Archive for the 'Boundary Reviews' Category


Corbyn and the boundary review: not the disaster for LAB that it is but an opportunity for the hard left

Thursday, September 15th, 2016


Joff Wild is puzzled by the half-hearted response of Corbyn’s team. It’s as if they don’t care

The only question from a Labour perspective about the result of the Parliamentary constituency review for England and Wales is just how bad it will be for the party. The most optimistic prognosis I saw was from Paul Waugh in the Huffington Post, who reported that under the new boundaries the Tories would lose 17 seats and Labour would lose 23. But probably more realistic is the assessment provided by Anthony Wells, who put losses at 28 for Labour, 10 for the Tories, four for the Liberal Democrats and one for the Greens. Either way, though, the Conservatives – elected on just under 37% of the vote last year – would have won an even larger overall majority on the new boundaries than they actually managed to.

As a supporter of PR for all my adult life – who believes that the Commons is not there to reflect the results of a series of one-off, winner takes all contests, but the votes of the electorate – the boundary review was always going to be depressing. As a Labour supporter, it fills me with despair. One estimate I saw yesterday was that with Scotland lost to the SNP, to win an overall majority of one at the next general election, the party would need to make 92 gains in England and Wales – something that would involve gaining Tory seats with notional five figure majorities.

Given this, you would expect a full-on assault from the Labour leadership on what has been announced and a detailed strategy to challenge the outcome. There is plenty of raw meat to play with: the review focused on registered voter numbers, not on overall populations; even then, two million additional people who registered to vote in the EU referendum have not been included; as a result of the review the Prime Minister gets the largest notional majority of any MP in the country, while the Leader of the Opposition’s seat is abolished; and, because of first past the post, it will be even easier for the Tories to win overall majorities on even lower percentages of the vote. Of course, there are cases to be built against all of these claims, but for a determined, motivated, well-led organisation there is a lot to get its teeth into and to galvanise concerted opposition. That brings me to Jeremy Corbyn.

The Labour leadership knew that the review results were due to be announced on 13th September, it knew that the outcome was not going to be good for Labour and it knew that yesterday was a major opportunity to begin to frame the consultation period debate. The Leader of the Opposition, the shadow Chancellor and the rest of the Labour front bench could and should have been ready with a powerful message of defiance and a detailed plan to do everything possible to ensure that the final outcome is as positive for Labour as possible. But what we got was a brief statement from Jon Ashworth – who almost no ordinary voter has heard of – and individual reactions from some MPs.

For his part, Jeremy Corbyn pretty much confined himself to expressing disappointment and anger that his own constituency is set to go. Instead of outrage, a prominent Corbyn supporter and newly-elected member of the NEC went onto Radio 4 to say that the review is a chance to get rid of MPs who have not shown sufficient loyalty to the leader; Corbyn has made similar noises in the recent past, of course. In reality, Labour rules (unless changed) mean that mass deselection is highly unlikely; but the very strong impression given was that for many of those around Jeremy Corbyn, and by implication for the man himself, the boundary review is not a disaster for Labour, but a great opportunity to eliminate difficult customers and to consolidate control of what remains of the PLP after the next general election.

In my last Political Betting article I said that although Jeremy Corbyn is set to win the Labour leadership election comfortably, in the end his manifest inability to do the job and to unify will lead to his downfall. A lot of Labour members still giving him the benefit of the doubt, I said, will see how he performs over the coming couple of years and will reach the same conclusion that the majority of Labour’s pre-September 2015 membership already have: Corbyn is a disaster with an agenda that does not include leading Labour to victory at the next general election. That will become clear in the way he interacts with the PLP, in his handling of the Brexit debate, in his non-compliance with party policy on issues such as Trident, in his opposition to NATO and in his ongoing refusal to engage with the millions of voters who do not see the world in the way he does, not to mention his past support for the IRA, Hamas et al and his paid work for the Iranian theocracy. We can now add to that list his reaction to the boundary review.

