Nick Clegg says the Constitutional Reform bill which had its second reading in parliament yesterday is the “biggest shake-up of our democracy since 1832". Well, I shudder to think that the cloak of radicalism – and the great cause of electoral reform – is being wrapped around a sectarian piece of legislation that ignores 11,000 of my constituents.
Over 77,000 adults live in Islington South and Finsbury. But under Nick Clegg’s constitutional reforms, when the Boundary Commission determines constituency size, only 66,400 will count. This is true for urban constituencies far more so than in seats like David Cameron’s, for example, where about 83,000 adults live and 78,000 will count.
So why is this? Well there’s a group of people who can’t vote, another group who don’t register to vote, and a group who can vote – but not in the right elections. They all need an MP, and many are interested in national politics. But to this coalition they are non-people; a status that this legislation institutionalises.
Turning first to those who don’t register to vote, according to an Electoral Commission report from March of this year there are structural reasons for this. It seems that 56% of 17-24 year-olds are unregistered; 49% of private sector tenants; and 31% of BME residents. And where do most young, black, private sector tenants live? Not in Theresa May’s seat in Maidenhead, not in David Cameron’s constituency of Whitney, and not in Nick Clegg’s of Sheffield Hallam. As the report points out, the rate of non-registration for England is 6.9% - the rate of non-registration for inner London is 18%.
No matter what we do, some people will never get registered. Take the young people who live in my constituency for a short time and never get round to it. I spend a lot of time trying to engage them and am pleased when they contact me; their views deserve to be represented and be counted equally. But under this legislation, their status as non-people is institutionalised and the representation they receive is damaged.
Secondly, there are the people who can’t vote. Many people in Islington are from outside the EU or Commonwealth. Many are very political – in fact the governments in the countries they come from might say too political, that’s often why they had to come here in the first place. They’d love to vote but haven’t yet got citizenship. That hasn’t stopped many becoming politically engaged by lobbying me, helping out in my office, and taking an active part in local politics.
But, again, for Nick Clegg, they do not deserve to be included as my constituents and his legislation would institutionalise this group as non-people as well.
Finally there are people who can vote – just not in the right kind of elections. There are 6,500 EU voters who live in my constituency - our fellow Europeans who vote in EU and local elections. In my constituency they are around 8% of the voting population. I wonder if Mrs Clegg has been told that she won’t count as one of Nick's constituents. As an MEP Nick Clegg used to care about EU voters. Now he doesn’t – they’re forgotten, as his legislation would ignore them too.
Half of all countries – including France, Italy, Portugal – use population rather than the number of electors as the basis of constituency sizes. Under Nick Clegg’s proposed legislation, constituencies which the ONS estimates have a smaller population than mine such as Sheffield Hallam, Maidenhead, and Brentwood and Ongar, are all believed to be larger. How can this be fair for my constituents?
If Nick Clegg truly wants to be radical, if he wants to bring the House of Commons "more in line with the rest of the democratic world" then making sure that constituency sizes include all the people who live there is the place to start.