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The Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill

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David Cameron says he’s been compelled by European forces beyond his control to give prisoners the right to vote.  He claims to be ‘sick’ to the very stomach to have had his hand forced in this way. What sickens me is the unholy mess he and his Coalition Government plan to make of our very system of democracy, via its Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill. 
 
Part Two of the Bill is particularly objectionable.  It proposes reducing the number of MPs from 650 to 600 and re-jigging constituency boundaries, according to a strict mathematical formula, to ensure that all parliamentary seats are of equal size in terms of the registered electorate they serve.  The changes outlined constitute a veritable dog’s dinner of measures, based upon ill-conceived and poorly evidenced reasoning and motivated by political expediency.  The Bill is primarily designed to disproportionately affect Labour Constituencies and advantage Tory and Lib Dem MPs.  A prime example is the wilful exclusion in the Bill of any firm commitment to improve voter registration as a precondition for reform.  This makes a farce of the Government’s doggedly ‘mathematical’ approach;  the ‘sums’ will be out by well over 3.5 million voters in England and Wales alone.
 
The changes bode no well for the Liverpool city region.  It’s likely to lose at least two MPs and every constituency will be redrawn, often radically so.  Extremely worryingly, the Boundary Commission will in future take less account of natural boundaries – geographical, social and historical – than previously. This means that the ludicrous prospect of a cross-river constituency may well resurface, long-established wards may be split and constituencies may no longer be coterminous with local authorities.  Worse still, public inquiries will no longer be held as part of the boundary review process.  Individuals and communities groups will be able to submit their views in writing but there will be no meaningful interchange of ideas (surely the hallmark of a robust democracy?) and decisions will be taken behind closed doors. 
 
This is all wholly regressive.  Reducing the number of MPs (by an utterly arbitrary number) sends out a clear signal – we can easily afford to drop 50 MPs in one go.  Ergo, they must currently be under worked and overpaid, they are dispensable and – by implication – they are not actually very important to our democracy. Numerically ‘homogenising’ constituencies, with no regard to their unique identities and features, is an insult to long-established communities and traditions.   And excluding voters from the boundary review process is just plain patronising.      
 
There’s another reason I’m deeply concerned about any reduction in the number of MPs on Merseyside.  The sub region has coped fairly well with the recession but our economy is fragile - and set to be disproportionately hit by the Government’s savage public sector cuts.  More and more people are likely to seek the support, guidance and intervention of their MPs as the cuts bite and in Westminster, the Liverpool conurbation is going to need every representative voice it has to battle the cuts, hold the Government to account and fiercely defend Merseyside’s interests.  But – to use the language of the free market – at the very time local demand for MPs will be greater, supply will be less.       
 
I’m well aware of what most members of the British public think of Members of Parliament.  Many constituents, if asked in the street, wouldn’t hesitate to say “They’re all a bunch of shysters.  Get rid of the lot of them”.  And (whilst I obviously wouldn’t agree with such sentiments) I’d fully understand why the man and woman in the street might think like this.  But as one of a new generation of MPs, I’m keen to help restore public faith in the office of elected parliamentarian.
 
I fail to see how the Government’s ‘reduce and equalise’ agenda will do anything other than to further undermine the standing (such as it is) of Members of Parliament, lessening their ability to effectively fulfil their roles as representatives and legislators and undermining their ongoing attempts to connect with the communities they serve.  
 
So much for democratic reform.

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