Constituencies & Contrasts

In England, there are two kinds of Parliamentary election. We elect MPs to Westminster using First-Past-The-Post and MEPs to Brussels/Strasbourg using the D’Hondt regional list system.

One would think that arguments about fairness would apply equally between the two systems. Not so. The Bill now being railroaded through Parliament will, with very limited exceptions, require all constituencies to be within 5% of the electoral quota, no matter what damage that does to any sense of community.

But what’s this? Last week the Electoral Commission recommended that the ‘West Midlands’ Prescott zone should get the one additional MEP allocated to the UK under the Lisbon treaty. The electoral regions are defined in statute and their boundaries cannot be changed by the Commission. All it can recommend is to move the number of MEPs up or down as the distribution of population alters.

What if the same principle of ‘fairness’ advocated for Westminster elections were to apply instead? Well, if the population of the ‘South West’ were to fall relative to the UK as a whole, then the electoral region could perhaps be expanded into Oxfordshire, Berkshire and Hampshire. But as the law stands that is not allowed, because the electoral regions have to match the boundaries of the Prescott zones. And that is because Whitehall wants to claim the copyright on regionalism. The match is also one half of a mismatch: the new legislation seeks to destroy genuine communities defined from below on the basis of a thousand years of history, while legislation already in place protects fake communities imposed from above on the basis of boundaries first defined for civil defence purposes before World War II.

At this point, the forces of clunking bluster tend to wind up the gramophone and denounce European co-operation as The Revenge of The Hun, complete with top secret orders to regionalise on the basis of ‘a map I saw in Brussels’. Even collectively, the poor dears haven’t the brain power to work out that the map depicts the status quo, it doesn’t specify it.

Most large western European states have responded positively to the trend towards regionalism. For Germany, Italy and Spain it has been a vital part of restoring democracy after the years of dictatorship. Spain in particular took great care NOT to impose the boundaries its civil service might have preferred but to make a clean break with centralism.

Too good for the victors? Not at all. Even the French have their weak regional councils and in some areas they even managed to get the boundaries right (more by accident than design). The Scots, Welsh and Northern Irish have devolution. The Prescott zones were offered a dog’s breakfast instead. No EU directive requires regional assemblies, let alone specifies how regions are to be defined. The stupidity required to get wrong something as simple as returning power to the provinces you stole it from nine centuries earlier is the unique characteristic of Her Britannic Majesty’s Government.

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