed electors’ (those electors who were split from their current constituency, ward or local authority and merged into another) was used to measure how many individuals would loose out under each system. In simulated comparisons the BCEs system created more ‘suboptimally placed electors’ than the BCSs system.

For more information and to download the slides from the presentation follow this link.

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.