Read about the defeated Commons vote on the boundary reviews and you would think (if you didn’t already) that politicians are just little children. Nick Clegg, voting reform and everyone’s-vote-is-equal Crusader, instructs his party that, on this occasion, he doesn’t care. It was they who started it – those evil Tories shutting down our beloved House of Lords reform. This is our revenge – no free extra seats for you in 2015. Rarely will you see such a brilliant example of politics overturning principle – I can envisage it being used in A-Level politics textbooks already. For those used to this kind of tit-for-tat (i.e. those who have followed politics for a week or more), it may be tempting to blame Nick and co. and indulge in some classic anti-politician put downs – “there all just the same”, “arrogant career monkeys”, “never get anything done” etcetera etcetera… Fair enough. But I would ask you to consider: what would you have done if had you been dastardly Nick?
I would argue that there is simply no way he could have voted for this and preserved any dignity. Admittedly, voting against it isn’t all that dignified in light of his previous comments on the topic but to have allowed the review to go ahead when its quid pro quo – reform of the House of Lords – was blocked would have been to effectively declare himself a pushover. I can’t say personally that I would have done any differently and I think other Lib Dems would have been very angry if he had.
But mildly amusing as it all is, there is a serious side to this story. Voting reform is often dismissed as a side-issue, with frequent cries of “who cares?” when the rather esoteric and wonkish subject comes up. But really it is fundamental and if one cares about healthcare, education and the rest, one implicitly must take an interest in it.
The simple truth is, had the proposed boundary changes been in place at the last election we probably would have had an all-Conservative government. Indeed, had equal constituencies been in place at many previous elections, the results would generally have been very different indeed. If Britain is to keep her current constituency-based ‘first-past-the-post’ system (cue debate!), the least that can be expected is that it is logical. Admittedly, we are far from the days of the Duke of Wellington, whose contemporaries were sometimes elected in constituencies with voter numbers in single digits (Blackadder was not exaggerating), but few would genuinely argue against the concept of each constituency having roughly the same number of voters so that Ken in Northampton and Patrick in Belfast’s votes have the same electoral ‘weight’. The problem is expediency, and that is why these matters cannot be left in the hands of politicians. Only with an independent commission to continuously monitor the boundaries can equality be assured and only be passing this bill can that happen. Oh the frustration!
The problem is that it will all be forgotten – boundary reviews are not particularly ‘sexy’ politics. But don’t blame Clegg and co. Politicians are, actually, good people trying to balance competing interests. No, really, they are. Indeed, Nick Clegg has spent more time between rocks and hard places over the last two-and-a-half years than almost anyone else. The best we can do is make them as reflective of our views as possible and for that, the system itself needs to change. An independent boundary review board is a first step in that direction and I would urge you next time a candidate asks you what issues you care about, that you include it. Or even raise it at your next dinner party! OK, sorry, too far.