Owen Jones – an influential though not uncritical supporter of Jeremy Corbyn – wrote an impassioned piece for the Guardian denouncing the boundary review. “Our ancestors fought for our democratic rights and freedoms. It would be an insult to this great British tradition if we now remained silent while a political party stitched up the rules in an attempt to keep itself in power forever,” he concluded. Jones, like hundreds of thousands of other Labour members, is about to discover that Jeremy Corbyn is much less bothered about this issue than he is. That will have consequences.

Joff Wild posts on Political Betting as SouthamObserver. Follow him on Twitter at @SpaJW


The boundary review is so favourable to CON because Cam/Osbo defied the Electoral Commission to fix it that way

Wednesday, September 14th, 2016


The former Top Tory Two have left TMay a great legacy

There’ve been two major changes to the electoral system that the Tories have brought which have combined together to make the boundary review so favourable to them.

The first is the introduction of individual voter registration which has had the effect of seeing that millions of names on the electoral roll had initially been lost. The second is the introduction of equal sized constituencies.

The big question was when you set the initial voter count for your starting point for the boundary review. The Electoral Commission wanted that to have been the end of 2016 to allow the initial impact of individual voter registration to have sorted itself out.

Cameron/Osborne insisted that this should be December 2015 which means that voter numbers used for the boundary calculation are something like 2m short of what they are today. The seats most affected are those with large numbers of younger people who have been most hit by the registration rule changes.

This went through Parliament in October 2015. There was an attempt in the Lords to keep to the Electoral Commission timetable but that failed by 11 votes due to what appeared to be a whipping cock-up on the Labour side.

There were two votes. The first on the amendment was a defeat for the Tories. Then, inexplicably, on the amended motion some LAB peers appeared to have slipped away and the Tory move got through.

Now those behind the overall plan are gone and Mrs May is the beneficiary.

Mike Smithson


First projection of new boundaries suggests that at GE2015 the CON vote share of 36.9% would have given it a majority of 40

Tuesday, September 13th, 2016

This compares with the 12 they actually achieved

Well done to UK Polling Report’s Anthony Wells for the speed he has got his boundary projection out.

Based on ward by ward his computation of the proposals Wells projects the above changes in the reduced size parliament. As can be seen LAB are the biggest losers and in relative terms the Tories are the big winners. The LDs would lose half their GE2015 seats and out would go the only GRN MP in Brighton.

The overall number of seats is being cut from 650 to 600.

The Tories are helped massively by the fact that the constituency electorate sizes are based on what they were last December when there were about 2 million fewer names on the electoral register.

Mike Smithson


The Boundary Review: Round-up

Tuesday, September 13th, 2016


The Boundaries of Wales : 1950 – 2010

Monday, September 12th, 2016

Where the total seats are being slashed from 40 to 29

The boundary changes to be announced tonight (and to the MP’s from England and Wales today) will see the first reduction in the number of seats in Wales since the Great Reform Act of 1832 and see Wales be reduced from forty seats to just twenty nine (it’s lowest number since the Great Reform Act) and will the be fifth set of boundary changes since true democracy (one elector, one vote) was introduced in 1950

Wales 1950 – 1970
Welsh Constituencies 1950 - 1970

The boundaries that were introduced for the 1950 general election saw the number of seats in Wales remain unchanged at 36, but saw the abolition of the University of Wales seat and the sole remaining borough seat in Caernarfon (made up of the towns of Bangor, Caernarfon, Conwy, Pwllheli and the Nefyn) making each constituency elected by everyone in that constituency. Amongst the constituency changes, the Caernarfon county seat was split into two (Caernarfon and Conwy), Flint was split into a Flint East and Flint West and there were some cosmetic changes to the South Wales valley seats.

Wales 1974 – 1979
Welsh Constituencies 1974 - 1979

The 1974 boundary changes were more a tidying up operation compared to the 1950 changes. Newport met with up Pontypool (leaving an enclave of Monmouth sandwiched between Newport and Cardiff), the Rhonddas were merged into a single Rhondda and Neath lost some land to the Gower as did Llanelli.

