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.