Boundary Commission proposals – what do you think?

Today the Boundary Commission for England released its first stage proposals for parliamentary seats in England. You can read the proposals for every part of the country here. The proposals for Scotland and Wales come out next month.

For Liberal Democrats, there was mixed news.

In Hertfordshire, there is a new constituency which comprises the entire Three Rivers Council area, which should be a good prospect for us as we have run that Council successfully for a long time. This will mean that one ward from Daisy Cooper’s St Albans constituency will move into the new seat but it’s otherwise largely unchanged.

However, the news was less promising in Cumbria where Tim Farron’s seat is proposed to be split with our strong areas of Westmoreland and South Lakes being put into separate seats.

It’s fair to say that Tim was less than impressed:

The overall picture is that seats are being created in the south east and lost in other parts of England.

Kingston and Surbiton (Ed Davey), Twickenham (Munira Wilson) and Richmond Park (Sarah Olney) aren’t affected too much.

Layla Moran loses a couple of strong Tory ward and gains a couple of Labour ones so that’s probably a net gain for her.

The picture is similar in Bath for Wera Hobhouse.

In east London, the Poplar and Limehouse seat loses some strong Labour areas while keeping the areas where we have been working these past few years.

And the old Finchley and Golders Green seat becomes Finchley and Muswell Hill with the addition of some Lib Dem bits from Lynne Featherstone’s old Hornsey and Wood Green seat so that could be a very good prospect for us.

This isn’t the final outcome though. The proposals now have an initial 8 week consultation and some later public hearings before final plans are published and will come into force in 2023.

If you have something to say about these changes, you can respond to the consultation here but it’s worth making sure before you do that you take part in discussions with other Lib Dems across the region. Developing a co-ordinated approach is arguably more effective

What do you think of the changes? Have you spotted any more opportunties/dangers for us? Let us know in the comments.

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  • One of the oddities is that the very same Boundary Commission has published new ward boundaries for most of the London boroughs, but the proposed new constituencies are based on the old ward boundaries. So some new wards would be split between two new constituencies. I do hope that gets corrected during the review process or it will be a campaigning nightmare.

  • Gordon Lishman 9th Jun '21 - 8:47am

    As with the creation of Cumbria in 1972, it’s clear that the Commission doesn’t use relief maps.

  • Peter Martin 9th Jun '21 - 8:54am

    “The overall picture is that seats are being created in the south east and lost in other parts of England.”

    It goes without saying that the need for extra constituencies is caused by the drift of population to the SE of England. Why should we all want to crowd into one corner of our island?

    If the Lib Dems are looking for a new angle, and maybe a few extra votes too, they could promise to do what it takes to create the economic conditions to halt or even reverse the flow. People in the North don’t want to have to move to the SE of England to get a decent job and many people in the SE of England would like their house prices to be slightly lower and the roads slightly less crowded.

  • Peter David Roberts 9th Jun '21 - 9:22am

    In the last aborted review, I used the height of passes and propensity to have links broken in the winter as grounds to reverse a similar perverse plan in Wales.

  • Laurence Cox 9th Jun '21 - 10:47am

    @Mary Reid

    The Boundary Commission say this on their web site:

    “Are you using the ward-level data published by ONS in January 2021?

    “Mostly. The ONS publication reflects wards as they were at the time of the data collection, but December 2020 legislation introduced the concept of our work having regard to ‘prospective’ local government boundaries, i.e. wards that have been ‘made’ by legal instrument, but not yet implemented at a subsequent local election. Nearly 10% of local authorities in England (mostly in London) have such ‘prospective’ ward boundaries, specifically: 1) Barnet; 2) Basingstoke and Deane; 3) Brent; 4) Buckinghamshire; 5) Cambridge; 6) Camden; 7) Chorley; 8) Cornwall; 9) Ealing; 10) Enfield; 11) Halton; 12) Hammersmith and Fulham; 13) Haringey; 14) Harrow; 15) Hartlepool; 16) Hillingdon; 17) Hounslow; 18) Isle of Wight; 19) Islington; 20) Lewisham; 21) Merton; 22) North Northamptonshire; 23) Oxford; 24) Pendle; 25) Richmond upon Thames; 26) Rotherham; 27) Salford; 28) Sutton; 29) West Northamptonshire; 30) Westminster; 31) Wiltshire.

    “We have worked with the Electoral Registration Officers for all these local authorities, to recast the ONS data according to the prospective wards, and you can download the complete ward-level dataset for the review from the 2023 Review section of our Data and Resources page.”