Wales 1983 – 1992
Welsh Constituencies 1983 - 1992

The 1983 boundary changes were ruthless. The Denbigh seat was carved up into Clwyd South West, Conwy was shrunken to accommodate the new Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (hived out of the old Merioneth), Flint East was reunited with it’s partner the other side of Wrexham and the two became the new Wrexham and Alyn and Deeside. Cardiganshire dived into Pembrokeshire and became Ceredigion and Pembroke North. Newport was split into two allowing Monmouth to become whole again and the South Wales valleys were put into some semblance of order.

Wales 1997 – 2005
Wales Constituencies 1997 - 2005

For the 1997 boundary changes it was Clwyd and Dyfed that felt the Boundary Commissioner’s force. Clwyd South West and Clwyd North West were craved up again into Clwyd West, Vale of Clwyd and Clwyd South. In Dyfed Carmarthen was split into two (East and Dinefwr, West and Pembrokeshire South) as was Pembrokeshire (Preseli) with Ceredigion returning to it’s pre 1983 shape.

Wales 2010 – present
Wales Constituencies 2010 - present

And in 2010, it was Gwynedd’s turn as the arrangement of Ynys Môn, Conwy, Meirionnydd and Caernarfon was scrapped and replaced by Ynys Môn, Aberconwy (diving deep into Meirionnydd), Arfon (the area around Bangor) and Dwyfor Meirionnydd (which combined Caernarfon with the remainder of Meirionnydd).

So seeing how much Wales has changed upwards since 1950, what will the Boundary Commissioners do now? Well, one thing is for sure. Eleven seats have to go and according to the electorate date published at the start of this process, of the top twenty five smallest electorates in the United Kingdom twenty of them are in Wales (Arfon, number 3, 37,915, Carmarthen East, number 24, 54,357). The map of Wales from 2020 onwards will be completely unrecognisable to anyone bar those time travellers from 1832!

Once the Boundary Commissioners have made their initial recommendations for England and Wales , I will publish a link to a my Google Drive which will contain a spreadsheet that will list every ward in England and Wales, their electorate and what constituency they are in at the moment. I am hoping that in a mass effort of crowdsourcing, members will fill in what constituencies the wards are proposed to be in and make a note of how many electors from each old seat are in which new seat and the proportion of the old seat (for instance 27,000 electors from Birmingham, Edgbaston (% of Birmingham, Edgbaston) and 16,000 electors from Birmingham, Yardley (% of Birmingham, Yardley) can be found in the new constituency of Birmingham, Handsworth) so that by the time Scotland announces on October 8th, it should be possible to create a whole new map of Britain by the end of October

Harry Hayfield


The Boundaries of Northern Ireland: 1921 – 2020

Tuesday, September 6th, 2016

1921 – 1979
The six counties of Northern Ireland (created after the creation of the Irish Free State in 1921) have been returning MP’s to Westminster centuries, but it is only since 1950 when the concept of one elector, one vote was established with the abolition of the university seats that Northern Irelan’s MP’s really started to count. It is quite amazing to think that for twenty nine years (with the UK wide boundary changes in 1955 and February 1974) the same boundaries were in place which might so some way to explain why at the 1979 general election, the Antrim South constituency had an electorate of 126,493 (which should be compared with the biggest electorate in mainland Britain which could be found at Bromsgrove which had an electorate of 104,375).

The constituencies in Northern Ireland for those elections were the four seats in Belfast (East, North, South and West), Antrim (North and South), Down (North and South), Armagh, Londonderry, Mid Ulster and finally Fermanagh and South Tyrone and over those twenty nine years whilst the constituencies didn’t change shape, the politics most certainly did.

In 1950, Northern Ireland was a Unionist stronghold with the party polling 63% of the vote and winning ten seats, the two remaining seats (Fermanagh and South Tyrone, Ulster Mid) being won by the Irish Nationalists but in the popular vote they were way behind polling just 12% of the vote. The next most popular party to the Unionists was Labour, yes, in the early days Labour contested Northern Ireland and in 1950 polled 21% of the vote with Sinn Fein bringing up the rear with just 4%. Fast forward to 1979 and it’s clear what an effect the Troubles had had on the politics of the province.

