Boundary changes

Boundary changes

A few weeks ago the Times – in the person of its excellent political correspondent Laura Pitel – asked if I could have a look at the implications of the forthcoming changes to constituency boundaries which will be argued over between 2016 and 2018 and – barring eventualities – implemented in 2020 for the new election. The political map of Britain changed abruptly in 2015, thanks to the SNP landslide in Scotland, the Liberal Democrats’ disaster and the pattern of Conservative/ Labour swing that ended up making the gradient of the mountain Labour must climb much steeper. I produced a fairly ‘quick and dirty’ version of what the new boundaries might look like, without going into too much detail because the electorate numbers on which the allocation of seats will be based are going to be different in December when the definitive numbers are taken. One cannot simply take the results of the previous aborted review in 2011-13 forward either, for the same reason, although the detail of that review and the arguments that found favour in the revised proposals are of interest in seeing how the Boundary Commissions might approach their new task. By all accounts, the Boundary Commission for England (BCE) will be rather more willing to split wards this time around, which might well reduce the number of cross-border and bizarre seats, but creates problems of its own. Laura Pitel’s article is here (£) and if I do say so myself is well worth reading. The underlying calculations are published here. The headline finding is that the Conservatives benefit slightly from the changes, losing 19 seats (compared to 20 for Labour and 11 for the other parties), which in a smaller 600-seat parliament would increase their majority by 12 seats. Current number of MPs Number of MPs after boundary changes Change in number of MPs Percentage change UK 650 600 -50 -7.7% England (including Isle of Wight) 533 501 -32 -6.0% Wales 40 29 -11 -27.5% Scotland (including Islands) 59 54 -5 -8.5% Northern Ireland 18 16 -2 -11.1% English regions         East of England 58 56 -2 -3.4% Isle of Wight 1 2 +1 +100% South East (not IoW) 83 81 -2 -2.4% South West 55 53 -2 -3.6% SOUTH 197 192 -5 -2.5% LONDON 73 70 -3 -4.1% East Midlands 46 43 -3 -6.5% West Midlands 59 53 -6 -10.2% MIDLANDS 105 96 -9 -8.6% North East 29 25 -4 -13.8% North West 75 68 -7 -9.3% Yorkshire & The Humber 54 50 -4 -7.4% NORTH 158 143 -15 -9.5%   The new rules (legislated in 2011 but postponed until this parliament): The number of seats will be 600. Four seats have...

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Eastern England

East of England Current seats Entitlement Change Bedfordshire 6 5.76 Cambridgeshire 7 7.50 Essex 18 16.75 -1 Hertfordshire 11 10.68 -1 Norfolk 9 8.49 Suffolk 7 7.06 EAST 58 56 -2   One seat clearly disappears in Essex. It would seem likely that there will be a seat that is half Cambridgeshire, half Norfolk, with the overall allocation for the two counties being unchanged. The other seat may disappear in Hertfordshire, with bits of Hertfordshire being used to bulk out constituencies based on Bedfordshire on one side and Essex on the other. Essex may end up being radically altered because of the overall loss of one and a half seats. The seat most likely to disappear is Witham (it was only created in 2010), and that would send Priti Patel in search of a new seat (and hoping that one of Bernard Jenkin or John Whittingdale might retire). It is hard to tell where the other seat might disappear; it is possible that Grant Shapps’s seat (Welwyn Hatfield) might be disbanded, or that Peter Lilley’s Hitchin & Harpenden might get the chop (I’d guess the latter). The Conservatives will probably benefit from detailed changes to marginal seats: Harlow, Bedford, Stevenage, Great Yarmouth and Norwich North will be bulked out with some additional Tory villages One of the Labour seats in Luton might be rendered winnable for the Tories On the other hand, Cambridge probably gets a bit better for Labour, as does Watford. It is possible, depending on the detail, that highly marginal Peterborough could be tilted significantly to Labour, and that a more friendly set of boundaries could help Labour’s distant prospects in Basildon. Norman Lamb’s Lib Dem seat in North Norfolk may be altered and his majority reduced or overturned – he might lose territory to Great Yarmouth and gain it from Broadland.  ...

