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Clause 8 — Reports of the Boundary Commissions

Part of House of Commons Disqualification (Amendment) – in the House of Commons at 10:00 pm on 19th October 2010.

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Photo of Austin Mitchell Austin Mitchell Labour, Great Grimsby 10:00 pm, 19th October 2010

I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman is trying to outdo my comic turn by putting me in the House of Commons well before I was actually here, but he is entitled to do that.

I am voluble now because of the threat to democracy that is implicit in this whole process. As one of my hon. Friends said earlier, that is what is waking up the Liberal Democrat part of the coalition. It is easy enough to organise a redistribution for 650 Members, but if there are only 600 pieces in the jigsaw, the implication is that every boundary in the country must be changed. That is what is waking up the Liberal Democrats, because they tend to win seats through intense community work and community politics involving cracked paving stones and late buses, and they must have a community to work to. That settled community will be disturbed by the redistribution, and the Liberal Democrats will lose seats. Their amendments suggest that they are now waking up to that fact.

It is a bit late in the day, but I can tell the Liberal Democrats that they will lose out. The AV part of the deal, which was supposed to benefit the Liberal Democrats while the redistribution was supposed to benefit the Conservatives, will not be carried, because it will be defeated in the referendum. Then the Liberal Democrats will ask themselves, "What have we got out of this coalition? We have abandoned all our faiths, we have sacrificed everything we believe in, we have allowed massive cuts to the detriment of British society-and what have we got out of it?" The answer will be "Peanuts. Nothing." Their only resort, if they are to prevent themselves from being thrown out in the election following the redistribution, will be to throw out the Government and stop the redistribution.

I estimate that the Liberal Democrats will belatedly begin to wake up to that fact in about 2013 or 2014, and then they will become a disruptive factor within the coalition. I am trying to prevent them from ending up in that situation- [Interruption.] No, my heart bleeds for them. I am very sympathetic because it is tragic watching them betray their principles one by one in order to cling on to power and to get bums into ministerial cars and on to ministerial Benches-but if that is what they want to do, let them. I am trying to help them by persuading them to vote for amendments 127, 341 and 38. [Interruption.] No, I am a decent man. I would have voted Liberal in 1951, except that I did not have a vote because I was too young, but I wore a Liberal rosette on my meat round. That is the full history of my association with the Liberals-it ended in 1956 with the invasion of Suez-and now I am trying to protect them.

In conclusion, we should support these amendments in order to prevent the brutality of a process that would be damaging to British democracy and the community and that would create an unsettled situation for Members of Parliament. I spent many years in New Zealand, and we had much more regular redistributions when I was there-every five years, I think. That was before proportional representation came in. The seats could be made much more equal, but as a result of the changes no Member of Parliament knew five years ahead whether he would be representing the same area, or whether some bits would be shipped out and others would be shipped in because of boundary changes, and therefore the seat he would be representing would be totally changed. I want to prevent that situation from happening here. We represent settled communities that have clear boundaries, and we should not disrupt them in this fashion just for the electoral purposes of the Conservative party.