Boundary changes: Fracturing Britain’s democracy

Once you were a member of a community represented in parliament by an elected politician. Now it looks like you're nothing more than a number, to be shuffled around by civil servants at will.

Britain's electoral map has built up over the years as a response to communities. Places with clear identities are easier to represent – and easier to feel represented by. That fundamental building block of Britain's democracy is now being dismantled.

This is all the fault of the coalition's boundary changes, which spring from its desire to equalise the size of constituencies. Ministers don't think it's right that a vote in one part of the country can be worth more than a vote elsewhere. So they've tasked the boundary commissioners with redrawing the maps so that no constituency falls more than ten per cent either size of the median. And, into the bargain, they're cutting the number of MPs from 650 to 600.

The result, all who are following the proposed boundary changes which will come into force at the next general election, is carnage. MPs in parliament might only be concerned with the game of musical chairs they're forced to play with their colleagues. The rest of us are worried by the impact on ordinary people.

It's not good news, according to the authors of an article in the latest edition of the Parliamentary Affairs journal. Geographers from the Universities of Bristol, Leeds and Sheffield warn a "fracturing" is taking place which is undermining "the underpinning theory of British democracy – that members of parliament represent places with clear identities".

Take Birmingham, for example, which had signed up to the coalition's localism agenda and delegated large amounts of spending to ten area offices. These matched the city's ten constituencies. But oh dear – as soon as the boundary changes come in there are just seven constituencies left. It means they can't carry on with the area offices any more. The same is true in Leeds, where places like Batley, Dewsbury and Wakefield will no longer have a single person speaking for that town. All across urban England, the problem is especially acute.

This is a complex issue, and one which needs a bit more work. So – as it's recess – I'm going to spend a bit more time looking at problems relating to the boundary changes review over the next few days. Watch this space.