Continuing his series on the boundaries Antifrank on the role of the Boundary Commission

July 3rd, 2015

Election 2015  Maps of turnout and party strength   BBC News

The body that will oversee the shake-up

In my last two posts, here and here, I’ve looked at the likely impact of the boundary review and considered how the parties might wish to see those boundaries fall.  To date I haven’t really looked at the role of the Boundary Commissions at all.  This is a serious omission.

In fact, it will be the Boundary Commissions that determine the constituency boundaries. The parties can make representations but the Boundary Commissions will have the final say.

On my last post on the subject of the boundary changes, a poster called SirBenjamin commented as follows:

The parties do not have as much power and influence as the post implies.

During the last two reviews (including the aborted one) I’ve advised several associations on representations to the boundary commission during the review consultation period.

1) This has only a limited impact for several reasons:The commission is (usually quite staunchly) predisposed towards their original recommendations – a compelling (and non partisan) reason for altering the proposals is required.  2. In a competitive seat there will be other parties making representations that will benefit them, so any proposals must not only be more compelling than the original proposal, but also better than any competing counter-proposals.

2) Even if beneficial proposals are adopted for one seat or in one area, it may have negative knock-on effects in others, so these must be considered when looking to make representations (e.g. you’re not only competing with Labour, but possibly also with fellow Tories next door). So, on balance, most counter-proposals will not be accepted and those that are will often be countered by an opposition counter-proposal adopted elsewhere that has a negative impact. Finding compelling arguments that are prima face non-partisan can be difficult. As well as the interesting stuff like constituency shapes, electorate sizes and ward boundaries, It also involves a lot of rather dull work researching local commnity ties, access to resources, peoples shopping habits, how rivers, railways and big main roads can or can’t be crossed, that sort of stuff. (And then quietly choosing to discard anything that isn’t to our advantage…)

While the identity of the poster is unknown, this has the ring of authority to me and I happily accept the points made.  It is certainly true that the Boundary Commissions are going to be looking exclusively at non-partisan reasons for taking on board suggestions.  It should be noted that local party branches, local councils and individuals will also make their own recommendations and the Boundary Commissions will look at them all.

There is no single right way of carving up boundaries. The relevant Boundary Commission will need to choose between competing possibilities.  But the new strict rules mean that the Boundary Commissions will have much less freedom of manoeuvre. In fact, the task is likely to prove to be a real nightmare for the Boundary Commissions, made easier only by the fact that they have already had a trial run.

They must do so in accordance with the legislation.  They are going to need to implement the proposed reduction in seat numbers to 600 and introduce new tight parameters on the number of registered voters in each seat.  The Prime Minister reaffirmed his commitment to this in Prime Minister’s Questions on 1 July 2015, noting that it was a manifesto pledge.

Historically, boundaries have so far as possible emphasised a sense of place. It is likely that we will see composite constituencies, simply because they will be needed to make the sums add up. But let’s have a more detailed look at the considerations.

The Boundary Commissions are permitted to take into account the following considerations:

  • special geographical considerations, including in particular the size, shape and accessibility of a constituency;
  • local government boundaries;
  • boundaries of existing constituencies; and
  • any local ties that would be broken by changes in constituencies.

I’m going to focus now on the Boundary Commission for England in the interests of keeping this piece of manageable length.  Different boundary commissions may take different approaches on some of the points that follow (and some will not be relevant for other parts of the UK).  Since England is by far the most populous part of the UK, I make no apology for doing so.

Last time around, the Boundary Commission for England stated that it did not consider that it would be appropriate to start from a blank sheet of paper and that it intended to have regard generally to existing constituencies as far as possible.  It would not try to make the constituencies as equal in numbers of registered voters as possible, merely to make sure that the constituencies fell within the permitted parameters.  As far as possible, it would seek to create constituencies from whole wards, from wards that are adjacent to each other and that do not contain detached parts.  I expect that it will take the same approach this time.

Its revised proposals last time round, which were as far as it got before the process was brought to a halt, can be viewed here.

The detailed proposals are found at the very end of each regional report.  Given the allocation of seats between the component parts of the UK (and within England, between the different regions) at present look likely to be similar to what was envisaged for the abortive boundary review, you could do a lot worse at present than assume that the constituencies will look very like what was set to emerge from the review last time round.  It won’t get you all the way there because the English regions do vary a bit from last time round and the numbers of registered voters in the individual constituencies have also changed quite a bit, but it won’t be a million miles away from what emerges.

