Draw boundaries based on the census

The electoral register is not a stable or reliable basis to use as a way of allocating constituencies, because the numbers of people on the register has varied wildly over the transition period – from 45.3m in December 2014 up to 46.4m in May 2015 and then down again to 44.7m in December 2015. If the registers get a lot better over the next few years, as advocates of Individual Electoral Registration suggest they should, then the result will be hugely oversized urban constituencies. The Census suggests that if everyone who was entitled to be on the register actually was, there would be a little over 40m on the register in England rather than 37.6m.

Fortunately, there is a better way. The Census itself could be used as the basis of drawing constituency boundaries; either to model what a complete register would look like, or to base representation on the principle that is most commonly found in the rest of the world, from Ireland to the United States – that MPs should have roughly the same number of constituents, including children and foreigners. Boundary changes would be every ten years, rather than every five-year parliament as the current law requires.

Showing 81 reactions

What do you think of this suggestion? (You must be logged in)
Please check your e-mail for a link to activate your account.
  • Justin Norman
    tagged this with like 2016-08-10 09:02:53 +0100
  • Julian Cragg
    commented 2016-07-31 10:27:57 +0100
    I am reading the Fabian Society article having been redirected from the Labour List (Andrew Harrop email) from a seat overlooking the Mediterranean in the small town of ? in Turkey. Being so far from Istanbul and Antalya this beautiful location is embedded with local government representing the central government and the obvious message is from the centre with no obvious alternative from the engaging and politically interested Turkish men and women who are as educated and challenging as we are in the UK. Probably more so, as our middle class lifestyles are not under the threat of a central state determined to wrap itself in power and wealth at the expense of the hard-working population, spread so far from the seats of power!

    The support provided to areas such as the Lake District and Cornwall following the state’s of real emergency which happen from time to time, in my experience, require a Gold Command approach and this attitude would benefit the challenges high on the UK agenda at the present time, from my small hilltop these are:

    Medical Wellbeing for all,
    Safeguarding from grooming and exploitation,

    Can a system of regional government with Gold Command priorities put people more in touch with their inner political voices?
  • Julian Cragg
    tagged this with neutral 2016-07-31 10:27:57 +0100
  • Bob Spearman
    commented 2016-07-31 09:05:43 +0100
    Lived and worked in Germany for 10 years and everyone is required to register with the local authority for several basic requirements, for national, local and church income tax (tax card to be able to work in that area) and social services, voter registration and vehicle registration (if you move then your vehicle has to be re-registered) All overly bureaucratic and typically efficient German – However the connect between local voting registration and being able to live and work (or study / retire) is locked together. If we used the existing UK registration processes (Registrar of Deaths, Births and Marriages, Local Education Authoritys, HMRC, National Insurance, National Health Registration, Passport registration, Local GP Surgeries, DWP, Council Tax and Electoral Rolls) we could enhance the current registration just allowing this data to be able to interface with each other and build a (not 100% fully efficient for sure) Census data warehouse which could be run as often as required, daily, weekly, monthly etc. Sounds like Big Brother but this is currently common practice for a range of means tested Benefits (Housing Benefit, Council Tax Reduction [Benefit], Child Tax Credit, Working Tax Credit all of which are being consolidated together under the Universal Credit system) HMRC and the various Benefits are now sharing data to regularly check claimants income and eligibility. This could be extended to encompass all the many different registrations and as suggested create a common Census data warehouse which would be ideal for eliagable voter identification.
  • Bob Spearman
    tagged this with love 2016-07-31 09:05:42 +0100
  • Byron Green
    tagged this with like 2016-07-31 00:59:19 +0100
  • Sue Fewster
    commented 2016-07-30 21:00:58 +0100
    Every citizen has to count as being equal. Choosing not to register to vote is as big a statement as voting: it implies that politics is of little interest and that is down to the politicians. This suits our current system which is only interested in influencing people’s opinions at election time. It needs to change, this is one step in achieving that change.
  • Sue Fewster
    tagged this with love 2016-07-30 21:00:58 +0100
  • John Woods
    commented 2016-07-30 13:45:16 +0100
    There are a large number of posting which you inform me about and invite my response too. However the response button does not lead back to the appropriate response. Why is this?
  • John Woods
    tagged this with like 2016-07-30 13:45:16 +0100
  • John Littler
    commented 2016-07-30 13:19:53 +0100
    But on the numbers of “nutters” in general I admit to being surprised at the overwhelming numbers that surfaced to make their mark for a little England recently. The question is, will the usually disengaged ones vote next time in a General Election?
  • John Littler
    commented 2016-07-30 13:16:50 +0100
    Andrew Dundas commented: "don’t imagine the Israeli system of perpetual impasse could not happen here: we have our share of nutters too! "
    Of course political impasse can happen under any system for a while, but there is normally a way through, such as a Grand Coalition and sometimes a country without a government operating for months can often cause little harm. A bit of consensus and compromise has been great for long term planning and industrial policy in Germany, instead of sharp about faces in policy, as we have had in energy recently. Faking opposition engenders a lack of trust in politics.
    The level of nuttery in Israel and the middle east is somewhat beyond what we have appreciably here.
  • penny fulton
    commented 2016-07-30 10:48:42 +0100
    Geographical boundary matters are irrelevant , if we begin the agenda at the beginning , ie the discussion of what ’democracy ’ means .
    My proposal is :
    1 . ( Using the case of the labour party as a model of public expectation )
    Abolish the FIXED ( RE-written in the 80s pro-corprate – anti- social contitution and rules ) written party infrastructure and its consequential institutions . 2. Re place it with CLP as ‘THE party infrastructure ’ the living lifeblood of the party , Whose raison d’etre is to research information and models of working from around the world for dicussion ; to submit policy ideas for discussion , and draw up the agreed best policies as discussion papers to be shared with all other CLPs .

