What’s the largest parliamentary constituency in the world?

Geraldton is one of the more bustling urban centres in the Division of Durack. Image: Terrance Doust/Wikimedia Commons.

Australia recently had an election, a sentence that, from my fairly limited understanding of Australian politics, is almost always true. It provided the latest of those shock result that this decade’s politics seems to specialise in, with the right-wing government unexpectedly surviving and the left-wing opposition looking at a bit baffled in a “What else were we supposed to do?” kind of a way.

But the result wasn’t the thing that impressed me about it. What got me was the size of the constituencies.

Australia, remember, is huge, in a way that’s difficult to conceive of as a European. Perth is over 2,000 miles from Sydney – a distance that’s far enough to take you from London to Syria or Mali. But there aren’t quite 25 million people in Australia, well under half the population of the UK, and they tend to cluster in a few areas around the coast.

Consequently the country contains a lot of empty space. Which means that when the Australian Electoral Commission came up with boundaries for its parliamentary seats, this happened:

Whoa. Image: Australian Electoral Commission.

The six seats coloured on that map between them cover 6.1m km2 of Australia’s 8.0m km2. The other 146 seats get less than a quarter of the country’s landmass between them.

How big are we talking here? Well the largest of them is the Division of Durack, which covers 1.63m km2 – nearly two-thirds of the state of Western Australia. There is no European country that comes even close to being that size (unless you count Russia, which cheats by including a large chunk of Asia). This is an area three times the size of France. And it delivers one MP.

Wowser. Image: Barrylb/Wikimedia Commons.

Is it the largest constituency in the world, though?

Before getting into that, let’s provide some more context. The UK has a landmass of around 242,000km2 (or, not quite one sixth of Durack). The House of Commons has 650 constituencies. So the average UK parliamentary seat covers an area of around 373km2, which means you could get around 4,300 of the buggers into Durack.

There’s quite a lot of variation within that, though. The smallest constituency is Jeremy Corbyn’s own Islington North, which is just 7.4km2. The largest is rather bigger: Ross, Skye & Lochaber, a huge swathe of Highlands and islands, which is a relatively big 12,000km2, or well over a thousand times bigger.

Ross, Skye & Lochaber. Image: Wereon./Wikimedia Commons.

It’s still well over a thousand times smaller than Durack, though – so where might we find something bigger?


It’s tempting to look to the European Parliament on the grounds it covers most of a continent, but we instantly run into two issues. One is that most of its constituencies are multi-member PR ones, which feels like cheating. Another is that the biggest of them are entire European countries – and we already know that Durack is substantially bigger than all of those. The largest by area turns out to be France, which elects 79 MEPs and still only manages to be a third the size. So, that’s out.

One possibility is Alaska which, being a huge state with a tiny population, sends just one member to the US House of Representatives. I sort of assumed that was going to be my conclusion to this piece, on the grounds that Alaska is huge: to be specific, 1.72m km2. That’s slightly bigger than Durack, if by “slightly bigger” you mean “by an area large enough you could keep Portugal in it”.

Even that, though, isn’t the biggest. Canada is enormous – the second biggest country in the world by area – but most of its population lives hard by the southern border, leaving a vast wilderness in the north.

In that wilderness, you will find Nunavut, a federal election district which sends a single member to the House of Commons of Canada. It has an area of 1.88m km2.

The frozen north. Image: EOZyo/Wikimedia Commons.

That is, you will notice, bigger than Durack. It’s also, so far as much of the internet seems to think, the biggest electoral constituency in the world.

Except I think much of the internet is wrong.

Canada, remember, is only the second biggest country by area on the planet. The biggest is Russia. And leaving aside questions about what exactly counts as a democracy, Russia does hold elections to the Duma.

Those elections are fairly complicated: there’s a two-tier system, in which 225 of members are elected on a proportional, Russia-wide basis, and the other half represent specific constituencies. But nonetheless, that means there are 225 constituencies in Russia which elect a single representative to the country’s parliament.

The motherland: Yakutsk is in orange on the right. Image: Galmar/Wikmiedia Commons.

The biggest of these, best one can tell, is Yakutsk, which covers the entirety of the Sakha Republic, in Russia’s far east. That is bigger than Durack. A lot bigger. It covers an area of 3.1m km2. Which is very big indeed: nearly as big as India, but with roughly a billion fewer people.

It’s quite difficult to think of a profound conclusion to all this, so let’s end on an old favourite. This is one of the most mind-blowing maps I’ve ever seen. As many people live in the area coloured blue – which, not coincidentally, contains all the giant constituencies we’ve discussed in this piece – as live in the area coloured red (Bangladesh and a couple of Indian states).

Wow. Image: Ibisdigitalmedia.

The world is mostly empty.

You can read more about that last map here.

Jonn Elledge is editor of CityMetric and the assistant editor of the New Statesman. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites.

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To see how a city embraces remote work, just look to Helsinki

A deeply rooted culture of trust is crucial to the success of remote work. (Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

When I speak to Anssi Salminen, an account manager who lives an hour outside Helsinki, he’s working from a wooden platform on the edge of a Finnish lake. With a blanket laid out and his laptop set up, the sun low in the sky, Anssi’s remote work arrangement seems blissful. 

“I spend around half of my time working somewhere else other than the office,” he says. “I can work from home, or on the go, and I also travel to the Netherlands once a month and work from there.