Instead of just one Unionist bloc, there were five types of Unionist. You had the Democratic Unionist and Loyalist party (7%), the Democratic Unionist Party (4%), the Official Ulster Unionist Party (15%), the Official Unionists (21%) and the Unionist Party of Northern Ireland (1%). But the non Unionist side had also fractured with the Irish Independence Party (3%), the Republican Clubs (2%), the Social Democratic and Labour Party (18%) and as a result instead of the Unionists winning ten seats as they had done in 1950, the Democratic Unionists won three seats (helped by the Loyalists), the Official Unionists won five, the SDLP won one seat, the Ulster Unionists won one seat and the United Ulster Unionists also won a seat.

Northern Ireland Boundaries 1921 - 1979

1983 – 1992
After the collapse of self government in Northern Ireland in 1982, it was decided that more Northern Ireland MP’s should go to Westminster and so for the first time new constituencies were created (and with that decision new names entered the Parliamentary Constituency lexicon, say “Hello” to Upper Bann and Lagan Valley) but there weren’t just new constituencies, some got split. The mighty Londonderry in the north got split to form Londonderry East and Foyle, Antrim North and Antrim South were put on a diet and a new Antrim East was born, and Down North became a mere shadow of it’s former self in order to make room for a new Strangford constituency.

Added to those changes were the political changes as well, the Democratic Unionists managed to gather all of their pieces into one, as did the Ulster Unionists and Sinn Fein appeared on the scene again and managed to win Belfast West thanks to Gerry Fitt, the former SDLP MP for the seat splitting the nationalist vote by standing as an Independent Socialist candidate. By 1992, however the Democratic Unionists were starting to fade with the SDLP being seen as the main nationalist challenger having picked up Newry and Armagh, Down South and then Belfast West from Sinn Fein, by which time Northern Ireland came into line with the rest of the United Kingdom and a new set of boundaries for, what by 1995 was becoming clearly apparent, a new government.

Northern Ireland Boundaries 1983 - 1992

1997 – 2010
At the 1997 boundary changes, we got a new seat in form of Tyrone West (which some American political commentators thought was an ode de homage to the American actor Tyrone Powers) but that wasn’t the only change in Northern Ireland. As well as splitting Mid Ulster to create the new Tryone West seat, Londonderry East and Foyle were put on diets which Foyle halving in size. The changes seemed to help everyone as the Ulster Unionists won the new West Tyrone, Sinn Fein gained the reduced Mid Ulster, and thanks to a slight rejigging of the Belfast seats, Belfast West as well.

As the 2001 and 2005 parliaments were elected the so called “Greening of the West” occurred as Sinn Fein took first Tyrone West and Fermanagh in 2001 and then Newry in 2005 helped in part by the collapse of the Ulster Unionists from 34% in 1992 to 20% in 2005 as the Democratic Unionists became the main force of Unionism (14% to 32%) but the times they were a changing and yet for Northern Ireland the new boundaries appeared to be nothing more than a tidying up operation.

Northern Ireland Boundaries 1997 - 2010

2010 – present
The boundary changes in 2010, could be compared to visiting a plastic surgeon. “Hello there, yes, I wonder if you can help me? I’d like Foyle to be halved in size again, Antrim East stretched up the coast a little, could you add a bit to Lagan Valley and Strangford and I’d like Belfast East stretched a little?” The changes were merely cosmetic, but boy, did they have an impact in 2010.

The new Belfast East rocked the political world by electing Alliance’s first ever Westminster MP, Belfast South elected the SDLP (despite the boundary changes helping the DUP), and in North Down Lady Hermon became the first Independent MP to be elected as a full blown Independent (not an offshoot of any party) since the 1950’s. And at the last election, after an absence of nearly ten years, the Ulster Unionists gained two seats to sit on the Westminster benches, but now for the first time since the birth of modern politics, Northern Ireland faces a challenge. It is going to lose a seat (17 constituencies) and come to terms with the fact that of the 18 constituencies only four are big enough to stay as they are.

