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.