In a groundbreaking study conducted by political scientists Colin Rallings and Michael Thrasher, the potential impact of upcoming boundary changes on the UK’s electoral landscape has been unveiled. The researchers utilized simulations to reimagine the 2019 election results under the proposed constituency boundaries, revealing that the Conservative Party would have secured a slightly larger majority. As these changes are set to become a reality for the 2024 election, the implications of the most extensive redrawing of the UK’s electoral map in decades are now coming into focus.
The independent boundary commissions of England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland have orchestrated these revisions, resulting in only 65 of the 650 constituencies remaining entirely unchanged geographically. Particularly notable alterations are anticipated in Wales, where 40 constituencies will be condensed to 32, while England will see an increase in the number of constituencies. This process has led to a complex dance among sitting MPs from the same party vying for selection as candidates in redrawn constituencies.
The primary objective of these changes is to rebalance the electoral map, ensuring a more equitable distribution of electors in each constituency. Nearly all of the 632 parliamentary constituencies in Great Britain are now mandated to have between 69,724 and 77,062 electors, with exemptions granted to five island constituencies and a slight widening of the electorate variation for Northern Ireland.
The Necessity of Boundary Changes
While the upheaval involved in boundary changes may seem daunting, they are deemed necessary due to the dynamic nature of the UK’s population distribution. Ongoing population movements lead to changes in the size of electorates, with some constituencies growing while others shrink. Regular boundary reviews are crucial to preventing significant disparities in the number of electors represented by each MP in the House of Commons.
A failure to redraw boundaries regularly could introduce bias into the electoral system, favoring parties performing disproportionately well in areas experiencing population decline. The recent changes mark a long-overdue departure from the boundaries used in four elections from 2010-2019, despite new constituencies being mapped out in 2013 and 2018.
Overcoming Past Challenges
Previous attempts at boundary changes faced obstacles, primarily centered around reducing the number of MPs from 650 to 600. Political volatility from 2010-2019 hindered parliamentary approval of such reductions. In response, the government abandoned the plan to reduce MPs and eliminated parliament’s role in approving the final recommendations. The focus shifted solely to equalizing constituency electorates, a goal achieved in the latest review.
Rallings and Thrasher’s re-run of the 2019 election with the new boundaries offers insights into potential political shifts. The simulations indicate an additional seven Conservative MPs overall, while Labour, the Liberal Democrats, and Plaid Cymru would have collectively had seven fewer MPs. The Labour Party, in particular, would have faced more distant second-place finishes in numerous marginal constituencies, making their path to a majority in 2024 slightly more challenging.
However, it is essential to view these projections with perspective. The advantage the Conservatives might gain from the boundary reviews pales in comparison to the broader shifts in party support since December 2019, as indicated by current polling. Importantly, these changes are not indicative of gerrymandering, as the UK’s boundary commissions operate independently, determining electoral maps without political influence.
As the UK prepares for the 2024 election, the radical redrawing of constituency boundaries promises a more balanced electoral map. While political dynamics may see marginal advantages for certain parties, the broader changes in public sentiment loom larger. Embracing the democratic service of boundary changes, voters are urged to appreciate the meticulous efforts by independent commissions to ensure fairness in representation. The unfolding political landscape, shaped by these boundary revisions, will undoubtedly be a focal point as the nation heads to the polls.