This week, the 4 Boundary Commissions of the UK published their final proposals for the new UK map of Parliamentary constituencies. Montgomeryshire, as we know it disappears. My view is that the proposals are a total dog’s breakfast. And it’s not the fault of the Boundary Commissions. The blame lies squarely on the politicians who stitched up the commissioners so tightly that they had no real choice but deliver the dog’s breakfast.
Let’s look back at how we reached this week’s deeply unwelcome position. It all began with the publication of expenses claimed by MPs before 2008, which became known as the “Expenses Scandal”. The public were rightly outraged by what had been going on. They were so angry that the leaders of political parties felt they had to do something to curry favour with voters. They responded by making what I thought were unwise and illogical promises. All we needed were clear rules that prevented abuse of the expenses system.
In the run up to the 2010 General Election, both the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrat’s said they would reduce substantially the number of MPs. They said this would “cut the cost of politics” (at the same time as increasing the size of the unelected House of Lords to 800!) It followed that after the election in 2010, the Coalition partners agreed to cut the number of MPs from 650 to 600. An Act of Parliament, the ‘Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Act’ was passed in 2011, which included an instruction to the four Boundary Commissions to decide on the precise boundaries of the 600 new constituencies. In the event the Lib Dem’s later changed their minds, and no vote by MPs has ever been taken. But the plan has never gone away.
These new constituency boundaries are being sold as being needed to equalise the size of constituencies. As populations move from poorer quality housing in cities to more desirable leafy suburbs, the size of constituencies do need to be adjusted accordingly. No-one will disagree with that. Everyone, including me accepts that. But there is absolutely no reason to cut the number of MPs by 50 to do it. The cut just makes the whole equalisation process much more disruptive and traumatic, hitting rural areas in particular.
And then we are also told that every constituency must be of almost exactly the same size. Why on earth must every constituency population be within a 5% range of the average. Why not 10%, or 8%. Just a figure plucked out of thin air. What is the point of having Boundary Commissioner costing vast sums of money to come up with a sensible structure, and then to tie their hands so they cannot take into account geography, or history, or culture because of this 5% rule. My view has been that a tolerance of 8% would make the review much more acceptable.
The new proposed constituency boundaries are particularly damaging to Wales. I accept that there must be some reduction because Wales currently sends 40 MPs to Westminster. The Wales population indicates there should be 34/35 Welsh MPs. But the reduction to 600 seats takes the 40down to 29, a sudden dramatic disruptive cut. And the second reason this is so damaging to Wales and that the Wales Boundary Commission has so little flexibility is that most constituencies have the immovable borders the sea and Offa’s Dyke. It makes reform of constituencies an impossible task.
I am opposed to the reduction in Parliamentary constituencies and have been urging (and will continue to urge) the Government not to go ahead with this plan. I hope the anticipated vote on the new boundaries will not take place in October, as planned.