A 'Total Representation' voting system would give the Conservatives a chance of an MP in Birmingham, says Chris Game.
The Conservatives must sometimes wonder if it was such a great idea to abandon their traditional seaside conferences for the big cities. After all, if they’d gone this year to Blackpool, Bournemouth or Brighton, there’d have been at least one friendly local MP there ready to welcome them.
Here in the city of Birmingham they don’t have a single Conservative MP, and haven’t had since 1997 – leaving welcoming duties up to Chief Whip and Sutton Coldfield MP, Andrew Mitchell, the man they’d spent the past fortnight keeping as far out of any spotlight as possible.
Birmingham, moreover, is anything but unique. In Manchester and Liverpool – hosts of the Conservatives’ next two conferences – the party has had no MPs since the 1980s, and none since at least 1997 in Bolton, Bradford, Coventry, Hull, Leeds, Newcastle, Nottingham, and doubtless other cities besides.
It’s a measure of how patchy, at best, has been the party’s electoral recovery from the near urban wipeout it suffered in the 1990s, but also of how biased and alienatingly undemocratic our electoral system can be.
In Birmingham, excluding Sutton, nearly one in four voters in the 2010 General Election voted Conservative, as did between 15 and 35 per cent in most of those other cities.
That’s nearly half a million people, often voting for candidates they knew would lose, and being proved right – with not a single MP to show for all their collective effort.
The chances are that this particular electoral distortion wouldn’t have been greatly lessened by the constituency boundary changes intended for the 2015 election – but now sidelined in the Lib Dems’ tit-for-tat after Conservative backbenchers opposed House of Lords reform.
The reduced number of 600 more equal-sized constituencies would certainly have made it easier for the Conservatives to win an overall parliamentary majority, but not mainly through the big cities.
Birmingham would have seen major and confusing changes all round, including a reduction of wholly or predominantly Birmingham seats from ten to nine. But the net political impact would have been much less dramatic, with Conservatives almost certainly still minimally represented.
An extensively redrawn Erdington constituency – minus Kingstanding but plus Sutton New Hall and Castle Bromwich – might have gone Conservative in 2010, but Labour would most likely have taken both the new Harborne, comprising two-thirds of the present Edgbaston, as well as the revised Edgbaston.
Anyway, it’s not happening, but even if it were, there would be absolutely no guarantee that a 25 per cent Conservative vote in Birmingham would produce even one MP.
For that you need what sounds like an electoral equivalent of the toothpaste promising your teeth total whiteness – yes, Total Representation (TR).
OK, the title’s exaggerated and there are numerous loose ends, but it’s recently appeared in book form – Fixing our broken democracy: The case for ‘Total Representation’ – and there seemed at least two reasons to give it an airing.
First, the author is the seriously knowledgeable Dr Ken Ritchie. A former Chief Executive of the Electoral Reform Society, Ritchie’s new TR enthusiasm has necessitated his setting aside the ERS mission, creed and gospel – the multi-member constituency form of proportional representation known as the Single Transferable Vote – if only because, in any foreseeable British parliamentary future, it ain’t going to happen.