    3. All CLPs vote on the proposals , after an appropriate time allowed for their thorough and inclusive airing . and SACKABLE SPOKESPERSONS are APPOINTED by each CLP to represent policies at annual conference . Conference votes on the propsals .

    4. At Local and General Elections , the public are invited to vote FOR THE POLICY ( belonging to the public , not the party as soon as voted for ) and the APPOINTED, sackable facilitators ONLY of the policy voted for are sent into parliamentary representation .

    The key to democracy is dependant on the existence and quality of public information and interaction ; free uncensored and uncontrolled , direct discussion and direct control over persons , who are PAID EMPLOYEES , of the PUBL:IC owners of policy .

    In in those circumstances . representation could be by an X number of facilitators per POLICY voted for .
    Parliament should be the servant , not the master of public policy ‘democracy’ is just an exerciose in compliance . when a single ideology informs public thinking and the agenda for dicussion is always informed by the single ideology which pre-sets and constrains its remit .
  • Robert Howard
    commented 2016-07-29 22:28:14 +0100
    I am glad that Chris Everett and Andrew Dundas have read my contribution in part. In England I have the opportunity to vote for an individual and not a political party because I am being asked to vote for a named person with a description, whereas in closed list voting (i.e. European Parliament) I am asked to vote for a party. The former is better than the latter.

    In reply to Andrew, MPs, councillors and political parties only get to choose boundaries because the rest of us take no interest. The Electoral Commission gives equal weight to all submission within the guidelines they are given by government and, as I pointed out, the Commission can be persuaded to adopt boundary proposals from the community and individuals. Andrew claims in response to John Littler that ’It’s near impossible to hold councillors to account for their actions’. There are countless local examples which prove otherwise, too many to list here — and almost without exception, voters identifying with a place and an issue is what motivates them to unseat a councillor.

    The proposal is that we use the total population as recorded in the Census (and not the number of voters on the electoral roll) to determine electoral boundaries. In a place like Lenton, Nottingham, where I lived for 35 years until 2014, the area had become student land, almost devoid of families and older people, and students did not register to vote. This saw the electoral roll fall from near 8,000 to under 5,000 at one point, whereas Census returns offer a better measure. None of this is simple, but if we want our MPs to represent numbers rather than communities, I suspect voting numbers at elections will fall even further.

