Redrawing the boundaries: Contentious but crucial to fair elections

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Patrick Tomison considers evidence submitted to the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee inquiry which is assessing where the challenges lie when it comes to redrawing electoral boundaries in the UK.

On 16 February 2011, the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Act received Royal Assent. It sought to pursue the dual aim of reducing perceived over-representation of certain areas while setting out plans for the AV referendum in its Schedules. Despite, and perhaps due to, an over-ambitious timetable for implementation by the 2015 General Election, the Boundaries Commissions of England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales had to abandon their Sixth Report and the redrawing of boundaries was put on hold until after the election. The Political and Constitutional Reform Committee agreed on 17 July 2014 to hold an inquiry into the redrawing of constituency boundaries. In essence the inquiry asks what could be improved with the current rules.

This blog post guides readers through the dense wood of constituency boundaries using the Committee’s terms of reference as a breadcrumbs to keep us on the right path. Evidence submitted to the inquiry will be used to highlight the direction (and sticking points) of the debates.

The first crucial question the inquiry seeks to answer is what are the advantages and disadvantages of setting constituency boundaries within 5% of the ‘electoral quota’? The quota referred to is the requirement in the 2011 Act that constituencies do not vary by more than 5% from the ideal average in electorate size. In his oral evidence, David Rossiter identifies the primary culprit of the difficulties found by the Boundary Commissions in 2013 as being the 5% targets. He recommends a more relaxed 10% quota that would allow other factors, such as continuity and community, to be considered. Tony Bellringer, the secretary of the Boundary Commission for England, agreed with this assessment in oral evidence. A theme throughout the written submissions is that the strict 5% tolerance must go if other factors are to be respected.

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