Friday, January 13, 2012

New Parliamentary Boundaries for Mid Wales.

Several people been asking about the Boundary Commission's recommendations for new Welsh Parliamentary constituencies. Here's my first crack at explaining what its all about.

The main 'driver' behind change was the 2009 'expenses' scandal, when it was revealed that several MPs had been abusing the allowances system. The public were disgusted, and there was a widespread opinion that the number of MPs should be reduced, and the cost of 'government' should be reduced as well. Political parties usually try to respond to what the people want. The Conservative Party included a commitment to reduce the number of MPs from 650 to 585 in its 2010 manifesto. The Liberal Democrats included a commitment to reduce to 500. All Conservative and Lib Dem candidates were elected on this basis.

Soon after the Coalition Gov't was formed a bill was presented to reduce the number of MP's to 600, Minister's salaries were reduced by 10%, MP's salaries were frozen for 5 years, and a new independently controlled system of allowances introduced. It was hugely controversial as it proceeded through its Parliamentary stages, but was eventually passed into law. I voted in support of change, as all of us had promised to do before being elected. Generally, politicians keeping promises is a good principle. The new Act also included 'equalisation' of constituency sizes, which had a bigger impact in Wales because of a longstanding 'over-representation' of Welsh MPs. Difficult to argue for 'special treatment' for Wales, especially since the National Assembly has now been given law making powers. The entirely 'independent' Boundary Commission was given responsibility to decide on the new constituency boundaries. It's recommedations for Wales were announced on Wed. of this week.

Must admit I've never been happy with any of this, but its what we promised. I guessed that it might have an unwelcome effect on my constituency, Montgomeryshire. Its turned out to be worse than I expected and from a personal standpoint, I am hugely disappointed. Our Montgomeryshire 'campaign team' put in so much work transforming my home area from one the safest Lib Dem seats in Britain into a reasonably solid Conservative seat. But I cannot, with integrity, challenge the principle of boundary change. Does not stop me challenging the detail though. And I'm going to.

I have today discussed the issue with my Association. We have agreed on certain actions. Firstly we are going that we are going to seek a comprehensive reconsideration of the proposals, because of the destruction of the historic constituency of Montgomeryshire. Secondly, because we realise that our first objective may not succeed, we will seek reconsideration of the detail - particularly between the proposed South Powys constituency, and the Glyndwr and North Powys constituency. It makes no sense to us at all. If Welshpool and Newtown must be in separate constituencies, we think that the villages in between should be included with the towns to which they naturally orientate. School catchments seem to us to be a good guide. Next week we will contact the relevant community councils to seek their views, and when received will forward them to the Boundary Commission, with our support. We will also suggest a change of name to Gyndwr and North Montgomeryshire, and to Brecon and Radnor and South Montgomeryshire.

Inevitably, I was asked what my personal hopes/intentions would be if the proposals went through, roughly as proposed. Very difficult for me to be definitive, because until 2015 I will represent the whole of Montgomeryshire to the best of my ability. And we won't know where the precise boundary will be for many months. But when I was pushed, I said that since my, and my family's personal and business lives had been based on Welshpool, I would probably seek my party's nomination to contest the 'Northern' seat. It will be a heartbreaking choice for me, and I feel unhappy writing these words. There's still a bit of me that hopes I will never have to make the choice.

The final matter we discussed was the possible realignment of the National Assembly for Wales' electoral arrangements with these new Parliamentary boundaries. As a PPS, I do not think I should express an opinion on this issue, but our Association Chair made an interesting point today. Perhaps the National Assembly has a closer link with Local Government than it does with the Westminster Gov't, and that it shouldn't be assumed that co-terminosity is the most effective arrangement. Anyway, this is a matter for my colleague, Russell George AM, and his colleagues in Cardiff Bay. Could be a lively discussion. This is perhaps the saddest post I've written during the 9 years I've been blogging. So we're going out to dinner to 'smother' my sorrows.


Anonymous said...

Your challengers in Trefaldwyn Glyndwr would be labour, a new challenge for you, with notional figures of Conservatives 16k Lab 12.5k LD 11.5k PC 5.5k UKIP 1k

James D said...

The detail does seem rather odd. A lot of the southern seats have been redrawn to cross mountains completely unnecessarily. Prime examples of this include:
1) Aberafan and Ogmore, Bridgend. Rather than extend Aberafan along the coast to encompass Porthcawl, they've attached the Bridgend valleys to it.
2) Rhondda, Pontypridd. Apparently using the Maerdy Mountain Road to add Mountain Ash to Rhondda rather than Pontypridd was considered simpler than taking Tonyrefail and the top of the Ely valley.
3) Cardiff North and Caerphilly, Newport West and the Sirhowy Valley, Cardiff East. This one is just bizarre. Instead of keeping Heath in Cardiff North and adding the very similar Penylan and Cyncoed wards, they've gone over Caerphilly Mountain. This in turn detaches Caerphilly from the rest of the Rhymney Valley from Llanbradach to Bargoed (which has been lumped into that salamander-like Sirhowy misnomer). And although a Cardiff East and Newport West seat would look a little odd, it would be a marked improvement on one stretching over a torturous path from the Wentloog Levels to Bargoed. And with that area being flat, full of business parks, and with the M4, A48, and South Wales Main Line, that would clearly be a far better place to cross the Cardiff city boundary.

Politically, the first and second of these are just rearranging dreadful Labour waxworks, but the third looks like the Boundary Commission was tying itself in knots to avoid a more Conservative Cardiff North.

Jeff Jones said...

The new Aberafan and Ogmore seat makes sense. The parts of the present Ogmore constuency which go into the new arranagement are already 'divided by mountains' and have been since Ogmore was established in 1918. There are also clear links between Maesteg which is the largest town in the Ogmore constituency and Aberafan and Afan valley. Historically parts of the new constituency from the Ogmore valley to Margam were before 1918 in the old Mid Glamorgan constituency which was established in 1885. That constituency also included the Neath valley and no one worried about problems of representation in the age of the letter and the steam train. Given the remit given to the Boundary Commissioners by Parliament they haven't made a bad job of it in my opinion. Although I can quite understand why some sitting MPs should be concerned about their future. But this is about ensuring equal representation in Parliament which was one of the demands of the Chartists not protecting the political careers of individuals . On a more personal note and although our politics are very different I believe that Welsh poltics would be a much poorer place if someone such as Glyn Davies did not have a part to play in the new political landscape after 2015.

Anonymous said...


I agree with your renaming suggestion as Glyndwr & North Monts, but I think that B&R & South Monts is too much of a mouthful, and South Powys is much easier.


I agree with placing Llynfi Valley with Aberafan, but the Ogmore & Garw Valleys clearly dont belong there. A better solution would be to place Pyle, Corneli, Cefn Cribwr & Aberkenfig with Maesteg in a Afan & Llynfi seat, with Ogmore and Garw joining Bridgend and Porthcawl in an Ogwr seat, and I will be submitting that suggestion to BCW.


Anonymous said...

Good points as ever. Stay in the fight.