The announcement that the government will abandon its planned boundary changes will be met with a sigh a relief by many Labour activists and MPs. Had the boundary changes, along with the reduction of the number of MPs from 650 to 600, been implemented then the Conservatives would have made a net gain of tens of seats.
From the very beginning the decision to combine the reduction of the number of MPs with a boundary review to equalise constituency size was made solely with the view to make it easier for the Conservatives to win a majority at future general elections. Numerous parts of the legislation and the arbitrary targets it set were roundly criticised by organisations such as Democratic Audit.
However, while the legislation brought forward by the Conservatives was deeply flawed we should recognise that underneath those flaws it highlighted a truth that is difficult for the Labour party to recognise – the present electoral system is currently biased in our favour.
Under the boundaries, seats that are – population wise – smaller tend to be won by Labour while seats that are larger tend to be won by the Conservatives. Of the 125 smallest constituencies in Britain (with electorates less than 62,600) Labour won 96 compared to the Conservatives 11. Of the 125 largest (with electorates greater than 75,400) Labour won just 36 compared with 69 for the Conservatives. This broadly means that it takes more votes for the Conservatives to win a general election than it would for Labour.
This situation is not fair and Labour – despite the fact it would not benefit electorally – should do something about it. A boundary review which did not reduce the number of MPs and allowed a slightly larger variation in constituency size than was allowed by the failed boundary review would be a fair way of doing this.
While supporting the loss of a handful of Labour seats might be tough for some in the party to swallow there is also an electoral logic to proactively removing electoral bias. That is that one day the Conservatives will win a majority, will revive their boundary plans and the Liberal Democrats won’t be there to stop them. In the blink of an eye Labour will lose 20 to 30 seats and the cards will be stacked in the Tories’ favour.
A fair democracy is in the interest of everyone. A small element of electoral bias will still remain, due to lower turnout in Labour seats, but not even the Conservatives have found a way of dealing with that. For its part Labour should grasp the nettle, eliminate the entrenched electoral bias in its favour and bring forward a boundary review with the aim of creating fair and equal constituencies.
Jack Storry is a Labour activist and Progress member. He tweets @JackStorry
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