30 January 2013

Boundary opposition is a strategic mistake for Lib Dems

The defeat of the bill to equalise the electorates of constituencies for the 2015 general election on the back of Lib Dem MPs votes appears to have been supported pretty much across the Lib Dem blogosphere. 

But I'm not so sure.  It appears to be both a strategic and tactical mistake.  It's strategic because equal representation is a long held liberal aim.  In fact it's been an historic goal of the Labour movement - starting almost 175 years ago with the People's Charter of 1838:

The Chartist's six demands-
1. Universal male franchise
2. Secret ballots
3. Electoral districts of equal size
4. No property qualification for MPs
5. Payment for MPs
6. Annual elections for Parliament.

By failing to argue and vote for this historic electoral reform - Liberal Democrat MPs make other incremental constitutional refoms less likely (like reform of party funding) and allowed Labour off the hook for its rank hypocrisy.  Labour, of course, stopped arguing for equal constituencies as soon as it became clear it was not in their electoral interests to do so. 

And that leads to the tactical error - Labour are currently ahead in the polls and it is possible they could win a majority at the next election with something around a third of the vote (hence their support for unequal constituencies).  They might even be significantly outpolled by the Tories and still be the largest party.  Any measure that deprives Labour of 20 odd seats makes a hung parliament more likely and a Labour government less likely - and that is in the electoral interests of the Lib Dem. 

And alllowing the Tories to be seen as the only party interested in reducing the numbers of unpopular and expensive MPs also hands them some powerful ammunition for those wanting to clean up politics.


  1. I disagree on this one. Equal constituencies are one thing. Reducing the number of MPs another. We agreed to it when we knew that balance would be restored by Lords reform. When that was taken down by the Tories, then I think it was right to postpone this reform too.

  2. I agree with Caron on this: reduction in the number of MPs with no other changes would weeken Parliament and democracy. The executive would be further strengthen in the Commons and the ever-ballooning Lords further skews matter.

    Unless there are substantial other changes, I don't think we can countance reduction in the number of MPs. The next review should address equalisation, though.

    My own thoughts are more fully outlined here: http://oneexwidow.blogspot.co.uk/2013/01/in-which-i-agree-with-conservatives.html

  3. Potentially a tactical error. If GE 2015 finishes as L 330, C 250, LD 40 the LDs will be much less influential than if the same vote under the ' new' boundaries had given L 315, C 270, LD 35, even with 5 more seats.

  4. If GE2015 delivers L 250, C 310, LD 40 our actions will have made ourselves more influential.

    I think all speculation at this stage is pretty speculative.

    The Chartists' demands were written at a time of rotten boroughs, where 1 in 4 MPs had an electorate of fewer than 100 potential voters.

    The consequence of numerical equality in constituencies is that you end up needing to divide communities. Lib Dem principles are to find a balance between equality and community.

  5. I think you're right that the boundaries vote makes a Labour victory in 2015 much more likely (indeed, I wrote that very point last August on LDV). But does that make it the wrong idea? Continuing in the current coalition would probably cement the Lib Dems' current unpopularity. Being in opposition against narrow-majority Labour government might be good for the party.