What would French-style overseas constituencies for the House of Commons look like?

Vote early, vote often, vote from abroad. Image: Getty.

To those of us who are neither French nor Francophiles, it can come as a great surprise to learn that the United Kingdom has a seat in the French National Assembly. It’s represented, as part of a wider Northern Europe constituency,  by Alexandre Holroyd, a député who grew up in West London.

But then of course why would we know? It’s only French expats that get the vote. La République is one of a small number of nations that allows its citizens resident abroad to vote for their own overseas MPs.

Here in the UK, expatriates can only vote in the constituency that they were last a resident of in their home country. In 2017, overseas voting in a UK general election hit record levels, in part due to risks faced by British expats because of Brexit. Even so, only an estimated 20 per cent of eligible expats were registered to vote.

With expat political participation at such paltry levels, perhaps its time for us to consider creating our own overseas constituencies.

If we did choose, first we’d need to know how many we would need. In 2017 285,000 expats registered to vote. The average electorate of a UK constituency is about 70,424. With a bit of rounding, that means overseas voters would be entitled to four constituencies.

But, the whole point of overseas constituencies is that they are supposed to boost participation. According to Number Cruncher Politics 7.9 million eligible people are not on the electoral roll in the UK, which means about 83 per cent of people are registered to vote. If expat registration was as high as 83 per cent, then overseas voters would be entitled to 17 constituencies.

The next question is what would the boundaries of these constituencies look like? Estimates of how many British people live in each foreign country are difficult to find, and I’ve ended up using research from the IPPR from 2006 to estimate what percentage of British expats are in each country to determine how much representation in Westminster each country is entitled to. (I’ve assumed the basic distribution of Brits abroad has stayed roughly the same since then.)

For example, with 24 per cent of British expats in 2006, Australia would almost be entitled to a MP of its own if there were four overseas constituencies.

Below are possible electoral boundary maps for my four and seventeen constituency scenarios. I’ve tried to make sure each constituency has a roughly equal expat population and is geographically contiguous where possible.

Four constituencies: Europe; Australia & New Zealand; the Americas; Africa, Asia & the Caribbean.

Seventeen constituencies: Australia (x4); Spain (x2); USA (x2); Canada (x2); France, Belgium & Germany; Ireland; Rest of Europe; New Zealand; Africa; Asia; South America, the Caribbean & Middle East.

Without knowing where British expats live in countries which are entitled to more than one constituency in my latter 17 constituency scenario, I’ve taken the executive decision not to draw accurate internal boundaries – maybe they could use STV?

Now the big question: how would these constituencies vote in a UK general election? Overseas constituencies in France were the initiative of President Sarkozy, who aimed to boost participation among a group of voters who had historically tended to vote for the right.


In the UK, it is the Conservatives who have in the past extended the right of expats to vote, while the Labour party has curtailed it. The last Labour government reduced the number of years after a voter leaves the country for which they can continue to vote to 15, and the party recently opposed a private members bill sponsored by Tory MP Glyn Davies which proposed to do away with any such limit whatsoever and give expats votes for life. (To be fair, Labour is against extending the limit because of the potential administrative costs faced by local councils to facilitate this.)

Yet, since elections have been held for French overseas constituencies the right have not done as well as they might have hoped. In 2012 the Socialists won 7 out of 11 of districts, while in 2017 President Macron’s En Marche won 8 of the 11 expat districts. While higher than average income globetrotters might have once voted right, perhaps the gradual realignment of politics around the issue of globalisation means that the liberal centre-left (represented in France first by the Socialists, now by Macron, and in Britain by either Labour or the Liberal Democrats) can sweep up the expat vote. Without overseas constituencies of our own it’s hard to tell if that would be the case here.

It’s fun to draw maps though. All maps modified from Wikipedia Commons. All calculations are very rough and should be taken as loose estimates rather than proper academic research. Don’t blame CityMetric for any failures of democracy.

 
 
 
 

Green roofs improve cities – so why don’t all buildings have them?

The green roof at the Kennedy Centre, Washington DC. Image: Getty.

