Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Welsh Constituency Boundaries Review.

The Wales Boundary Commission has published its 'interim' report for the review of Parliamentary constituencies in Wales. This is the last stage in the reform of constituencies which began over five years ago. The Boundary Commission will now consult on today's proposals and publish a 'final report' by September 2018, when there will be a vote in the House of Commons to approve the constituency boundaries for the 2020 General Election.

Let us consider the context in which these proposals have been prepared.  It began with the election of the Coalition Government  in 2010. During the previous Parliament there had been an almighty row about MP's expenses. No punishment was deemed too harsh for MPs. Amongst the various actions was an agreement to reduce the cost of democracy by cutting the number of MPs from 650 to 600. Actually, the manifesto commitment was a reduction to 585 - but let's not split hairs. A bill was taken through Parliament to enact this, and entirely logically it included equalisation of constituency size, which had not been reviewed for too long. The Act included a provision that meant all constituencies should have the same number of electors - around 75,000. Crucially, it included the stipulation that only a 5% tolerance be allowed in variation of size of constituencies. This Act passed into law, and it was assumed the new constituencies would be adopted for the 2015 General Election. But the Liberal Democrats undermined their own Act in the House of Lords by joining with Labour and others to delay final approval of the actual boundaries for 5 yrs. Though this suited me very well, it was a constitutional outrage in my opinion. This 5yr delay will be up in Sept 2018.

It's no point MPs shouting at the boundary commissioners. Not their fault. It was MPs who stitched up the restrictive rules, ensuring that consideration of geography, cultural and historic considerations counted for nothing. Especially in Wales, where I can only concede there has been 'over representation' for decades. And that's not making allowance for powers being transferred to the Welsh Parliament. The Wales Commissioners were required to reduce 40 constituencies to just 29. They had very little freedom of movement. Today, we have seen the results of their handiwork. And for me, it's devastating.

Let's consider the position in my constituency of Montgomeryshire. The electoral wards of Glantwymen, Banw, Llanrhaedr, Llansilin, Llanbrynmair, Llanfair, Llanfihangel, Llanwddyn, Meifod, Llandrinio, Guilsfield, Welshpool, Trewern, Llanfyllin, Llansantffraid, Machynlleth, Llandysilio go into a Clwyd South and North Montgomeryshire seat.

The electoral wards of Berriew, Caersws, Churchstoke, Dolforwyn, Forden, Kerry, Llandinam, Montgomery, Newtown and Tregynon go into the Brecon, Radnor and Montgomery seat.

The electoral wards of Blaen Hafren and Llanidloes go into Ceredigion and North Pembrokeshire.

This is a total demolition of the historic county of Montgomeryshire. Montgomeryshire is being torn into three pieces to 'top up' other constituencies. Parliamentary democracy in the old County of Montgomeryshire will be much diminished. MPs will become as little known in future as MEPs are little known now. This boundaries review may well be 'fair' in a statistical sense. But it's heart breaking for me. The only consolation is that the Welsh Parliament constituency will remain Montgomeryshire. This will be confusing at first, but less so as familiarity with MPs decreases. These new constituencies will resonate with very few in Montgomeryshire. And at its root, the cause of all this was the abuse of expenses by MPs several years ago - nothing whatsoever to do with most of today's MPs.

I'm typing this at 3.30am because I'm so upset about it that I can't sleep. I've always lived in Montgomeryshire. Always will. I don't have a single ancestor who was born anywhere else. For 40 yrs I've represented Montgomeryshire in one way or another - well as representing Montgomeryshire in stock judging, public speaking, squash, won bardic chairs at Montgomeryshire eisteddfodau, and a whole lot more. Three of our children with their five children have moved back to be near us at Berriew No way could I ever think about representing a different seat. If these proposals are approved in 2018, that will have to be it for me. But I won't be leaving politics. Politics will be leaving me.