    For the record I moved two miles to Beeston, which shares a historic parish boundary with Lenton and now live in the Borough of Broxtowe — a nonsense local government area by any measure and a great example of boundary gerrymandering by the Heath government in the early-1970s.
  • Andrew Dundas
    commented 2016-07-29 20:51:34 +0100
    John Littler made two interesting points: "A Party achieving half the vote with overwhelming command of elected members… " would be tempted to use that power unwisely. He suggested that multi-member constituencies might be a better way.
    We have multi-member constituencies in Scotland and in a different form in the rest of the UK. It’s near impossible to hold councillors to account for their actions. Moreover, we have a situation where the SNP hold almost all Westminster seats for Scottish constituencies but with less than half of the votes. There’s no end to the inequities of electoral systems. Please don’t imagine the Israeli system of perpetual impasse could not happen here: we have our share of nutters too!
  • Andrew Dundas
    commented 2016-07-29 20:39:25 +0100
    Patrick Nelson predicted “.. some corrupt official or senior technician involved in the boundary changes …”
    The reality is that the Electoral Commission is staffed by people who take very little interest in political choices and make their recommendations fit with the pressures exerted on them by politicians. (perhaps while they wait to draw their pensions). The malfeasance and the exactness that you envisage are not the major problem in our country.
    There’s no need to get exactly equal boundaries because that’s unrealistic: in practice electors are mobile and transient (a polite way of reminding that we all die some day) that we would not be able to make changes fast enough. But the wide discrepancies in numbers of people we expect to be represented that we tolerate these days are simply intolerably wide.
  • Andrew Dundas
    commented 2016-07-29 20:26:42 +0100
    Robert Howard observed that ‘… voters are more interested in a sense of place …’
    Well Robert, I have no special sense of place and sometimes envy those who are so possessed. And I sometimes wonder if they’ve missed the point? Parliament makes law and policy for everyone and in relation to people who live outwith our national borders. Likewise, councillors should be making policy for a wider area than just one location. Moreover, within all places there are a wide range of priorities. Who’s to say which should take priority? What I don’t want anymore is boundaries selected by MPs and Councilors. So let’s ensure that boundaries enclose near equal numbers of people instead of the gerrymandered areas that currently masquerade as coherent places.
  • Andrew Dundas
    commented 2016-07-29 20:14:27 +0100
    Chris Everett asked “How on earth did such inadequate people get selected by their constituency members one is minded to ask?”
    The simple explanation is that party members don’t know what qualities they should be expecting in a Party’s candidates. And, in any case, they want to nominate a candidate they feel comfortable with. In the case of Labour’s selections, the criteria sought for candidates and dictated by the hierarchy, favours the time-servers over the achievers. Which is why we get such feeble MPs.
  • George Savvides
    commented 2016-07-29 18:25:14 +0100
    Completely agree
  • George Savvides
    tagged this with love 2016-07-29 18:25:13 +0100
  • Roy Boffy
    commented 2016-07-29 17:57:00 +0100
    I first heard Lewis argue this case at Labour Party Conference in Brighton in 2013. It seems almost unarguable that this should not be the basis of a more representative system – the first building block in a reformed system where all votes count.
  • Roy Boffy
    tagged this with love 2016-07-29 17:56:59 +0100
  • Rev Hazel Barkham
    tagged this with like 2016-07-29 17:48:21 +0100
  • Don Martin
    commented 2016-07-29 17:20:17 +0100
    Like the idea of equal sized constituencies, But should still be redrawn every 5 years
  • Don Martin
    tagged this with like 2016-07-29 17:20:16 +0100
  • Bob Crossley
    commented 2016-07-29 15:23:53 +0100
    Yes, boundaries should be based on the census instead of the register. I’ve not changed my opinion since I commented some months ago but I feel that some of the remarks here need a response.
    Those posters who have said something like “well yes but PR is more important” are missing the point. Apart from a whole UK proportional list PR system (a system advocated only by a tiny minority even among PR advocates) all voting systems use boundaries. And in all those systems how the boundaries are drawn can have a significant effect on how representative the system is. This is particularly true of STV and AM – the systems most often advocated for the UK. PR doesn’t offer a free pass on the census/register boundary issue.
    I believe like Robert Howard that politics needs to be centred on locality and community so his point about representation of communities seems to me a valid one, both at local and national level, and must be taken into account in any proposed system for drawing boundaries. But deciding where and how to put a boundary around a community should depend on how many people there are in that community, not on how many have registered to vote. Again, a change to using the census to assess boundaries is separate and primary to the issue of how we ensure that communities and places are represented.
    I don’t agree though with Patrick Nelson’s assertion that a change to census based boundaries is going to cost more and be more prone to fraud than the existing system. In fact (and this should be obvious to anyone who knows how the current system works) using the census data is no more complex than using registered voters and it will be done only half as often. The census information is collected anyway. This sounds cheaper to me, not dearer. There’s also no reason to suppose that assessments using the census would somehow be more prone to fraud than the current system. I would assume that political parties will scrutinise the results and appeal anything that looks dodgy, as they do now.

