Opinion

Axing eight of Wales’ MPs has nothing to do with fairness

08 Jan 2021 5 minutes Read
A row of election signs in Aberystwyth, Ceredigion

Ifan Morgan Jones

The long-awaited axe has finally fallen and Wales has been informed that, as expected, the number of MPs it has will be reduced by eight under changes to Westminster’s electoral boundaries.

That’s 20% of Wales’ total MPs and reduces the nation’s voice at Westminster from 40 to 32 MPs in total. The cut could have been worse still if politicians hadn’t decided that Anglesey – with a voter population of only 51,925 – deserved to be a constituency in and of itself.

Meanwhile, south-east and south-west England are expected to gain seven and three MPs respectively.

The argument for these changes is that they’re ‘fair’.

I am of course all for fairness in voting systems and agree that, in an ideal world, constituency sizes should be as equal as possible. Wasn’t that one of the things that the Chartists fought and died for during the Newport rising?

But if you think this boundary change is really about fairness, then I have a Menai Bridge (which links the conveniently untouched Conservative constituency of Ynys Môn with the mainland) to sell you.

 

Tossed

These changes are clearly being pushed through because it will benefit the ruling Conservative Party. They are expected to win an additional 10 seats at the next General Election as a result of the changes.

I would be much happier to accept the ‘fairness’ argument if anything else in UK politics was fair, but it’s clearly not.

‘Fairness’ goes out the window when it comes to the First Past the Post electoral system, which gives a party that won 43.6% of the vote 56% of the seats and another than won 11.6% of the vote 3% of the seats.

‘Fairness’ doesn’t apply at all in the House of Lords, the UK’s second chamber, where the Prime Minister can simply create as many new peers as he wants to bolster his own ranks. The House of Lords has over 24% of its peers based in London – why doesn’t geographic fairness apply there, I wonder?

The Parliamentary Constituencies Act has also raised the national campaign spending cap at the next election from £19.5m to about £33m. That change will also benefit larger parties, which have deeper pockets. Fairness?

There is quite clearly nothing ‘fair’ about the way the entire UK democratic system is set up. Fairness suddenly matters when it benefits London and the south-east of England, is tossed aside when it might benefit Wales, Scotland or the north of England.

Even the one decision that does benefit Wales – to maintain Anglesey as an ‘island constituency’ – shows that fairness doesn’t really come into it. Yes, it’s technically an island, in that it has sea all around it, but the Menai Strait (which I can see out of my office window) amounts to a wide river.

Unlike the other island communities such as Na h-Eileanan an Iar and Orkney and Shetland, Anglesey is in no way ‘cut off’ from the mainland. It’s crossed by the A55.

I do wonder, if the island did not currently have a Conservative MP, whether they would have stuck to the original plan of a wider Ynys Mon and Bangor constituency? I’ll leave that to you to ponder.

Do it ourselves

One other argument made by defenders of the boundary changes is that it’s only natural that since Wales and Scotland now have Welsh and Scottish parliament representatives, that they should have fewer MPs.

But this argument doesn’t stack up at all, either. London, one of the main beneficiaries of the redrawn boundaries, also has devolution – with its own Assembly and Mayor.

Much of the south-east of England also has two-tier local authorities. Their number of representatives per voter is just as high as Wales.

The other question that needs asking is why the UK has seen such a shift in its population since the previous boundaries were drawn up. Why are there suddenly a growing number of voters in London and the south-east and a comparatively shrinking number in Wales, Scotland and the north of England?

It’s no doubt because economic, political and cultural power is centralised on London and the south-east of England and therefore these areas will see the most growth in their population.

Wales is effectively being punished for its ‘brain drain’ – a brain drain caused by the fact that the poorest area in north-west Europe, West Wales and the Valleys, sits alongside its richest, London.

In truth, these boundaries won’t really do much to diminish Wales’ voice at Westminster – but that’s because it barely had a voice, anyway.

But leave out the argument from ‘fairness’. There is nothing fair about this.

The only upside to all of this is that it may give the Welsh Government and Welsh Parliament the bravery to push forward reforms to increase the number of Senedd members and call for more powers on subjects such as welfare and devolution.

If Westminster isn’t interested in hearing Wales’ voice, and reforming its deeply unfair institutions, we must get on with it and do it ourselves at home.

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