If you have any interest in how the boundary reviews work in practice, I recommend dipping into these regional reports to get a flavour.  Some practical examples will tell you more than any explanation can.

The Boundary Commission in practice placed considerable weight on not disturbing constituencies if it could avoid doing so.  For example in Suffolk one reason it gave for preferring its revised proposal over another that had been advocated was that it left five of the existing constituencies undisturbed.

It seems likely (though it is not a legal requirement) that the Boundary Commission for England will respect regional boundaries – this is what they proposed last time around.  So, for example, there may be cross-county seats between Nottinghamshire and Lincolnshire, both of which are in the East Midlands region, but there will not be cross-county seats between Cambridgeshire and Lincolnshire, since the former is in the Eastern region.

In accordance with the consideration of maintaining local ties, I expect that the Boundary Commissions will seek to keep sizeable towns in single constituencies wherever possible.  We may see a single constituency of Luton or we may see expanded versions of Luton North and Luton South (in the abortive boundary review, Luton North was to be linked with Dunstable, to the apparent horror of the residents of the latter town). But we are unlikely to see Luton divided five ways with a mix of town and country in each one.

This would place due respect to local ties if the revised rural constituencies have even a residual coherence.  To give a hypothetical example based on a county I know well, if Ipswich or Bury St Edmunds were to be partitioned between different constituencies (as has already happened to Ipswich), this would cut across local ties. On the other hand, South Suffolk is a large rural seat with two main towns, Sudbury and Hadleigh.  Both towns are also in the same district council, Babergh, which covers almost the same area as the Parliamentary seat and the two towns have long been associated for political purposes.  But if the seat were split up and the two towns were put in separate constituencies, this would not offend local sensibilities.  Residents of both towns would look towards Bury St Edmunds, Ipswich and Colchester before they looked to each other.  This would be a fairly usual state of affairs in rural constituencies.

But it does mean, if the Boundary Commissions decide to do this, that some of the remaining seats are going to be very different.  Some existing rural constituencies are likely to be subject to heavy reorganisation, as the effect of the reduction in seat count is concentrated in these areas.  The Boundary Commission for England seems to prefer concentrating all the upheaval in odd constituencies rather than tinkering around the edges with quite a few.

It’s also very likely that some rural constituencies will inevitably lack even a residual coherence.  Cornwall, for example, will have too many voters for only five constituencies and too few for six constituencies, so it will inevitably need to share a constituency with Devon.  Local feeling in such a cross-border constituency will be outraged at such sacrilege.

We have already had a taste of that from the abortive review in the last Parliament.  In their revised proposals for the South West, the Assistant Commissioners drily commented:

“We have been struck by the efforts of many of those making representations to reflect the history and unique cultural identity of this region. Those issues are particularly important to those who seek to ensure that a particular county, historic area, city, or broader urban area remains whole in the sense that it is exclusively encompassed by one or more constituencies. Cornwall, Wessex, Gloucester, Plymouth, and the urban conurbation around Bournemouth are obvious examples. We are particularly grateful for the enormous amount of work that has gone into the detailed representations in relation to the unique cultural identity of Cornwall.

However, we are constrained by the statutory requirement that each constituency must have an electorate within 5% of the electoral quota.”

And the same problem is going to arise in most of the counties in England which have fewer than eight or nine seats at present.

All this is going to change the nature of some constituencies quite dramatically, both in terms of the current boundaries and in many cases in terms of the degree of internal coherence of the constituency.

What would this mean in practice?  If as I expect the Boundary Commissions prioritise keeping cities and towns within a single constituency wherever possible and dividing them between as few seats as possible where that is not possible, those constituencies are inevitably going to contain high concentrations of the urban voters who are much more likely to vote Labour than their country mouse cousins.  In the south of England, that maximises Labour’s chances of taking seats despite their weak levels of support there.  The Conservatives do not benefit from the reverse in the north east of England and have not done so in Scotland for some time because their support in their weaker areas is so much more diffuse.

This is good news for Labour, obviously.  But it does not come close to counteracting the bad news that much of its support is piled up in inner city areas.  Taking 75% of the vote in a constituency is a waste.  You’d rather give at least 25% of that to another more marginal constituency.  Right now this phenomenon is working more against Labour than the concentration of its weak support in the south in single constituencies is working for it.  It is too weak in the rural south and too strong in the inner city north.

