The last 24 hours’ political news has been dominated by the Boundary Commission for England’s proposals for new parliamentary constituencies — and in particular the reduction from 533 to 502 in accordance with the Coalition Agreement to reduce the size of the House of Commons.
I’m a self-confessed politics geek, so I find this stuff interesting. But I was surprised that it should be the lead news item on BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme this morning — does the public care as much as us anoraks? I doubt it.
True, some members of the public will have particular concerns about the proposals affecting the seat where they live; and I was encouraged to discover by reading Mark Pack’s article for Lib Dem Voice here that the public will have plenty of opportunity engage during the consultation process.
But for most this is Westminster village stuff, and it says a lot about news editors’ inhabitance of that bubble that they would focus so much attention on hypothetical lines on maps. The reality is few people care which constituency they live in, or necessarily even know. The city I live in, Oxford, is bisected by the Boundary Commission — as it has been since 1983, and is proposed again. It is, of course, an absurdity to split a defined area down the middle. But that’s just one of the many ridiculousnesses of first-past-the-post, and the supposedly sacred constituency link.
Much attention in the last day or so has focused on possible casualties, with household names such as George Osborne and Vince Cable bandied about — as Richard Roberts notes here, though, look behind the hasty headlines, and the reality is often a little less earth-shattering.
The impacts are more likely to be felt in the longer term, as those MPs who lose out on selection for new seats will have little to lose, and may well rebel more against their party line; and those who are selected for hard-to-win seats may also wish to show their new constituents that they’re an independent battler for their new patch.
Especially in the case of the governing two parties, this could lead to a real loss of internal party cohesion. Those of us who’ve lived through similarly extensive boundary changes in local government will know quite what fall-out can result when colleagues end up pitted against each other for selection, and quite what bruised egos can do for party loyalty.
But seven Lib Dem MPs will have no such fears: they are among the lucky 77 current representatives whose consitituencies are wholly untouched by the proposals. And here they are:
- Cambridge – Julian Huppert
- Norwich South – Simon Wright
- Colchester – Bob Russell
- Eastbourne – Stephen Lloyd
- Cheltenham – Martin Horwood
- Torbay – Adrian Sanders
- North Devon – Nick Harvey
For the other 50 Lib Dems MPs, however, the next few months could be a little more disruptive…
* Post updated 7am 14/9/2011 to show there are 7 Lib Dem MPs unaffected, not 4 as originally stated: apologies for the omissions/incompetence.