Yesterday the review of the Parliamentary boundaries for the next general election kicked off – not that there is much to see yet. The English, Welsh, Scottish and Northern Ireland Boundary Commissions announced the beginning of the review, the electorate figures which they’ll be working off, and the number of seats that each country and region will be divided up into.

The review will be based on the same new rules as the review that was abandoned during the last Parliament. The amendment passed by Labour and the Lib Dems didn’t reverse the changes that the government had made to the rules on boundary reviews, they just delayed the next review for five years. This means the new review starts up now and will report in 2018, ready to be implemented for the 2020 election. This is not a case of the aborted review from the last Parliament being implemented, it’s a brand new review based on updated electorate numbers. However in terms of the broad strokes the proposals will be quite similar.

The boundary review will reduce the number of seats from 650 to 600, and go from boundaries based on 2001 electorates to boundaries based on 2015 electorates. Comparing the current boundaries to proposed new ones there will be some very substantial changes – it’s inevitable when fifty seats are being chopped. Comparing the numbers to what would have happened under the aborted review in the last Parliament the changes will be more modest.

Scotland will see its current 59 seats fall to 53 (compared to 52 in the aborted review), Wales will see its seat numbers fall from 40 to 29 (compared to 30 in the aborted review), Northern Ireland will get 17 seats (compared to 18 currently, 16 in the aborted review). Across the English regions the South East and East will lose 1 seat each, the East Midlands will lose 2 seats, North East 4, Yorkshire 4, London 5, West Midlands 6 and the North West 7. In most cases these figures are the same as the aborted review – the differences are that the West Midlands will lose an extra seat (probably in the Metropolitan area), the Eastern region will lose one less seat (it looks to me like Bedfordshire & Hertfordshire will no longer require a cross-county seat and the loss there will no longer happen, so Nadine Dorries will be reprieved) and the North East will lose an extra seat.

My calculations last year were that if the 2015 election had been fought on the boundaries from the aborted review it would have given the Conservatives a majority of 44. The Tories would have won nine fewer seats, Labour 28 fewer, the SNP six fewer and the Lib Dems just four. The impact of this new boundary review will likely be broadly similar, but perhaps a little worse for Labour: the extra seat reductions in the North East and West Midlands are likely to be Labour, the relative gains in the East Midlands and Scotland will be Conservative and SNP.

Those won’t the only differences though – we’ve had five years of population drift and the change in registration since then, so many of the proposals the boundary commissions made in 2012 would no longer add up anyway. Unavoidably, the detailed proposals will be different from what we saw in 2012. These won’t be extra seats created or abolished, just boundaries drawn in different ways. To give a couple of examples –

Coventry currently has three seats, and at the aborted review it still had just the right population to retain three seats for itself. Its electorate has now fallen to the point where it’s impossible to draw three seats that hit quota, so while there will still be three seats covering Coventry, one will have to take in some wards from outside Coventry, I’d guess from Warwickshire.

University seats saw a particular drop in the number of registered electors from the move to individual registration, so Cambridge constituency as it was previously proposed will no longer be large enough. There will still almost certainly be a Cambridge seat, but it will now probably cover the whole of the Cambridge council area and have to include a ward from outside Cambridge to make up the numbers.

Other areas where the electorate has dropped notably since the aborted boundary review include Blackpool, Leeds, Oxford, Kensington, Middlesbrough, Southampton, Carlisle and Newcastle. In places like these proposals will probably be substantially different to the aborted review – boundaries will need to move outwards, or the Commissions will choose to arrange the boundaries in completely different ways. At the other end of the scale, the electorate is notably higher in places like East Devon, Bedfordshire, Thanet, Greenwich and Bermondsey, so movement there is likely to be in the opposite direction.

In some cases those small adjustments will have a domino effect and require big changes through a whole county to make sure everything is in quota (though it is has been suggested that the English boundary commission will be more willing to split wards, making their task easier and – hopefully – avoiding some of the dafter proposals we saw last time). Even where there are small changes they may have party partisan effects here and there, making seats that little bit better or worse for parties, tipping the occasional marginal into the other column.

We won’t have any further details until the Commissions release their initial proposals, expected to be in September. At that point we will be able to start working out notional figures and coming up with detailed estimates of what the partisan impact of the boundary changes will be.

203 Responses to “The new boundary review gets going”

1 2 3 5
  1. Anthony

    Any comments on Lewis Baston’s analysis of the likely changes in party representation?

  2. Not that a seat here or there makes much difference at Westminster, but notable that Scotland loses one seat less compared to the aborted review, while Wales loses an extra one.

    IIRC, NI allocation is essentially rounded to what’s left when GB countries get their seats! (ProfHoward will know).

    While Scotland’s population has been growing, it hasn’t been as fast as in southern England, so presumably the higher share of the electorate will be partly due to a higher level of registration? A consequence of indyref?

