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All change: Tameside’s new parliamentary constituency boundaries (maybe)

Wednesday, September 14th, 2016

constituenciesTo the average member of the public Tuesday 13th September 2016 probably isn’t a date of any significance, unless of course it’s your birthday or anniversary. But to England and Wales’ 573 MPs it’s a date that has been marked in the diary since July. That’s because yesterday was the day that the Boundary Commission published their initial proposals for the boundaries of the new parliamentary constituencies on which the 2020 general election will be fought.

Before going in to the detail of what exactly this means for Tameside’s electoral map, it’s worth explaining a little background.

The boundary review was initiated in 2011 by the then coalition government with the ambition of ‘reducing the cost of democracy’ by reducing the number of MPs. A number of figures were banded around ranging from as low as 400 right up to no change from the present 650 and just equalising constituency sizes within that number. For reasons that may never be known to the rest of us, during the coalition negotiations of 2010 a figure of 600 was settled on.

The legislation that set the boundary review process in train was unique in that it is the only piece of boundary review legislation in history that actually specified the number of constituencies that will exist at the end of the process. It also specified a range for the permissible size of electorates for the 600 seats (with some exceptions for islands). This was allegedly to ensure that each constituency was roughly similar in size so that every vote had equal weight – not an unreasonable ambition. So far so good right?

The aim of equalising the size of constituencies is indeed not unreasonable but this strict range, coupled with the arbitrary 600 figure inevitably was going to force the boundary commission to come up with some very strange combinations – and they haven’t disappointed.

Of the three constituencies covering Tameside Ashton-under-Lyne remains in name, though its boundaries are significantly different to the constituency as it is today. Droylsden and Audenshaw are added to a seat that covers more of Oldham that it does of Tameside, and Denton and Hyde are tagged on to two new seats that cover large areas of Stockport. The full details are listed below.

In short, if these proposals remain unchanged, Tameside will go from being represented by 3 MPs to being represented by 4. Whilst having more MPs banging the drum for Tameside in Westminster may be a positive, 3 of the four MPs who ultimately take these seats will have responsibilities for other local authority areas too whose demands could be equal to or greater than our own, potentially cancelling out the benefits.

In addition to criticisms about the boundaries of the new seats themselves, the process that has brought us this far, I believe, is deeply flawed. I’ve written already about the 2 million new people who registered to vote in the EU referendum, of which 4,466 were here in Tameside. As mentioned earlier, the government has set strict limits on the number of electors an MP can represent but has instructed the boundary commission to draw up proposals based on the electoral roll as it was in December 2015, before the upsurge in registrations. This means that the boundary commission proposals are likely to already be outside the government’s parameters before they’ve been implemented.

And that’s not all. This has been drawn up under the guise of ‘reducing the cost of democracy’; reducing the number of MPs is allegedly going to save the taxpayer £12 million but the government’s stuffing of the unelected Lords is going to cost £45 million!

There is no question that the UK is overdue a boundary review, the unequal size of constituencies is unjustifiable. But any process that is undertaken must use the most up to date information and respect local ties and community identities

I will be making strong representations myself to the boundary commission and making the case for two seats wholly contained within Tameside – this is doable with the limits. I’d encourage all those with an interest in seeing Tameside get the best possible deal on parliamentary representation to do so also. Click

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Modern Honours for a Modern Country

Wednesday, August 3rd, 2016

OBE_image.What does Samantha Cameron’s stylist, four Cabinet ministers, two chauffeurs and several businessmen and political advisors have in common? They’ve all been recommended by the former Prime Minister as worthy of receiving some of the highest honours in the land.

Now, I should start by saying that I don’t have an issue with an honours system as a principle. Our very own Chief Executive Steven Pleasant received an MBE at the start of the year for his work on the welfare of refugees and asylum seekers, and very well deserved it was too. That’s the kind of thing an honours system can and should recognise; public service that not only goes above and beyond “the day job”, but which exemplifies the kind of values that we as a country and society wish to emulate. From the volunteer who helps make their local area a better place, the sportsperson who wins glory for Britain on a global stage, the scientist who adds to our sum of knowledge, all should have a place.

That means there should be no place in the honours system for awards given or received for frivolous or political reasons. Samantha Cameron’s stylist may very well be a lovely women and good at her job, but does that really count as providing a public service worthy of national recognition? More worrying still is the inclusion on the honours list of two businessmen, Ian Taylor and Andrew Cook, who between them have donated more than two and a half million pounds to the Conservative Party.

These kinds of awards are the kind that undermines confidence in the entire honours system. Awards given for services that are purely party political. Awards given to politicians and officials whose only distinguishing achievements are serving enough time at their posts. Awards handed out by rich and powerful people in the South East of England to other rich and powerful people in the South East of England. The people that end up suffering most are those whose exceptional services to the entire nation made them genuinely deserving of their OBEs and knighthoods.

Unfortunately, this is far from the first time questions have been asked about the honours system. From David Lloyd-George to Harold Wilson to David Cameron, Prime Ministers of all eras and political parties have been accused of bringing it into disrepute. The time has come to restore and reform the honours system to make it fit for the 21st century.

Something as simple as setting up an independent “Honours Commission”, a body free from political influence which would
hand out awards based on clear and transparent criteria, would go a long way towards restoring faith in the system. This isn’t a radical or extreme idea; it’s more or less exactly what the House of Commons Public Administration Select Committee has suggested in the past. For my own part, I would like to see two other reforms as well. Firstly, the introduction of some kind of clawback mechanism to hold to account those whose past or future behaviour is unworthy of the honour they have been awarded. Secondly, some kind of regional weighing system that acknowledges the extraordinary work done by groups and individuals here in Tameside and in the other parts of the country that are often overlooked by the moneyed and connected South East.

Even the heir to the throne has said that he feels awards may be “handed out to the wrong people for the wrong reasons”. If we want an honours system that brings us together, recognising and acknowledging the very best that this country has to offer, we need to start heeding his advice.

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