The Boundary Review

The forthcoming review of Parliamentary constituencies, set off by the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Act, is going to be based on the electorate on the 1st December 2010 (that is the day the brand new electoral register from last autumn’s annual canvass came into effect). The Office of National Statistics this week published the Uk electorate for that day, so we can start making some firmer preductions about what is going to happen.

The electorate in the UK on the 1st Dec is 45,844,691. The legislation sets out a formula to decide how these seats are divided between the nations, so we can say with some confidence that England will get 502 seats (including the two guaranteed seats for the Isle of Wight). Scotland will get 52 seats (including the two guaranteed seats for the Western Isles, Orkney and Shetland), Wales will get 30 seats and Northern Ireland will get 16, one more than had been expected from the 2009 electorate figures. Hence England will lose 31 seats, Scotland will lose 7, Wales will lose 10 and Northern Ireland will lose 2.

The new legislation sets out a strict limit on the size of the seats apart from the four guaranteed ones (and special rules for Northern Ireland and for very large geographical seats that will only affect the Scottish highlands). All seats need to be 5% above or below the quota of 76,641. This means seats in England, Scotland and Wales will need to have an electorate between 72,810 and 80,473 (Northern Ireland will have a slightly laxer limit).

We don’t know for sure how this will translate into seats for each county or region – it depends on how the boundary commission divide things up. If you just divide each English region by the quota you end up with 2 too many seats for example, so my guess is the Commission will use the same formula (Sante-Lague) as they did to divide up the seats between the nations to make sure they end up with 500. The strict 5% limit means that there will be many cases of seats having to cross county boundaries, but we don’t know which counties the boundary commission will chose to pair up. However, from what we do know, here are some early guesses.

South East (-1). The South East is the region with the most seats and the one that loses the fewest. It currently has 84 seats, including the Isle of Wight. Under the new legislation the Isle of Wight will automatically have two seats, gaining one. The rest of the South East will lose two seats, one from Kent and one from Hampshire. Other counties will keep their current number of seats. On paper there is no need for any seats crossing county boundaries, but this would make it very tricky for the Commission in getting seats within quota in East Sussex, so they may decide to pair it with West Sussex anyway.

London (-5). London currently has 73 seats, my prediction is that it will fall to 68 (by quota it would get 69, but the Sante-Lague formula would give it 68). There are, of course, countless different ways that London boroughs could be paired up in order to draw up boundaries, so it’s hard to predict with any confidence exactly where the seats will go.

South West (-2). The South West currently has 55 seats and will fall to 53. One of the main controversies during the passage of the bill was that the strict rules would produce a seat that straddled the boundary between Cornwall and Devon – this does appear to be the case. Cornwall is entitled to just under 5 and a half seats, so it would not be possible to give them 5 seats close enough to the quota. Instead they will have to be paired with Devon, the two counties getting 17 seats between them (down 1). Dorset and Wiltshire are also both unable to be divided into seats within quota, and will likely need to be paired. They will have 14 seats between them, down from 15 at the moment.

East of England (-2). Essex needs to lose one seat. Suffolk will be able to retain 7 seats. The other counties in the Eastern region will probably need to be joined together in some way to get seats within quota. It looks likely that Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire will be paired together and lose one seat.

West Midlands (-5). As we head northwards through England we will see more lost seats, as the demographic trend of population movement in the UK tends to be away from the Northern cities towards the South. Staffordshire divides nicely into the quota and will lose one seat. Between them Shropshire, Hereford and Worcester will lose one seat. Warwickshire is too big for the five seats it would get to be within 5% of quota, so will need to be paired. Together with the West Midlands metropolitan boroughs they will lose three seats.

East Midlands (-2). This is somewhat problematic – Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire will both lose one seat. All the counties except Northamptonshire can be divided neatly into seats within quota, but Leicestershire will probably have to be paired with Northampton anyway. Between them they should also lose one seat..but that would give the East Midlands one seat too few. Over to you Boundary Commission.

North West (-7). The North West loses the most seats numerically in England. By quota it would be given 69, down 6, but if the the Boundary Commission use Sante-Lague to get England down to the right number of seats it would lose 7. Cumbria will lose one seat as will Cheshire. Merseyside will lose 2 seats – one from the Wirral and one from the rest of Merseyside. Thankfully the Wirral’s electorate is just small enough to divide neatly into three seats, so there is no longer the need for a seat crossing into Cheshire or a seat crossing the Mersey. On paper Lancashire doesn’t need to be paired, but it would lead to some difficult and small seats, so I think they may choose to have a seat crossing the boundary with the Greater Manchester boroughs – between them they would lose 3 seats.

Yorkshire and the Humber (-4). North, West and South Yorkshire and Humberside can all be split into within quota seats, with Humberside, West Yorkshire and South Yorkshire each losing one seat. However, this would produce 51 seats, one more than the region should have. This could be solved with a seat crossing the boundary between South and West Yorkshire, when between them the two counties would lose 3 seats. Note that all eight of the current seats in North Yorkshire are within quota (the only English country where this is the case), so it’s possible they could all remain completely unchanged in the review.