Northern Ireland Boundaries 2010 - present

At midnight tonight, the Boundary Commission for Northern Ireland will become the first Commission to release their initial report into how Northern Ireland’s 17 constituencies will be created and by Wednesday I will post how those 17 might have gone if they had been in place in 2015. Will Sinn Fein be able to reclaim Fermanagh? Will the SDLP’s hold on Foyle increase or will it become a SDLP / Sinn Fein marginal? And what of North Down, will Lady Hermon have a seat to call her own or will the DUP sense the chance to make it a true Unionist seat?

Harry Hayfield

The following calculations are all my own work and are based on the initial proposals announced at midnight this morning

Antrim East: DUP safe, Antrim North: DUP safe, Antrim West: DUP safe, Belfast East: DUP / Alliance marginal (DUP safe if Unionist pact in place), Belfast North West: SF / DUP marginal (unlikely to change if Unionist pact in place), Belfast South West: SF safe, Dalriada: DUP safe, Down North: Ind safe, Down South: SDLP safe, Down West: DUP safe, Fermanagh and South Tyrone: SF / UUP marginal (potential to change hands if Unionist pact in place), Foyle: SDLP safe, Glenshane: SF marginal (Unionist safe if Unionist pact in place), Newry and Armagh: SF safe, Strangford: DUP safe, Tyrone North: SF safe, Upper Bann and Blackwater: SF marginal (Unionist safe if Unionist pact in place)


Antifrank on the impact of the big Lords Individual electoral registration vote

Saturday, October 31st, 2015


It could be more significant than tax credits

The House of Lords revolt on tax credits has got a huge amount of attention.  Less newsworthy, because it didn’t succeed, was an attempt in the House of Lords to delay the introduction of individual electoral registration by 12 months beyond the government’s proposed timetable.  The implications of that vote, however, may be more far-reaching.  What effect will it have?

This post is going to be both long and technical.  That is unavoidable, I’m afraid.

What’s new?

As a nation, we are moving to a system where each voter is personally responsible for registering to vote individually.  The initial gathering of the data was undertaken in 2014, but no names were removed from the register for the general election this year without it being positively verified that it was correct to do so.  The verification process is ongoing and by June this year the number of unconfirmed entries had been reduced from 6 million to 1.9 million.  The process of automatically removing unconfirmed data is to take place next.  Originally it was scheduled for the end of 2016 but the government chose (as it was entitled to do under the legislation) to bring this forward by 12 months by statutory instrument.  It was this statutory instrument that was at the centre of the debate this week.

The government’s decision was against the advice of the Electoral Commission.  Leaving the politics to one side, the question is whether it is more important to have an electoral register in December 2015 with as little inaccurate data as possible or to have an electoral register which is as complete as possible.  The Electoral Commission preferred the latter, given where the data verification exercise is at present.

What is the significance of the December 2015 date?  In the short term, there is a round of elections taking place in May 2016.  These will be conducted on the December 2015 electoral register.  There is, however, a much more important use of this particular electoral register – it will be used as the foundation of the Boundary Commission’s work for the 2020 constituency boundaries.  As such, it will have a direct impact on the next election.

Who is at risk of dropping off the register?

Irritatingly, despite providing a report of nearly 60 pages, the Electoral Commission did not deign to publish the detailed data on the verification process by council, which was up to date as at June 2015.  To their great credit, Hope Not Hate elicited this from the Electoral Commission and published it themselves in an appendix to their own report.

As can be seen, the rate at which the electoral register is being cleaned up is progressing at quite different rates both between regions and within regions.  One can accept that it is harder for inner city London councils (with young and highly mobile populations) to verify their data than rural councils (with older and more settled councils) and still wonder why Hackney had 22.9% of their data unverified while Islington and Tower Hamlets had 6% and 8.2% of their data unverified respectively.  There seems no good reason why Oxford should have only 6.8% of their data unverified while Cambridge had 17% of their data unverified.  Lincoln, a council that has a fair sized student population, has only 0.35% of their data unverified.  Council incompetence or lethargy seems to be playing a very substantial part in failing to get the data cleared up.

Hope Not Hate rather breathlessly describes the potential impact of bringing forward individual electoral registration as “the greatest disenfranchisement in British history”.  Is that true?  This is where it gets complicated.

