For the third time in just over a decade, a new map of parliamentary constituencies is being designed. This one will likely be implemented. Charles Pattie and David Rossiter argue that, despite the misconceptions of both Labour and the Conservatives, the review is neither a ‘gerrymander’ against one, nor redressing an imbalance that harmed the other. But these entrenched views could yet threaten the future of First Past the Post as the system for Westminster elections.
Here we go again. For the third time since 2010, a new map of Westminster parliamentary constituencies is being designed. The Boundary Commission for England released its preliminary proposals on 8 June (the Commissions for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will follow suit in the coming months). Final recommendations will appear in the summer of 2023. This time (the previous two attempts at redistricting faltered before being implemented) the new map is very likely to be adopted. And if past reviews are any guide, the process will be carried out amidst claims and counterclaims regarding potential winners and losers, and whether there is deliberate bias in the process.
Of course, redrawing the constituency map inevitably involves winners and losers, even when (as in the UK) done by politically impartial Commissioners. Previous reviews have tended to result in relative losses of seats for Labour and gains for the Conservatives (smaller parties tend to suffer greater disadvantages from the disproportional nature of First Past the Post (FPTP) than from the effects of boundary reviews). Some Labour figures are likely to argue (as they have done in the past) that the review is a gerrymander against their party, and so drives a nail into the coffin of its electoral chances. On the other side some Conservatives will argue the review simply redresses substantial anti-Conservative bias in the old seats – a nail in the coffin in which that bias is to be buried.
The 2019 general election saw more women run for (and win)seats in the House of Commons than ever before. However the level of abuse those women received was also higher than ever, and affected them disproportionately compared with men. Sofia Collignon explains what we can learn from the data about the experience of female candidates.
After parliament voted in November 2019 to trigger an election – which took place in December – a record number of women presented themselves for office, as 37% of candidates were female. This is an improvement of eight percentage points over the number of women standing just two years earlier, in 2017 (29%). Perhaps more relevant is that a record number of female candidates actually went on to become MPs (220), comprising 34% of the total number of members of the House of Commons (+5%) and making up a majority of both Labour and Liberal Democrat MPs. The increase in the number of women standing for office and winning a seat is undeniable progress for the representation of women in the UK. But this positive scenario becomes more pessimistic if the violence experienced by women in politics is considered.
Drawing on data from the Representative Audit of Britain (RAB) survey of 2019 candidates, this blog post summarises the degree to which women and men candidates suffered harassment and intimidation while campaigning for the 2019 general election in the UK and the nature of the abuse they experienced. It shows that women are distinctly affected by abuse, harassment and intimidation in two ways: the frequency of the abuse and the motivation behind it.
The frequency of abuse
The analysis of RAB 2019 responses indicates that 49% of candidates reported that they suffered some form of abuse, harassment or intimidation while campaigning. This is an increase of 11 percentage points compared with 2017. The proportion is significantly higher for women (61%) than men (44%). It is particularly worrying to notice that, despite multiple initiatives, the findings of a 2017 inquiry by the Committee on Standards in Public Life (CSPL) and frequent media coverage, harassment against women increased by 16 percentage points, almost twice the increase observed among men (see Figure 1). Not only were more women standing for office, but they were also reporting more acts of intimidation, threats, physical and psychological violence.
Nine years after the passage of the Fixed-term Parliaments Act, both government and opposition have expressed a desire to repeal it, following two general elections: one brought about about using the provisions of the Act and another by circumventing them. The Constitution Committee has produced a report setting out what any replacement legislation needs to address. Its Chair, Baroness Taylor, discusses the Committee’s conclusions below.
On its introduction in 2011, the Fixed-term Parliaments Act (FTPA) was heralded by the then Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, as a ‘constitutional innovation’ that would no longer allow the timing of general elections to be a ‘plaything of Governments’. Nine years on, it is safe to say that the FTPA has not had the effect that he and others envisaged. The FTPA has been stress-tested and found wanting by political parties and commentators alike.
The FTPA sets the length of parliaments at five years and requires the approval of the House of Commons for an early general election. It removed the longstanding prerogative power of the monarch to dissolve parliament at the request of the Prime Minister and instead vested this authority in Members of Parliament. In 2017, Prime Minister Theresa May proved that a government that wanted an election could secure one using the provisions of the FTPA. In 2019, at the helm of a minority government that was thrice denied an early general election under the FTPA, Prime Minister Boris Johnson sidestepped its requirements with the Early Parliamentary General Election Act.
These events prompted proposals from both the Conservative and Labour parties to repeal the FTPA. The current government has reiterated that commitment since taking office. However, repealing the FTPA is not straightforward, given its constitutional and legal implications. It is in this context that the House of Lords Constitution Committee published its report on the FTPA on 4 September, exploring its effects and the questions that need to be addressed for any future reform.
The Innovation in Democracy Programme (IiDP) was created in 2019 to support local authorities in using deliberative democracy – through citizens’ assemblies and associated methods – to shape decision-making and policy creation. Here, five of the key figures involved in creating and operating the IiDP outline the methods, challenges and outcomes of a programme that had to adapt and adjust to both an early general election and the COVID-19 crisis.
What is the Innovation in Democracy Programme?
The Innovation in Democracy Programme (IiDP) – established by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) – was an innovative experiment which challenged us to support local authorities to tackle a complex, local issue in a different way; we tested using a deliberative democracy process within a local government environment to change the way communities are involved in sharing and shaping decision-making. We think it’s fair to say it worked, but with lots of learning for all involved.
The programme’s aims were to:
increase the opportunities for local people to have a greater say over decisions that affect their communities and their everyday lives;
encourage new relationships and build trust between citizens and local authorities;
strengthen local civil society by encouraging participation in local institutions.
Involve, Democratic Society, mySociety and the RSA worked from March 2019 to March 2020 with three local authorities – Dudley Metropolitan Borough Council; Greater Cambridge Partnership; and Test Valley Borough Council – to involve residents in decision-making. We did this through piloting citizens’ assemblies. We were asked to support the local authorities in the following ways:
design, facilitate and report on their citizens’ assembly;
develop a digital strategy to extend the reach, transparency, and accountability of the process; and,
collect and share the local authority’s learning within and beyond their authority.
This video gives a unique insight into the citizens’ assembly process from the perspective of three participants from each of the areas.Continue reading →
The House of Lords Democracy and Digital Technologies Committee has published a report about how democracy can be done better as technology evolves, which endorsed Unit Deputy Director Alan Renwick’s key recommendation of a democratic information hub. Alex Walker offers an analysis of the report.
On 29 June, the House of Lords Select Committee on Democracy and Digital Technology published a major report, following its inquiry into the effects of digital technology on democracy. The report focuses on how the practices of many large digital technology platforms risks feeding an erosion of trust in democracy and sets out a regulatory framework designed to restore faith in the system. Importantly, it goes beyond this to look at improving digital skills and using technology to aid democratic engagement.