A final post on boundary changes (at least until the Scottish proposals next month). This comes from a discussion I had with Mark Pack. Normally the thing we look at with boundary changes is what the party-partisan effect is, how the new boundaries would change the sort of swing that Labour need to win a general election. However, currently Labour are a very, very long way from the sort of polling lead they’d need to win a majority, so a small change in that figure really doesn’t make a lot of difference. More interesting in the current political climate is the effect it would have on Labour internal battle and any potential deselections.

The rules for how Labour will deal with re-selections after boundary changes are yet to be confirmed, so these are based on the rules set out for 2011 in the Labour rule book, on the assumption that Labour’s NEC will use similar rules this time round. A Labour MP has a right to seek selection in any seat that contains 40% or more of the electors in their existing seat. If an MP’s seat is divided up so much that no single seat contains 40% of their old electors then they’ll have the right to seek nomination in a seat with less than 40% of their old voters. If they are the only sitting MP to seek selection in a seat, they are nominated through the normal trigger ballot process. If more than one sitting MP seeks the nomination in a new seat there is a members ballot to pick between them.

Applying those rules to the provisional boundaries we can see where there may be contests under those rules. Note that this list is exhaustive, it contains every case where Labour MPs could compete against each other under the selection rules… but in some cases it will be easily avoided through either agreement (there are enough seats to go round) or retirement (an MP will be well over 70 come the general election and possibly considering retirement anyway). Of the 231 Labour members of Parliament in England & Wales, 142 of them should not face any re-selection difficulties connected to boundary changes – they may well see changes to their seat, but there is a single notionally Labour seat to which they have the sole right to seek selection. What about the other 89?

Avoidable Challenges

There are six places where more than one MP would have a right to seek selection for a seat, but where there are enough Labour seats to go round, so if MPs co-operate and agree between themselves who will stand where, no head-to-head challenge is necessary and no one is left empty handed. These are:
Alfreton and Clay Cross. Nastasha Engel and Dennis Skinner both have the right to seek selection here, but Skinner also has the right to seek selection in Bolsover, so a challenge seems unlikely.
East London. Mike Gapes’ seat is sliced up into tiny pieces, and if the NEC follow past practice he should have the right to seek selection in any of the successor seats. He is the only sitting MP with a right to seek selection in the new, ultra-safe, Forest Gate & Loxford seat so I imagine he will go there. If not, he could challenge Wes Streeting, Margaret Hodge or John Cryer (who could, in turn, seek selection in Stella Creasy’s Walthamstow)
Redcar. Andy McDonald and Anna Turley can both seek selection in Middlesbrough NE & Redcar, but McDonald is also eligible for the safe Middlesbrough W & Stockton E seat, so a challenge is avoidable.
Ashton Under Lyne. Jonathan Reynolds and Angela Rayner are both eligible, but Rayner is also eligible for the safer Failsworth & Droylsden.
Stockport. This is avoidable, but not without some pain for Ann Coffey. Andrew Gwynne & Ann Coffey are both eligible for the safe Stockport North & Denton seat. Ann Coffey is also eligible for the Stockport South & Cheadle seat, but that is far more marginal (that said, Coffey will be 73 at the next election, so may not stand).
Pontefract. Yvette Cooper and Jon Trickett are both eligible to seek selection, but Yvette Cooper also has a free run at Normanton, Castleford and Outwood.

