diamond geezer

 Thursday, November 08, 2018

This week's American midterm elections have shone a spotlight on the very different way the US organises its national politics. We have an elected House of Commons, an unelected House of Lords and a hereditary monarch, which is clearly unfair. They have an elected Senate, an elected House and an elected president, which is clearly fairer. Could we learn from the American way of doing things? What if UK politics were to be remodelled along American lines?

First of all, an elected second chamber has got to be an improvement, right? The Senate is simplicity itself, two senators per state, as defined in the US constitution. The USA has 50 states, so that's 100 senators, which is a nice round practical number. What's more every state is represented equally, be that California (population 40 million) or Rhode Island (population 1 million), so that's very fair.

If we were to mirror this with a UK Senate, we'd need two senators per county. Alas local government reorganisation since 1974 has messed up our county structures, chopping some into unitary authorities while leaving others whole. For example, it wouldn't be fair to give former Berkshire six times the representation of Oxfordshire nextdoor, simply because it's been broken up into half a dozen bits. The only fair thing would be to adopt ceremonial counties, as defined by the Lieutenancies Act 1997, bringing back traditional subdivisions we can all unite behind. What's more England has 48 ceremonial counties, which would mean 96 senators, which is an almost perfect total.

Although English counties have very different sized populations, the US experience confirms that such disparities are incontrovertibly fair. Indeed counties like Somerset, Derbyshire and Cheshire have very similar populations, as do the much smaller Cornwall, Warwickshire and Worcestershire, which would be very fair indeed. Rutland arguably gets an over-generous deal, with two senators for only 40000 residents, but they've suffered enough under local government reorganisation so we must leave them be. Meanwhile 8 million Londoners might be unhappy at being grossly under-represented, but in fact the City of London and Greater London are each defined as ceremonial counties, so that'd be twice as good, hence much fairer than expected.

As for the Home Nations, their plurality of administrative divisions is ridiculous, and we must not permit over-representation. Scotland's 32 unitary councils almost outnumber England's, adopting Northern Ireland six traditional counties would be inflammatory, and recognition for all of Wales's 22 counties and county boroughs would be excessive. Instead the only practical measure is to consider each nation as a single unit, contributing two senators apiece, making a grand total of 102. That's ideal.

UK Senate - number of senators
EnglandScotlandWalesN IrelandTOTAL
96222102

By reviewing the last set of General Election results county by county, it's easy to translate a potential UK Senate into each party's seats. For example, County Durham's voters preferred Labour, while Essex's voters preferred the Conservatives, thus balancing out at two senators each. Wales would send two Labour senators to Westminster, and Scotland two SNP senators, because winner takes all. What's more Northern Ireland now would be represented solely by the DUP, because Sinn Fein are in the minority across the province, so that'd solve the peace process at a stroke.

UK Senate 2017 (notional result based on county boundaries)
Conservative72Bedfordshire, Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Cambridgeshire, City of London, Cornwall, Cumbria, Derbyshire, Devon, Dorset, East Riding of Yorkshire, East Sussex, Essex, Gloucestershire, Hampshire, Herefordshire, Hertfordshire, Isle of Wight, Kent, Leicestershire, Lincolnshire, Norfolk, North Yorkshire, Northamptonshire, Northumberland, Oxfordshire, Rutland, Shropshire, Somerset, Staffordshire, Suffolk, Surrey, Warwickshire, West Sussex, Wiltshire, Worcestershire
Labour26Bristol, Cheshire, County Durham, Greater London, Greater Manchester, Lancashire, Merseyside, Nottinghamshire, South Yorkshire, Tyne and Wear, West Midlands, West Yorkshire, Wales
SNP2Scotland
DUP2N Ireland

It may look from this table as if the Conservative party would have a built-in advantage, with shire counties dominant at the expense of larger metropolitan areas. On day to day matters of political business, yes, this would be the case. But residents of Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire and Lancashire would suddenly find themselves in "swing counties" where their vote genuinely mattered, and where the vast majority of campaigning would take place, leaving the rest of us in peace.

In conclusion, the map below shows that the area of blue is easily outnumbered by the rest of the country, especially when the vastness of Scotland is taken into account, proving that a UK Senate would be much fairer than it looks.



As for elections to the US House of Representatives, these are structured along very different lines, utilising arbitrarily defined areas better balanced for population. This is a lot closer to the UK model of Parliamentary constituencies, except that ours are defined by an independent body operating to nationally-defined rules. Americans adopt a more practical system whereby each state legislature is able to redraw its congressional districts as it sees fit, a process sometimes called gerrymandering. Local boundaries lead to local results which better prioritise local priorities, creating a fairer outcome for all.



Gerrymandering allows parties to claim the greatest number of seats even when the overall public vote is against them, by grouping together their opponents so that as many as possible of their votes are 'wasted'. The state of Michigan is particularly adept at this, constructing wild sinuous boundaries to corral as many unwanted voters as possible, whilst spreading out the minority vote to give it the best possible chance of taking seats. Such creativity can keep parties in power for years, creating certainty and stability, which are qualities to be applauded.

