Jeremy Corbyn, Tim Farron, David Davis and George Osborne among others face reformed constituencies.
The Boundary Commission proposals released today prove a boon to the Conservative party, threaten the seats of several high profile MPs and make difficult reading for opposition parties seeking to improve their parliamentary representation.
Initially launched in 2011 under the Coalition government the review was delayed by the Liberal Democrats following Conservative failure to commit to House of Lords reform. Revived under the surprise Conservative majority it sticks to former Prime Minister David Cameron’s commitment to reduce the number of MPs from 650 to 600.
The proposals set out the planned equalisation of parliamentary constituencies in England and Wales based on the number of eligible voters, using data from the electoral register as it stood on December 2015. The formula was devised by dividing the total number of registered voters by the required number of constituencies (600). The average quota stands at 74,769 with a plus or minus of 5 per cent on either side. Therefore boundaries have been drawn based on satisfying these population figures
The proposed changes mean several senior MPs constituencies have been abolished or absorbed into new configured seats. Many face the possibility of having to run against parliamentary colleagues in a selection process.
For the Conservative party two sitting cabinet ministers are threatened by the abolition of their seats. Brexit Secretary David Davis’ Haltemprice and Howden seat is axed, possibly creating a run off with fellow MP Andrew Percy for an alternate seat, as is International Development Secretary Priti Patel’s Withal constituency. However all three are likely to be accommodated as the Conservatives have committed to a ‘no MP left behind’ policy ensuring that all current MPs will be allocated a seat if they wish.
Education Secretary Justine Greening and Welsh Secretary Alun Cairns face diminished Conservative voters in their constituencies and could face difficult contests if challenged by strong opponents. Meanwhile Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson’s west London constituency is slated to include more wards with majority Labour voters, making the seat, and Johnson himself, a prime target at a future election.
Conservative inroads into the north west are threatened by the merger of Bolston West, Bury North and Morecambe & Lunesdale with larger Labour seats. Meanwhile Pendle and Tatton, ex-Chancellor George Osborne’s constituency is abolished outright. Relieved of his place on the front bench and facing a selection battle against chair of the powerful 1922 Committee, Graham Brady, Osborne may feel ready to join David Cameron in seeking a lucrative career outside of parliament.
The Liberal Democrats face an uphill battle seeing three key seats affected. Former deputy PM Nick Clegg’s seat has been abolished and Foreign Affairs spokesperson Tom Brake looks set to contest a notionally Conservative seat. Meanwhile current leader, and man tasked with leading a Lib Dem resurgence, Tim Farron’s constituency has added new Conservative areas.
There is also bad news for UKIP and the Greens. Douglas Carswell’s amended seat presents a difficult hold for the party and the prospect of losing their only parliamentary figure. While newly anointed co-leader of the Green Party Caroline Lucas’s Brighton Pavilion seat has been absorbed into other three constituencies. A popular figure in Brighton, Lucas’s best option is likely to be the new Brighton North constituency, containing five wards from Brighton Pavilion alongside Moulsecoomb and Bevendean, a high student population area. However this may be offset by the inclusion of Woodingdean ward, presently part of Conservative Simon Kirby’s Kemptown and Peacehaven seat and a Tory/Labour marginal.
Labour are most threatened by the proposals, mounting pressure after the party lost 26 seats at the last election and the Conservatives increased majorities in marginal seats. The proposals enlarge smaller constituencies where Labour have traditionally been stronger. Most significantly, if the proposed boundaries had been in use at the 2015 General Election, The Conservative majority would have grown from 12 to 44.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s Islington North seat is divided between two newly formed seats, Finsbury Park & Stoke Newington and Islington. Corbyn is likely to take one of these seats while neighbouring MPs make use of a Labour party rule granting MPs a claim on a constituency if the new seat retains at least 40% of the old. Most plausibly, Corbyn ally Diane Abbott will invoke her claim to the new Hackney Central constituency, forcing a run off against Meg Hillier if Hillier doesn’t exercise her own claim on Hackney West & Bethnal Green.
Most endangered are Labour MPs that have opposed the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn and face boundary changes. If Corbyn secures a second Labour leadership election victory as expected, it could spur him and his allies to press for reselection. Corbyn has previously alluded to this prospect stating “there will be a full and open selection process for every constituency”. Several powerful Corybn adversaries, and possible future leader candidates, are threatened by this.
Streatham MP and former leadership candidate Chuka Umunna’s seat has absorbed parts of Siobhan McDonagh’s Mitchan and Morden constituency provoking a possible selection process for the seat unless McDonagh, who doesn’t have a claim on another seat, withdraws. Both Tristram Hunt and Chris Leslie, often cited as a future leader, face testing reselection fights, presumably challenged by strong pro-Corbyn candidates. Alison McGovern, chair of Progress (a Labour pressure group opposed to Corbyn) has her constituency transformed into a notional Conservative seat. In addition long-time Labour MPs, and New Labour associates, Alan Johnson and Yvette Cooper’s seats face radical cuts to their majorities.
There is good news for the successor of London Mayor Sadiq Khan however, as Rosena Allin-Khan’s Tooting seat becomes a safer Labour seat. And Ed Balls’ old seat of Morley is set to be merged with sections of Batley, part of Jo Cox’s constituency, to flip from a Tory marginal to a solid Labour seat.
There has already been considerable criticism of the methods used to create the new boundaries, with allegations of poor representation. The use of starting data from December 2015 causes controversy because the switch to individual electoral registration meant 770,000 names dropped off the list. A volume of registered voters this size equates to roughly 10 times the number of people required for a constituency, according to the Boundary Commission’s own quota. Moreover the data also doesn’t account for the two million additional voters at the EU referendum. Young voters are most likely to be affected as the EU referendum saw an increase in registered voters among the 18-24 demographic and turn out of 64%.After such a major decision and a surge in political party membership and engagement, it is not representative to exclude those voters, and using absolute population data would be preferable.
A practical implication of excluding these voters is evident in considering MP workloads. Logic dictates that those already registered to vote are likely be more politically active and engage with their MP. However, when it comes to managing a constituency MPs also face requests, lobbying and activism from constituents who haven’t voted. MP’s are there, after all, to act as an advocate for all constituents, not just those who voted. Therefore it is easy to imagine a situation whereby MPs face asymmetrical workloads in their constituencies. An MP in a particularly busy constituency with a low registered voter record faces a higher workload. Volume of workload is an important figure when assessing MPs multiple duties and their ability to engage with constituents. It is not advisable to create a bigger democratic deficit by drowning some MPs under large workloads, while others sit in relatively leisurely seats.
The review represents the initial proposals of the Commission with final recommendations due to the published in Autumn 2018 and an open consultation period with the public begins today. Until the final recommendation has been published it cannot be put to a vote in parliament, another reason for Theresa May to avoid calling an early election. If the proposals remain largely unchanged, and May is able to ride out storms over Brexit negotiations and grammar schools, passing the proposals in parliament would benefit the Conservative’s mightily in the next election. In this instance Corbyn would be faced with more difficult electoral arithmetic than recent predecessors, but the opportunity to reshape and consolidate the Parliamentary Labour Party.
Further information regarding prospective boundary changes can be found here.