Legislation enacted in 2011 introduced major changes to the rules governing British parliamentary boundary reviews. The new legislation, examined in this chapter, clearly established the priority of the arithmetic (equal electorates) principle over the organic; set relatively tight constraints on how far individual seats' electorate could deviate from the national average; and required that parliamentary boundaries be redrawn on a much more frequent basis than in the past. By 2019, the new legislation had guided two redistricting processes, though (for reasons discussed in the chapter) neither produced a new constituency map. However, the likely effects of both (incomplete) reviews are reviewed, and the strengths, weaknesses and operation of the new rules are discussed.
National populism involves hostility to external influences, blaming immigrants, the EU and multinational firms for the problems of the common person. The worldview appeals to citizens with low income and education, yet its potential to damage these groups is well-known. The Brexit vote was a classic case; even though a British exit from the EU was considered likely to harm low-income voters, such groups tended to support Leave. It is tempting to conclude that some engage in self-harm, yet this can be linked to the non-material interests of such citizens. These groups have less capacity to adjust to a globalized world, related to their low skill profile, meaning that they favour worldviews which stress collective identity and preservation of local conditions. National populism suffers from serious externalities. Because the worldview stigmatizes others, reflecting energy generated in defence of local conditions, it causes internal and external disorder. The former involves victimization of minorities and is disagreeable, yet the latter is particularly serious; scapegoating of other states heightens international tension, increasing the probability of conflict.
Conservatism advocates free markets and tradition. Support bases of conservative parties include capital owners and managers; a state which avoids economic intervention, leaving economic inequality intact, is in the interests of these citizens. This raises the question of whether conservative parties are solely agents of the rich. Though conscious self-interest explains the motivation of some conservative voters, such an interpretation is crude; many conservatives are motivated by moral concerns and consider conservatism to be in the general interest. Institutional influences, including the tendency of governments to pursue the common good, also impede such a goal. Conservatism thus demonstrates mediating influences upon self-interest with which we must be familiar. Conservatism is riven by a fault line. Because free market beliefs associated with conservative self-interest often cause social discontent, those impoverished by conservative cuts seldom being tranquil, there are threats to order which conflict with conservative belief in tradition. Conservatives propose several ways of resolving this difficulty, including charity and draconian law and order methods, which are at best ineffective and sometimes worsen such problems. This illustrates a problem affecting many worldviews, which is called externalization. Different citizens have varying interests, yet live in one world with finite resources; there is thus need for an equilibrium which satisfies separate interests. Externalization is a process in which the pursuit of self-interest by one group threatens prerogatives of others, jeopardizing the good of all.
Liberalism advocates individual rights to freedom and autonomy. Owing to its emphasis on issues such as freedom of movement and equal opportunities, liberalism is often presented in ethical terms. Links with self-interest are nonetheless apparent. Because liberalism underlines rights such as freedom of movement and non-discrimination, it attracts socio-cultural professionals who benefit disproportionately. Liberalism thus defines ethics in terms consistent with the interests of richer classes; rather than stigmatizing wealth inequalities, an attitude which prevails in some tribal societies, liberals advocate equality of opportunities. Liberalism is currently undergoing crisis. Following long-standing association between liberalism and supranational organizations like the EU, the rise of national populism has made certain liberals less committed to national democracy. This threatens the traditional balance between domestic and international liberal democracy, making reconciliation of diverse interests more difficult.
In the final chapter, we draw the argument to its conclusion. Almost 200 years of reform have improved the representativeness of the UK's electoral system. But so long as first-past-the-post remains in place there are real limits to just how representative it can be, as disproportional and biased election results will continue to be the norm. Further electoral reform (barring relatively small-scale alterations to the rules for boundary reviews) seems unlikely at present. But it cannot be ruled out in future. But meaningful debate over reform needs to take into account deeper debates over the very nature of representation. We do not offer a solution (there is no universally applicable solution), but we hope to have clarified some of the terms on which the debate needs to be conducted.
With the achievement of the universal adult franchise, it became increasingly important to find an agreed mechanism for periodically redrawing the map of parliamentary constituencies to take account of the countries’ changing population geography. The 'British solution' – periodic redistricting carried out by impartial Boundary Commissions – emerged from debates before 1945, and was codified in legislation passed immediately after the Second World War, That legislation, adapted in various ways down the years, is the focus of this chapter, which examines how the rules evolved and how the redistricting process operated (and with what effect). The rules required the Boundary Commissions to balance two principles: the organic (the representation of distinct communities) and the arithmetic (ensuring, as far as possible, that constituencies contained near-identical electorates). But the relative balance to be achieved between these two imperative was not clear in the legislation.
The chapter examines the development of the UK's electoral system from the Great Reform Act of 1832 to the enfranchisement of women voters in 1918. The politics of electoral reform throughout the period focused on the extension of the franchise from a small number of male property owners at the start of the period to almost all adults by the end. But side by side with the growth came debates about the definition of parliamentary constituencies, and periodic moves to change the constituency map as the electorate itself changed, The chapter describes these parallel political movements and their consequences for representative politics in the UK.
As shown in the previous chapters the UK's first-past-the-post electoral system produces a relatively arbitrary relationship between a party's vote share and its share of seats in Parliament. Beginning in the nineteenth century, critics of first-past-the-post have therefore regularly called for electoral reform. The chapter examines the history of Britain's electoral reform debate and looks at alternative electoral systems which are already in use for elections to some bodies in the UK. How do they work, and how do they perform compared to first-part-the-post?
Under first-past-the-post rules, election results are the outcome of an interaction between the geography of party support and the geography of parliamentary constituencies. But in translating votes into seats, first-past-the-post elections can be inconsistent and arbitrary in their operation. Results are generally disproportional (with some parties receiving a higher share of the seats, and others a lower share, than their vote shares might suggest). And they are often biased (consistently favouring one party more than another). The chapter examines both features of first-past-the-post elections and shows how they have changed over time to affect how representative the UK's electoral system really is.
Chapter 1 introduces the main focus of the book – on the background to, and operation of, the UK's first-past-the-post electoral system and what it means for representation in Britain – and outlines the structure of the detailed argument to be taken up in subsequent chapters.