Still, if the Boundary Commissions adopt this approach on a seat count reduction to 600, this will prove disorientating for those incumbents in highly disrupted seats (almost all of whom will be Conservatives, given that they hold almost all the rural seats in England), even if the new seats created are also safe Conservative seats.  The Conservative party establishment are going to need to hand out lots of tranquillisers and reassurance if they are going to get the seat reduction through.



Local By-Election Results: July 2nd 2015

July 3rd, 2015

Grantham, Barrowby on Lincolnshire (Con defence)
Result: Conservative 579 (50% +12%), Labour 257 (22% -8%), UKIP 179 (15%, no candidate in 2013), Lincolnshire Independents 155 (13%, no candidate in 2013)
Conservative HOLD with a majority of 322 (28%) on a swing of 10% from Labour to Conservative

Hampton Wick on Richmond upon Thames (Con defence)
Result: Liberal Democrat 1,189 (43% +25%), Conservative 1,081 (39% -11%), Green 237 (9% -10%), Labour 185 (7% -7%), UKIP 69 (3%, no candidate in 2014), Independent 7 (0%, no candidate in 2014)
Liberal Democrat GAIN from Conservative with a majority of 108 (4%) on a swing of 18% from Conservative to Liberal Democrat


The Lib Dem choice: The highly regarded ex-minister or the formidable campaigner?

July 3rd, 2015

norman lamb tim farron   Google Search

Why my LD vote could be against my betting self interest

Just got back from a wonderfully restful holiday on the coast near the ancient sherry town of Jerez in South West Spain to find my LD leadership voting papers there waiting for my attention. The choice is very difficult.

Back in April 2011 I suggested on PB that Norman Lamb, then 25/1, might be a good next party leader bet and I do well if he wins.

Certainly if, as was possible at least twice during the coalition years, that Clegg had stepped down then Lamb, almost a John Major figure, would have been the ideal safe pair of hands to take over. He had the backing of party grandees and during his time in government built up a strong reputation particularly on NHS policy on the mentally ill. Health sec Jeremy Hunt paid him a glowing tribute after the election.

But May 7th was totally devastating for the party and the yellows need to show pretty quickly that they are not a spent force.

    A key part of that could be parliamentary by-elections where in the old days they used to be so strong. Winning a seat might be a tall order but a strong performance would provide a significant boost and demonstrate that they are in the game again.

It is here where I believe that Tim Farron offers a lot. As his Westmoreland constituency results show he is an enormously effective campaigner who can bring in the votes and energise activists.

His position is helped by the fact that the one by-election in prospect at the moment is Richmond Park – the seat of Zac Goldsmith – current hot favourite to be next year’s CON London Mayoral candidate which he held with a 23% majority in May. Goldsmith has also repeatedly threatened to resign his seat if Heathrow is chosen in the London airports debate – something that looks more probable after this week’s events.

Richmond under its old boundaries used to be in yellow hands and a by-election would provide an opportunity for campaigner Farron to show his electoral skills. Overnight the party had a gain from CON in the borough though not in the parliamentary constituency.

I can’t make up my mind which way and plan to defer voting to the very last moment.

Mike Smithson


Local By-Election Preview: July 2nd 2015

July 2nd, 2015

Grantham, Barrowby on Lincolnshire (Con defence)
Result of council at last election (2013): Conservatives 36, United Kingdom Independence Party 16, Labour 12, Lincolnshire Independents 8, Liberal Democrats 3, Independents 2 (No Overall Control, Conservatives short by 3)
Result of ward at last election (2013): Conservatives 558 (38%), Independent 476 (32%), Labour 442 (30%)
Candidates duly nominated: Rob Shorrock (Lab), Maureen Simon (UKIP), Mark Whittington (Con)

Lincolnshire, on the face of it, looks rather boring. Since 1989 it’s only gone NOC twice (1993 as part of the Conservative post Black Wednesday disaster, 2013 as part of the UKIP surge) but underneath that boringness there have been some interesting changes particularly in Grantham (ancestral home of Lady Thatcher).

There are five county wards that make up the town (Barrowby, East, North, North West, South) and in 2005 those wards reflected the closeness of the general election with the Conservatives on 41%, Labour on 40%, the Independents on 10% and the Lib Dems on 9% with the Conservatives winning two of the seats and Labour winning three.

