The Redrawing of Our Constituencies
At the tail end of 2022, I started a multi-video project, looking at all five counties covered by West England Bylines and how the Boundary Commission of England was going to redraw the borders of the 38 constituencies that make up that area. The series lasted a little longer than I intended but after 9 months and hours of research, the 6 part video series is done.
Please note that the videos were made before the new boundaries were officially confirmed
Here’s what I found:
WECA (West of England Combined Authority) & North Somerset
I had to cover this in 2 parts due to the number of constituencies that make up this area.
Bristol is currently made up of 4 constituencies. As well as the existing ones gaining and losing certain parts and changing names, a new Bristol constituency will be created called Bristol North East.
I predicted that all but one of them would continue to be represented by Labour. The one that I said would change would be the newly redrawn Bristol West (now Bristol Central) which I said would flip to Green, a judgement that every other predictor agreed with after the local elections.
Filton & Bradley Stoke has one of the most drastic redraws in this area, almost being halved and losing a Tory voting ward to Thornbury & Yate, meaning a previously safe Conservative seat could be in danger of flipping.
The boundaries to Bath largely stay the same, except that it gains northern wards that are more appropriate to Bath than to North East Somerset.
Jacob Rees-Mogg’s seat is the other constituency with the most drastic changes. It is losing all of its south-eastern wards to the neighbouring constituency of Frome & East Somerset. Besides shrinking in size, it is also getting the new name of North East Somerset and Hanham. Despite losing some Tory voting constituencies, it gains a few Tory voting wards from the former Kingswood constituency, which is drawn out of existence.
North of Filton & Bradley Stoke is Thornbury & Yate, a safe Conservative seat. The only major change to the area is the ward gained from Filton, which was itself a safe conservative seat, so no likelihood of change here.
Weston Super Mare & North Somerset both lose wards to the newly-made Wells & Mendip Hills constituency.
The Forest of Dean is one of the few constituencies in the country remaining exactly the same.
The Gloucester and Cheltenham constituencies in the county both lose only one ward but largely keep the same borders as before. Despite this, the polls have both these cities flipping from the Tories to the Labour and Lib Dem Parties respectively.
Tewkesbury also faces changes, losing 6 of its southern wards to the new North Cotswolds constituency, in the most controversial change of borders in the area,. Despite these lost wards being largely Tory voting wards, the Tories are on course for a victory.
Stroud also faces a few more changes, losing 3 wards also to the North Cotswolds constituency. These wards voted mostly for the Tories at the local elections in 2021, so improving the chances of Labour’s candidate to win this seat.
I call the new South Cotswolds constituency controversial, not just because they split the largest AONB in the area in two but because the changes ignore both historical connections and the opposition of local people. The constituency takes wards from the Cotswolds and from North Wilthshire and merges them into one, completely at variance with historical links.
While the North Cotswolds remains where it is, barring a few gained wards near Cheltenham, Stroud and Tewkesbury, the South Cotswolds constituency is a combination of North Wiltshire and the southern Cotswolds wards in Gloucestershire. It will straddle the border of 2 counties.
Both these areas are strong Conservative areas so any opposition here would have a difficult battle to begin with, making me think that these two seats will be blue come election day.
In this county, most of the seats have been Conservative safe seats in the past, with only 3 of them having ever switched parties, the two Swindon seats in 1997 – 2010 and Chippenham in 2010 – 2015. All 7 at the last General Election chose Conservative MPs.
Salisbury loses its northern wards and gains wards from South West Wiltshire, which additionally loses a few of its northern wards. The polling sites have both these constituencies being a tight race between the Tories and Labour, with Labour just edging it.
In one of the more drastic redraws South Swindon loses its rural wards, its new borders being more or less around the city boundary. North Swindon only loses 2 wards to South Swindon but largely stays the same. Both predicted to flip to Labour, thanks to a mixture of anti-government sentiment and South Swindon losing mostly Tory voting wards.
North Wiltshire disappears altogether, its wards getting split between its neighbours. Most of it gets incorporated into the newly redrawn Chippenham constituency and new South Cotswolds constituency. Thanks to the redraw, Chippenham moves North-East, gaining mostly Lib Dem voting wards.
It’s maybe thanks to this gain of Lib Dem voting wards that the polls suggest a slight Tory victory, with a potential splitting of the Left vote.