  3. NI allocation is the same as Scotland, Wales and England. It’s just Sainte-Lague allocation across the four countries (and yes, my guess too is that it’s from higher registration from the IndyRef).

  4. Anthony


  5. Yes Anthony is correct, I think, though I am not an expert on this.

    I think NI went up because voter registrations went up. There was some hope it would even go up 2 not 1.


    I must have missed this, but has David Owen come out as a leaver? Somewhat shocking if so, but hard to counter.

  7. I am not surprised about Lord Owen’s position to be honest, I think he has been quite Eurosceptic for a while.

  8. The Irish Republic votes tomorrow. Everyone expecting a minority government to emerge.

    I think the conservative government (FG-led) that currently rules will do slightly better than the polls predict, just a hunch that people will be shy FG.

  9. ProfHoward

    Will BBC cover the election in the only other country sharing a land border with the UK – even on BBC Parliament?

    Probably not.

  10. Oh good grief Question Time is bad this week.

    I now know how Jess Phillips felt when she told Diane Abbott to eff off.

  11. PollTroll

    The words “this week” were probably redundant.

  12. OldNat

    You perhaps have been following it.

    FF have had a good campaign, regaining ground. They can look forward to being the opposition party, to a minority government.

    Labour are having a terrible time – think Lib Dems! – as the small party in coalition government. Will lose a lot of seats.

    Sinn Fein will gain, but they’re not really making the big gains they had hoped as a radical left anti-austerity party.

    FG (Tories!) will probably do well, though not well enough to run a majority coalition with Labour.

    So…….all very exciting and I will be glued to it on Sat. You don’t need the BBC, RTE have a good website on this, with all the transfers between candidates reported in depth.

  13. ProfHoward

    Following it – to an extent, but I don’t have sufficient detailed knowledge to pick up all the implications.

    “You don’t need the BBC” – few do, but since I have to pay for the damn thing, it would be good if it reported on an election in our near neighbour.

    Indeed, given the appalling ignorance being shown by the audience they dredged up in Poole, they should hang their heads in shame (yet again) for seldom being bothered to comment on EU politics as a normal part of reporting.

  14. Could somebody explain what figures the boundary commissions are basing their work on, or point me somewhere that does? Why not use the census figures (would avoid the problems with voters lost in the switch to IVR, amongst other things)? Is it just that they’re considered too out of date?

  15. Sorbus

    Legislation requires that the Boundary Commissions works on the numbers on the latest electoral roll.

    MPs make the rules, and that’s one of their rules.

  16. Technically, MPS, a whole bunch of unelected Lords, and an unelected monarch make the rules.

    For some reason that doesn’t bother most of the Leavers – presumably because they are British unelected people, and not nasty foreign unelected people.

  17. Does anyone know why the seats are being reduced to 600? The only plausible explanation I’ve heard is that it will mean that any governing party will have fewer backbenchers, as there will still be the same (or even more!) government jobs. Therefore it will make it easier to govern with a small majority, because there will be fewer potential rebels. Also, presumably the Tories think that this will be to their advantage in some way.

    Are there any other theories?

    [Speculating about government/opposition reasons for carrying out policies really isn’t a suitable topic for discussion here (it inevitably leads to silly partisan tosh, as it’s impossible to know the correct answer so people who dislike a party just assume nefarious motives for everything). That said, I’m fairly confident that the seat reduction was essentially an attempt to justify a fresh boundary review that the govt wanted anyway for reasons of advantage/fairness (delete as applicable) on grounds of cost saving. Changing the rules to put in a fixed number of seats was correcting a long standing problem with the old rules that had an unintended ratchet effect – whatever number had been picked would have been largely arbitrary anyway. Going for 600 allowed the government to make an argument that they were saving money by cutting the number of MPs… it didn’t really work. In hindsight it would probably have been easier to set it at 650, but they can’t change it now without primary legislation, which they probably wanted to avoid rather than risk the whole can of worms being opened up, delayed in the Lords, and the changes not getting through in time for the 2020 election – AW]

  18. I’ve just thought of one other reason for the reduction. It might be thought that it would make it harder for insurgent parties to gain seats.

  19. Pete B

    Maybe it’ll cost less to find an alternative home for MPs while the crumbling Westminster building is restored to a still wholly inappropriate but less crumbling, building?

  20. Oldnat
    Lol! My mate down the pub reckons they should just bulldoze it and start again with a new building on the same site, or preferably near Birmingham. We’ve got some good demolition firms in the Black Country. It’d be a lot cheaper too, unless they want a VAT receipt.

  21. PeteB

    Birmingham sounds OK for a UK Parliament (though Derry might be better :-) )

    The Thames bank location might be good for storing Trident missiles (or tax-free storage for Carfrew).

