Lumping, packing and rigging: AV and boundary changes

18 Jan

As the House of Lords filibuster on the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill continues, Sky News’s Glen O’Glaza asks:

Here, briefly, is my take on that question.

The Lib Dems want a referendum on AV, because that’s the nearest they think they can get to PR in the near future. The Tories want a reduction in seats in the Commons, because (a) they think it will weaken Labour, and (b) it will weaken the House of Commons and strengthen the executive’s grip on Parliament. Frankly, I suspect (b) is the more important reason.

(As for the professed desire to “make the system cheaper”: this is hard to reconcile, to put it politely, with packing the Lords at the same time. Not to mention being a deeply unworthy reason for such a significant constitutional change – as if the composition of the House of Commons were merely a matter of budgeting and administration. The “cost-cutting” argument is just an expedient to secure public support at a time when the Commons’ reputation is at its lowest ebb for centuries.)

So why are AV and seat reductions lumped together? Because the Tories know the referendum on AV is going to fail, but that will not affect the reduction in seats (which is not subject to a referendum). At the same time, linking the two reduces attention on the reduction in MPs’ numbers and allows the government to paint Labour as hypocritical blockers of electoral reform when they oppose the Bill.

Does that sound cynical? Maybe it is, but not as cynical as this exercise in lumping (together), packing (the Lords) and rigging (Parliament) in the first place.

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3 Responses to “Lumping, packing and rigging: AV and boundary changes”

  1. Tom R 5 February 2011 at 10:19 am #

    ISTM counter-productive for the LibDems to support any reduction in the Commons’ size if their end goal is PR down the track, since that will require either half (if the form of PR adopted is MMP) or one-fifth (if STV) as many electoral districts as FPTP (or, for that matter, AV) does.

    The anti-PR side are going to make a big deal of “the constituencies will be [two/ five] times larger in area and population than at present and you will have reduced access to your local MP”. For various reasons I don’t think this argument holds up on analysis, but in the heat of a referendum campaign (of which Australia has a lot of experience) it will be hard to answer – and even harder if the number of seats has already been reduced by 8-9%.

  2. Moti Devi 6 April 2011 at 1:59 am #

    Interesting that both sides in the AV referendum have completely blanked the gerrymandering boundaries in favour of the Tories which is attached to it. The Tories want to sneak it in without anyone noticing so they’re keeping quiet. The Yes Votes are keeping quiet so voters don’t vote No because they don’t want to see as permanent Tory Government. Unfortunately for democracy th Tories have got it sewn up whatever happens. The big question is why the Labour Party haven’t separated the two issues.

  3. John H 6 April 2011 at 9:32 am #

    Unfortunately, as I understand it the gerrymandering of parliament goes through regardless of the referendum outcome. Which is one reason for not raising it as an issue in the referendum campaign.

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