Not Enough Labour seats to go round

The following seven areas have enough seats to go round, but one or more of them is notionally Conservative, so there may be a contest for the winnable seat or someone may be left in a seat that is notionally Conservative:
South London. Siobhain McDonagh’s seat is sliced up. Two of the successor seats, Merton & Wimbledon Common (a potentially winnable marginal) and Sutton & Cheam (no hope) are notionally Conservative, so she will have the choice of fighting one of them, or challenging either Chuka Ummuna or Rosena Allin-Khan.
South-East London. Erith and Thamesmead is split up into Erith & Crayford (a Tory seat) and Woolwich. The only option for a Labour seat for Theresa Pearce is to challenge Matthew Pennycook for the Woolwich nomination. Pennycook has the option of seeking the Woolwich nomination, or going up again Vicky Foxcroft for the Greenwich & Deptford nomination.
Coventry. Geoffrey Robinson’s seat becomes comfortably Conservative on new boundaries, but he has the option of going up against Jim Cunningham for the Coventry South nomination. He’ll be 81 by the next election, so I assume he won’t.
Nottingham. Vernon Coaker’s Gedling seat disappears. Half goes into the Conservative Sherwood seat, so there is the potential of a battle against Chris Leslie for the nomination in the Labour Nottingham East and Carlton seat.
Cumbria. The Workington seat disappears. Part of it goes into the very Conservative Penrith & Solway seat, which is unlikely to be attractive to Sue Hayman, leaving her the option of fighting Jamie Reed for the Whitehaven & Workington seat.
Wrexham. Susan Elan Jones’s Clwyd South seat is dismembered. Part of it goes into the elaborately named De Clwyd a Gogledd Sir Faldwyn seat, but that is notionally Conservative. The other part goes into Wrexham Maelor, where she would have to compete against Ian Lucas for the nomination.
Newport. The Newport seats are combined into one. Jessica Morden would also have the right to seek nomination in Monmouthshire, but that’s solidly Tory leaving one Labour seat between her and Paul Flynn. Flynn will be 85 come the next election, so the issue may well be resolved by retirement.

Straight two way fights

There are seven Labour seats where there are two Labour MPs who are eligible for that seat, and that seat only – meaning a straight fight is unavoidable unless someone stands down:
Sunderland West – Bridget Phillipson vs Sharon Hodgson
Newcastle North West – Catherine McKinnell vs Chi Onwurah
Wednesfield & Willenhall – David Winnick vs Emma Reynolds (though Winnick will be 86)
Stoke South – Rob Flello vs Tristram Hunt
Dudley East & Tipton – Ian Austin vs Adrian Bailey (though Bailey will be 74)
Neath & Aberavon – Stephen Kinnock vs Christina Rees
Cardiff South & East – Jo Stevens vs Stephen Doughty

More complicated fights

There are eight areas where there are rather more complicated fights… but where ultimately there are more Labour MPs than there are seats, so something will have to give:

Birmingham. Roger Godsiff’s seat disppears. He will have the right to seek election in four other Birmingham seats, putting him up against Gisela Stuart, Jess Phillips, Richard Burden or Steve McCabe. He will be 73 come the election though, so may choose to stand down.
Islington & Hackney. The change that got the most attention when the proposals were announced. Essentially Meg Hillier, Jeremy Corbyn, Diane Abbott and Rushanara Ali have to somehow share out the Finsbury Park & Stoke Newington, Hackney West and Bethnal Green and Hackney Central seats. Someone is going to get stuffed.
Rochdale & Bury. Debbie Abrahams, Ivan Lewis, Liz McInnes and Simon Danzcuk are in play, with Rochdale, Prestwich and Middleton and Littleborough & Saddleworth. If Danzcuk remains suspended from the Labour party then the problem presumably resolves itself.
Liverpool. Steve Rotheram’s seat disappears and he would be eligible to challenge Louise Ellman, Peter Dowd or Stephen Twigg for selection in their seats. Rotheram himself is standing for Liverpool mayor, so it won’t be an issue for him. If he steps down though whoever is elected in the subsequent by-election would face the same issue.
Bradford & Leeds. Judith Cummins seat disppears. She is eligible to seek selection for Bradford West (against Naz Shah), in Spen (against Jo Cox’s successor) or in Pudsey, where Rachel Reeves will likely also be seeking the nomination (Leeds West vanishes, but Pudsey takes much of its territory and becomes a notionally Labour seat)
Sheffield. Newly elected Gill Furniss sees her seat dismembered – see is eligible to seek nomination in Sheffield North and Ecclesfield (against Angela Smith) or Sheffield East (against Clive Betts).
Pontypridd. Owen Smith’s seat is dismembered and he will have the right to seek nomination in either Chris Bryant’s Rhondda & Llantrisant or Ann Clwyd’s Cynon Valley and Pontypridd. Ann Clwyd will be 83 by the next election, so it may be resolved by retirement.
Islwyn. Chris Evans’ seat also vanished, and he will have the choice of competing against Nick Smith in Blaenau Gwent or Wayne Davies in Caerphilly.

