Will Tory plan for fewer MPs affect NI?

At a stroke, the Conservatives may have “solved” the political equivalent of Fermat’s last theorem, the West Lothian Question. That’s the conundrum about what to do to remove the anomaly of Scottish, Welsh and Northern Ireland MPs’ right to vote on purely English (or English and Welsh) matters while English MPs have no say over matters devolved to Holyrood, Stormont and in a some areas, Cardiff Bay. The party must hope they’ve lanced a boil which was incubating an “England for the English” backlash and stoking support for UKIP. The shadow leader of the House, the much respected George Young has turned into a pledge their intention to give English MPs the right of veto over English- only matters. And to stiffen the pledge and cut costs, the number of MPs will be cut by 10%, after a boundary revision to equal up the size of constituencies by the time of the election after next. Leaving aside the practical difficulties of achieving this in time – and how to define a purely English measure – it’s hard to believe that Northern Ireland would be left alone in the cull of MPs. Once there were only 12. What would be the implications of 12 again or even 16?

George Young sppech extracts
10% FEWER MPS
We will instruct the Boundary Commission to set out detailed proposals to reduce the number of MPs by ten percent for the next General Election after this one. At the moment, the Isle of Wight has 107,000 voters and one MP – Andrew Turner does a first class job representing them. After the next election and with the new boundaries, Shailesh Vara will still represent 83,000 voters. Our proposals would simply increase the average size to around 77,000 – the size of many constituencies today including my own.

BOUNDARY REVISION TO EQUALISE CONSTITUENCY SIZE FOR ELECTION AFTER NEXT
But, crucially, we will address the disparities that exist between constituency populations. Because just as Conservatives believe in a fairer society, so we believe in a fairer type of politics. So as well as reducing the number of MPs, we will change the law to ensure that every constituency is broadly the same size. Reducing the bill for politics, while also reducing the inequities.” ( Young ends).

The SNP are playing it cool about this, as an exchange on the Today programme (07.34 slot) reveals. While they dismiss talk fo an unholy alliance with the Tories, stiff cuts hitting Scotland could boost support for the SNP’s core aim of holding a referendum on independence during the next Parliament. There’ll be much, much more on this in the months to come. Re a pay freeze for senior civil service, the SNP Scottish government has leapt on board without a murmur. But on a wider freeze as proposed by the Tories, they’re noncommital so far.

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London