Articles

Fisking the review, part 1

In redistricting on September 20, 2011 by dadge

Although the Commission do their statistical work well, the way they present their reports leaves something to be desired.

Let’s go through the webpages and documents and have a look at what they say and what they don’t say.

First, the webpages:
1. “About the review

“The Boundary Commission for England is an independent and impartial public body, which reviews all Parliamentary constituency boundaries in England every five years.”

This every-five-years malarkey is new. The gap between reviews has normally been 10-15 years. When the government last tried to shorten the period between reviews it ended in tears. First of all, it costs money. Secondly, it means that most parliamentary seats will change at every election. Think about that. I think that bit of the law will get repealed very quickly.

“making sure that each constituency contains a similar number of registered electors”

There’s a nod here to the fact that there are lots of people missing from the electoral register, especially in left-leaning urban areas, but they can’t do anything about that.

“Using the quota, we allocated constituencies among the nine regions of England.”

The Commission’s been opaque here. Was some form of alchemy used in this allocation process? Delve into the documentation and you won’t find an answer to how they did it. That’s naughty and I’ll come back to that another time.

All representations will be published on this website in spring 2012 for further comment.”

This is a good idea. Sometimes in the past, they’ve revised their proposals in response to a barrage of complaints, only to discover that most people were quite happy with the initial proposals and hated the revised ones!

2. “Public hearings information

If you plan to object to the proposals, provide a viable counter-proposal which clearly sets out, for example, the composition of each constituency as an alternative, and addresses any knock-on effects. This is likely to carry more weight than a statement of objection alone.”

Don’t be put off by this. If you object, say so. Then other people can work out if anything can be done about it. But if you do want to provide a counterproposal, I’ve written a how-to guide.

Unlike the enquiries the Commission held in previous review, public hearings are specifically not an opportunity to make representations about others’ views. This can be done in the secondary consultation period.”

I think you should take this with a pinch of salt. Better to let the Commission know now about serious objections to others’ counterproposals than to wait till the horse has bolted.

The first hearing to be held in each of the nine English regions has been designated as a ‘lead hearing’. At these lead hearings, a representative from each of the Parliamentary political parties will be offered a longer amount of time in order to allow them the opportunity to make a representation to cover the whole of that region. This will in turn allow more time for others to present their views as it will not be necessary for the Parliamentary political parties to repeat their representations at each of the subsequent hearings for that region.

At previous Reviews, the procedure at the public hearings was driven by the political parties, whose legal teams were allowed to cross-examine everyone like witnesses at a trial. It’ll be good to see the end of that, but it’ll be a shame if the Assistant Commissioner is the only person allowed to speak to the attendees. The Assistant Commissioners aren’t experts, and in my experience some of them have difficulty grasping what’s going on. Also, I don’t think it’ll work for the political parties not to be allowed to present their case at each hearing. Many of the people there will want to hear what the parties propose!

3. “What’s Proposed

Once you’ve located it all, all the data you need is there, but, as others have pointed out, the mapping isn’t good enough. It’s better than last time but the pdf format is unhelpful, and in 2011 it should be possible to provide mapping in a format that makes it easy to manipulate and to mash up with the data. It seems the Scottish Commission understands this.

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