‘Big Ben’, the great bell of Westminster’s iconic clock, has fallen silent. Thankfully, that silence is only a temporary one. Metaphorically however it appears that a different clock may now at last be ticking, counting down the seconds until a seismic shift in the long-established political landscape is achieved.
Tomorrow, Monday 30th October 2017, MPs will debate the introduction of proportional representation for general elections in the UK. This follows a petition on the UK parliament website which attracted 103,495 signatures over a six month period. This exceed the required threshold of 100,000 signatures that triggers a debate in parliament. It is a small step along the path to a fairer system, we have won a battle but not yet the war.
Truth be told however, the First Past The Post voting system might not be the only aspect of our democracy that is seriously outdated. A proportional system will require larger constituencies, each represented by multiple MPs. If the boundaries of these were drawn up on the basis of population, some would be so large that their MPs would be unable to effectively represent the needs of constituents across their entire area. I believe the House Of Commons can seat only 427 MPs at a time. This number is divisible by 7, which is also the number of members representing each region in the proportional element of Scottish parliament elections.
Assuming 7-member constituencies, electing 427 MPs to the Westminster parliament would require 61 constituencies. Based on population sizes, 51.301 of those would represent England. With a little rounding, we could have 50 constituencies in England, 6 in Scotland, 3 in Wales and 2 in Northern Ireland. Personally, I do not think Wales can be effectively represented with fewer than six constituencies, so this is clearly not going to work.
There is, as far as I can tell, only one solution: full devolution of everything that can be handled on a more-local level. With only matters such as defence left under the control of the Westminster parliament, local representation in the house of commons would be far less important. In such a scenario, Westminster constituencies could be even fewer in number, perhaps just one for the whole of Wales, with a larger number of members in each. That would also be more-proportional, since the most-proportional system of all is one which does not have constituencies at all but simply allocates all the seats based on each party’s share of the national vote.
Soon, we will have to call time on the UK parliament in its current form (the title of this post oversteps the mark, since I am absolutely not calling for parliament to cease to be altogether). Tick-tock goes the clock…
Please excuse this somewhat hyperbole post, but I wanted to highlight the debate in the commons tomorrow and did not have enough time to comment. Hopefully ‘normal service’, as far as this autumn is concerned, will be resumed next week with the continuation of the report of my holiday in Leicester due.