Then came the disaster of 2009 for Labour, as their vote collapsed to just 16% allowing the Conservatives to win all five seats on a swing of nearly 15% from Labour to Conservative and although Labour did manage to make a gain in Grantham in 2013, they only managed to poll 30% with the Conservative vote virtually unchanged as UKIP polled 11%, the Independents 10% and the Liberal Democrats on 2% which therefore poses the question “How will the electors of Barrowby see this by-election?”.

If they see it as “Well, excuse me, I’m not the person who was elected as a new county councillor in 2013 and then goes swanning off to Westminster as the new MP for Bury St. Edmunds, in Suffolk I may point out!” then UKIP (with their past track record of taking votes from Independents and Conservatives) could make yet another gain in the county. However, if they take the attitude “Jo has made a principled stand. She cannot be an MP and a county councillor at the same time” then the Conservatives should be able to hold this marginal and Labour could be the ones to suffer from UKIP.

Hampton Wick on Richmond upon Thames (Con defence)
Result of council at last election (2014): Conservatives 39, Liberal Democrats 15 (Conservative majority of 24)
Result of ward at last election (2014) : Emboldened denotes elected
Conservatives 1,870, 1,708, 1,586 (50%)
Green Party 696 (19%)
Liberal Democrats 676, 647, 593 (18%)
Labour 522, 520, 474 (14%)
Candidates: Anthony Breslin (Green), Jon Hollis (Con), Michael Lloyd (Ind), Geraldine Locke (Lib Dem), Sam Naz (UKIP), Paul Tanto (Lab)

“I must admit, it was with more than a little trepidation that I approached my destination” were the opening words to the BBC drama serial that bears this ward’s name. The serial (broadcast in 1971) was written by G. Wiley and a gentlemen. Therefore, people of a certain age will instantly recognise that this was one of the serials produced as part of the “Two Ronnies”. And why was the serial named after a ward in London? Because the lead character was having a post operation fuelled dream at Hampton Wick Cottage Hospital.

And looking at the result in 2014, I rather fear that’s the only way the Liberal Democrats will be able win this ward which poses the question if the Conservatives were to lose, who might gain? Well, we know from past experience that UKIP do have a London problem and Labour aren’t strong in the south west of the capital so how about the Greens? Well, 19% at the last elections from just a single candidate does suggest that Richmond may be turning over a Green leaf and then there’s the Independent who didn’t contest in 2014, but all in all I think that the former Conservative councillor (now a Conservative MP) will be very confident in congratulating his new Conservative successor in a few hours time.

Harry Hayfield


The Greek finance minister says he’d rather ‘cut his arm off’ than sign a deal that doesn’t include debt relief

July 2nd, 2015

The betting markets seem to believe that Yes will win, but I suspect whatever the outcome either the Greek government or the Euro in Greece will be gone shortly after the referendum result is announced. This might lead to the government, money, people and businesses wanting to get out of Greece like a bat out of Hellas, it won’t be just a flesh wound for Greece.

All of this is just a few days before George Osborne presents his summer budget



Heathrow is a major headache for Cameron (and an opportunity for Labour)

July 2nd, 2015


Picture credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Whilst the Conservatives fight over this week’s Airport Commission report, expanding Heathrow is exactly the type of common sense, business friendly policy that Labour should be supporting as it seeks to win again. The party must embrace it argues Keiran Pedley

The Prime Minister has a leadership crisis on his hands.

Perhaps this crisis is not as serious as recent world events in Tunisia or Greece. Perhaps it does not animate Conservative back benchers as much as his plans to renegotiate Britain’s membership of the EU or present the most important immediate challenge of next week’s budget.

But make no mistake, it is a crisis.

The Airport Commission report, led by Howard Davies has been very clear in its recommendation that Heathrow must expand and as soon as possible. Sure, some caveats have been put in place, regarding banning night flights and meeting both air and noise pollution targets, but there has been no fudge or ambiguity in the report’s key recommendation – Heathrow must expand.

The report claims that expanding Heathrow will add billions to the economy, air fares will fall and thousands of jobs will be created. Crucially, alternative plans are considered either unworkable (Boris Island) or do not match the economic benefits of a third runway at Heathrow (Gatwick). Furthermore, the business community appears squarely behind the report’s conclusions, with the IoD and CBI urging the Prime Minister to avoid any ‘further delay’.