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South East England

  Current seats Entitlement Change Berkshire 8 7.96 Buckinghamshire 7 7.18 Oxfordshire 6 6.27 Hampshire 18 17.01 -1 Surrey 11 10.81 West Sussex 8 7.93 East Sussex 8 7.73 Kent 17 16.43 -1 SOUTH EAST (not IoW) 83 81 -2 Isle of Wight 1 2 +1   One seat clearly disappears in Hampshire. It is most likely that the other seat to go will be in Kent, with the most obvious solution being a cross-border seat between Kent and East Sussex. Oxfordshire is very close to the limit for 6 constituencies. It may well be that it needs to ‘export’ some of its electors to Berkshire and that a disruptive set of changes will ensue; Buckinghamshire and Surrey may also be affected.   Both Milton Keynes seats are too big. It may be that the BCE decides to shift them both north a little, with the result that North becomes more Conservative and South could be considerably improved from Labour’s point of view. Most of the Hampshire seats are a little small and there are no obvious candidates for abolition – possibly the newly created (2010) seat of Meon Valley might get squeezed from all sides and George Hollingbery (a government whip) would be sent in search of a safer berth. Most of the Hampshire Tories in that area are fairly newly elected – Damian Hinds, Alan Mak, Steve Brine, Suella Fernandes, Ranil Jayawardena –  and this could be a bit of a struggle. Both Southampton seats are undersized – while there is almost certainly one Labour seat in the city, it is possible that for instance the Conservative position in newly-gained Southampton Itchen may be strengthened, or Labour’s hold on Test weakened. David Cameron’s seat at Witney could well escape unchanged. East Sussex has two seats lost fairly narrowly by the Lib Dems in 2015. While Eastbourne is likely to be unchanged, the existing Lewes seat will be radically altered, probably wrecking their chances of regaining it. Brighton Kemptown is likely to be altered in ways that favour the Conservatives, although probably not to put it beyond Labour’s reach in a good year.  ...

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South West

  Current seats Entitlement Change Avon 11 10.49 Cornwall 6 5.42 -1 Devon 12 11.31 Dorset 8 7.47 -1 Gloucestershire 6 6.02 Somerset 5 5.25 Wiltshire 7 6.56 SOUTH WEST 55 53 -2   The South West is likely to be one of the uglier sets of boundary changes, not because it is losing that much but because so few of its counties are the right size for a whole number of seats. There are a number of permutations of cross-county seats that might work. As in the aborted 2011-13 boundary changes, one of the most controversial elements will be ‘Devonwall’. Cornwall cannot keep its six seats and is too big for five, so it is arithmetically necessary to create a seat straddling the border with west Devon (this is unpopular in Cornwall). There would also be a messy and complicated set of changes in mid Cornwall. Five Conservative MPs (George Eustice, Sarah Newton, Geoffrey Cox and the newly elected Steve Double and Scott Mann) would be battling it out for four constituencies (including ‘Devonwall’) in a game of musical chairs. One logical solution would be a straddle seat between Wiltshire and Dorset, setting up a conflict probably between Simon Hoare (North Dorset) and Andrew Murrison (South West Wiltshire). The most logical seat to be entirely disbanded in the area would, however, be Mid Dorset and North Poole (Michael Tomlinson). It would probably be necessary to create an Avon-Somerset straddle seat, There would be complex and far-reaching changes in this area to resolve some relatively small discrepancies in electorate. Jacob Rees-Mogg (North East Somerset, a sometime critic of the boundary proposals) would see his constituency radically altered because Bath would need to expand. The Plymouth seats – both narrowly Conservative held marginals – would have to be altered, probably to create one reasonably reliable Labour seat and one Conservative seat; the two Plymouth Tory MPs would probably be pitched into battle for the better prospect. While the notional boundary changes in Plymouth would probably create a new Labour seat, the party would not be best pleased because it would lose the chance to gain 2 marginals in the city.  ...

