Authored article

Boundary reform is essential for modern democracy: Chris Skidmore article

Writing in the Telegraph, the Minister for the Constitution explains why boundary reform and equal seats are essential for our modern democracy.


The publication of the Boundary Commissions’ initial recommendations for constituencies this week will finally establish the important principle of equal sized constituencies, effectively restoring the principle of one member one vote to our parliamentary elections.

The idea of equal sized constituencies, giving each voter an equal share in our democracy, was first proposed by the Chartists, whose People’s Charter of 1838 called for such a measure to be introduced as an essential cornerstone of democracy.

Nearly 180 years later, this boundary change will help to correct the historic injustice of unequal representation.

You only have to take a quick look at our parliamentary constituencies to understand that the status quo is simply indefensible.

Seats such as Wirral West, with an electorate of 54,232 are given equal representation as Manchester Central, with 87,339 voters. In Bristol West 82,067 voters are given the same democratic right as nearby Bath, with just 60,966 voters, while seats such as Arfon in Wales (37,739) are judged the democratic equal of north-west Cambridgeshire (89,991).

Current boundaries are drawn up on data that in many cases dates back to 2000. By 2020, if we continue to rely on such out of date figures, then MPs will be representing seats woefully out of step with modern demographic changes. We cannot afford to miss the opportunity to address this glaring inequality in our democracy.

New analysis of electoral data by the Cabinet Office reveals that in every region across England and Wales, the difference in size between the largest and smallest constituencies has continued to widen.

In the north-west, for example, the largest seats have grown from 79,000 to 87,000 electors, while the smallest seat has shrunk from 56,000 to around 54,000, resulting in an increased democratic deficit of 33,000 votes between the largest and smallest seats.

In Wales, it is an identical situation, with the smallest seat of Arfon shrinking from around 43,000 to 37,700, while the largest seats have grown from 68,000 to 72,300. Since the last boundary review, seats have become more unequal, and as a result our democracy has become more unequal too.

In all areas of public life, savings have been made in order to live within our means. As MPs, we must also put our own house in order. It is right that we should find savings too. By reducing the number of MPs, we will be saving £66 million over the course of a Parliament. In a democracy, we must serve the interests of the people we represent, recognising it is right to cut the cost of politics.

The exact details of the boundary proposals are of course independently drawn up by the Boundary Commission for England and Wales. As with every previous review, every party will be affected. The proposals will be consulted upon, and revised accordingly, before finally being presented to Parliament.

But let us never forget why these boundary changes are so important:

In order to establish a democracy that works for everyone, we need our democracy and our parliamentary system to represent everyone equally.

When Britain first swept away the system of rotten boroughs we did so in order to promote fairness and restore integrity to our electoral system. In the 21st century, we must do the same again.

Published 12 September 2016