Boundary commission proposals published

As expected yesterday, the Boundary Commission has reported its initial proposals for reviewing the Parliamentary constituencies, with the objective of having more equal constituencies (a strict 5% tolerance, down from 10%) and reducing the number of seats to 600.

This is similar to the exercise in the last parliament, though we were told there would be greater willingness this time to split wards to avoid absurd geographies.

So lets take a look at what happens to – lets say Sheffield Hallam.


Apologies for the patchy nature of this picture – as you can see the website is under rather more load than it can cope with.

Sheffield Hallam is losing Crookes and Ecclesall wards and gaining Beauchief and Greenhill (currently Lib Dem) in the south of Sheffield, Stocksbridge and Upper Don (currently UKIP) in the north of Sheffield and Penistone East (Conservative) in Barnsley. It neighbours Derbyshire in the south and Colne Valley, Dewsbury and Wakefield constituencies in West Yorkshire, and a better name for it might be South Yorkshire West.

This doesn’t seem to meet the sensible geography / community test at all. It is even more extreme than the constituency proposed last time round.


Periodic boundary reviews are a necessary feature of most electoral systems, but for a party like the Liberal Democrats that rely on targetting resources at a limited number of winnable seats and building them up over a number of years, they are always likely to be disproportionately negative. Targetting mitigates in a small way the gross unfairness of First Past the Post, and then a boundary review comes along and moves the targets.

Labour will also be negatively affected by this review as their seats are typically smaller than average, and finally there are about 2 million voters who registered after the December 2015 cut off, who can’t be taken into account by the boundary commission without government intervention.

As explained yesterday, the party is co-ordinating responses to these proposals, so do feed in to your regional co-ordinator.

* Joe Otten was the candidate for Sheffield Heeley in June 2017, is a councillor in Sheffield and is Tuesday editor of Liberal Democrat Voice.

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  • Tony Dawson 13th Sep '16 - 8:59am

    The proposed Sheffield Hallam & Stocksbridge looks a really stupid shape. Unlike Southport and Westmorland & Lonsdale, where the proposals by the Commission seem very sensible.

  • This review – and the cut of MPs – has always seemed to be an overreaction based on the electoral interest of the Tories. It is a shame, Joe that you have concentrated your comments on the local Sheffield situation, Joe, as the wider picture needs primary attention.

    It has always struck me that there are, in the main, two main aspects of these proposals which are being used to justify the Tory manipulation. The first, and in my view the more important, is the Welsh situation. This really needs separate discussion and treatment as the Scottish case earlier. New powers being balanced off against less Westminster MPs. It is entirely wrong to conflate the Welsh and English situations. So the number of MPs might go down by 10 in the reaction to Welsh changes.

    The other issue is the change in population balance between different areas of conurbation / suburbs, and this is a regular feature of reviews anyway. I think we should certainly not be automatically reducing other MP numbers – all the arguments for retaining MPs, but reducing Lords should be deployed. Cameron, as stated in the Grauniad today, has left a toxic legacy – dreadful!

  • I have only looked at the South Hampshire area but these initial proposals seem far more sensible than the previous ones.

  • Cheltenham looks to be shrinking by losing the traditionally Lib Dem leaning ward of Springbank. Springbank residents now get to waste their vote in the safe Tory seat of Tewkesbury.

    Tewkesbury constituency, which always did a strange wrap-around of Cheltenham, looks even more bizarrely shaped now.

  • Ian Patterson 13th Sep '16 - 1:11pm

    In my part of world North East, the proposals are entirely unnatural constructs. The parts of several constituencies do not even talk to another. See the rump of Blaydon married off to Newburn. The only physical connection being a couple of bridges!

  • The proposals do seem more sensible than the previous ones.

    There are 3 issues.

    1) Reduction of 50 seats – this will include Tories. Can Govt get this approved? I can’t see why Commons couldn’t have stayed at 650 MPs – and scrap the Lords!

    2) Out of date electoral register

    3) Special rules for some areas but not others.

  • Redefining constituency boundaries is akin to rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic, so long as we continue to suffer from an unfair and disproportionate electoral system. If, as seems likely, these changes simply result in an increased Conservative majority in parliament on a reduced popular vote, then surely there must eventually come an awakening of consciousness among the country’s disenfranchised electorate?

