600 seats

I’ve written a lot about AV over recent days, what about the boundary review. Now we know the new target number of seats upon which the quota will be set (600), the tolerance that will be allowed either side of that quota (5%), and the exceptions that will be allowed (the Western Isles, Orkney & Shetland and a cap by area), we can take some guesses at what the overall impact will be.

The North East is rather tricky to fit into the new quotas. Northumberland only qualifies for 3 seats (while Berwick-upon-Tweed is a large, underpopulated seat, it doesn’t come close to the geographical limit!), but they would be grossly overpopulated so would need to be paired with one or more Tyne and Wear Boroughs. Durham could be divided into 6 seats, but the Cleveland Boroughs need to be paired with it if not to produce oversized seats. We’d end up with 14 seats in Northumberland and Tyne and Wear, down 2, and 12 seats in Cleveland and Durham, down 1.

In Yorkshire North Yorkshire would not lose anything, and would presumably have only minor changes. Humberside would lose 1 seat, as would both South and West Yorkshire.

The North West is also relatively straightforward on paper, Merseyside would lose 2 seats, Cheshire would lose 1, Lancashire would lose 1, Manchester would lose 1 and so would Cumbria. In practice there are probably some tricky problems to solve. The Wirral would currently get three seats, but they would be just above the 5% limit, so unless the quota has risen by December 2010 (or the population of the Wirral fallen), the spectre of a cross-Mersey seat would rise again. Cumbria is also probably also going to be tricky to divide into 5 neat seats.

In the East Midlands, Leicestershire and Lincolnshire would retain 10 and 7 seats, so would probably have only minor changes. Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire would both lose a seat. Northamptonshire would qualify for 7 seats, but they would be too small to be within 5% of the new quota, so it would need to be paired with a neighbouring county. The most obvious candidate would be Bedfordshire to the South, which also needs to be paired to avoid undersized seats. Between them they would have 12 quota sized seats, compared to 13 currently.

In the rest of the East of England Hertfordshire and Suffolk would have only minor changes. Cambridgeshire could also be treated alone, but Norfolk needs to be paired in order to produce seats within the quota limits, and a pairing with Cambridgeshire would produce seats closest to the quota – between them the two counties would retain 16 seats. Finally for the East, Essex would need to lose 1 seat.

The West Midlands are another tricky region. Worcestershire, the West Midlands (down 3) and Staffordshire (down 1) can all be divided into seats within 5% of quota (though dividing Birmingham’s huge wards into seats within the 5% tolerance will be fun!). Shropshire and Herefordshire would need to be paired, but putting them together doesn’t help, so they would need to be dealt with together with Worcestershire (between them losing one seat). But this leaves Warwickshire too large to result in 5 seats inside the 5% limit. It could be paired with some of the Metropolitan boroughs, but a neater solution may be pairing Warwickshire with Oxfordshire, which would otherwise be oversized – together the two seats would retain their existing number of seats.

The rest of the South East should have very little disruption from the review. Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, East and West Sussex, Surrey could all retain the same number of seats and hit the new quota. Hampshire would lose a seat based on its own electorate, but unless an extra exception is made it will need to be paired with the Isle of Wight creating a cross-Solent seat. Between them the Isle of Wight and Hampshire will retain the same number of seats. Kent therefore becomes the only county in the South East to lose a seat.

In the South-West Cornwall will probably be upset about being paired with another county, but it is unavoidable. With an entitlement of almost exactly 5.5 seats it will need to be paired with Devon, between them having 17 seats, one down on currently. The former county of Avon will lose 1 seat, Gloucestershire will be largely unchanged. This leaves Dorset and Wiltshire where the average seat sizes will be too small, and Somerset where they will be too large. To me, the most sensible solution is pairing Wiltshire and Dorset, with Somerset paired with one or both of the parts of Avon originally drawn from Somerset. The result will be that Avon/Somerset lose one seat between them, and Dorset/Wiltshire lose one seat between them.

London as a whole will have 70 seats, down from 73. There are obviously a large number of possible pairings of Boroughs to get to this point.

Northern Ireland will lose 3 seats.

Wales will suffer the harshest reduction in seats, down from 40 to 30 as its quota comes into line with the quota elsewhere in the country. Once again, there will be some tricky decisions for the boundary commission. My guess is Gwynedd will need to be linked with Clwyd (losing 3 seats between them), Powys will need to be linked to some other county – perhaps Gwent. The ERS’s stab at what sort of result boundary changes might produce had a rather odd link between Powys and Dyfed, which looks unlikely, but does make the maths work nicely. Either way, most of the rest of Wales will need to be linked up and there are various ways it might pan out.

