Saturday, 13 August 2011

Constituency Boundaries in Wales

Last month, Peter Hain wrote on Wales Online here how the impending boundary review for the UK Parliament has a negative impact upon the number of MPs in Wales reducing the number from 40 to 30 and concluded that because, in his view, voters in Scotland found it difficult to differentiate between constituencies for Westminster and Holyrood, that the Assembly should move to having 30 constituencies for Welsh Assembly elections. He also concluded that because Assembly Members (AMs) are elected in two different ways and that this led to democratic imbalances between AMs who are essentially equal as AMs once sitting, that the Regional List should be done away with and all remaining AMs should be elected by FPTP.

I will argue in this blog, there is no mandate from the people nor the cross party political support to move towards such a measure.

Mr Hain, the Welsh Secretary for the new Labour government, assisted in the drawing up of the Government of Wales Act 1998 which produced the hybrid Additional Member System (AMS) system where AMs are elected both by First Past the Post (FPTP) and proportionally through the D'Hondt formula. 40 were to be, and still are, elected by FPTP and the remaining 20 through PR. He now cites the failed AV referendum as an endorsement of FPTP, and believes that this is the popular mandate required to make such a change. He also dismisses the notion that his suggestion is not for party political gain.

Lets just have a look at general election results in Wales, and Assembly election results for the 40 seats in Wales under FPTP. NB: the Welsh General Results are shown as a fraction of their overall total elected Assembly Members. The difference between the two numbers equals the number of AMs that party received from the elections of the Regional List vote.

In the UK General Election of 1997, the result looked like this:
Labour: 34
Plaid: 4
LD: 2

In the Welsh General Election of 1999, the result looked like this:
Labour: 27/28
Plaid: 9/17
LD: 3/6
Con: 1/9

In the UK General Election of 2001, the result looked like this:
Labour: 34
Plaid: 4
LD: 2

In the Welsh General Election of 2003, the result looked like this:
Labour: 30/30
Plaid: 5/12
LD: 3/6
Con: 1/11
John Marek: 1/1

In the UK General Election of 2005, the result looked like this:
Labour: 29
LD: 4
Con: 3
Plaid: 3
Independent: 1

In the Welsh General Election of 2007, the result looked like this:
Labour: 24/26
Plaid: 7/15
Con: 5/12
LD: 3/6

In the UK General Election of 2010, the result looked like this:
Labour: 26
Con: 8
LD: 3
Plaid: 3

In the Welsh General Election of 2011, the result looked like this:
Labour: 28/30
Con: 6/14
Plaid: 5/11
LD: 1/5

This changes the Labour dominance from slight to almost complete. Mr Hain's suggestion that 2 AMs be elected in every constituency flies in the face of what campaigners against FPTP (of which he is one of them), cite as a core reason for their position, its lack of proportionality. With two member constituencies, the following outcome is likely:

The four major parties in Wales will stand candidates, (8 so far), UKIP and the Green party are most likely to stand at least 1 candidate each, giving us a minimum total of 10. This means that in order to get elected, candidates could get as little and 10.1% of the popular vote. Even with the two candidates' results combined it could still be as little as 20.2% of the vote that is received for the representatives of around 70,000 people. That's not democratic.

As previously mentioned Mr Hain cites the AV referendum result. May I remind him, that that referendum was a straight choice between FPTP and AV for elections to the UK Parliament. It was not an endorsement of FPTP over all other systems for all elected bodies, it was a rejection of the choice to have AV instead of FPTP for Westminster elections. That is the only conclusion we can make from the AV referendum.

Mr Hain also ignores the fact that the Richard Commission, a cross-party Commission, looked at further powers for Wales in 2006 and recommended the change to Single Transferable Vote from AMS for elections to the Assembly. The Labour government removed it, to unsurprising opposition of the opposition parties.

I disagree with Mr Hain in all his reasons why Wales must move to FPTP for Assembly elections, as I feel the people of Wales are intelligent enough to vote within the current system and to differentiate between different sized constituencies for different political bodies. Afterall, council boundaries cross constituency boundaries at the moment, and the people and parties cope. The same goes for European Elections where Wales is one big constituency.

Some of my political friends disagree however. They agree with Mr Hain that it is more difficult for people and parties to differentiate between boarders different constituencies for different bodies. However, there suggestion, which I would accept has merit should their need to be a change, is this: an Assembly elected with 30 members by FPTP and 30 members by the D'Hondt method of PR.

The one conundrum this leaves is, how many regions should their be for the list? Assuming the notion of an equal number of constituencies in each region, the best answer is either to stick with 5 regions and have 6 constituencies within them, or vice versa, having 6 regions with 5 constituencies each.

The people at Democratic Audit have produced their projections of what the Welsh Constituencies will look like. I have taken their map, and added the regional boundaries in, on the bases of 6 Constituencies per Region. Based on this (and note they have named the constituencies just in terms of principle towns or counties within them), the New Constituencies in the North Wales region would be:
7: Anglesey and Bangor
8: Conwy and Abergele
9: Denbigh
10: Flint and Rhyl
11: Mold and Shotton
12: Wrexham

Mid Wales:
1: Brecon and Montgomery
2: Carmarthen
3: Ceredigion
4: Gwynedd and Machynlleth
5: Llanelli
6: Pembroke

South Wales West:
18: Rhondda and Ogmore
26: Bridgend
27: Neath and Aberavon
28: Swansea East and the Vale of Neath
29: Swansea North and Loughor
30: Swansea West and Gower

South Wales Central:
13: Barry and Penarth
14: Cardiff Central
15: Cardiff North East
16: Cardiff West
17: Pontypridd and Aberdare
19: Vale of Ely

And, finally South Wales East:
20: Blaenau Gwent and Tredegar
21: Caerphilly
22: Merthyr Tydfil and Ystrad Mynach
23: Monmouth
24: Newport
25: Torfaen

The change, in terms of regional make up is very similar compared to how it is now. I stress that these drawings have followed the rules on changes to the letter, but have not had the public consultation the real thing will take on. Thus the effect of this on the Assembly will be unclear until 2015, but from my perspective I see it as creating a far more politically diverse and more representative Assembly, which itself, can only serve for the good of democracy.

I will leave you to ponder on this and please do comment.

No comments:

Post a Comment