    I think we also have discount the claim that “we can’t use the Census because it’s not as accurate as it used to be”. Well neither is the register and problems with either can be fixed if you actually want to. The issue here is not about accuracy but about what is the representative supposed to represent.

    Do representatives represent everyone in their constituency or ward, or just the registered voters? My answer to that is they need to deal with everything going on in their patch, including problems associated with or caused by prisoners, children, resident foreigners and people who just can’t be bothered to register. My personal share of my MP (or MPs in a PR system) is dependant on how many residents live in my constituency so boundaries should be based on that, not on how many are eligible and have bothered to register.
  • John Woods
    commented 2016-07-29 14:45:57 +0100
    The electoral register should be maintained automatically for people born in the UK and added to when immigrants achieve citizenship. I agree that the voting age should be reduced to 16. Regarding Electoral Reform I accept STV but would advise against the complicated method of determining which candidates are elected. I have history here as I grew up in the Irish Republic where we had to wait for days before the result was known despite a population of 2.5 million. It requires multi member constituencies, as in EU elections so we have the problem of determining what the constituency is. I favour the current County set-up with Cities being regarded as counties. London would be divided into area of 4 MP’s (my opinion is that 4 or 5 is the maximum number that people can relate to). If the STV system was used it would be necessary to restrict the size of the ballot paper by restricting the number of candidates to something like 20 by a system of run-offs using polling agencies to determine who can go forward to the ballot (an alternative is the French system of two elections with the first used to decide who goes forward to the second. Not something that would find favour in the UK). Example: take NORFOLK with about 4 or 5 MP’s outside Norwich which has 2 MP’s. Two constituencies with 4/5 contestants for the county and 2/3 for the city. Currently there is only one Labour MP and one LibDem MP for the county.
  • Chris Everett
    commented 2016-07-29 12:34:33 +0100
    You appear to have had an unfortunate experience with new members John Littler, by contrast, they are the backbone of the Wokingham CLP working alongside long standing members. You also seem to be conflating supporters with member. Nearly all the £3 supporters have now become members and many have paid not only their subs but an additional £25 to vote in the leadership election. A recent BMG poll showed that the choice of leader will make almost no difference to how people will vote with only one percent more preferring Jeremy Corbyn. The electorate, since the EU referendum are focused on the policies not charisma. Even the Tories prefer the lack lustre Mrs May to flashier candidates.
  • John Littler
    commented 2016-07-29 12:19:29 +0100
    Primary elections sound like a good idea to me. Labour’s new membership seem incapable of choosing a leader capable of seriously contesting an election, nor do they appear to be much interested in campaigning, so apart from paying subs ( only £3 last time), what is the point of them?
  • Chris Everett
    commented 2016-07-29 11:58:42 +0100
    Robert Howard comments that the Party List system deprives voters of choosing a candidate. Unless they are a member of a constituency party, the electorate don’t get to chose the party’s candidate under FPTP; they get the one on the ballot paper whether they like it or not. Often even constituency party members don’t get a choice when a candidate is parachuted in by the party. However, although the argument is spurious, even spurious arguments can have a solution, which is primary elections for candidates with the candidates being placed on the list in order of the votes received in the primary. In fact, why wait for PR, let’s have primary elections now. We have seen the poor quality of some MP with their childish complaints all too recently. How on earth did such inadequate people get selected by their constituency members one is minded to ask?