Fans of ‘Blackadder the Third’ will remember Baldrick’s election to the rotten Borough of Dunny-on-the-wold, the only voter being Blackadder himself. This was first aired in 1987 and was my first introduction to the concept of the rotten borough. It was a pretty amusing episode lampooning the archaic nonsense of the past which claimed the democratic legitimacy of parliament despite their being a cynical imbalance in the number of voters in each constituency.
I laughed that night, safe in the knowledge that something called the boundary commission ensured that past abuses could not happen again. As I began to learn about British history, I realised that one of the seminal moments was the 1832 reform act. Remarkably this was passed without great violence or revolution and it is seen by some historians as the launching of modern democracy in Britain.
To ensure that our electoral boundary maps don’t become obsolete with the passage of time, and we don’t end up back with rotten boroughs, we have something called the boundary commission. This is an independent body which perdiodically re-draws boundaries along two basic principles;
- first, the electorate of each constituency must be within 5% of the United Kingdom electoral quota. This number is the total mainland electorate divided by the number of mainland constituencies. Simply put, it is the average electorate of a mainland constituency.
- second, the area of a constituency must be no more than 13,000 km
There are some island and rural exceptions, Northern Ireland is a law unto itself, but fundamentally, this is how the playing field for mainland UK is set. Or perhaps I should now say, was set. On Tuesday the 29th of January 2013, that concept died. Despite the boundary commission making available re-drawn maps, the 2015 election will use the old constituency maps. Some of these will have close to 100,000 electors in one constituency and little more than 40,000 in another.
Shamefully Labour opposed the adoption of the new constituency map, but it was only able to vote down the proposals with the help of the ever admirable Nick Clegg. Both parties seem to have calculated there would be some electoral advantage in the old maps. Now I pretty much take a voluntaryist position, arguing liberal democracy has failed and is anyway philosophically unsound because it is reliant on the threat of violence. Those who argued for parliamentary democracy could at least claim the situation was numerically balanced. No more. For me, this was the moment parliament ‘jumped the shark’ and is now in the same ballpark as gerrymandering African dictators. Mother of parliaments be damned, MP’s are displaying Oedipus complex. So keep your laws and don’t talk about democracy anymore, because this isn’t it. If you are an MP or defender of the House of Commons, know yourself for what you are.
And if anyone reads this who is in law enforcement, the military or is involved implementation of any state edict or ban, consider you are now nothing more than the functionary who does what they are told. There is no validity, no democracy, no legitimacy of any kind in your orders. Your just enforcers, so run along, I am sure there will be plenty of sticks for you to chase. Tom Paine must be spinning in his grave.