John Penrose is a Conservative MP, for Weston-super-Mare. He is also the Coalition’s Minister for Tourism and Heritage. Conservation. Heritage. Two good grounds, surely, for thinking that here is a man who understands the value of long tradition and historic continuity? No. Not in the least.
Mr Penrose supports the gerrymandering Bill that seeks to make all constituencies – except three in the north of Scotland – fit into a statistical straitjacket that allows no more than 5% variation in the number of electors. You and we both know that this means that constituencies will no longer fit within county boundaries. There will be at least one that crosses the Anglo-Cornish border and at least a third of the Isle of Wight will need to share an MP with the Hampshire mainland. Mr Penrose, a man with a Cornish surname, might be expected to take an interest in such matters. We might at least expect him not to stick his head in the Weston mud over them. So here’s a quote from the man:
“I think it’s important to stress that, until the Boundary Commissions have done their work, the problems you’re worried about may not turn out to be nearly as bad as what you’re foreseeing.”
You don’t believe us then? Read Lewis Baston’s report in December (together with its follow-up report this month) for the think-tank Democratic Audit. He recently warned that ministers would “repent in leisure” their decision to combine the equalisation measures with the referendum on AV voting, in a single Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill. Democratic Audit calculate that all but nine counties in England would be forced to share a seat with a neighbour under the 5% rule, while none would have to do so if the margin were increased to 10%.
We no more than Mebyon Kernow want a situation where rival campaigners for autonomy are fighting for each other’s votes on opposite sides of the Tamar. Yet we are fast approaching a situation where our right to contest seats in Wessex, the whole of Wessex and nothing but Wessex is taken away. Time to stop this travesty is running out. We look to Their Lordships’ House to deliver the lesson in constitutional history that the Commons appear all too lazy to learn for themselves.