The other constituency which will change massively is the former Devizes constituency. Not only do most of its borders get completely redrawn, losing and gaining multiple wards, its name gets changed to Melksham & Devizes. Most of the wards gained here voted Conservative in the 2021 elections, making a Tory victory.
Most of the former Devizes wards make up a brand new ward in the area, which also takes wards from Salisbury and South Swindon. This new constituency will be called East Wiltshire. In 2021, the wards that make up this new constituency voted for largely Tory councillors so a new Tory MP isn’t outside the realms of possibility.
The City of Oxford make up a third of the constituencies in this county. They are Oxford East and Oxford West & Abingdon, currently represented by a Labour MP and a Lib Dem MP respectively.
The two constituencies change very little. Oxford West loses a few wards on its border to its north and south-east (whilst gaining some there as well but gains a ward Oxford East, which is the only change Oxford East makes. Poll of polls sites have the Lib Dems and Labour keeping their seats in Oxford.
The other 4 current constituencies are Conservative-held at present.
Henley, now renamed Henley and Thame, is also a constituency that loses only 1 ward, to the next constituency we’ll be talking about, however, it largely stays the same.
While you’d think this would mean a Conservative victory here, the 2023 local elections tell a different story, with the Tories getting wiped out in South Oxfordshire (which covers most of Henley & Thame). The Lib Dems will be eyeing up this area in 2024, I think.
Wantage is one of the constituencies that changes the most in the area. It loses 4 wards to its west to the Witney constituency, gains 1 ward from the Henley constituency and gets a name change to include the historic railway town, to Didcot & Wantage. The corresponding electoral district, Vale of White Horse, is unusual in having no councillors from the Conservative or Labour parties, so the sitting Conservative may have cause to worry.
The constituency of Banbury gains the 5 wards lost by Witney but also loses most of its eastern ward to the new constituency in the region. In this constituency the main challenge to the incumbent Conservatives is Labour.
The new constituency in the county is called Bicester & Woodstock. It will be made up of the wards from western Banbury, western Witney, the northern part of Oxford West and Abingdon, and the northern wards of Henley. Although the Conservatives are fairly strong in this area, victory is far from certain.
Hereford & Worcestershire
This is the area with the fewest changes overall.
Of the 8 constituencies that make up these two counties, only 3 have changes made to them, Hereford & South Herefordshire, North Herefordshire, and Redditch.
Of them, only Redditch has big changes, gaining wards from the Mid Worcestershire constituency, which is renamed to Droitwich & Evesham.
Apart from these changes, everything else remains the same.
Not too surprisingly, polls have most of the constituencies here remaining as Conservative seats.
There were worries by a few that these new borders would emerge as an attempt at gerrymandering by the Conservatives. Looking at it however, it is not so simple.
You see, when the New Statesman applied the new borders to the 2019 General Election, it was found that the outcome would have been a Conservatives gain of 6 seats nationally with Labour losing two seats, with the Lib Dems unchanged at 7, compared to the actual results. So while there are some changes, it would have made little impact on the biggest Conservative majority in Parliament since 1987.
Such differences may be insignificant if Labour are, as most polls are currently currently predicting, on course for a massive landslide at the next general election that would rival that of the Blair days.
The accusations of Gerrymandering also fall flat when you bear in mind that the Boundary Commission of England, who drew up these new boundaries, are completely independent of the Government. They get their funding from the Department of Levelling Up, Housing and Communities but are outside the department’s control, made up of representatives from across the political spectrum.
Although Jacob Rees Mogg, in an unguarded moment, did talk about his own party being guilty of Gerrymandering, he was referring more to the introduction of Voter ID , in the recent Elections Act, rather than to the new boundaries.
I think that neither the 2019 election nor the upcoming election are elections where the boundary changes will make a difference. These two elections were and will be focused on massive issues that are facing the country, those issues being Brexit in 2019 and the Cost-of-Living Crisis the country is facing right now.
Where I think these changes will make an impact is where the result is close, as it was in 2015.
Stepping back, it’s interesting to see which areas will be targeted by which major political party. I claimed in the Bylines Network Podcast about the local elections that the Conservatives have deep roots in many areas in West England.
However, looking at the recent Local Elections and By-Elections, it’s difficult not to imagine the Conservatives having to put up a fight in areas where in the past it has been assumed that they’d win, particularly in places like Hereford or Wiltshire.
The next General Election, whenever it is, will be shaping up to be an interesting one in our region.
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