Finally, Scotland would have a quota of 51 seats, down from 59. However, we know there are exceptions to the rules for the Highlands and Islands. These mean that the Western Isles and Orkney and Shetland retain their current undersized seats. The Highlands are entitled to 2 seats based on the quota (though they would be more than 5% from the quota, so it would need to be paired.) In practice, I think it would be impossible to come up with a solution that didn’t involve a seat larger than the current Ross, Skye and Lochaber, which is to be the statutory geographical limit on size, so the Highlands will probably retain three seats (one possible solution that kept all the seats within 5% of the quota and under the geographical size of RS&L would be to put the south of the current RS&L with the undersized Argyll and Bute, then splitting the remainder of RS&L between the other two highland seats – I think one would still end up being too large geographically though. With the Highlands and Islands taken care of, the rest of Scotland would be entitled to 48 seats, producing a total of 52 or 53, down 6 or 7.

263 Responses to “600 seats”

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  1. Anthony,

    Actually while we are on the three member committee I should have given some background…

    After the 06.12.21 articles of agreement that created the Irish Free State, we appoint a boundary commission to fix the border between north and south… it had the magical three members you mention. Two were Tory lords which were chosen to suit the northern Protestants…. I surmise our new figure of 8 (1 of whom is only a deputy) is de facto a figure of 7. In conflict societies 7 is chosen instead of 3 to reduce the impression of bias in one of the members. This is perhaps the reason for the difference in this case.

    If Nicholas Whyte posts again I will ask him given that he is something of an expert on these matters.

  2. Anthony,

    I checked out your English one, it seems there are more than three with a smattering of the academic type I had in mind when I suggested our very own Dr Foley consider a career change… :)

  3. “Cornwall will probably be upset about being paired with another county (sic), but it is unavoidable”

    What lazy analysis is this?

    If an local Cornwall Councillor can come up with lots of ‘avoidances’ why can’t you? See link below:


    Do be awere, this is more than a matter of being ‘upset’, this is one where ‘battle lines’ will be drawn by the 4th (and Celtic nation) in Britain … the Cornish!

  4. Anthony Wells: “in practice the boundary commission seemed to pay much less attention to the boundaries of unitary authorities with the status of counties than they did to ‘proper’ county councils at the last review anyway, there are many, many cases of their boundaries being crossed”

    Yes and no, I think, Anthony. The smaller size of unitaries compared to the county they have been carved out of meant time-and-again that a whole number of constituencies could not be created from within the unitary. That must increase considerably if the ConDem 600 constituency boundary change is implemented. What surprises me, rather, is the number of times UA boundaries were respected, even against that background.

    “the boundary between Medway and Kent, for example, was happily crossed”
    Not SO happily: it is only crossed once, and then because Medway had a theoretical entitlement to 2.6 constituencies, that would have been less than 62,000 electorate if the boundary had been respected. I get the impression, re-inforced in Medway, that the BC try to minimise the number of times unitary and county boundaries are crossed. By contrast, within a county, district boundaries can be crossed by multiple constituencies.

    Unitaries that have ended up not combined were Bath and North East Somerset, Bristol, Hartlepool, Herefordshire, Isle of Wight, Leicester, Milton Keynes, Northumberland, North Somerset, Nottingham, Portsmouth, South Gloucestershire, Stockton-on-Tees, Swindon, Warrington, Wiltshire, York.

    Some of them are not surprising (IoW, Northumberland), but others, like Leicester, Nottingham, Milton Keynes and York could have been treated with the county they were formerly part of to acheive greater equality of constituency size and weren’t, and treating separately the UAs of the former County of Avon resulted in quite substantial disparities. Similarly, even though to avoid excessive disparity all of the former County of Cleveland was considered in a single review, it resulted in the boundaries of both Hartlepool and Stockton being respected.

    Cornwall, also, was only combined with Isles of Scilly (but wasn’t a Unitary at the time of review anyway).

    “Crossing the Tyne wouldn’t be a problem either, given there is the (albeit rather unpopular) precedent of the old Tyne Bridge seat.”

