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Doing democracy by the numbers

Although it may seem that we’re living through unprecedented times, there’s still actually little new in politics. A case in point is all the recent palaver about redrawing parliamentary boundaries. Back in 1812, Governor Elbridge Gerry pushed through a measure to redraw the boundaries of the voting districts that made up the US state of Massachusetts. One of the bizarrely-shaped new constituencies, which just happened to benefit his own Democratic-Republican Party, was claimed to resemble a salamander. The phrase “Gerry-mandering" was duly coined by the Boston Gazette and the name has stuck ever since. The practice entails arranging contrived lines around existing communities so that you ha

Should Wales be de-commissioned?

Every so often, the murky world of government throws up an issue where competing priorities between departments either overlap or run into conflict. Politicians tend to have a short way of dealing with such abstracts. In fact there seldom seems to be a problem on the planet that can’t be managed by appointing a ‘czar’ to untangle the tricky stuff. In the US city of Houston, they’ve appointed a ‘flooding czar’ to coordinate regional agency work in limiting the damage from severe storms. The newspapers are making heavy weather of earlier, but inaccurate, suggestions that his name is Canute. The UK government has a ‘behaviour czar’ dedicated to sorting out school absenteeism. Media reports howe

Planning our way into a crisis

They don’t make land like they used to, goes the saying. True enough, but there’s a feeling that today’s planning system has never quite dropped its feudal mind-set either. At least that’s the opinion of Christian Hilber, Professor of Economic Geography at the London School of Economics, and who recently presented the Commons Treasury Select Committee with a radical reform package. Its long been contended that our approach to planning has less to do with the principles of supply and demand as the idea of need versus desirability. Hence a constant shortage of decent accommodation. This dilemma was offset by a post-war council house boom initiated by the Conservatives – but also ended by them

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