  • Shaun Young 13th Sep '16 - 1:54pm

    How is it the IoW now has two constituencies? Automatically gives the Tories an extra Seat, while they are removing two constituencies; one from the Hampshire area and one from Brighton, East Sussex area, but leaving all the ‘Safe’ Tory counties of Berks, Bucks, Oxford, Surrey and West Sussex intact! Also that they are changing the demographic make up of the Portsmouth seats – Including parts of the ‘Safe’ Tory seat of Havant in Portsmouth North, which again note will be beneficial to the Tories, making another ‘Ultra-Safe’ seat for them in all likelihood! They say that in all reality a GE is really won on a 100 or so ‘marginal’ seats, well from my initial look at the proposals, it would appear that it will be cut to only a handful, with it would appear bias in favour of the Tories!

  • Crispin Allard 13th Sep '16 - 2:29pm

    The 5% tolerance is a big problem, given that in many unitary authorities wards are more than 10% the size of a constituency. We missed a trick letting this through in the original legislation back in 2010/11.

  • Denis Mollison 13th Sep '16 - 2:39pm

    Making the Isle of Wight 2 constituencies was a reasonable decision, given that the Northern and Western Isles were allowed to continue their protected status as single constituencies. The contrast with mainland constituencies, where natural boundaries have to be over-ridden to achieve the +/- 5% criterion (e.g. “Devonwall”) is sharp of course.

    I would like to give a link to Lewis Baston’s excellent analyses of 2010 of excessive “equalization” but can’t find them online currently.

  • Alasdair Brooks 13th Sep '16 - 4:14pm

    Conservative Party proposes electoral reform that will disproportionately benefit the Conservative Party; and we’re surprised how, precisely? I’ll freely grant that most political parties tend to be in favour of electoral reform that will benefit their own party – the Libdems very much included – but this one seems particularly cynical.

    That said, I wonder if reaction from Conservative Party MPs impacted by the change will ultimately sink the proposals. Some of the reaction I’m hearing reminds me of that episode of Yes Minister where all the civil service department heads agree that increasing the number of women on their staff is absolutely fine in principle, but specific circumstances in their own department make it utterly impossible to implement in practice within their own sphere of influence.

    Reaction from my own (Tory) MP doesn’t seem atypical:

    Oh, and as an aside, and my comment about parties tending to support proposals that benefit themselves shouldn’t be construed as meaning I’m opposed to genuine electoral reform; I strongly support it as a matter of principle. But I don’t think it does us any good to not acknowledge that proportional representation would increase LibDem representation at Westminster.

  • Chris Rennard 13th Sep '16 - 4:38pm

    The reduction in MPs from 650 to 600 is wrong when there is no reduction in the ‘pay roll vote’ or reform of the Lords (including reducing its size) and it means that Parliament will be even less able to hold a Government to account. It will be easier for a government to win votes in the Commons as Ministers, Whips and Parliamentary Private Secretaries will be more able to outvote the reduced proportion of backbench MPs.

    The supposed justification of ‘saving money’ by getting rid of 50 MPs was always a weak one (especially given the money found for other things that the government likes) and the arguments previously advanced about previous boundary reviews having greatly increased the number of MPs was simply not correct. Membership of the House of Commons only grew from 640 in 1945 to 650 in 2010, whilst the size of the electorate in that sixty-five year period grew by more than 12 million voters. Each MP in 1945 represented an average of around 52,000 voters, whilst each MP in 2010 represented an average of just over 70,000 voters, so reducing the number of MPs on this basis was never justified.

    Making it easier for a party with 37% of the votes to win significantly more than 50% of the seats does not make it fairer. The real unfairness of the present system was shown in 2015 when it took 34,243 votes to elect a Tory MP, 40,290 to elect a Labour one and 301,983 votes to elect a Lib Dem, and the position was even more unfair to voters of other parties.

  • “reform of the Lords (including reducing its size)”.

    A chance for you to show a shining example, Chris ?