    So if there are examples we can cite where they have failed to do so, it will be a serious failing. Incidentally, the Local Government Boundary Commission for England and the Boundary Commission for England are legally separate bodies.

  • Peter Davies 9th Jun '21 - 2:56pm

    @Mary Reid Parliamentary boundaries last longer than ward boundaries so this oddity will occur by the time they are reviewed again even if they start out matching. I think they should largely ignore ward boundaries and concentrate on local authority boundaries, parish boundaries and community boundaries which seldom change. The alignment to (old) ward boundaries is a restriction the commission has imposed on itself and has resulted in a number of unnecessary cross-authority seats. In large cities, wards are more than 10% of a constituency in size and it is impossible to get within the size limits using a whole number. They have to bring in some wards from a neighbouring authority which are of a different size.

  • Peter Davies 9th Jun '21 - 3:08pm

    @Ian Sanderson
    Ours is a particularly absurd example. They are proposing changing the boundary to a ‘New’ ward boundary after the LGBCE has recommended reverting to the ‘old’ ward boundary.

  • Graham Jeffs 9th Jun '21 - 7:00pm

    I have commented before about the undesirability of multi-member local government wards because they fly in the face of providing individual representation for more tightly drawn areas.

    In that context, I believe I noticed that the recent elections in Buckinghamshire were to multi-member wards and that proposals to improve the quality of local democracy in Liverpool suggested that single member wards could be advantageous.

    If we had single member wards, that would provide those proposing constituency boundaries with less excuse for not acknowledging local characteristics whereas at present they can get away with the blunt instruments currently in place by claiming they have no other options. I don’t detect with any of these boundary proposals at any level that there is any concern for improving the quality of democracy.

    Which begs the question – who decides whether there should be single or multi-member wards in the first place? If it’s lazy bureaucrats then that should be rectified before we go any further – and no, it’s not enough that local authorities are asked to reject or endorse such proposals, there needs to be an agreed framework first.

  • Denis Mollison 10th Jun '21 - 8:32am

    In commenting, we need to look at the bigger picture and keep on pointing out that the insistence on equal numbers of voters (within 5%) that is behind this boundary revision does almost nothing for real fairness. It’s a Tory smokescreen for refusing to change to a fair proportional system.
    A major advantage of a proportional system, elected using STV, is that it could use multi-member constituencies with stable natural boundaries such as those of Local Authorities – see to see how this might be done.

    On multi-member wards (Graham Jeff’s comment), I agree they make little sense while we’re using FPTP, but they would make it easy to introduce STV for Council elections … To give some statistics, in the last local elections in London (2018), in 92% of 3-member wards one party won all the seats, allowing (for example) Labour to win all the seats in Lambeth on just 53% of the vote. In the last local elections in Scotland (2017), not one of the 187 3-member wards was scooped by a single party. The “one-party state” councils that FPTP makes possible have vanished since STV was introduced in Scotland in 2007 (a Lib Dem triumph from the coalition negotiations of 2003).

    Northern Ireland also has STV for local elections, and Wales has recently legislated to make it possible – England needs to catch up.

  • Laurence Cox 10th Jun '21 - 2:16pm

    @Dennis Mollison

    True, except even three-member wards are on the small side for STV. In Harrow, the last set of local government boundary changes did away with our 21 three-member wards and replaced them with 11 three-member and 11 two-member wards. If we go to STV then two-member wards could easily still be single-party fiefdoms.

  • I agree that proportionality is compromised in three member wards, even under STV and ideally they’d be larger, but three member wards under STV are vastly more representative than with FPTP and brings with it the other advantages of a preferential system such as encouraging positive campaigning and giving the voter more choice within each party (should they choose to know which candidates are the hard working ones who don’t just rely on the colour of their rosette).

    Having experienced STV local elections in Scotland it seems that adding that fourth member to a ward gives a considerable advantage in terms of representation, so it would be right to push for larger wards if possible. However, if sticking with existing three member wards means STV can happen sooner rather than later – it may be worth accepting that compromise. For now.

  • I would suggest to Fiona that trying to represent a rural ward with a 12/15,000 population in Scotland (with up to 10/15 local Community Councils, all of whom expect monthly communication), on top of all the other requirements of being an elected Councillor make it extremely difficult to pursue the type of well established Lib Dem practices seen in, for example, Tim Farron’s constituency in South Lakeland.