What might this mean in practice?

Here’s the position as it stood in May 2015 (the voter figures are Hope Not Hate’s), with the rough seat allocation for a 600 seat Parliament that this would produce:

Boundary Review

The right hand column is rough and ready, but suitable for present purposes.

The effect of differential drop-off between regions is outweighed by wider population movements.  Scotland actually increases its seat count even as Parliament shrinks, despite the high drop-off of unregistered voters, presumably because of the increase in voter registration prompted by the referendum campaign.  The north east is looking at a sharp drop in its seat count despite having the best clear-up rate.  So the effect as between the regions is not all that great, if truth be told.

It’s a different story when we come to look at intra-regional trends.  This is especially important in London.  Six London boroughs have unverified records of 10% or more.  At the other extreme, Richmond-upon-Thames has only 0.96% of records unverified.  There seems no doubt that inner London boroughs are finding this a tougher exercise.  These boroughs are solidly Labour, so if their representation is weighted down, this is bad news for Labour.

Barking & Dagenham, Camden, Greenwich, Hackney, Haringey, Islington, Lambeth, Lewisham, Redbridge, Southwark and Tower Hamlets, are currently covered by 31 contiguous constituencies, all of which are held by Labour.  On current numbers of registered voters, they would be reduced to 24 constituencies.  This would be a dramatic shrinking in the weighting of these constituencies within London, all of which would be felt by Labour.

The effect outside London would be less stark because the bulk of the worst-performing councils for registration reconciliation are in London.  The same effect can be seen on a much lesser scale in Birmingham, the greater Manchester area and Sheffield, which may result in Labour losing a seat or two in each of these localities.

Some university towns would find themselves attached to slightly larger constituencies than they otherwise would have been (though Durham, Exeter, Lancaster and Bath & North East Somerset don’t seem to have had the same problems that Cambridge had in tracking down student records).  This would make a handful of constituencies a little harder for Labour to take.

Taken as a whole, the effect of bringing voter reconciliation to a halt in December is unlikely to be conclusive of the general election even on the basis of the June figures.  It may put Labour at a disadvantage of an additional ten to fifteen seats – a handicap, but not a noose around their necks.

That is not the end of the story though.  The data clean-up process is continuing.  Let’s assume for now that it will continue on the same course up to the cut-off date.  From July to December 2014, 3.1 million records were cleared up, resulting in a further 1.7 million people being verified as being on the electoral roll.  From December 2014 to May 2015, 1 million more records were cleared up, resulting in a further 460,000 people being verified as being on the electoral roll.  The rate of clear-up is slowing down and proportionately fewer records are being verified as being correct.

In the final phase if the course does not change, we might expect a further 500,000 records or so of the remaining 1.9 million unverified entries to be cleared up, resulting in perhaps a further 200,000 people being added to the electoral register.  If so, that means that at the cut-off date 1.7 million records will drop off the register (only 300,000 of those being verified as incorrect).  This final batch of verified data will be disproportionately in the areas which are currently lagging, flattening the current favour towards rural areas and against urban areas.  New voters will be added to the register, particularly in university towns.

If this trajectory is followed in the final clean-up, my educated guess is that the additional disadvantage that Labour would be under would be fewer than ten seats.  So not all that dramatic, really.

What can Labour do about this?

But the future is not yet written.  Similar alarms were posted before the general election about voter registration.  In the end, we saw a huge surge in registration, with more than 2 million registrations in the last month before the deadline.

With organisation, voter registration could be boosted again.  If Labour were really organised, they could turn individual electoral registration to their advantage, bolstering the size of the electorate in the seats where they most need it and enthusing younger voters.  That is after all Labour’s electoral strategy under Jeremy Corbyn, isn’t it?

Jeremy Corbyn has just set up a new grouping, Momentum.  One of its aims is to “Organise in every town, city and village to create a mass movement for real progressive change”.  If it’s looking for somewhere to start, campaigning to get voters through the process of individual electoral registration might be a very good place indeed.  Over to you, Mr Corbyn.



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

Friday, 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.