… but Cameron is dead wrong in calling for a reduction in the number of MPs.
There, I’ve said it – do your worst…
This kind of promise – like the one made by his predecessor, Michael Howard, before the 2005 election – is lazy and cynical. Also popular, which is why he made it.
But we’re an easy target, aren’t we? No-one’s going to get shouted down for proposing a cut in the number of MPs, or a cut in our salaries, or by demanding we travel everywhere in standard class. A colleague once bitterly said to me: “If the only reward for public service was to be put in the stocks and pelted with rotten fruit every month, there would be public demand for it to happen every fortnight.”
Nevertheless, Cameron’s wrong on this. And he’s not doing it out of any kind of principle, other than the principle that whatever benefits his party is a good thing. Yes, there is a pro-Labour bias in the current pattern of seat boundaries, just as there was a pro-Conservative bias in the 1980s (though I don’t remember any Tories complaining about that at the time…). And the reason that bias has developed is because it is actually quite difficult to draw a boundary that will contain a specific number of voters as well as accurately represent and reflect a particular community.
Any perceived bias could just as easily be sorted out by a redrawing of the existing number of seats. Iain Dale points out that while some inner city seats have electorates of about 50,000 (he doesn’t say which, incidentally), the Isle of Wight has about 100,000. So, in the new set up, would there be an Isle of Wight East and an Isle of Wight West, each with 50,000 electors? And if the two Isle of Wight seats have 50,000 electors, does that mean every seat on the mainland should have the same number? Or should 100,000 be the figure we’re aiming at for every seat? You can see where simplistic arguments start to fall down when it comes to the unexpectedly complicated area of boundary maps.
If Cameron wants to make a case for fewer MPs on the basis that we don’t need our current 646, then let him do so. But he shouldn’t simply be calling for an entirely arbitrary just because some seats have more electors than others.
And he certainly shouldn’t be trying to score cheap political points by having a go at an easy target, made all the more easy by the fact that no bugger ever raises his heads above the parapet to defend us.
More seriously, any political leader may come to regret fueling the already absurdly high levels of anti-politics sentiment in this country.