Boundary report – unsettling reading for MPs

Few English MPs will escape changes to their constituency borders in today’s Boundary Commission’s recommendations, writes political consultant Lewis Baston. The Boundary Commission for England (BCE) report published today is unsettling reading for nearly all MPs, including those from the government benches who voted it through with varying degrees of enthusiasm. Few MPs will escape having changes made to their constituency boundaries, and a few will find their seats abolished, or changed so radically that they would have been defeated on the new boundaries in 2010. Some MPs will be pitched into fights against each other. The proposals implement the coalition government’s new policy on parliamentary boundaries which was enacted in February 2011. The government insisted that the total number of constituencies was reduced from 650 to 600, and that – with four exceptions – every seat had to be within 5 per cent of the average size. Size here is measured by the number of people on the electoral register as of December 2010. Peculiar boundaries While the legislation was highly controversial between the parties, the Boundary Commission itself is an impartial body which does not take party political consequences into account. It has to try to create units with the right number of electors that make some sort of sense on the ground, and given the constraints it generally does well. However, the rules under which the commission has had to operate have created some very peculiar constituency boundaries in some areas, although in general they have tried hard to avoid unnecessary disruption. Perhaps the strangest new seat is the unfamiliar Mersey Banks constituency, a sort of successor to Wirral South which contains a random piece of Widnes unconnected, even by a bridge, to the rest of the seat. For Conservatives there is the tantalising possibility of a Tory member for Sedgefield (technically, Sedgefield and Yarm). Tony Blair’s old stronghold is radically altered and grouped with the areas which made the current Stockton South a Conservative gain in 2010. Gloucester city centre becomes part of the Forest of Dean constituency, an idea that was greeted with dismay when I floated the prospect in a local newspaper. Political consequences While the Boundary Commission is neutral, most observers are keenly interested in the party political consequences. In general, the changes seem to help the Conservatives a bit relative to the other parties, but the effect is not dramatic. In some areas, such as West Yorkshire and east London, they will be probably be pleased but in others such as Derby and North Yorkshire there is a lot of disruption for no political gain. The party that really suffers is the Liberal Democrats, because their seats tend to have smaller...

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