  • Nonconformistradical 10th Jun '21 - 7:43pm

    “I agree that proportionality is compromised in three member wards, even under STV and ideally they’d be larger”
    Urban areas have been discussed in this thread regarding the merits of multi-member wards with more than 3 elected representatives.
    What about more rural areas with lower population densities? A 4-member ward might have to cover a very large area – one which might not necessarily be a community.

  • @Laurence Cox @Mary Reid – Lambeth will, I believe, be drawn on the current wards even though new wards are due to be announced… later this month.

    Interestingly to @Graham Jeff’s point, the LGBCE’s first draft proposals, which were based closely on our submission, have a good mix of 2, 3 and even a 1 member ward. It has been noted that, In the absence of PR, this will improve representation. Needless to say our local overlords in the Labour party and several ‘community groups’ (Labour fronts) are not happy about it.

  • Denis Mollison 10th Jun '21 - 10:00pm

    I wasn’t saying 3-member wards are ideal, but:
    (a) if you’ve got 3-member wards, STV is an incomparably better way to elect the 3 councillors than FPTP,
    (b) it’d be ever so easy to go straight to STV where you already have 3-member wards; you could move on to a better arrangement at the next boundary revision.

    As to the ideal, we’ve had a fair amount of experience in Scotland, and a mix of 3 and 4 member wards has delivered pretty proportional results overall. If you want wards to fit local communities well – as I do – a mix of sizes is necessary. I live on the edge of a town for which a 5-member ward would be a good fit. Boundaries Scotland are now allowed to vary up to 5 or down to 2 seats per ward, and even have single member wards in island areas. They’ve just released their final proposals for the 6 council areas with significant islands (see; these include a few 5-member wards, a fair number of 2-member ones (which have provided a much better fit to communities in the Western Isles) and one 1-member ward, the isle of Arran (a mean decision, especially given how different Arran is from the rest of its council area (North Ayrshire). Too many 2-member wards would be a problem for party balance, but most of those proposed are in areas where independent councillors predominate.

    In sum, I think to have mostly 3 or 4 member wards, with the occasional 5 in urban areas and 2 in sparse areas, works well for councils. For a parliament, proportional balance between parties is more important: the 2017 McAllister Report in Wales recommended having mostly 4 to 6 member constituencies for the Senedd.

  • Denis Mollison 10th Jun '21 - 10:49pm

    Boundaries Scotland recently proposed a 4-member ward covering the whole of Sutherland, probably the most sparsely populated area that size in the UK. Following objections, it’s now to be split into N, W and C Sutherland (2 members) and E Sutherland (3). The former still takes around 3 hours to drive from one end to the other; it has just under 5000 voters.

  • Graham Jeffs 11th Jun '21 - 8:32am

    I don’t see there is much point in clouding the current issue with talk of STV which isn’t going to happen for English authorities short of a sea-change at Westminster

    However, the current multi-member wards do provide us with an opportunity to emphasise the political block-vote impact of the present arrangements at the cost of a more truly local level of representation. That might be a message we could get through.

  • Nonconformistradical 11th Jun '21 - 9:09am

    @Denis Mollison
    “The former still takes around 3 hours to drive from one end to the other; it has just under 5000 voters.”
    That clarifies the problem! And I’m guessing the driving time might be in good weather..

    Might there be a case for trying to cater for such situations having occasional single-member wards with elections on a preferential basis using alternative vote? Just a suggestion for debate…

  • Peter Martin 11th Jun '21 - 10:40am

    I sometimes think that if WWIII broke out that Lib Dems would find some way of linking the discussion to PR!

    These boundary changes, albeit in some modified form, are almost certain to take place. As Jeff says, any discussion of STV, a party list type of PR based on the d’Hondt system, or whatever is the LibDem PR version of choice might be at the time isn’t going to happen any time soon and isn’t going make a blind bit of difference to the outcome.

  • Thanks Dennis, you explain it well. I agree that local representation is more important for councillors and aiming for maximum proportionality is not always desirable.

    Whilst I have sympathy for councillors trying to serve a larger ward than they are used to, this must be balanced by giving the voter the opportunity to be represented by someone they voted for. Much easier to achieve in more densely populated areas, though inevitably the leaflet budget is larger for councillors representing a four member ward regardless of geographic spread.

    Even if individual single/multi-member wards cannot be fully representative of their community, hopefully having a series of multi-member wards in a council area gives better balance for council meetings. It will definitely avoid allowing any single party to fully dominate.

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