Although both Green Dragon and National Left have already commented on the planned reduction in the number of Welsh MPs from 40 to 29, I think some more things are worth saying in response to what Plaid Cymru and Labour politicians said yesterday.
The reduction in seats is completely justified, and it is disingenuous to suggest that Wales is in some way being singled out by the Tories.
A little historical perspective might help. Before devolution to Scotland and Wales, both Scotland and Wales were allocated additional MPs in the Commons (relative to size of population) to reflect two factors: first, that we are nations; and second, that we did not have any degree of self rule. The Six Counties of Ireland did not receive this additional allocation precisely because it had a degree of devolved self rule through Stormont. After devolution in 1999, the number of Scottish MPs was reduced from 72 to 59 to reflect the fact that Scotland now had a lawmaking parliament and brought Scottish representation into line with that of the Six Counties and England, leaving Wales as the only over-represented nation at Westminster. Our representation was not reduced because our National Assembly did not have primary lawmaking powers. That particular defect was remedied after the referendum of 2011, and since then we have always been in line for a similar reduction. On its own, this would bring us down from 40 to about 32 MPs.
Then, in addition to this, the Tories and LibDems passed an Act in 2013 to reduce the overall number of MPs in the Commons from 650 to 600, but delayed the boundary changes until after the 2015 election. This accounts for the additional cut of 3 MPs to 29 MPs. We need to be careful not to conflate these two factors.
There are criticisms that can be made of the new arrangements. The main one of these is the change to individual voter registration, which has resulted in a large numbers (maybe 800,000) falling off the electoral roll. This particularly hits younger, more mobile people in urban areas, and therefore has the effect of favouring areas with older, more settled and rural populations. Put more bluntly, it favours the right at the expense of left. In my opinion, the size of a constituency should not be based on the number of voters on the electoral roll, but on population. After all, an MP represents all the people who live in their constituency, including children and immigrants, not just those who are registered to vote.
I am particularly disappointed at Jonathan Edward's statement:
"The proposal by the Boundary Commission to reduce the number of MPs representing Welsh constituencies in the House of Commons from 40 down to 29 is a sad day for democracy.
"This is the latest stage in the Conservative Westminster Government's decision to cut the number of MPs from 650 to 600. Wales will have a cut of 11 MPs. Despite having only 5% of the UK population, we are being made to bear the brunt of over 20% of that total overall UK cut."
As an MP, he really should know better than to sprout such twaddle. He is trying to make an opportunistic anti-Tory point, not realizing that you should never play party politics with democracy itself. Wales is not entitled to any special treatment by having more than its fair share of MPs compared with everywhere else in the UK. It is a historic anomaly that should now come to an end. Beside that, it is politically self-defeating. By making such blatantly partisan statements now, how can he expect to be taken seriously if he ever chooses to make justified statements about reforming the electoral system in future? He has let himself and his party down.
What Nia Griffith said is slightly less disappointing:
"This substantial cut in the number of Welsh MPs will lessen Wales' voice in Westminster at exactly the same time that Government policies are hitting the communities we represent. Any reduction in the number of Welsh MPs will have an adverse effect on the range of support and advice services that MPs' offices provide to constituents.
"If the Conservatives were serious about cutting the cost of politics they would cut the number of unelected peers in the House of Lords, which has ballooned in size with 236 new peers appointed since David Cameron became Prime Minister."
It is less disappointing because it is certainly true that a reduction in the number of Welsh MPs will "lessen Wales' voice". However she skirts round the question of why Wales should have the disproportionately loud voice it has in the Commons at present. Her point about the Lords is well made, though. Changes do need to be made there as well, but inaction over Lords reform is no reason for inaction over Commons reform.
I'm not so sure about the reduction having an adverse affect on the range of support and advice services. That is more a question of how we fund the support staff that every MP relies on. Any reduction in the number of MPs could be relatively easily offset by better support funding.
On that point, it is probably worth noting that MPs in Wales have considerably less work to do than those in England, due to the number of areas that are devolved to Wales. If someone in Wales has a problem with health or education, for example, it would be pointless to bring it up with their MP. That's what our AMs are for.
In short, both Plaid and Labour are wrong to whine about this reduction in the number of Welsh MPs. It would be more politically astute of both parties to positively welcome the ending of this anomaly, but at the same time point out that the savings to be made by a reduction in MPs should be used to fund the increase in AMs that Wales needs.
Again it is worth remembering that the original devolution settlement for a Welsh Assembly without lawmaking powers meant that Wales needed fewer AMs relative to population size than Scotland. It explains why Scotland got a Parliament of 129 members for 5.3m people (~41,000 per seat) but our National Assembly was only given 60 members for 3.1m people (~51,500 per seat). However because our National Assembly now has primary lawmaking powers, it should, just on a simple pro-rata basis, have about 76 AMs rather than 60.
In conclusion, the reduction in Welsh MPs is completely justified, but so is an increase in the number of AMs. The two go hand in hand.