Why the 2024 general election won't be brought forward to 2023

According to the BBC this morning there is speculation that the 2024 general election might be brought forward to 2023, before the Corporation tax rises scheduled in yesterday's budget take effect.

This is why that should not happen, and I believe won't happen.

It is essential in the national interest to get the boundary review which is about to start through before the next election.

If you fail to keep electoral boundaries up to date as populations move around the country, you end up with the undemocratic "Rotten Boroughs" situation which existed before the 1832 great reform act - new and growing towns are seriously unrepresented while in other parts of the country MPs represent formerly well populated areas where their electorates have shrunk as people moved elsewhere for jobs or opportunities. 

The most frequently cited example in 1832 was Dunwich - because what had happened to that constituency was such a powerful image though not worst case, as 44 houses "and half a church" in the town's hinterland remained occupied - which continued to return two MPs to the House of Commons even though the town, seven of the eight parishes in the constituency and a good part of the last one had disappeared beneath the sea more than two centuries before!

The longer you leave it between updates to electoral boundaries, the worse the distortion of democracy gets, and the closer you get to creating more "Dunwich" style rotten boroughs. Worse, it also gets harder and harder to correct the growing problem because of the "Turkeys don't vote for Christmas" syndrome. MPs whose consituencies are under threat find ways to stop it happening.

Indeed, I wonder how many of the MPs providing the "speculation at Westminster" that the next election might be brought forward which Laura Kuenssberg referred to on the Today programme this morning represent constituencies where demographics have changed most since the present boundaries were drawn and are therefore most at risk. I suspect some of them may have been playing precisely that game. 

The former deputy PM Nick Clegg gets a lot of criticism over things for which I would not personally consider him particularly culpable. However, he doesn't usually get much flak for what I consider the worst act of his career. 

That was in 2013, when he joined with "the vulture" Ed Miliband, who can always be relied on to sabotage anything and anyone if he sees a political advantage, to kill the boundary review which was then in process. Ironically this was an act of revenge because some rogue Tory backbenchers, against the wishes of David Cameron and in alliance with the same Ed Miliband, (who was committing another act of sabotage,) had voted down Clegg's proposals to reform the House of Lords. . 

This 2013 vote killed the long-standing convention that all parties allow the recommendations of the independent boundary review to go through, a convention which up to that point had protected UK British democracy from the sort of gerrymandering you see in the States, where both Republicans and Democrats draw the most ridiculous electoral district boundaries to suit their party advantage. 

Partly because that convention has gone, and partly because boundary changes not complete at the time of a general election go into abeyance and have to start again, and there isn't time to complete one in a short parliament such as those of 2015-17 or 2017-19, there has not been a completed review since the one which was carried out between 2000 and 2007.

So by the end of this parliament Britain will be operating with parliamentary constituencies drawn up to be fair under demographic data which will be more than twenty years old. And if they are not updated in this parliament it will become harder, not easier, to bring them up to date in the future.  

We have been expecting the present boundary review for some time: the Boundary Commission is expected to announce their initial proposals and start the process of consultation in the next few months. It will take years and is expected to become law in 2023 ready for the 2024 election: the parties have not started selecting candidates as you can't easily put candidates in place until you know what seats are there to fight.

Bringing the next election forward to early 2023, before the corporation tax rises announced this week begin to come into effect, could well derail the boundary change process for the fourth consecutive parliament.

If we don't want our grandchildren to need another Great Reform  Bill, that is a really bad idea.   

Following significant changes in voting patterns at the 2019 election, I don't know whether the perception that updating the boundaries will help the Conservatives is still true or not. It may depend on what the Boundary Commission comes up with. They are required to be fair and impartial, and most people who have had dealings with the Boundary Commission think they do a reasonably successful job of being impartial, more than many other bodies on which the same duty is placed. 

However, the perception that leaving the boundaries out of date helps Labour if that party and the Conservatives have equal vote shares, and that updating the boundaries and removing that bias could be worth perhaps 20 seats to the Conservatives, still exists. That is another reason I don't think the government would plan to bring the election forward - why would anyone in their right mind plan to fight an election at an unfair disadvantage if they could avoid it?


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