Sunday, 26 September 2010

The Local and The Quirky

Although he is wrong to oppose AV, Nick Cohen is right when he writes:

Too few people have noticed the authoritarian implications of reducing the number of MPs. Like electoral reform, constituencies of equal size sounds like a marvellous idea. But in an attempt to secure party advantage, the Conservatives will rush a process that ought to be handled carefully. The Boundary Commission will not just liquidate 50 seats, it will reorganise the boundaries of hundreds of other constituencies to find new homes for the abandoned voters. Metropolitan commentators dismiss complaints as special pleading from Labour, which will probably lose ground to the Tories.

They do not understand that most people in Britain still live and die close to where they are born. A sense of place and an attachment to their town or city remain central to many citizens' identity. The Tories are instructing the Boundary Commission to forget about local pride and dispense with public inquiries, where voters in Wolverhampton, for example, could object to being moved into Dudley or voters from Portsmouth could object to being annexed by the Isle of Wight.

At their best, Conservatives once understood the importance of the local and the quirky. Cameron is giving up on the Burkean tradition and carving up Britain like a demented socialist planner scoring lines on a map, not just because he may win more seats but because "reform" will also make the Commons easier for the executive to control.

Consider the position of the harassed MP in the new order. He or she will have thousands more constituents. But they will not have more staff to serve them. A grateful executive has taken the opportunity of the expenses' scandal to hack the resources they need to represent their constituents and investigate the state.
More to the point, if Tory MPs object to Cameron's policies, they will find it far harder to combine with the opposition to mount a successful rebellion. The PM is not proposing to match a cut in the number of MPs with a cut in the number of ministers and junior ministers who must toe the party line or lose their jobs. The payroll vote will remain as strong as ever, while the number of potentially rebellious backbenchers falls.

Say what you will about his hunger for power, but Cameron emerged from the coalition negotiations as a formidable political operator. After making sure the public could not vote on or even attend public inquiries to contest his boundary changes, he made certain that Clegg's proposed "reform" would be subject to a referendum he could well lose.

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