The deep blue sea

Fourteen Labour MPs do not have a notionally Labour seat they would be eligible to seek selection in. In some cases this is just because of a slight change to an already ultra-marginal seat (e.g. Chris Matheson in Chester notionally loses his seat, but there’s really little change from 2015), in other cases it leaves them with a very difficult fight:

Andy Slaughter would face a Tory majority of 14% in the new Hammersmith & Fulham seat
Gareth Thomas would face a Tory majority of 11% in the new Harrow and Stanmore
Joan Ryan would face a small Tory majority of just 3% in the new Enfield seat
Ruth Cadbury faces a 10% Tory majority in Brentford & Chiswick
Tulip Siddiq faces a 9% Tory majority in Hampstead and Golders Green
Alex Chunningham is only eligible for the nomination in Stockton West, with a 7% Tory majority
Chris Matheson doesn’t actually face much change, but Chester would have a 1% Tory majority on paper
Jenny Chapman faces a notional Tory majority of 1% in Darlington
Madeleine Moon’s Bridgend is merged with the Vale of Glamorgan to create a notionally Tory seat, but with a majority of only 3%
Alan Whitehead’s Southampton Test would have a 4% Tory majority on paper (Southampton Itchen would flip to Labour… but Whitehead doesn’t have the right to go there under Labour rules)
Melanie Orr would be eligible to seek selection in either Grimsby North & Barton or Grimsby South and Cleethorpes. Both, however, would be Conservative.
Holly Walker-Lynch faces a similar situation, under Labour rules she can apply for Calder Valley or Halifax, but they are both notionally Tory.
Finally, in the sorriest situation of all are Margaret Greenwood and Alison McGovern. They are both only eligible to seek selection in the new Bebington & Heswall seat… and even if they do get it, it’s now notionally Tory.

So, by my reckoning there will probably be around 15 re-selection battles where a sitting Labour MP faces up against another sitting Labour MP on the provisional boundaries, though remember that these are subject to change (and it only takes a small adjustment by the boundary commission to shift the number of voters from an old seat above or below 40%). It’s also worth noting that you don’t need boundary changes for a deselection – there is a normal trigger ballot process than can be used to deselect an MP and some of the speculation about deselections – Peter Kyle for example – is not due to Labour seats being merged together.


This is the third in a series of posts on the boundary review. There is a general overview of what is happening and why it’s controversial here, a summary of what the effects are and some of MPs who are losing their seats here. This final post has the full, seat-by-seat, estimates of how the votes cast at the last general election would have fallen out on the new boundaries in England and Wales.

Full notional results for England and Wales.

The changes in England and Wales result in the Conservatives losing 10 seats, Labour losing 28 seats, the Liberal Democrats losing 4 and the Greens losing Brighton Pavilion (though notional calculations like these risk underestimating the performance of parties with isolated pockets of support like the Greens and Lib Dems, so it may not hit them as hard as these suggest). The Scottish boundary commission don’t report until next month, but for obvious reasons the Conservatives and Labour can only lose a maximum of one seat each there, meaning that on these boundaries the Conservatives would have had a majority of around 40 at the last election.

