Constituency boundaries are, probably, not the most exciting topic of conversation for the average student. However, the way in which constituency boundaries are drawn forms the basis of much of British politics and an upcoming review may make the way in which we are represented in Parliament a lot less fair. Millions of people, including many students, may not be on the electoral register by December 1 and therefore not be considered in the review.
The country is currently split up into 650 constituencies. Within each constituency, resident UK citizens who have signed up to the electoral register can vote to elect their Member of Parliament. The way in which the country is divided into constituencies is initially decided by the four independent Boundary Commissions – one each for England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland – which must then submit their recommendations for approval to Parliament.
As the distribution of people in the UK is constantly changing it is important that the constituency boundaries are regularly reviewed by the Commissions. However the upcoming review, due to begin in 2016 and report to Parliament in 2018, is being seen by many as being fundamentally flawed in the way it has been set up.
Boundary reviews have never been uncontroversial. The number of constituencies a region gets has always been decided based on the number of people on the electoral register in that area, with the upcoming review using the data from the December 1, 2015 register.
This is somewhat troublesome as MPs have to represent all the residents in their constituency, not just those on the register. It also means that regions with lower than average rates of voter registration will be under-represented when it comes to the review. These areas are usually the ones that are the most socially deprived, or the ones which house the most students.
The situation is even worse this time since the upcoming boundary review has been so poorly publicised. Few people know that it is happening, and even fewer know that you need to submit your voter registration before the last week of November in order to appear on the register in time to count towards the review.
We are far away from any election so people who were not previously registered are very unlikely to do so now. This is especially the case for new students currently facing the pressures and excitements of starting university. Together with the introduction of single voter registration last year, which has lead to a dramatic increase in the number of unregistered citizens, this all means that the data the review will be based on will not be representative of the population.
Furthermore, the Commissions have also been mandated by government introduced legislation to reduce the number of constituencies from 650 to 600. This will lead to Members of Parliament having to represent more people, and therefore having an increased caseload – meaning that they have less time to spend on each individual constituent.
This change will most severely affect those in the lowest socio-economic categories, as they are the people who require the services of their MP most of all. The change is unnecessary as the savings arising from reducing the number of MPs are negligible compared to the size of the government budget.
It is all well and good to talk about these problems, but there is one positive action that almost all of us can take. There are many aspects of the review that we can’t change, but we can at least ensure that it is based on the most accurate data by registering to vote and encouraging our friends and acquaintances to do the same.
Individuals can register to vote at gov.uk/register-to-vote – you will need your national insurance number to register. If you are unsure if you are on the electoral register you should contact your local council’s electoral services. If you live in County Durham, call 0300 026 1212; if you live in Stockton, call 0164 252 6196; if you live in Tyne and Wear (including Newcastle and Gateshead), call 0191 278 7878.
Photograph: Herry Lawford via Flickr