So, it’s been a long time coming but this week we have seen the Tories finally unveil their complete constituency boundary review. The review reveals their desire to reduce the number of MP’s from 650 to 600 by redrawing constituency borders to roughly equalise the number of people in each constituency, in an apparent effort to make things ‘fairer’ – a word I wasn’t sure the Tories actually comprehended.
Rightly, it has been labelled as an “undemocratic power grab” by many in Labour, including the leadership. If these rules had been applied before the 2017 General Election, the Conservatives would have won a safe majority of 16 seats, with Labour losing 30. It also has potentially damning consequences for many prominent MP’s on both sides, including Jeremy Corbyn whose Islington North constituency would be dissolved and amalgamated with Diane Abbot’s neighbouring Hackney North and Stoke Newington constituency. Also at risk are prominent European Research Group ‘brextremists’ such as Boris Johnson and David Davis, so many speculate that Theresa May will actually hold off for the time being while she is still at risk of being ousted by her ambitious and unrelenting backbenchers.
There are several things that seem both suspicious and pointless about this endeavour. The first is that we are at a point in our politics where we are faced with the absolute mind-boggling catastrophe of leaving the European Union which is already proving to be an impossible task for the thousands of civil servants trying to make something of the chaos. So removing 50 MP’s at this point would be absolutely devastating for the processes of parliamentary scrutiny of legislation and accountability that we so rely upon in this country to ensure responsible government.
I would argue that this is in fact one of the reasons this is on the table now. The Tories know that less scrutiny by the opposition to Brexit legislation that her hard-right administration desire once we leave, means an easier passage into law. If the Hard Brexit fanatics get what they want, that means a Thatcher-esque stripping back of crucial regulations, workers rights, health and safety laws, trade union rights, lower corporation taxes on the wealthiest companies and organisations, and the hollowing out of state power and our beloved public services that that power upholds. This is very dangerous stuff, and we must be ready to fight their version of Brexit at all costs.
The second thing that is truly damaging about these new boundary proposals is their impact on long-established communities that have long-standing ties to certain political parties of all stripes. The current set of constituency boundaries haven’t been changed in years and when they have been changed, it’s been to add more constituencies rather than to axe some. The proposals have the potential to break up existing communities and their ties to other towns in surrounding areas, consequently damaging the social fabric of communities that are already falling apart at the seems due to austerity, the loss of vital industries and thus livelihoods, and an ever-widening gap between the cosmopolitan cities, and the towns and villages of the countryside.
But despite these issues, there is something even more suspicious about these proposals. And it is simply this – why now? Knowing all of the above, and most importantly the vital role MP’s will have to play in administering a potential Brexit Britain, why now? They know it shall be damaging, so why still attempt to plough them through Parliament in the face of stringent opposition from really everyone but the Democratic Unionist Party who prop up their administration?
Well, it is exactly that. Since Theresa May and the Tories’ botched the 2017 General Election and plunged the country into yet more uncertainty at a time where stability was needed more than ever, the Tories are now in their weakest state since their near-total wipeout in the heydays of Tony Blair’s Labour landslides. Despite being in government, they now rely upon a hard-right, socially Conservative and intolerant DUP that is loosing support in Northern Ireland in the face of a bolstered Sinn Fein under the new leadership of the popular Mary Lou McDonald, and will thus possibly lose seats at the next (looming) election. Therefore, the Tories will not be able to rely upon their ‘Confidence and Supply’ arrangement anymore.
However, the new proposals will also benefit the DUP as the abstentionist Sinn Fein MP for Mid Ulster, Francis Molloy described in the Independent in June. He said that “the nationalist community again faces an appalling denial of equal representation” and that the new proposals will “disfigure and distort the electoral map” in Northern Ireland. So although their popularity is declining, the DUP are being handed swathes of new power under these new proposals which will only help the hard-right.
The civil war that has engulfed the Tory Party really since the 1970’s over Europe looks set to take its next victim – Theresa May. The sticking point of the entire Brexit process has always been, and will continue to be the issue of the Irish border which everyone insists will remain borderless, fenceless, and frictionless but this is only possible in a Customs Union, which her hard-right Brexit backbenchers in the ERG will not let her get away with. So if the Conservatives want to leave the EU’s Single Market and Customs Union, the EU has insisted that there will have to be a border down the Irish Sea which the DUP will not allow. So really it’s only a matter of time before this entire Conservative government crumbles away into oblivion in the face of an emboldened Labour Party, hopefully taking the whole Brexit catastrophe with it.
In reality, the Tories don’t care about democratic or constitutional reform, because they’re not truly democrats. We can see that in their attempt to introduce Voter ID’s to keep out lower-income families who are less likely to have valid forms of ID, and just happen to be the same demographic who generally vote for Labour. So, when the Tories talk up these new boundary proposals as being ‘fair’ or ‘democratic’, we know not to believe them. When we look at the impact of the boundary changes, the only positive results will come for the Tories and the DUP – no one else. So we must be vigilant to the Tories plans to rig the next election in their favour, and rig our democracy for the foreseeable future.