The usual caveats I give for notional results apply – this is an accounting exercise, estimating what the ward level vote within each constituency would have been in 2015 (basing the distribution on the distribution at local elections) then reallocating the wards to their new constituencies and adding them back up again. If there is a radically different pattern of support in an area at local and national elections the figures might be misleading, if there are loads of independent candidates in any area (as in rural Wales, North Yorkshire or Cornwall) then the figures won’t be that accurate. If you know an area really well and you think the projections are wrong, then you are probably correct… but hopefully any such errors cancel out.

And a final caveat – this is purely a prediction of how the votes would have fallen out if the votes at the last election were counted on the new boundaries. They are certainly NOT a prediction of what would happen at the next election.


-->

Overnight the English and Welsh boundary commissions released their initial proposals for the boundary changes – the English proposals are here, Welsh proposals are here. If you missed it, I discussed the wider background to the boundary changes and how they work yesterday. The initial proposals are very much as expected – we’ve known the broad strokes of the review since the rules were set in 2011 and the electorate numbers were released in the spring. The review will cut the total number of MPs from 650 to 600, including a reduction from 533 to 501 in England and a reduction from 40 to 29 in Wales. The English losses are disproportionately in the North, where the population is falling relative to southern England, and will consequently hit Labour harder than the Tories. Today’s proposals are about the details – finding out what the specific proposals are and what the specific impact will be.

As usual, I’ve worked out notional projected figures for what the new boundaries would mean at a general election (using a similar method to that used by Rallings and Thrasher for the official notional figures they will produce for the media once the final report it out). The changes are, as ever, a case of swings and roundabouts. A net total of 43 seats are abolished across England and Wales, but the impact is more than just those abolished and created seats, other seats may notionally change hands as wards are moved from one seat to another. Just because a seat held by a party is abolished, it doesn’t mean that party necessarily looses out as parts of that dismembered seats may push neighbouring seats into their column.

Even defining which seats disappear can be debatable (especially when there are contentious selection battles to come). In England there are around 35 existing seats that don’t really have a seat which is its clear successor, 12 of these are Tory seats, 23 are Labour. Looking at the knock-on effects elsewhere, there are around 16 seats where the Conservatives would notionally have won seats they don’t currently hold, 13 seats where Labour would have won seats they don’t currently hold. In Wales the changes are more drastic, given the sharp reduction from 40 seats to only 29. By my calculation Labour lose 7 seats in Wales, the Conservatives lose 4.

There are only three seats in England and Wales that the Liberal Democrats would have won on the proposed boundaries: North Norfolk, Westmoreland & Lonsdale and Ceredigion. I should add a caveat to this though – these projections are purely an attempt to work out what the result would be if the votes cast at the last election had been counted on these new boundaries. It’s purely an accounting exercise, estimating what the general election vote was in each ward, allocating them to their new seats and totting them up. It doesn’t account for the fact that people might have voted differently if they’d been in a different seat – for example, it’s possible that people who voted Tory in Penistone East ward in 2015 when the ward was in Penistone & Stocksbridge might instead have voted tactically for Nick Clegg had their ward been in Sheffield Hallam. For that reason I think such notional figures can sometimes underestimate the Lib Dems. Note that the Liberal Democrats have suggested they might win Cambridge on the new boundaries – this is not unrealistic at all, on my notional figures Labour have a majority of under 200 there.

Aside from Nick Clegg, several other high profile figures face seeing their seats abolished or made tricky to win. Looking at the Conservatives, George Osborne’s Tatton seat is abolished (the largest part of it goes into David Rutley’s Macclesfield seat), David Davis’s Haltemprice seat also goes, mostly into the new Goole seat, the successor to Andrew Percy’s Brigg and Goole. Priti Patel’s Witham seat forms the smaller part of a new Witham & Maldon seat, mostly made up of John Whittingdale’s Maldon seat. Jeremy Wright, the Attorney General, also sees his Kenilworth and Southam seat abolished. Some media reports have suggested Justine Greening may also be in trouble: she’s not, her seat has Wimbledon Common added to it but will still be very Conservative.