So why is this a crisis? Well, Cameron’s problem is many in his own party not only mildly disagree, but are utterly opposed to this policy. Cabinet is split, with high profile names such as Theresa May, Philip Hammond and Justine Greening opposed. The party’s likely next candidate for London Mayor, Zac Goldsmith, has threatened to resign and force a by-election in protest whilst Boris Johnson has not given up on his ‘Boris Island’ dream and will likely use this issue to champion his cause as the next Conservative leader in-waiting.

So this one may be a slow burner, but a crisis it is. The government’s immediate response is to kick the can down the road (again). It has said that a decision will be made later this year.

Labour’s opportunity

This all presents a tremendous opportunity for Labour.  Much has been written before about Labour’s credibility problem and how it needs to win back trust on the economy. Fully backing the expansion of Heathrow will not solve this problem overnight, but it would be a welcome start. It is the type of opportunity that Labour ought to dream of. It is business friendly, creates jobs and piles substantial pressure on the Prime Minister from his own side too.

Early signs are positive. Harriet Harman was vocal in attacking David Cameron at PMQs whilst Liz Kendall has been quick to back the report’s findings too.  I would be surprised if other candidates do not follow suit. This issue is live and not going away. As Labour seeks to reconnect with the electorate and show that it is a serious party of government once more it could do worse than champion Britain’s economic interests and job creation whilst not avoiding a tough decision in the process. It is, after all, what governments do.

Perhaps most of all this issues teaches us something important about the next parliament. With GfK data showing consumer confidence up and Labour leaderless, things look bleak for the party. However, events will happen, the government will mess up from time to time and at some point there will be an EU referendum and Conservative leadership contest to contend with. Labour’s path back to power may be a tough one, however, if it gets its act together it is not impossible.

Keiran Pedley

Keiran Pedley is an Associate Director at Presenter of the podcast ‘Polling Matters’ He tweets about polling and politics at @keiranpedley


How the Alternative Vote system could stop Burnham becoming Labour leader

July 1st, 2015

Many thanks to Richard Nabavi for posting this article by Peter Kellner on the previous thread.

Peter Kellner looks at how the Alternative Vote system Labour use to elect their leader might stop Andy Burnham winning, it should be remembered, that this voting system helped Ed Miliband defeat his brother five years ago.

If you’re not sure how the Alternative Vote system works, this link should help as should this link.

However the betting sentiment is moving strongly towards Andy Burnham.

Ten days ago, I wrote that we were close to a potential crossover on the Betfair exchange between Burnham and Cooper, how the latest trade shows Burnham’s implied percentage chance of winning the leadership has gone from 39% on the 21st of June to 50% this evening, whilst Yvette Cooper’s has fallen from 36% to 30% in the same period.





How a third runway at Heathrow could make for a real Old Etonian mess for Cameron

July 1st, 2015

David Cameron in 2013 reaffirming his 2009 pledge that “The third runway at Heathrow is not going ahead, no ifs, no buts.”

It might be a novel experience for the Tory Party to be split on issue other than than EU, but the third runway at Heathrow has the potential to be just as problematic. Today the Davies report has backed building a third runway at Heathrow. The above video shows Cameron in 2013 reaffirming a 2009 pledge not to build a third runway at Heathrow. Boris Johnson is also very unhappy over the proposals, whilst Zac Goldsmith, the favourite to be the next Mayor of London has said he will trigger a by-election if the third runway were to be built.

However, the Davies report makes a very strong economic case for a third runway, such as 70,000 new jobs and £147 billion in economic growth by 2050. Given the way the Tories won the election in May, down to voters seeing them as best to run the economy, turning down a third runway might damage that credibility on the economy. I’m sure Nick Clegg will tell Cameron that there is no electoral downside if you do a u-turn on a pre-election promise.

Were Zac to trigger a by election, he might run for London Mayor as an independent, with a focus on opposition to the third runway, the Mayor of London is elected under the supplementary vote, so Zac could be theoretically very transfer friendly particularly if he stands as the anti third runway candidate.

Right now, 16/1 on any other candidate other than Lab, Con or LD, to win the London Mayoral election next year could be the way to go. The government’s final decision on the Davies report will be this year, my own hunch is that Cameron will do what is best for economy/country rather than stick to his original pledge, so that means a third runway.