In those heady 5 Days in May back in 2010, our negotiators agreed with the Conservative Party that there should be “fewer, more equal” constituencies returning MPs to the House of Commons. It formed part of a package, coupled with the referendum on Alternative Vote, and placed alongside fixed-term Parliaments (delivered), greater localism (partially delivered), and House of Lords reform (not delivered).
Whatever your views on whether there should be fewer MPs, more, or just the same as now, the principle that parliamentary constituencies should contain roughly the same number of electors is a thoroughly sound one. It was embraced by the Chartists before it became an issue for the Conservatives. Yet when the Boundary Commissions produced their map of likely new constituencies, drawn up under the new rules, alarm was widespread.
Conservative MPs had been chief cheerleaders for the plan, and had been reassured that many of theirconstituencies were already the ‘right size’, so wouldn’t be substantially affected. Yet they suddenly found that almost all seats were threatened with considerable change as a result of the new rules they had advocated. Many simply daft constituency propositions looked set to prevail: local authority areas cut into five or six chunks, one Scottish constituency that would have taken six hours to drive from one end of to the other, and –for the first time – a Cornwall/Devon (Cornwall/England!) constituency, breaching a firm boundary of historic, linguistic and cultural significance.
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