For the Conservatives, MPs in danger of losing their seat poses a risk to getting the boundary changes through, and it’s likely the party will try to use retirements, peerages and so forth to ensure no current Tory MPs lose out. For Labour MPs the boundary changes take place against a different background and MPs who have opposed Jeremy Corbyn may face difficulties in selections if there are local boundary changes. High profile MPs whose seats are abolished include Tristram Hunt in Stoke Central (divided between Stoke North and South), Ian Austin in Dudley North (his seat mostly ends up in the new Dudley East & Tipton, the successor seat to Adrian Bailey’s West Brom West), Vernon Coaker (whose Gedling seat is divided between Chris Leslie’s Nottingham East and Conservative-held Sherwood). Jeremy Corbyn’s own seat sees substantial changes: Diane Abbott’s Hackney North and Stoke Newington is abolished and split between a Hackney Central seat (mostly made up of Meg Hillier’s Hackney South) and a Finsbury Park and Stoke Newington seat (mostly made up of Corbyn’s Islington North), with a much smaller part going into a new Hackney West and Bethnal Green seat.

I’ll put up full notional results later on today, but looking at England and Wales as a whole, it looks as if the Conservatives would lose 10 seats, Labour would lose 28 seats, the Liberal Democrats would lose 4 and the Greens would lose one (by my calculations the new Brighton North would be a close three-way marginal, with the Conservatives narrowly ahead of Labour). That means at the last general election the Conservatives would have won a majority of 40, rather than the majority of 12 they actually got.

I’ll release full notional figures for each seat later on today.


On Tuesday the Boundary Commissions for England and Wales publish their provisional recommendations for Parliamentary boundary changes (the Northern Ireland commission published last week, Scotland is still to come). The review will replace the current 650 Parliamentary constituencies with 600 constituencies with more equal electorates. The recommendations this week will go out to public consultation, after which the Commissions will publish revised recommendations. The final recommendations won’t appear until the autumn of 2018 and then will have to be approved by the Commons and Lords to come into effect at the 2020 general election.

Why are boundary changes happening?

In theory boundary changes are a purely administrative necessity. Our electoral system is based on single member constituencies. For everyone’s vote to be worth roughly the same constituencies need to be roughly the same size and, since people tend to move about, constituency boundaries need to change to reflect that. Without reviews seats would, over time, become wildly uneven. Prior to the Second World War this was done on an ad hoc basis, since then it has been done using a statutory timetable and independent commissions. The exact time frame has shifted over time (we’ll come to that later), but under current legislation the boundary commissions are required to carry out a review every five years.

So why is it controversial?

The truth is that boundary reviews are almost always controversial. While on paper they are an administrative necessity carried out independently, because they have a direct impact on politician’s jobs and how difficult it is for each party to win an election they inevitably become politically contentious. Because boundary changes usually favour the Conservatives (I’ll come to that later too), it is normally a battle between a Labour party seeking to delay changes or relax the rules and a Conservative party seeking to speed the changes up and make the rules as tight as possible.

So for example, at the second review in 1969 the Labour party tried and failed to introduce only part of the review, then blocked the whole thing until Heath came to power the next year; in 1983 Michael Foot went to court to try and block the implementation of the third review; in 1992 the Conservatives changed the law to speed the fourth review up and get it done in time for the 1997 election.

The forthcoming review is a reboot of the abandoned review in the last Parliament, being carried out under new rules that the Cameron government introduced in 2011: while the reviews themselves are scrupulously neutral, overseen by High Court Judges, the rules they carry them out by are set by Parliament. While the Labour and Lib Dem vote in the last Parliament delayed the new review, it did not reverse the changes in the law and the new review will still take place under the new rules.

How did the Cameron government change the rules?

