How are the boundary changes going to affect you?

Joe Watts
Political Editor
Tuesday 13 September 2016 13:56
Comments

You may wonder what it has to do with you if two or three electoral wards move from one constituency to another at the other end of the country.

The answer is that it matters quite a lot.

The electoral map of Britain is like the image on a TV screen, formed of a million little pixels. If you change a few, the tone of the picture changes. Change some more, you get a whole new image.

Here are five reasons why the Boundary Commission’s proposals published today could mean you see changes in what’s happening around you:

1. It could change your MP

Whether you like - or even know - your MP does not change the hard fact that they speak for you and make decisions on your behalf in Parliament.

If your MP spoke out for military action in Syria, constitutionally speaking they did so on your behalf. If they voted against tax credit cuts, they helped to kill them using constitutional power drawn from representing you.

When the Boundary Commission alters a constituency, they add or take away areas that vote a particular way. A seat that currently is safe for the Tories, for example, may suddenly have Lib Dem voting wards thrust into it, altering its balance and making it more likely to return a Lib Dem MP at the next election.

So if you like your MP, or like what they stand for, you should take note of whether changes published today affect them.

2. It will change the kind of people with whom you're represented

The idea behind the Commission’s proposals is to create seats with an equal number of registered voters. Backers say having an unequal number, means votes in one area count for more than another.

But critics argue that looking only at registered voters – more likely to be older, middle class, more affluent and employed – does not give an accurate reflection of an area.

The dilemma is demonstrated with the example of an urban seat, neighbouring a county-rural one. A traditional urban seat has a population that is poorer, more reliant on state support, with more complex social problems and more likely to vote Labour.

The rural seat next door could be more affluent, have higher levels of employment, a higher rate of home-ownership and be more likely to vote Tory.

While both seats have an equal-sized population, the urban one may have fewer registered voters. So to equalise the two, wards from the rural seat, which has many registered voters, are moved to the urban seat.

It may mean the urban seat which was a Labour stronghold, now becomes a Tory constituency, despite having the same number of Labour voters that it had before the changes. That means it will have different representation in Parliament.

3. It could leave the Tories in government for longer

The Conservatives say the reforms are also needed to cut the cost of politics and Parliament.

But opposition parties claim a by-product of the changes, which will see an overall cut in the number of MPs from 650 to 600, will be to give the Conservatives an electoral advantage.

No-one knows yet exactly what the impact will be, but estimates from Labour suggest it could mean the party loses 23 MPs, while the Tories lose 17.

If you support the Tories, you might think that’s a plus. If you have campaigned against policies, like welfare cuts or tuition fees for example, then reducing the size of the parliamentary opposition to the Conservatives mean those policies are more likely to remain in force.

4. If you're not registered to vote, you didn't have a say before. Now you really won't count

Registering to vote is essential if you want your voice to be heard. Some Labour MPs claim that under the current system, there are seats their party holds with a low number of registered voters, but large unregistered populations that benefit from state-help and still need representing.

That situation was allowed to pass, but with the requirement that each constituency is redrawn with a set number of registered voters, that large unregistered population would be written out of the script, Labour says.

If you are not registered, you can no longer rely on other people’s votes to maintain or ditch your MP.

5. Even if you registered to vote in the last seven months, you still don't count

Around two million people have done the right thing and registered to vote in the last seven months. But because the Boundary Commission is using data from December 2015, if you are one of those people, you still will not be counted in the way the boundaries are redrawn.

In Lewisham, a Labour dominated area of London, the number of registered voters has increased by almost a fifth since December. But all those extra voters will not get equal representation in Parliament under the new system, with registered voters in a seat where there has been no change since Christmas.

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