Articles

Unsplit my city!

In boundary changes on November 1, 2011 by dadge

There’s a new law that says that all constituencies have to be the same size, well, not exactly the same, but within 5% of the average, which is 76,641. Therefore the smallest number of voters a seat can have is 72,810 and the largest number is 80,473. Neat. (It’s hard to believe we didn’t have a law like that before, but we didn’t, and at the last election there were lots of seats with about 60,000 voters, and lots with about 80,000 voters, which wasn’t very fair.)

Problem. In our larger urban areas* the councils usually have huge 3-councillor wards with 12, 14, or even 17 thousand voters in each, and putting them together to make seats that fall within the size limits is very hard. You’d think anyone would be nuts to try, but the Boundary Commission, bless ’em, have had a go, and rather than consigning the results to the dustbin, they’ve published them! And here’s an even weirder thing: rather than just laugh at them, the Labour and Conservative parties have taken them seriously and they’re trying to get us to take them seriously too. That’s because they don’t really care about the people or the communities, they only care about the numbers: are there enough of us in each seat to get them elected.

What’s the alternative?

It’s vital to keep our cities, our communities and our constituencies together as much as we can, and if that means we split the odd ward, then so be it. Most urban wards are artificial creations, designed to include a certain number of people rather than to encapsulate communities, so it’s no real hardship. Take the example of the ward where I live: Oscott in Birmingham. It’s a nice place, but there isn’t really a place called Oscott. There are two or three communities in the area: Great Barr, Perry Beeches and Kingstanding. They aren’t well defined and the ward boundaries cut through the communities. The ward, like the others in Birmingham, was created by a committee in 2003 and it’s ludicrous to say that its boundaries are sacrosanct.

How much ward-splitting should be allowed?

Very little. In England we’re talking about 30 or so wards out of a total of over 7,000 – less than 0.5%.

How about some rules?

Let’s only split wards:

1. in authorities where the average ward size is greater than 10.25% of 76,641 (=7,856); the maximum number of split wards being the number of constituencies divided by two, rounded down. (That strange-looking number has been chosen because when the average is below 7,856 it’s usually possible to make sensible constituencies and when the average is above 7,856 it’s usually not possible to make sensible constituencies.)

2. where otherwise two parts of a constituency wouldn’t be connected. A good example of this is the Forest of Dean seat in Gloucestershire, where, if the Coombe Hill ward is split, the seat can include the Innsworth ward of Tewkesbury district, rather than a Gloucester ward.

What can ordinary people do?

We can tell the Commission and the politicians: “Split my ward, not my city! Let’s make democracy make sense.” Then when the revised proposals are published next autumn, there’ll be a chance that this time they’ll do right by the people rather than by each other.

Act now!

Sign the petition

Email the Boundary Commission
Email the Chairman of the Commission
Email the Conservative Party
Email the Labour Party
Email the Liberal Democrats
Email your MP

 

*At this Review, Cheshire also falls into this category, because the Commission is attempting to use the large temporary wards that were put in place when the county was butchered in 1997.

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