  22. Oldnat
    I just hope global warming kicks in properly so London gets flooded. They’d all want to come here, and we could rip them off with huge house prices or rents.

  23. Birmingham would be a step in the right direction. But not nearly far enough. Glasgow, better.

  24. The parliament should be somewhere near the middle of the country, not just geographically, but so it’s easy to access by most of the population. As the south and Midlands of England are the most densely populated areas, it shouldn’t be any further north than Birmingham.

  25. When Trump becomes President, he’ll simply tell the UK to move their Parliament to one of his golf courses.

    After all, they can follow his instructions just as well from a bunker on the 13th fairway, as from a bunker in London. :-)

  26. We could use the Thames as the new base for the nuclear subs, after the Scots have wandered off. G’night all. I, if not you, am getting silly now.

  27. According to Wikipedia, the House of Commons will not have been as small as 600 MPs since the turn of the century .. the nineteenth century that is.

  28. The RTE site is predicting that the Greens will win two seats in the Irish election. One I assume will be Eamon Ryan in Dublin Bay South, but who would be the second and where? Would it be in Dublin Fingal or Dublin Rathdown or Dublin West?

    And does former Green TD Paul Gogarty have a chance as an Independent Alliance candidate in Dublin Mid West. I met former Comhaontas Glas leader John Gormley in 1995, just after he had finished serving as the Lord Mayor of Dublin.

  29. Does the Boundary Commission use the roll for Westminster elections or the roll for EU and local elections which includes EU nationals – after all those non voting voters are still represented by an MP? If not I wonder if that could be subject to judicial review?

    Meanwhile, an election in my home country – how exciting….

  30. @Oldnat – “For some reason that doesn’t bother most of the Leavers – presumably because they are British unelected people, and not nasty foreign unelected people.”

    While the UK governing system is full of odd contradictions, there is a key difference, in that we could, as a peoples, vote in a government to remove the HoL and become a republic if we so wished. We do not have this opportunity for the unelected Europeans. Therein lies the critical dfference, some would say.

    As it is, retaining the monarchy seems to get very strong polling support, not too sure about the Lords. The key judgement for many is whether or nopt the system seems to function. The leavers I suspect believe that the UK systems functions better than the EU system.

  31. “University seats saw a particular drop in the number of registered electors from the move to individual registration”

    Has there been any official comment on this, and in particular on the decision to proceed with the new figures? It seems rather unlikely that the old electoral register was marred by widespread over-representation, affecting university seats in particular. Drawing constituency boundaries on the basis of artificially deflated figures seems like a bad idea on a number of levels; in the best case scenario the exercise is going to need to be re-done as soon as all those missing voters catch on and re-register.

  32. does anyone have an analysis of voters by constituency or suggest a link ?

  33. There has been a long-standing problem with the old system that you tended to stay on the register at your old address for a year or two after you moved, so people were dual registered. People who move a lot – and students are a classic example of such – tended to be dual registered a lot more than people who are more static.

    What the new system seems to have done is to shift a lot of students from having two registrations to zero.

    One suggestion I’ve seen, which would make a lot of sense, would be to base the boundary review on the registration figures from a general election polling day – given that those registers are the ones that most effort is put into being accurate.

  34. Incidentally (and the above comment was also me before I logged in) – one reason why student areas seemed to have very low turnouts is that a lot of students had two registrations but only cast one vote. That individual then had a 50% turnout.

  35. I presume you lot are just joking about actually moving the centre of Government from London – our capital city.
    Do you think the French would even discuss downgrading Paris as their capital city and centre of Government – so really it’s all rubbish talk so I will take it you are having a laugh!

  36. With Wales dropping from 40 to 29, and changing population numbers, there will be significant differences to the earlier proposal and my constituency, Montgomeryshire, is bound to disappear. On the other hand, the new owners of a former department store in Newtown are looking for tenants and housing is cheap for all the parliamentarians who could move here!

  37. @ Sine Nomine

    The joke was to move the HoC, not the government.

    But as half of the government party MPs are in the government, it would be more reasonable to send only the opposition MPs to exile in Birmingham.

  38. That the Executive branch of government is trying to reduce the power of Parliament (which has generally been quite fractious over recent years) by reducing the number of MPs is not a partisan statement, but is a statement of the obvious.

  39. There must be a good chance that the proposed boundary changes will fail to get through the Commons when the vote comes in 2018 – particularly if the Tories manage to lose a few by elections in the meantime. I can also imagine a few Tory MPs failing to support the proposals – particularly from Wales.

  40. There are separate issues here: seat equalisation which may or may not have a justification (but I doubt it would be priority if it did not benefit the government of the day – that is how reforms happen in the UK such as abolishing hereditary peers under Labour).

    Seat reduction is a completely separate issue – there is no reason why equalisation could not happen under 650 seats; indeed with smaller constituencies it ought to be easier to draw geographically logical boundaries due to increased granularity.

