Should MPs be able to decide on the shape of their future constituencies?
PUBLISHED: 06:00 19 October 2017 | UPDATED: 08:12 19 October 2017
One of the real problems with democracy comes when our legislators have to decide on issues that directly affect them personally.
Then decisions which should be taken for the public good are mired in personal interest – and even if they are making a decision for all the right reason it doesn’t always look that way to Joe Public.
We see this when MPs have to decide on what they should be paid – and now we are seeing it when they have to decide on the future shape of their constituencies.
That means that we are now facing the very real probability that there will be no boundary changes before the next election because Labour and the Democratic Unionists are worried about losing some of their seats in Westminster.
In Ulster we could actually end up with a majority of Catholic MPs if the changes are introduced and demographics mean there should be fewer seats in Labour’s northern and Welsh heartlands as their population falls.
I must confess I have some doubts about the wisdom of cutting the number of MPs from 650 to 600 just as they are going to take back the responsibility for legislation that has been the province of MEPs.
But we have to have a fresh look at the boundaries of constituencies to ensure we have an accurate representation of the democratic will of the people in parliament.
It isn’t good enough that you have 40,000 voters in Arfon in South Wales and 92,000 in Milton Keynes South, both sending a single MP to Westminister (Although I accept that an exception does need to be made for the Western Isles and Orkney and Shetland which are island seats).
Suffolk, as it happens, is one of the counties that would have seen the smallest changes had the new boundaries been brought in. It would continue to have seven constituencies with comparatively small changes among them.
In Essex the change would have been more significant and would have seen a one-seat reduction. Had the changes been introduced you could have been left with an almighty tussle between John Whittingdale and Priti Patel for the new Maldon and Witham seat.
But all the experts seem to think these changes won’t come into play now because the DUP cannot stand the thought that the number of Northern Ireland constituencies would fall from 18 to 17 – and that Catholic candidates could end up with nine of those seats.
Labour is also opposed to the changes because it sees the proposals as an attack on its heartland in the north of England.
City centre constituencies in places like Newcastle, Sheffield, Manchester and Liverpool have comparatively small populations.
Towns and cities in the south of England are growing so they deserve more representation – and it has to be right that these changes are represented in the House of Commons.
That would, on the evidence of this year’s general election, benefit the Tories. That merely reflects the fact that the Tories did win more votes and seats by Labour.
So there does need to be a review of boundaries and a more equitable distribution of seats – and that is something that needs to happen every decade or so. If the current review is scrapped, I hope that the Boundary Commission are sent back to draw up a new review based on keeping 650 seats.
If it is just kicked into the long grass we will be left ending up heading into the kind of rotten borough scenario that existed before the 1832 Reform Act.
Woodbridge homes will be fine for the 21st century
It won’t come as too much of a surprise for my regular readers that I was rather pleased to see that the proposed new homes for Woodbridge were approved by Suffolk Coastal council.
I still think they look interesting, rather than a rather boring pastiche of a Victorian cottage, and the fact that they are reasonably compact and have a substantial affordable element will mean there is an opportunity for a more diverse occupation.
They won’t be attractive to second-home owners looking for a weekend pad, and that has to be good for the town.
And as for those who don’t like the architecture. Can you honestly say that this interesting modern style will be worse that the 1970s Suffolk Coastal office block that was there before?
To me they look like a really interesting contribution to Woodbridge’s 21st century townscape.