Tuesday, 13 September 2016

You can see that the Tories are engaged in gerrymandering, if you know the whole story

Two hundred years ago, Governor Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts came up with an innovative answer to his electoral problem. The governor redrew the boundaries of some of the districts in his state so as to maximise his party’s prospects. In one particular district this meant the boundary went in all sorts of unexpected directions in order to make sure that pockets of friendly voters were included. A local newspaper pointed out that this district looked just like a salamander. The paper invented a new word to mock the governor - “Gerry-mander".

This morning, the presenter on Today asked someone from the independent Electoral Commission to comment on accusations that the proposed reduction of MPs from 650 to 600 and the subsequent redrawing of constituency boundaries was gerrymandering. “Has anyone from a political party tried to improperly influence you as to where the boundaries should go?” he asked. The answer, unsurprisingly, was no.

The Today presenter was asking the wrong question. The Tories are disgracefully gerrymandering but not in as blatant a way as Governor Gerry.

The gerrymandering is occurring because the Tories have deliberately ensured that the information that is to be used to decide on the new boundaries is deficient and that they will benefit from that deficiency.

Some 2 million voters who should be taken into account will not be taken into account. These voters are mostly younger and poorer and are significantly more likely to be Labour voters.

The Electoral Commission has been obliged by the Tory government to use the Electoral Register as at December 2015. Last year the Commission advised the government strongly that this was not appropriate and that it was better to wait one year and base the new boundaries on the December 2016 Register.

It is calculated that the difference between the December 2015 register and the December 2016 register could be as high as 2 million due to the transfer from the old method of registration to the new Individual Electoral Registration. In addition, there was a huge surge of registrations for the EU referendum. These people will not be taken into account.

Imagine the media outcry if a Corbyn government was acting in defiance of the Electoral Commission advice and gerrymandering like this - behaving as reprehensibly as Governor Gerry himself.

This goes to the heart of our democracy. 


  1. Mr London, for once I wholeheartedly disagree with you. Have you forgotten Gordon Brown's absolutely blatant gerrymandering when he oversaw the redrawing of boundaries so that England 'would vote Labour forever'?

    He also outsourced civil services jobs, particularly Inland Revenue departments to areas of high and incessant unemployment. He ignored the fact that illiteracy and poor numeracy skills were rife in those same areas, leading to immense incompetence and frustration for anyone who had to regularly deal with HMRC (as I did). I was for prosecuting him at the time (remember what happened to Shirley Porter?).

    In any event, we need fewer MPs. 300 would be my number.

    Certainly, it goes to the heart of our democracy that 1.5m votes will get the SNP 54 seats, while 4m votes gets UKIP just the one. That is the real scandal, not this fiddling about around the edges of the problem.

  2. I noticed this morning on Today that John Humphries kept on stubbornly and stupidly insisting that the 2 million missing voters on the electoral roll used for the new boundaries didn't matter "as they would be evenly distributed across the country", which is surely nonsense? It gave the Labour spokesman an open goal to make your point above, which, disappointingly, he didn't take.

    On MPs, it seems ridiculous to be reducing elected MPs from 650 to 600 whilst the number of Lords has gone up by 230 (?!) to over a 1,000??

    Finally. Agreed the real scandal is First Past the Post in single member constituencies. Single member constituencies are rubbish and the mythical bond between a citizen and their single MP is that, a myth - one propagated by MPs with safe seats, for their own benefit.