  41. [email protected]
    ‘While the UK governing system is full of odd contradictions, there is a key difference, in that we could, as a peoples, vote in a government to remove the HoL and become a republic if we so wished. We do not have this opportunity for the unelected Europeans. Therein lies the critical dfference, some would say.’

    But we can vote in a Government to remove us from the E.U.

  42. The obvious thing to do to avoid unfair consequences, is to reduce by a number of MPs that disadvantages them as much as others.

  43. @Graham,

    I’d say there’s a chance, but it’s still more likely the boundary chances will be passed. In 2013, despite a Tory rebellion, only a few Tory MPs voted against. On the sort of figures of 2013, the changes would be passed without any problems whatsoever for the government. There may well be a few abstentions from NI parties etc. too like last time too, which would obviously help the Tories.

    I think a lot also depends on how the Labour party is doing in the polls by then. If they are still well behind the Tories, many Tory backbenchers will fancy their chances in their new designated seats. If, on the other hand, the Labour party is on the rise and major divisions have opened up in the Tory party over Europe, it’s more than possible that the changes could be defeated.

    But if I were a betting man, I’d say it’s pretty likely the changes will go through at this stage.

  44. @Carfew

    “The obvious thing to do to avoid unfair consequences, is to reduce by a number of MPs that disadvantages them as much as others.”

    The obvious thing to do to avoid unfair consequences is just get rid of all of them.

    But I seem to be the lone, valiant voice of sanity on this issue…

  45. “Technically, MPS, a whole bunch of unelected Lords, and an unelected monarch make the rules.
    For some reason that doesn’t bother most of the Leavers – presumably because they are British unelected people, and not nasty foreign unelected people.”

    Well said, OldNat….

    We cut the number of elected MPs by 50, ostensibly to save money, and we increase the Lords from 750 to 800, or thereabouts.

    Makes perfect sense!


    We cut the HoC by 50 MPs and then David Cameron is going to appoint another 40 to the House of Lords. Apparently to stave off any more embarrassing defeats .. that will bring the number of Tory Lords up to 290 out of 816.

    Given that he is also promising ‘No Tory MP left behind’ in the boundary review, I imagine that the numbers in the HoL will further swell in 2020.

  47. @AU

    “But I seem to be the lone, valiant voice of sanity on this issue…”


    Well I don’t vote for any of ’em, so surely that’s in the ballpark.

    But as it happens, in the Times today, on the front page, it says they’re preparing to create 40 new peers. “The Lords is already the second biggest legislature in the world after the Chinese politburo” apparently.

  48. @AU

    Ah, others are already ahead of me. In other more uplifting news, headline in the Times retirement guide: “what makes a great village? A latté.” Well, strictly speaking, I’d say Macchiato, but still, at least they’re in the ballpark.

  49. “so Nadine Dorries will be reprieved”


    (May please Alec…)

  50. @Neilj – “But we can vote in a Government to remove us from the E.U.”

    Yes, of course we are free to do that. As it happens, we voted in a government who said they would give us a direct vote on this issue.

    Going back to David Owen’s call to vote to leave, I think this kind of intervention makes it clear that the result isn’t by any means a foregone conclusion.

    Owen – a former pro European – makes some telling points about the disfunctionality of the EU, economically, strategically and politically. He admits that federalism has always been the objective, but I guess whereas federal states have developed checks and balances that distribute and protect power between the various levels, as the the EU has never overtly tried to follow this path, the result is a suppression of national authority to a sub standard semi federal centre.

    The ambitions of the EU commission are significant, but they are incapable of delivering them in many areas. I think Owen is correct in the threat that the EU poses to security via an undermining of NATO and it’s really poor record on foreign policy. The Balkan crisis, which was declared by the Commission as ‘Europe’s day’, was a stark reminder of the limitations of the EU once it strays outside the area of single market provision. No one in Brussels appeared remotely embarrassed that they had to ask the US to sort out a European mess.

    If the leave campaign revolves around people like Farage and centres on immigration, I suspect is will be defeated. If people like Owen are centre stage, then the remain camp have a real fight on their hands.

    One other thought; as @carfrew says, I can’t see how Cameron’s deal is bombproof in terms of the European Court Of Justice. The text of the deal makes clear that many of the proposals (migrant welfare, for example) are made on the basis of an interpretation of existing laws. This is why they are not specific to the UK, as that wouldn’t be possible under Lisbon.

    I could readily see a legal challenge, with the ECJ striking down some of these provisions unless and until a new treaty is adopted.

    Which raises the next question. No new treaty is on the cards. The last one was Lisbon in 2007, which took eight years to negotiate. Before that was Maastricht, in 1993. On that kind of timetable, a new treaty could be a decade away, if not longer.

1 2 3 5