    I was very much aware of that precedent, since I lived in Newcastle and was politically active at the time of the Tyne Bridge byelection. But as you recognise, the constituency was unpopular, and there is a more recent precedent of the rejection of the proposed cross-Mersey constituency at the last review. Reading the BCE report, I get the impression they regret that they reviewed Cheshire before Merseyside.

    “With the creation of the Lancaster and Fleetwood this time round, I believe we even have a precedent of a seat with a river where you need to leave the constituency to cross it.” Almost, but not exactly: I understand from the constituency thread that there is a foot-ferry.

    Given the proposals for cuts to academia, perhaps I will need the career change Eoin has in mind for me.

  5. Chris,

    Taking the proposals at face value, then crossing the Devon/Cornwall boundary is unavoidable. All but one of the ‘avoidances’ suggested on the blog require changes to what is proposed. What AW has done here is to demonstrate that if Cornwall wishes to avoid having a cross-border constituency, on current electorates, it will have to get the proposals changed.

    The most logical of the ideas put forward on the blog you link to is excluding second home owners from the register (the one which could be done without a frontal assault on the proposals).

    The next most logical is the idea of increasing the amount of variation allowed to plus or minus 7% rather than plus or minus 5% (which I suspect will be something the Boundary Commissions lobby, quietly, for).

    It wasn’t lazy analysis by AW, so much as following through the logic of what is currently proposed. It is for opponents of a cross-border constituency, not AW, to find creative ways of avoiding it. I wish them luck.

  6. Sorry, I just checked, and the figures for the electorate are such that even plus or minus 7% will not be enough to enable the Devon/Cornwall boundary to be left uncrossed. On current electorate, it would take _more_ than plus or minus 8% to fit a whole number of constituencies in Cornwall and IoS.

    Perhaps a combination of excluding second home owners from the electorate and increasing the margin together would enable the Devon/Cornwall boundary to be left uncrossed, but increasing the margin by anything plausible without a major climb-down wouldn’t on its own.

  7. Ben F,

    That is a very interesting point. Are you suggesting that wealthy (Tories presumably) are switching their vote to non-blue heartlands such as Cornwall in an attempt to take seats… WSM Plymouth etc?,

    I wonder if areas like Edinburgh, North Wales, or Rossshire are similarlyy affected?

  8. Eoin,
    I wasn’t suggesting anything. I was just reporting one of the more plausible proposals from a LibDem opposed to crossing the Devonwall border.

    I think, though, you have pointed out why the Tories might not be in a hurry to go along with it.

  9. Ben,

    thanks for the clarification. I look forward to the local disputes over matters such as these… do cornwallians have the same rights as the Islanders of Orkney etc.? That will be an interesting question.

  10. I’m sure the LibDems of Cornwall are as keen on being over-represented in Parliament as the LibDems of the Highlands and Islands. Given that Cornwall is currently split 3 seats LD, 3 Con, they might also be able to persuade their coalition partners (but knocking 2nd home owners off the register will make the apparent over-representation greater, which could make it harder to ‘justify’).

    But if the Dev/Corn boundary is respected, then it is even harder to argue to have a cross-Solent constituency, and without crossing that boundary, the IoW is either substantially under-represented, or has two constituencies with an electorate of each little more than that of Ross, Skye and Lochaber. And if the Solent is not crossed, what about the Menai Straights?

  11. Ben,

    On a practical issue, there is a bridge across the Menai Straight. None across the Solent.

    Indeed, I suspect that teh bridge is one reason why Skye stays with Ross rather than being merged withe the Hebrides to create one glorious archipelagaic seat from Lewis tio Islay

  12. Paul, I have known about the Menai bridges since before I was interested in politics: but the point is that if they start flexing the rules for Devonwall, there are other exceptions waiting in the wings to stake their claims. As for Skye, I am pretty sure Skye was with the mainland, and not the Western Isles since long before the building of the bridge.

  13. Ben,

    Aye re Skye, which has historic links with Ross and Lochalsh. But the bridge pulled it closer when it came to redrawing the Scottish boundaries for Westminster tto bring the number of seats down from 72 to 59 – thereby amplyfying the discrepancy between Western Isles and O&S seats in comaprison to the mainland.

    My point is that Skye is a Hebridean island – like the other Inner Hebrides – and a “Hebrides” seat would actually be not that far off the target electorate. (It would probably also have acceptable area if one ignored the water and measured land surface only.)

    You should have spotted by now that I have a mischevious streak !

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