“The emphasis in my work has always been that it doesn’t matter when or where I work, as long as I get things done.”

For many people around the world, the shift to remote work was sudden, sparked by the coronavirus pandemic. Finland, however, is finding the transition much less significant. Before Covid-19, the Nordic nation already displayed impressive levels of remote working, with 14.1% of its workforce reporting usually working from home. Only the Netherlands has a comparable percentage of remote workers, while the UK lagged behind at 4.7%, and the US’s remote workforce lingered at around 3.6%

Anssi works for one of many Helsinki-based companies that offers its employees flexible policies around when and where they work. That arrangement is in part due to the Finnish capital’s thriving start-up scene. In spite of being a relatively small city by global standards it is home to over 500 technology start-ups. These companies are leading the way when it comes to keeping employees connected wherever they choose to work.

“Our company has a completely location-free working policy,” says Kasper Pöyry, the CEO of Helsinki-headquartered software company Gapps. “All meetings are made available for online participants and facilitated accordingly. Some employees have worked extensively from abroad on a working holiday, whilst others prefer the comfort and social aspects of the well-stocked office. Whatever works for our employees is what works for the company.”

Like Gapps, many Helsinki-based firms are deeply preoccupied with providing the necessary technology to attract talent in a vast and sparsely populated country. Finland has only 15 inhabitants per square kilometre, and companies understand that in order to compose teams of specialised expertise, they may have to seek talent outside of the city. Local governments take a similarly proactive stance toward technological access, and Helsinki offers free, unrestricted, high-speed Wi-Fi from city-wide hotspots, while the country as a whole boasts some of the best coverage in Europe. 

But encouraging remote work isn’t just about optimising the potential of Finland’s workforce – companies in Helsinki also recognise that flexibility has clear benefits for both staff and employees. 

“The idea of a good work-life balance is ingrained in Finnish culture,” says Johannes Anttila, a consultant at organisational think tank Demos Helsinki. “It goes back to our rich history of social dialogue between labour unions and employers, but also to an interest in delineating the rules of working life and pushing towards people being able to enjoy their private life. Helsinki has been named the best city in the world for work-life balance, and I think that this underlies a lot of the mentality around remote work.” 

For Peter Seenan, the extent to which Helsinki residents value their free time and prioritise a work-life balance prompted his move to the city ten years ago. He now works for Finnair, and points to Finland’s summer cottages as an example of how important taking time to switch off is for people in the country. These rural residences, where city residents regularly uproot to enjoy the Nordic countryside, are so embedded in Finnish life that the country boasts around 1.8 million of them for its 5.5 million residents

“Flexible and remote work are very important to me because it means that I don’t feel like I’m getting stuck in a routine that I can’t control easily,” he says. “When I’m working outside of the office I’ll go down to my local sauna and go ice swimming during the working day, typically at lunchtime or mid-morning, and I’ll feel rejuvenated afterwards… In winter time especially, flexibility is important because it makes it easier to go outside during daylight hours. It’s certainly beneficial for my physical and mental health, and as a result my productivity improves.”

The relaxed attitude to working location seems to pay off – Finland is regularly named the happiest country in the world, scoring highly on measures such as how often its residents exercise and how much leisure time they enjoy. With large swathes of unspoiled countryside and a national obsession with the outdoors, sustainability is at the forefront of its inhabitants’ minds, leading to high levels of support for measures to limit commuting. In January, Finland passed a new Working Hours Act, the goal of which was to help better coordinate employee’s work and leisure time. Central to this is cementing in law that employees can independently decide how, when, and where they work.

Yet enacting the new ruling is not as simple as just sending employees home with their laptops. For Kirsimarja Blomqvist, a professor of knowledge management at LUT University, perhaps the most fundamental feature that remote work relies upon is a deeply rooted culture of trust, which Helsinki’s residents speak of with pride. The anecdotal evidence is backed up by data which suggests that Finland boasts one of the highest levels of trust and social cohesion in Europe, and equality and transparency have always been key cornerstones of political thought in the country.

“Trust is part of a national culture in Finland – it’s important and people value it highly,” she explains. “There’s good job independence, and people are valued in terms of what they do, not how many hours they work for. Organisations tend to be non-hierarchical, and there is a rich history of cooperation between trade unions, employers, and employees to set up innovative working practices and make workers feel trusted and valued. 

“It’s now important that we ensure that this trust can continue to be built over technology, when workers might have been more used to building it face-to-face.”

As companies begin to look hopefully toward a post-Covid future, the complexities of remote work are apparent. Yet amid issues of privacy, presenteeism, and social isolation, the Helsinki model demonstrates the potential benefits of a distanced working world. The adjustment to remote work, if continued after the crisis, offers a chance to improve companies’ geographical diversity and for employers to demonstrate trust in their workforce. On these issues, Blomqvist believes other cities and employers can learn a lot from Helsinki.

“People are now beginning to return to their workplaces, but even as they do they are starting to consider the crisis as a jumping point to an even more remote future,” she says. “The coronavirus pandemic has been an eye-opener, and people are now interested in learning from Finland’s good practices… We are able to see the opportunity, and the rapid transition to remote work will allow other countries to do the same.”

Katie Bishop is a freelance writer based in Oxford.