The 2011 Act introduced a lot of changes to the boundary review process, but many of these were either relatively technical or relatively uncontroversial. Among academics and the Commissions themselves there was a general feeling that the existing rules were not up to scratch, especially after the 1983 legal challenge (for a nice exploration of some of the issues around the old rules see David Butler and Iain McLean’s 2007 report for the Committee for Standards in Public Life). The new rules get rid of lots of those old problems, like the ratchet effect that kept increasing the number of seats and the lack of clarity as to how much priority the Commissions should give to the contradictory rules.

The most controversial issues though were the number of MPs, the frequency and strictness of the rules. The old rules aimed at producing a House of Commons of 630 seats, but the way they worked meant it was impossible for the Commissions to actually do this. The new rules have a set number of 600 seats, fifty fewer than the current House of Commons. In practice this means that the review is more disruptive than previous reviews – it’s not just a case of bringing seats into line with the quota, but rejigging the map to divide the country into 600 rather than 650. It also means that fifty MPs will see their seats disappear, making it that much trickier to get the recommendations passed.

On timing, under the old rules the Boundary Commissions were supposed to report between 8 and 12 years after the previous report, so boundary reviews normally took place every three elections. The new rules changed this to a five year timetable which, in conjunction with the Fixed Term Parliament Act, means there will be a review every election. Note that the last review was completed in 2007, so while this was an important change, we would now be due a boundary review anyway, even under the old rules.

Finally the Act made the rules stricter – under the old rules the Commissions were supposed to make the seats as equal as practically possible without crossing county or London borough boundaries, but they were allowed to break this rule to minimise disruption or protect local ties. The new rules are much stricter – seats must be within 5% of the quota, even if it means crossing county boundaries or splitting communities between seats. The only limited exceptions to the 5% rule are the Scottish islands, the Isle of Wight and under certain circumstances the Scottish Highlands and Northern Ireland.

Why do the changes favour the Conservatives?

Almost all boundary changes favour the Conservatives because of the pattern of population changes. In the last fifty-odd years in Britain we’ve tended to see the population in the old industrial cities in the North fall relative to the population in the London commuter belt. As a result, over time the electorate in inner-city Northern seats (which happen to be Labour) falls and the electorate in southern, suburban seats (which happen to be Conservative) rises.

This means the more out of date boundaries are the better they are for Labour (as they’ll still be returning lots of MPs from areas whose population has since fallen and who no longer deserve so many seats). To bring seats back towards equality, seats in Labour areas tend to be amalgamated and new seats are created in Conservative voting areas, meaning the more up-to-date the boundaries are the more it helps the Tories.

One might think having up-to-date boundaries is obviously desirable, but having frequent boundary changes has downsides. It means MPs keep seeing the areas they represent change, and voters get shifted from one constituency to another. There is also an administrative cost to all this chopping about with boundaries. There is no right answer to how frequently boundaries are updated, its a question of getting the right balance between equal representation and the disruption boundary reviews cause. Naturally the political parties have tended to favour the answers that suit them: the Tories have normally tried to make boundary reviews as frequent and brisk as possible, Labour have often tried to block or delay them.

It is a similar case with how much variance from the quota the rules allow. More relaxed rules mean the review will do less to correct the pro-Labour skew that develops over time, stricter rules will tend to favour the Conservatives. Having seats that are very close together in terms of electorate is good for equal representation, but can necessitate crossing local authority boundaries, splitting communities between different seats and putting together places with little in common, so again there is no “right” answer. The parties have tended to favour what helps them.

What happened with the review in the last Parliament?

In the last Parliament the review started in 2011, and had got to the stage of publishing detailed recommendations before the coalition partners fell out over House of Lords reform and Nick Clegg announced that the Liberal Democrats would not vote to implement the boundary recommendations. While at the time the Commissions were still obliged by law to complete the review, later in the Parliament Labour and the Liberal Democrats forced through an amendment to another bill that cancelled the review completely, delaying the next report to September 2018.