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East Midlands

  Current seats Entitlement Change Derbyshire 11 9.94 -1 Leicestershire 10 9.64 Lincolnshire 7 6.90 Northamptonshire 7 6.51 -1 Nottinghamshire 11 10.18 -1 EAST MIDLANDS 46 43 -3   Derbyshire loses a whole seat. Nottinghamshire probably loses a whole seat. The other seat disappears from Northamptonshire, with some of Northamptonshire being used to bulk out a south Leicestershire constituency. There will probably be radical change in mid Derbyshire – the constituencies of Derby North, Amber Valley, Erewash and Mid Derbyshire – with four Conservative MPs fighting for three constituencies. The straggly Mid Derbyshire constituency is likely to be the one with no recognisable successor, to the displeasure of its MP Pauline Latham who will be thrown into a battle with three colleagues. Nottinghamshire is more complicated. Either Anna Soubry’s Conservative-held marginal in Broxtowe could be radically (and unfavourably) altered for her, or possibly two Labour front benchers Vernon Coaker (Gedling) and Chris Leslie (Nottingham East) could be competing for one safe seat. In Leicestershire and Northamptonshire there are some interesting possibilities. Liz Kendall’s seat of Leicester West is small and will require alteration. If it pushes further into the city centre and the other Leicester seats move out a bit, no worries for Kendall – but if West is the seat that is made to extend further out into the suburbs it could become vulnerable to the Conservatives. That would be quite a decapitation. The vanishing seat is likely to involve some sort of mash-up between South Leicestershire, Harborough and Daventry, pitting three Tories against each other (Edward Garnier, Chris Heaton Harris, and Alberto Costa) for two seats. The Northampton seats are both very small. Northampton North is likely to be improved a bit for Labour, but South probably wrecked from the Labour point of view.  ...

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West Midlands

  Current seats Entitlement Change Herefordshire 2 1.77 Worcestershire 6 5.59 Shropshire 5 4.56 -1 Staffordshire 12 11.07 -1 Warwickshire 6 5.48 -1 West Midlands 28 24.88 -3 Birmingham 10 9.20 -1 Black Country 13 10.77 -2 WEST MIDLANDS 59 53 -6   Staffordshire loses a whole constituency. The West Midlands metro area loses three seats – two in the Black Country and one in Birmingham. There will probably be a cross-county seat between Shropshire and Herefordshire, with those combined counties dropping one seat. There will probably be a straddle seat between Warwickshire and Worcestershire, the combined counties dropping one. However, the Boundary Commission last time round proposed some innovative and strange crossings of the border between Warwickshire and the West Midlands and could do so again, so that it can produce constituencies to the right size in the Birmingham and Coventry areas. It may therefore propose something more radical than this model.   Three Conservatives go into two in the combination of Shropshire and Herefordshire – The Wrekin (Mark Pritchard), Ludlow (Philip Dunne) and Bill Wiggin (North Herefordshire). The review could be ugly for Labour in the Potteries. One possibility would trim the four Stoke and Newcastle seats down to three, with Tristram Hunt in the middle of the sandwich. Another option might create seats the Tories could  (Stoke-on-Trent South) and should (Newcastle under Lyme) win by adding Conservative-voting territory. In the West Midlands metro area there are too many permutations to model for the moment, but it looks as if a seat would vanish near Wolverhampton (probably South East, with Labour’s Pat Macfadden made homeless) and one in Dudley/ Sandwell, quite possibly Halesowen & Rowley Regis (James Morris, Conservative). It seems probable that a Conservative seat will disappear in Warwickshire/ Worcestershire, with three seats (Stratford-on-Avon, Mid Worcestershire and Kenilworth & Southam) going down to two, but the knock-on effects will make Nuneaton, Rugby, Redditch and Warwick & Leamington all more Tory than they are currently, so they may consider it fair exchange although the three most affected MPs (Nadhim Zahawi, Nigel Huddleston and Jeremy Wright) may beg to...

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