  • Chris Rennard 13th Sep '16 - 5:13pm

    @David Raw I have voted for reform on every occasion. In the meantime, it is only in the Lords that we may be able to ameliorate the more extreme measures that from a Conservative government which thinks that it cannot lose. In the last Parliament, for example, it was my actions that prevented the Conservatives pushing through boundary reforms on an unfair basis before the last election (which would probably have reduced us to 4 or 5 MPs.

  • Stevan Rose 13th Sep '16 - 9:16pm

    I seem to have been separated from the rest of my borough, lumped into some bride of Frankenstein mess of a constituency with no possible cohesion and some very strange contrived boundary lines. Oddly makes it a stronger Labour seat I suspect. Given my borough’s two seats need only minor tweaking to fit the criteria it’s completely ludicrous. I’ll use that link and also submit individual feedback.

  • Apologies to all.. I’ve not posted a comment on LDV for a while so wasn’t sure how it worked; I refered to a blog in my post above, where I post my own ‘proposals’ – it seems you have to click on my name to link there. Regulars probably know that already.

    When the first proposals came out 5 years ago, there was a new ‘Leeds North West’ that included none of Greg’s current seat but stretched from Roundhay in the North EAST of Leeds right into the hear of Dales country near Pately Bridge. It made no sense at all. I think the suggestions for Leeds now are quite sensible… but agree that new Sheffield Hallam is almost as stupid as that former Leeds suggestion.

  • The last three comments are all by ME! I’ve just signed in in 3 different ways! You wouldn’t think I’ve worked in IT, would you.

    Yes, Dennis Mollison, Lewis Baston’s efforts in 2011 were excellent; Better in my opinion than what the BC produced then – and now. I think he took them down soon after, when the changes didn’t go through. I might e-mail him and ask him (He’s not a friend, but I did e-mail him once before complimenting him on them – oh showing him my attempts (which, as I said before, work on equalising within 5% but no reduction in MPs overall. – positively the last time I’ll post that link in this thread)

    Alasdair Brooks – I’m sure we will see Farbricant’s reply repeated in many places ‘I agree with the principals but I don’t see why I should be effected’…. Let me guess, he is pro brexit but doesn’t see why he should have to get a visa for Euro travel?…… I’ve never thought he was the WORST Conservative MP, but he does seem to have more screws loose than many.

  • #Denis Mollison

    Here is that link you’re looking for

    The case for reducing isn’t that strong. Equalising, yes. Why were the Scottish Islands with very low electorates not combined with the Scottish mainland? The Isle of Wight should have stayed as one seat…Either there are no exceptions or more flexibility allowed eg Anglessey/Ynys Mon or “Devonwall”

    Finally, Holborn + St Pancras doesn’t include Holborn that’s in the new Westminster seat…

    Hampstead and Golder’s Green doesn’t include Golders Green which is in the Hendon seat..

    Were the Boundary Commissioners drunk?

    Glad to see Portsmouth divided North + South and not East + West

  • Matt (Bristol) 14th Sep '16 - 5:31pm

    Can’t help thinking that if the reduction proposed had been to 625, it would be a lot less controversial, they might have got it through already, and then they could come back this time and take it down further …

    Totally agree that wouldn’t necessarily be in anyone’s best interests.

  • David Allen 14th Sep '16 - 8:17pm
  • Surely we should have more elected politicians, and far fewer unelected ones?
    We seem to be going in completely the opposite direction these days ….

  • Simon Banks 16th Sep '16 - 7:42pm

    The existence of periodic boundary revisions underlines the need not to rely purely on targeting in a relatively small number of seats, especially outside general elections – and in particular, to encourage activists in strong constituencies to spend time building up surrounding weaker ones. This does not represent a long-term loss to them as it should mean more people from revitalised surrounding areas coming in to win the target seat.

    Thanks for Joe’s detailed analysis of the impact on Sheffield Hallam. In our neck of the woods, the proposals would sever Jaywick, a depressed suburb of Clacton, from the rest of Clacton though in every sense Jaywick, though having a strong community sense, looks to Clacton – for shopping, jobs, public transport, public and private services. There are other more ambiguously-placed communities that could be moved out of the proposed Harwich/Clacton constituency.

    But I also have a personal gripe: the possibility of D. Carswell being my MP again.

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