Friday, October 21, 2016

Fight to save Montgomeryshire

Currently, a review of parliamentary constituencies across the UK is underway. In Wales, boundary commissioners have published their first draft of what they feel should be the parliamentary constituencies in the 2020 general election in Wales. A final decision is expected in time for Parliamentary approval in October 2018. In my experience, very few of my constituents are aware of the detail about what is happening, or the history which has led up to the current position, or what that current position actually is. The sad reality is that Parliamentary democracy as we know it is being emasculated in Mid Wales, with scarsely a murmur if dissent.

 So I invited Montgomeryshire's Town and Commiunity Councils (and County Councillors) to join me for a sort of 'seminar' last week. A few came along, and we had a good general discussion. I'd hoped more might come. The Montgomeryshire Conservative Association even provided refreshment, even though it was not a political meeting. I tried to be as non-opinionated as I could be, not a rule that applied to my guests of course. They could say what they wanted. They did. I've run through the history in a previous blog post, so here's just a brief summery of the background.

It began in 2009, following the 'Expenses Scandal'. Political parties competed to be the most beastly to future MPs, including cutting their number. The voting public was rather pleased about this approach. The Conservatives (led by new boy, David Cameron) made a manifesto promise to reduce the 650 MPs to 585, while the Lib Dems (then a force in the land) made a manifesto promise to cut to just 500. In the event, neither party won a majority. So in May 2010, the two parties formed a Coalition Government - and announced in its 'Programme for Government' that there would be a reduction in the number of MPs of 8% - from 650 to 600.
In 2011 the Parliamentary Voting and Constituencies Act was passed, taken through the Parliamentary process in a resolute determined way by the then Lib Dem leader and Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg. Not only did this Act reduce number of MPs to 600, it legislated to allow only a 5% difference in electorate of each of these 600 constituencies, eliminating the historic over-representation of Welsh MPs at the same time. The intention was that these new boundaries would be in place for the 2015 election, but in Sept 2013, this was scuppered when the House of Lords successfully inserted a 5 yr delay.
The proposals for Wales assume the number of Welsh MPs falling from 40 to 29, and each electorate being approximately 72,000-78,000. The poor old Welsh boundary commissioners had little choice but to carve up Mid Wales to make the numbers work elsewhere. And that's where we are today. Last Thursday we awere considering the first attempt to carve us up!  I just do not think many people know all this. Which is why I invited Council reps to come for a chat about it.
Interesting meeting. All agreed with the input I'd had into the Welsh Conservative official response - moving Llanidloes and Blaen Hafren back into the South Powys Seat, and moving Forden/Berriew into the North Montgomeryshire and Clwyd South seat. But I accept this is 'tinkering at the edges'. Some wanted to go further, and challenge the proposals wholesale, launching a fight to retain a Central Powys constituency (Montgomeryshire/Radnorshire). I said I thought this is tantamount to opposing the 2011 Act. At the personal level,I would love to see this approach succeed. 
Surpringly, some of the Councils most affected by the changes did not turn up, which was a bit disappointing. They probably have other forums to discuss these changes. But there were a few seasoned campaigners there, who do not intend to go quietly. So I expect we will hear more of this. Expect updates.

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