Gerrymandering and Why it Matters.

This is a term that isn’t used particularly often and when I came across it, I didn’t know what it meant. It was after research when I went ’That would never be allowed’, which then lead to a surprise.

What is Gerrymandering?

The dictionary gives quite a good description of gerrymandering:

(to) Manipulate the boundaries of (an electoral constituency) so as to favour one party or class.

It really is that simple.

Not simple? I’ll break it down. In the UK we have 650 constituencies, but this is changing in 2018 as part of the ‘Sixth Periodic Review of Westminster Constituencies.’ 1 In this case it was to reduce the number of seats in the house of commons, and because the number of constituencies has to match the number of seats in the house, some borders would have to change and other areas merge. 2

But how were the borders decided? This is where gerrymandering can take place. Let’s use the totally real, ‘Blue Crocodile Party’ I promise that isn’t defamatory. If the BCP knew where all their voters lived (down to the local ward would where it would be useful,) they could use this information to make sure the borders were drawn in such a way that all their voters are in the same constituencies and therefore would have a higher chance of getting the most votes for that seat, giving them a higher chance of becoming the house’s main party. But that’s only if they have a say in how the borders are grouped.

The UK’s four boundary commissions (one for each constituent country) are very aware of this, and so there are only four members of each commission of which three can make decisions. (The speaker of the house, at the moment John Bercow 3, is the ex officio chairman of each body.) These members are independent and impartial and in most cases have to use official statistics to help them draw the boundaries at Parliaments request. Their boundaries are continuously scrutinised and there is almost always a public consultation.

Has gerrymandering happened before?

As explained, there is a very little chance of this happening in the UK and so there are very few examples of where boundaries have been allegedly gerrymandered. If we take a look at our friends across the pond, it looks like a different story. The US history4 is littered with people being paid or bribed to redraw voting districts into a certain way, and as each state draws their own, there isn’t an easy way to adjudicate this. Some states have introduced committees to draw their boundaries, but only a few of these are independent commissions. The US has been criticised multiple times due to their lack of legislation.

How can gerrymandering be stopped?

There are multiple ways we could stop gerrymandering happening, which are explained in the video at the end of the article. But I see gerrymandering as proof of a much bigger problem. The problem of each citizen only getting one vote. This then leads to the bigger question about wether ‘First Past The Post’ is sufficient in today’s Britain, or perhaps it needs to replaced by another voting system.

Gerrymandering in a nutshell:

If you have a little more time CGPGrey will tell you the same thing, but in a nicer video:

  1. Information about this review can be found here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sixth_Periodic_Review_of_Westminster_constituencies ↩︎
  2. A map of this can be seen here: http://constituencyboundaries.uk/ ↩︎
  3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Bercow ↩︎
  4. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gerrymandering#United_States ↩︎
 

What a Hung Parliament Really Means (Pt. 1)

When I was going to sleep on June 8th, I knew the next day was going to be pretty bad news. The poll predictions have been fairly reliable over the last few years, and it would require a large error margin to prevent the expected.

A hung parliament

Whenever I think of a hung parliament, I always think back to the first election I payed any sort of useful attention to in 2010. During the First Ministry of Cameron & Clegg, Clegg was seemingly a tool to show conservatives will to work with other parties, while still ignoring most of what the Liberal Democrats. Although, by the end of the coalition the Lib Dems really were losing support after voting in favour of raising tuition fees, which is contradictory to their manifesto. <see video below>

Although the comical factor still rings through, I don’t feel this is the main reason the Lib Dems didn’t get much of their manifesto pushed through.

But the point to pay attention to, was that coalitions don’t really work. It was quite an act watching the Tories working with the Lib Dems. Both parties didn’t really get much done because of the countless disagreements, and the tories looming majority, more on this at another time. It could be argued, that because of Cameron’s ‘bullying’ techniques, he was able to push more through. As such the Lib Dems just had to agree, in fear of the coalition falling apart which would be bad news for their falling public opinion and vote share.

Secondly, coalitions always remind me of a very key topic in many GCSE History specifications: Weimar Germany. In summary the weimar constitution used proportional representation. This meant the % of votes dictated the % of seats in the ‘Reichstag’. This means to get a majority number of seats you needed at least 1 in 2 people to vote for you. As you’d expected, this almost never happens, so coalitions are the only answer.

If you look at the pattern of elections, and how close they are to each other, you could probably guess these coalitions rarely held together.

Because of the coalitions decisions were rarely made and most decisions were watered down. This resulted in the Nazi Party rioting in the reichstag, and so forcing Hitler into power.

 

 

I don’t think anyone believes that coalitions are 100% positive and many people far from it, but I think we need to make the most of it, otherwise it will be a 5 year struggle.