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The day parliament jumped the shark

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.


  1. john b says:

    “To a point, Lord Copper”.

    The boundary review is carried out by an independent commission in exactly the way you describe. But the decision to cut the number of seats from 650 to 600 was a political decision pushed by the Coalition and opposed by Labour (which wanted to see the boundary review take place in the same way it’s happened since 1950).

    The Tories pushed the MP cut because a boundary review based on current demographics *and* cutting the number of seats to 600 would benefit them against Labour more than a review which reflected current demographics but kept 650 MPs (due to vagaries in the ways that votes are currently distributed and the geography of marginal constituencies).

    The Lib Dems supported the MP cut as a trade-off for either the AV referendum (which the Coalition delivered) or Lords reform (which it didn’t), depending on whether you ask Dave or Nick. Labour opposed the MP cut, obviously, while supporting a Boundary Commission review that kept the number of seats at 650.

    So, after AV and Lords reform failed, the LDs changed position to oppose the MP cut, which is a bit rich given that cutting the number of MPs was in the LD 2010 manifesto. Labour kept the same position it had always had (that a BC review was right, but that the MP cut was gerrymandering), and the Tories refused to consider re-running the review to reflect current demographics but keep 650 MPs.

    The net result is that the election will be run on old boundaries. But it’s hard to fault Labour on this (they’ve pledged to vote yes to a BC review that didn’t cut MP numbers, in the bipartisan way BC reviews are normally accepted). The Tories seem to be cutting off their noses to spite their faces by refusing to drop the MP cut in exchange for Labour support on the boundary changes. And the LDs are completely unprincipled opportunists, which we knew.

  2. John Galt says:

    Yet another milestone in parliamentary decay when each side looks to its own advantage before fair representation. The gerrymandering of parliamentary seats to the extent of about 10-points or 2-million votes is an outrage that gets worse the longer that it remains uncorrected.

    That this distortion has favoured Labour and to a far lesser extent the Lib Dems is the only reason that it has been allowed to distort polls for this long (since at least the 2005 election).

    Expect a return to Labour in 2015.

  3. Single Acts of Tyranny says:

    @ John b

    “The Tories seem to be cutting off their noses to spite their faces by refusing to drop the MP cut in exchange for Labour support on the boundary changes”

    Yes, fair point, I should clarify, I am not cheerleader for the tories either. John Galt has it right when he says “each side looks to its own advantage before fair representation”

  4. Mr Ed says:

    Funny how Labour permitted the situation to develop to their advantage over 13 years, with more constituencies in Labour areas overall.

    Funny how Clegg has sabotaged a redrawing of boundaries, thereby serving Labour, presumably with an eye to a Lib/Lab pact in 2015.

    Funny how the SNP voted against the changes, despite their pending departure.

    Funny how Cameron was dumb enough to let this pass without sacking Clegg et al.

    It is simple gerrymandering on a national scale, along woth the postal vote fraud, largely unaddressed. Cameron has a political Death Wish.

    Mind you, the US House of Representatives are masters at drawing district boundaries around their voters.

  5. Lynne says:

    All that failed vote did was to show anyone with an ounce of common sense, if ww/they didn’t know it already, that we don’t have a government government, only low grade idiots.

  6. John b says:

    Agree with SAT and Galt. Would be a terrible shame if UK seats ended up going down the US HoR route, but it’s looking that way.

    Mr Ecks: with the Tories down by 10 points in the polls, it’s not exactly surprising that Cameron is reluctant to drive the bus off the cliff, however great the satisfaction of Clegg hitting the ground alongside him.

  7. Furor Teutonicus says:

    XX it is seen by some historians as the launching of modern democracy in Britain. XX

    And it all went down hill from there.

    PLUS “What is this “jumping the shark” bollocks? What the FUCK is THAT meant to convey????

  8. Stonyground says:

    Thanks JG, that link was most informative. I have encountered the phrase ‘Jump the Shark’ a lot on various blogs and had sort of deduced from the context that it was about coming off the rails in some way, I am now rather better informed.

    The TV show references made me think of the long running BBC show Only Fools and Horses. I have an odd relationship with the show because I used to find it really funny and now I don’t. This doesn’t seem to be because the show ‘jumped the shark’ at some point because I find the really old shows just as unfunny as the later ones. I am now baffled that there are seemingly intelligent people who still consider OFAH to be totally brilliant. Having said all that, the moment when the wrong chandelier falls to the floor is a timeless piece of comedy.

  9. Mr Ed says:

    If Mr Cameron had a sense of humour, he would sack Clegg as Deputy Prime Minister, as he can, and appoint Mr C Huhne, MO for Eastleigh as DPM, to set a Scottish Wildcat amongst the pigeons. Sadly, he lacks the sense of absurdity that any libertarian has.

  10. RAB says:

    Sorry to hear you’re losing your sense of humour Stoney 😉

    Um Huhne is supposed to be up in Court on Monday (but don’t hold your breath, I’m sure they’ll find some way to postpone it AGAIN) for Perverting the course of Justice. That kind of Absurdity do you mean, Mr Ed? He’s also the Greenest troughingest most spiteful egotistical asshole in his party; completely self centred and ruthless.

    Leave the boy Clegg where he is, doing his paper round and the school run. He is doing a fine job on making himself and his party a laughing stock. The Lib/Dims will be holding their party Conference in a phone-box again, come 2015.

  11. RAB says:

    PS Huhne was born in London. He’s about as Scottish as I am or er… Rod Stewart is.

  12. Matt says:

    “Your just enforcers—”

    Would that be “You’re”
    Spoilt an excellent piece of writing.

  13. Single Acts of Tyranny says:

    @ Matt ~ fair comment, insomnia and the late night was killing my brain.

  14. Paul Marks says:

    To be fair the Rotten Boroughs often produced the best Members of Parliament.

    No surprise that they should – after all someone who owned a seat would want it to be represented by someone who would an honour to them (would reflect credit it upon them) and they rarely represented the commercial interests of the owner of the seat (that sort of corruption is too obvious).

    Someone like Edumund Burke never did well where he faced an electorate “what will you do for us” was the cry – and “I owe you my judgement” (a polite way of saying “f.. off you corrupt scum”) did not win many votes.

    What this is really about is the game of PARTY ADVANTAGE (party labels were not that important in the old days).

    Labour does well in Scotland – so the Scots seats are smaller than the English ones (have been for many years) so that Labour gets more seats than it might be expected to with the votes it gets.

    And Labour does well in the inner cities – so……..

    Mr Cameron got an effort to deal with this mixed up with an effort to reduce the number of MPs in total (thus confusing the issue – as he does with just about everything).

    And his friends the Lib Dems stabbed the Tory tribe in the back (no surprise there lads and lasses).

    And what will Mr Cameron do in reply?

    Bugger all.

    Because he does not like the Tory tribe either – and that is putting it mildly.

    So Parliament will become more twisterd towards Labour than ever.

    Unless the SNP wins its “independence in Europe” vote.

    Now that really would upset Labour – and the Lib Dems.

    And have Mr Cameron spitting blood as well.

    Perhaps we should all start singing “Land Of My Fathers…..”

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