Because the abandoned review had got the revised stage by the time it was abandoned we can work out what the party partisan impact would have been. If the boundaries had been in place at the last election the Conservatives would have won 9 fewer seats, Labour would have won 28 less, the Lib Dems only four. Overall the Conservatives would have won a much healthier majority of 44 seats.

Will this review have a similar outcome to the abandoned review?

In broad terms, yes, it will. The trends in population change in Britain haven’t changed, so the review will still take away more seats in the north than in the south and will still tend to favour the Tories. It will still cut the number of seats in Wales by about a quarter. In specific terms it will be different though, it’s based on 2015 electorates, not 2010 electorates so the specific arrangements of seats will be different and here and there seat totals will be different. I wrote about what we could confidently predict that the Boundary Commissions would recommend here.

Note that this is a brand new review – the Commissions are all starting their work again from scratch, rather than just trying to adjust the abandoned review to the new electorate figures. That does not, of course, mean that they won’t learn from the experience of the last review, nor that faced with the same problems they won’t come to the same conclusions. What we have learnt is that the Commissions are likely to be more willing to split some council wards between seats. This extra freedom is likely to produce seats that better reflect and respect communities and avoid some of the more bonkers recommendations in the abandoned review (for example, because the large wards in Birmingham don’t fit neatly into the electoral quota the last review recommended lots of Birmingham seats that had a ward from outside Birmingham bolted on to make up the numbers – by dividing some Birmingham wards between constituencies this silliness can be avoided).

What about the “missing two million voters”?

Labour’s criticism of the review seems to be based upon the argument that the review is “missing” two million people. By necessity, a review that aims at getting equal electorates needs to be based on the electorate at a given point and in the case of this review that point is the 1st December 2015, the day that the electorate registers based on the 2015 annual canvas came into force.

The date is significant because it was the first register based fully on Individual Electoral Registration rather than household registration. Despite earlier worries, this does not appear to have led to very large numbers of people dropping off the register. The Electoral Commission report into the effect of the final transition to IER found that the completeness of the register had only fallen one percent (85% of people who should be on the register are, compared to 86% on the old method), but that accuracy had significantly increased (91% of entries on the register are genuine people at the correct address, compared to 86% on the old system). However there are still plenty of people who should be on the electoral register, and while the overall figure did not show a significant fall, the Electoral Commission report suggests that the decline was higher among young people and people in rented accommodation.

It also reflects a change in how people use electoral registration. The ease of registering online and the widespread publicity it means a large number of people do not register at in the annual canvas, but do register in the run up to an election. So, between Dec 2015 and Jun 2016 an extra two million people registered to vote in the referendum and May elections, but won’t be accounted for in the review.

The Boundary Commissions do not have any discretion to change the date they base their review on – the law requires it to be the Dec 2015 register. The only way it could be changed is by primary legislation and the review starting all over again from scratch, something that would probably mean the review not being completed in time for the 2020 election (hence why Labour are suggesting it, and why the Conservatives wouldn’t consider it!). For the record, if the review was based on the electorate in June 2016 rather than the electorate in December 2015 the effect would be one less seat in Northern Ireland, the West Midlands and the North West, one extra seat in the South East and two extra seats in London.

Will it go ahead?

The English and Welsh Commissions report this week with the Scottish recommendations still to come. These provisional recommendations will be followed by a consultation period and public meetings, after which the Commissions will consider the responses and make revised recommendations. The amendment passed by Labour and the Liberal Democrats in the last Parliament requires the Commissions to deliver their report by 1st Oct 2018, but no earlier than September 2018, so once the revised proposals are published we’ll probably hear nothing else till 2018.

Once the final report is delivered the government need to put secondary legislation before Parliament to implement the changes. Crucially this needs the support of the Lords and the Commons – neither of which is necessarily guaranteed. The government only has an effective majority of 16, so it doesn’t need many rebels to put the boundaries at risk.


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.