Boundary changes – trick or treat?

Blue – old southern boundary of Cotswolds constituency, red: proposed new boundary (Wilts & Gloucestershire Standard)

You may not have noticed with all the attention on drinks parties and Sue Gray, but the Boundary Commission is well advanced in its proposals to redraw the parliamentary boundaries for the next election.

The Conservatives are pushing ahead with legislation to ‘equalise’ each constituency – and independent analyses suggested that this would favour them with extra seats (surprise!). But, it has already stirred up fury from the Cotswolds MP Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown.

The initial proposals split the current Cotswolds seat into two – due to the very large population. The southern part will be joined with towns and villages across the county boundary including Malmesbury and Cricklade and will be called ‘Cirencester and North Wiltshire’. The northern part will join with parts of Tewkesbury and Stroud districts and will still be called ‘the Cotswolds’.

There is some logic in splitting the Cotswolds constituency as it currently spans a 60 mile length from Wotton under Edge near Bristol to Mickleton near Stratford on Avon. It is vast and the population is growing.

Geoffrey Clifton Brown MP (Source: MP website)

But it has set hares running. Sir Geoffrey is quoted as saying the proposals are a ‘dog’s dinner’ and says that ‘Cirencester is the centre of my seat’. My seat? Well yes he has represented it since its creation in 1997 and its previous incarnation before that, but it all sounds as if he doesn’t want to let go of any of it.

He has represented the seat for 30 years. He was also ranked last out of 650 MPs at the last election in its People Power Index, which looked how each MP listened to and engaged with constituents. It feels like a personal fiefdom.

And the Cotswolds status as a ‘safe seat’ doesn’t encourage the incumbent to work himself into the ground to combat the dismal ranking. But something is afoot. The loss of two other safe Tory seats in 2021 to the Lib Dems has upset the applecart. Chesham & Amersham, followed by North Shropshire, caused shockwaves nationally. These were true blue seats (the ‘Blue Wall’) where a combination of disgruntled Remain-leaners, farmers and traditional Tory voters appalled at Johnson’s premiership swung the seats spectacularly.

Could the same happen in the Cotswolds? It voted Remain in 2016, is attracting younger, affluent families from the South East and voted for a Lib Dem run Cotswold District Council in 2019 for the first time ever. A county council seat like my own (Bourton and Northleach) was the bluest of blue until I won it ten years ago.

The proposed northern part of the present Cotswolds constituency will take in areas as far away as Churchdown and Hardwicke on the edge of Gloucester and feels as if it has been pulled together simply to make the numbers work. However, the new seat of Cirencester and North Wiltshire (I would prefer ‘South Cotswolds’) brings together places in which the Lib Dems have performed well at local elections – the Cotswold Water Park, Cirencester, Northleach, Malmesbury, Cricklade and Fairford for example. Whilst it would still have favoured the Tories based on the 2019 election this can’t be taken for granted based on current polling.

Castle Combe, Cotswold Village (Wikimedia Commons)

So, maybe, just maybe, change is in the air. Those boundary changes may lead to even more change – not quite what the Government intended when it decided to redraw the electoral map.

Cllr Paul Hodgkinson is Leader of the Liberal Democrats on Gloucestershire County Council.

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