Adopting the American approach in Britain would allow the full process of ingenuity and resourcefulness to be embedded in our electoral process. For example, the county of Leicestershire could redraw its parliamentary boundaries so that each of its constituencies included a slice of Leicester, ensuring that urban characteristics were dominated by the rural vote, thereby removing three Labour MPs at a stroke. For balance, some extremely careful subdivision on Merseyside could ensure that Southport is never again able to elect a Conservative MP, guaranteeing a red clean sweep.

Or take Croydon. This London borough currently has three constituencies - North, Central and South - most recently returning two Labour MPs and one Conservative. But a little cunning and forethought could tip the balance, American-style, simply by redrawing constituency boundaries elsewhere. Let's start by giving Croydon one extra MP, making a total of four, which cannot be anything other than positively advantageous. Next let's draw fresh boundaries in wholly natural locations, linking areas of undoubted similarity, to create four much fairer constituencies, thus:



Each dot on the map represents approximately 1000 voters at this year's council elections - red for Labour and blue for Conservative. As you can see, each new constituency contains exactly 20 dots, representing an equal number of voters, and must therefore be perfectly fair. The constituency of Croydon North would be a red stronghold, providing much greater confidence for Labour going forward. Meanwhile the three other new constituencies, through deliberate design, would lean convincingly to the Conservatives. Never mind that there are six more red dots than blue, the overall blue majority would be a much fairer reflection of the intended outcome.

The triumphant results of the US midterms have clearly shown the benefits of a seemingly perverse electoral model, which could easily be adopted in Britain. A UK Senate based on UK counties would be transparently fair, certainly more so than a room full of hereditary peers, bishops and obscenely political appointments. As for a UK House of Representatives with suitably gerrymandered districts, the advantages to the incumbent party are undoubtedly clear. Throw in an onslaught of voter suppression, coupled with deliberate disenfranchisement, and the superior US electoral model could be ours.

Then all we'd need to do is vote for a president to replace the Queen, and nothing could possibly go wrong there.


<< click for Newer posts

click for Older Posts >>


click to return to the main page


...or read more in my monthly archives
Jan18  Feb18  Mar18  Apr18  May18  Jun18  Jul18  Aug18  Sep18  Oct18
Jan17  Feb17  Mar17  Apr17  May17  Jun17  Jul17  Aug17  Sep17  Oct17  Nov17  Dec17
Jan16  Feb16  Mar16  Apr16  May16  Jun16  Jul16  Aug16  Sep16  Oct16  Nov16  Dec16
Jan15  Feb15  Mar15  Apr15  May15  Jun15  Jul15  Aug15  Sep15  Oct15  Nov15  Dec15
Jan14  Feb14  Mar14  Apr14  May14  Jun14  Jul14  Aug14  Sep14  Oct14  Nov14  Dec14
Jan13  Feb13  Mar13  Apr13  May13  Jun13  Jul13  Aug13  Sep13  Oct13  Nov13  Dec13
Jan12  Feb12  Mar12  Apr12  May12  Jun12  Jul12  Aug12  Sep12  Oct12  Nov12  Dec12
Jan11  Feb11  Mar11  Apr11  May11  Jun11  Jul11  Aug11  Sep11  Oct11  Nov11  Dec11
Jan10  Feb10  Mar10  Apr10  May10  Jun10  Jul10  Aug10  Sep10  Oct10  Nov10  Dec10 
Jan09  Feb09  Mar09  Apr09  May09  Jun09  Jul09  Aug09  Sep09  Oct09  Nov09  Dec09
Jan08  Feb08  Mar08  Apr08  May08  Jun08  Jul08  Aug08  Sep08  Oct08  Nov08  Dec08
Jan07  Feb07  Mar07  Apr07  May07  Jun07  Jul07  Aug07  Sep07  Oct07  Nov07  Dec07
Jan06  Feb06  Mar06  Apr06  May06  Jun06  Jul06  Aug06  Sep06  Oct06  Nov06  Dec06
Jan05  Feb05  Mar05  Apr05  May05  Jun05  Jul05  Aug05  Sep05  Oct05  Nov05  Dec05
Jan04  Feb04  Mar04  Apr04  May04  Jun04  Jul04  Aug04  Sep04  Oct04  Nov04  Dec04
Jan03  Feb03  Mar03  Apr03  May03  Jun03  Jul03  Aug03  Sep03  Oct03  Nov03  Dec03
 Jan02  Feb02  Mar02  Apr02  May02  Jun02  Jul02 Aug02  Sep02  Oct02  Nov02  Dec02 

eXTReMe Tracker
jack of diamonds
Life viewed from London E3

» email me
» follow me on twitter
» follow the blog on Twitter
» follow the blog on RSS

my flickr photostream