North East (-3). The North East loses 3 out of 29 seats, the biggest proportional loss of any English region. There is likely to need to be extensive pairing of counties and Metropolitan boroughs here – very little divides neatly into seats within quota, so it’s difficult to predict exactly where the seats will go, other than Northumberland which is currently over-represented because of it’s sparse population will lose one of its four seat (or at least, most of it, given it will need to have a seat crossing a county boundary).

Scotland (-7). The Western Isles and Orkney & Shetland have their seats protected. The rest of Scotland will lose 7 of its 57 seats. The small Scottish counties lend themselves to many different pairings, so it’s to predict where the seats will go – Glasgow should lose one as should Edinburgh. The Highlands should lose one seat – which will almost certainly be Charles Kennedy’s – but there is the potential for the Scottish Commission to propose undersized seats in the Highlands if it is impossible to propose in-quota seats inside the limit on geographical area.

Wales (-10). Wales currently has the smallest seats, and therefore sees by far the most drastic reduction in its number of constituencies, losing a quarter of its existing 40 seats. Naturally all parts of Wales will be affected to some extent – interesting implications are a seat that links Anglesey to the mainland (almost certainly including Bangor with the island), seeing how the Boundary Commission deals with the Welsh valleys and which county it ends up pairing Powys with.

Many of you will be asking what the partisan effect of all this will be. It’s mostly too early to say – you can probably make some broad guesses about how some of the changes will impact on the parties (for example, the lost seat in Kent must be definition be a Conservative one, and it’s likely 2 of the lost North East seats will be Labour). However, you can only go so far with this – even if you can predict which seats are likely to be dismembered it will have a knock on effect on other seats. It’s also worth remembering that, with the exception of North Yorkshire, just because a county isn’t losing any seats doesn’t mean its seat won’t need to be re-arranged to come close enough to the quota, and that alone will lead to some seats notionally changing hands.

Note that there are some circumstances where the boundary commission can use data for 1st Feb 2011 instead, if there has been an election in the area, so there is still potential for these figures to change. The Scottish boundary commission has said they will make an announcement setting out how they will conduct the review on the 4th March, the Welsh Commission have said they will provide details in March, and I’d expect the other two Commissions to make similar statements. The expectation was that we’ll actually get some provisional recommendations in September, but we’ll know more next month. The final boundaries are due to be decided by October 2013.

YouGov’s daily poll for the Sun has topline figures of CON 38%, LAB 42%, LDEM 10%.

The four point lead is probably on the low side due to normal random variation, but YouGov’s daily poll does seem to be showing the Labour lead down a bit from that earlier in the month. For a short while YouGov was showing a Labour lead consistently at 7 or above, and showed two 10 point leads within a single week. In the past week only one poll has shown the lead above 6 and we’ve had two polls showing 4 point leads.

My guess is that it’s down to a change of the news agenda. Go back a week or two and political news was largely dominated by stories about cuts – about the state of the finances, closing libraries, cutting local services, selling forests and so on. In the last week the political news has instead been about AV, Libya and David Cameron being rude about European judges.

I would caution Conservatives against taking much cheer from it though – the tide hasn’t turned, spending cuts and the state of the economy will certainly be back at the top of the news agenda soon enough, and will likely get right back to sapping government support.


Ipsos MORI’s monthly political monitor is out, and has topline voting intention figures unchanged from a month ago CON 33%(nc), LAB 43%(nc), LDEM 13%(nc).

The poll also contained a question on the AV referendum, which amongst those certain to vote (presumably using MORI’s usual 10/10 filter), 49% would vote YES, 37% would vote NO.

UPDATE: Full tabs are here. MORI are indeed using their normal 10/10 likelihood to vote filter (that is, only including people who say they are 10/10 absolutely certain to vote in the referendum). This increases the YES lead fron 7 points to 12 points.

Tonight’s YouGov/Sun poll has voting intentions of CON 36%, LAB 44%, LDEM 11%. Back up to an eight point lead after several polls in a row with a lead of 6 points or less (though this doesn’t tell us much – if the average lead had reduced to 6 points, you’d still get an 8 pointer now and again). Note also that this is the second YouGov poll this week to show the Lib Dems up to 11.

YouGov’s fortnightly tracker of AV voting intention is in the Sun tomorrow. Voting intention is YES 34%(-3), NO 41%(+3), changes are from the last poll a fortnight ago.

Back then YouGov was showing a sharp tightening of the race, with Yes and No neck and neck (we suspected at the time it might have been a rogue poll, so ran it two days in a row. They both showed the same picture, so the tightening of the race was probably true). That was before the formal launch of the NO campaign, before Clegg and Cameron’s speeches and before the media started giving the referendum campaign some attention… and together it appears to have given the No campaign a boost.

We saw a similar pattern in ICM’s poll earlier this week. YouGov tend to show better results for NO than ICM do because YouGov’s question is prefaced by an explanation of what AV and FPTP are (something Populus also found when they asked two versions of the question to a split sample), but the trend in both YouGov and ICM is the same – a move towards No in the last fortnight.

UPDATE: YouGov daily figures are CON 37%, LAB 43%, LDEM 9%. The six point Labour lead is the same as yesterday’s.