Rooftops covered with grass, vegetable gardens and lush foliage are now a common sight in many cities around the world. More and more private companies and city authorities are investing in green roofs, drawn to their wide-ranging benefits which include savings on energy costs, mitigating the risk from floods, creating habitats for urban wildlife, tackling air pollution and urban heat and even producing food.

A recent report in the UK suggested that the green roof market there is expanding at a rate of 17 per cent each year. The world’s largest rooftop farm will open in Paris in 2020, superseding similar schemes in New York City and Chicago. Stuttgart, in Germany, is thought of as “the green roof capital of Europe”, while Singapore is even installing green roofs on buses.

These increasingly radical urban designs can help cities adapt to the monumental challenges they face, such as access to resources and a lack of green space due to development. But buy-in from city authorities, businesses and other institutions is crucial to ensuring their success – as is research investigating different options to suit the variety of rooftop spaces found in cities.

A growing trend

The UK is relatively new to developing green roofs, and governments and institutions are playing a major role in spreading the practice. London is home to much of the UK’s green roof market, mainly due to forward-thinking policies such as the 2008 London Plan, which paved the way to more than double the area of green roofs in the capital.

Although London has led the way, there are now “living labs” at the Universities of Sheffield and Salford which are helping to establish the precedent elsewhere. The IGNITION project – led by the Greater Manchester Combined Authority – involves the development of a living lab at the University of Salford, with the aim of uncovering ways to convince developers and investors to adopt green roofs.

Ongoing research is showcasing how green roofs can integrate with living walls and sustainable drainage systems on the ground, such as street trees, to better manage water and make the built environment more sustainable.

Research is also demonstrating the social value of green roofs. Doctors are increasingly prescribing time spent gardening outdoors for patients dealiong with anxiety and depression. And research has found that access to even the most basic green spaces can provide a better quality of life for dementia sufferers and help prevent obesity.

An edible roof at Fenway Park, stadium of the Boston Red Sox. Image: Michael Hardman/author provided.

In North America, green roofs have become mainstream, with a wide array of expansive, accessible and food-producing roofs installed in buildings. Again, city leaders and authorities have helped push the movement forward – only recently, San Francisco created a policy requiring new buildings to have green roofs. Toronto has policies dating from the 1990s, encouraging the development of urban farms on rooftops.

These countries also benefit from having newer buildings, which make it easier to install green roofs. Being able to store and distribute water right across the rooftop is crucial to maintaining the plants on any green roof – especially on “edible roofs” which farm fruit and vegetables. And it’s much easier to create this capacity in newer buildings, which can typically hold greater weight, than retro-fit old ones. Having a stronger roof also makes it easier to grow a greater variety of plants, since the soil can be deeper.


The new normal?

For green roofs to become the norm for new developments, there needs to be buy-in from public authorities and private actors. Those responsible for maintaining buildings may have to acquire new skills, such as landscaping, and in some cases volunteers may be needed to help out. Other considerations include installing drainage paths, meeting health and safety requirements and perhaps allowing access for the public, as well as planning restrictions and disruption from regular ativities in and around the buildings during installation.

To convince investors and developers that installing green roofs is worthwhile, economic arguments are still the most important. The term “natural capital” has been developed to explain the economic value of nature; for example, measuring the money saved by installing natural solutions to protect against flood damage, adapt to climate change or help people lead healthier and happier lives.

As the expertise about green roofs grows, official standards have been developed to ensure that they are designed, built and maintained properly, and function well. Improvements in the science and technology underpinning green roof development have also led to new variations on the concept.

For example, “blue roofs” increase the capacity of buildings to hold water over longer periods of time, rather than drain away quickly – crucial in times of heavier rainfall. There are also combinations of green roofs with solar panels, and “brown roofs” which are wilder in nature and maximise biodiversity.

If the trend continues, it could create new jobs and a more vibrant and sustainable local food economy – alongside many other benefits. There are still barriers to overcome, but the evidence so far indicates that green roofs have the potential to transform cities and help them function sustainably long into the future. The success stories need to be studied and replicated elsewhere, to make green, blue, brown and food-producing roofs the norm in cities around the world.

Michael Hardman, Senior Lecturer in Urban Geography, University of Salford and Nick Davies, Research Fellow, University of Salford.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.