Saturday, 17 September 2016

Boundary Commission Carves-Up Wales

Would you like a slice of De Clwyd a Gogledd Sir Faldwyn?
(Pic :

Earlier this week, the Boundary Commission for Wales unveiled their draft proposals for a reorganisation of the 40 Westminister constituencies in Wales.

There's more reaction and discussion from Ifan Morgan Jones, Blog Menai, National Left, ap Cunedda, Y Cneifiwr and Miserable Old Fart.

This is part of a boundary review across the UK which is seeking to reduce the size of the UK House of Commons to 600 MPs, and equalise the size of constituencies by ensuring each constituency has the same number of registered electors (who were on the register in 2015). In Wales that means each new constituency should have no fewer than 71,031 and no greater than 74,769 electors.

Obviously, my ideal number of Welsh MPs is zero but I'll humour you anyway.

The full report is available here (pdf), while the proposals map is included here (pdf) and in the image below.

(Pic : Boundary Commission for Wales)


  • They've got south Wales and Deeside right. There was a risk these seats would be carved up in such a way that didn't reflect natural boundaries (like valleys) or major transport routes but somehow the Boundary Commission have managed to work it in.
  • The Boundary Commission have exceeded the quota in nineteen of the new constituencies, though no constituency falls below the lower limit. This gives enough wriggle room for the final map to be tweaked, but not by much.
  • There's an argument as to whether Ynys Môn should stay a separate seat (like the Western Isles/Na h-Eilenana an Iar in Scotland).
  • Powys, Clwyd and the north Wales coast is Tory gerrymandering at its finest. The Colwyn & Conwy seat might as well have been called Costa Geriatrica.
  • Some of the new constituencies are huge. Llanidloes and Fishguard, as well as St Asaph and Tywyn would in the same seats respectively. That's easily a two hour drive to cross the constituency from their furthest points.
  • Several seats have been detached from local government boundaries to such an extent that any MPs representing these proposed seats could be dealing with complaints relating to many as four or five different councils (i.e. De Clwyd a Gogledd Sir Faldwyn: Denbighshire, Powys, Wrexham, Gwynedd, Conwy).
  • All of the new constituencies cross the boundaries of National Assembly constituencies, National Assembly regions and local health boards (as well as some Police & Crime Commissioner areas). This shouldn't really matter too much but there'll be concerns that this will confuse voters.
  • Some of the proposed names - regardless of whether they're in Welsh or English - are a mouthful.

Political Projections

Safe Labour : 14 (-11 on current seats held in Wales)
  • Alun & Deeside
  • Blaenau Gwent
  • Caerphilly
  • Cardiff South & East
  • Cardiff West (depending on future challenges from Plaid Cymru)
  • Cynon Valley & Pontypridd
  • Neath & Aberavon
  • Newport
  • Ogmore & Port Talbot
  • Merthyr Tydfil & Rhymney
  • Rhondda & Llantrisant (depending on future challenges from Plaid Cymru)
  • Swansea East
  • Torfaen
  • Wrexham Maelor

Safe Plaid: 2 (-1)
  • Caerfyrddin
  • Gogledd Clwyd a Gwynedd (touch and go)

Safe Conservative: 4 (-7)
  • Cardiff North
  • Colwyn and Conwy
  • Monmouthshire
  • South Pembrokeshire

Marginals: 9
  • Brecon, Radnor & Montgomery (Con-Lib Dem)
  • Bridgend & Western Vale of Glamorgan (Lab-Con)
  • Ceredigion a Gogledd Sir Penfro (Lib Dem-Plaid-Con)
  • De Clwyd a Gogledd Sir Faldwyn (Could go multiple ways)
  • Flint and Rhuddlan (Lab-Con)
  • Gower and Swansea West (Lab-Con)
  • Llanelli a Lliw (Lab-Plaid)
  • Vale of Glamorgan East (Lab-Con)
  • Ynys Mon ac Arfon (Lab-Plaid)

Labour clearly get hit the hardest, though all parties (nominally) take some sort of hit. On paper the Conservatives take quite a big hit too but I'd say many of the "new marginal seats" are winnable for the Tories. It's unclear whether seats like Llanelli a Lliw and Ynys M
ôn ac Arfon will help or hinder Plaid's chances of taking them from Labour.

Labour have a real problem on their hands now, both in terms of reaching the seat numbers in the House of Commons to achieve a majority and the fight amongst sitting MPs to be selected to run in these proposed new seats – which amidst the current civil war could turn very, very nasty indeed. All parties face a similar problem, but they don't have to deal with the sort of split we're seeing in Labour and the impact that would have in the face of mandatory reselections - and that's before mentioning the possible UKIP challenge in some of the valleys seats (though I think the threat there is starting to receed a bit).

The map will be tweaked certainly but I don't see it changing very much.

Will this affect National Assembly constituencies?

It shouldn't. The Act of Parliament which triggered this review detached Assembly first-past-the-post constituencies from Westminster ones (previously they had to have the same boundaries). So for now the existing Assembly constituencies and regions stay the same, while Scotland has used different constituencies for Scottish Parliament and Westminister elections without many problems.

Nonetheless, if/when the current Wales Bill passes, the Senedd will have the power over its own electoral arrangements and the number of AMs. There'll be pressure from all sides to make changes, including a change to the electoral system and an increase in the number of AMs to compensate for the loss of MPs. That's worthy of a post of its own in the future.

In the current political climate any such proposal, particularly an increase in AMs, could be met with anger from the public following the pay rise (which is - as predicted - looking incredibly short-sighted), the anti-politics mood fostered during the EU referendum and recent talk of direct rule (though a reduction in the number of MPs damages the case for both Assembly abolition and MP involvement in the Assembly itself).

So unless there's a cast-iron cross-party proposal on the table with some measure of support from the public I don't see the Assembly electoral arrangements changing for the foreseeable future - which ought to be a relief to Labour.

If AMs and the parties are determined to press ahead with Assembly electoral reform, then the most diplomatic option would be to carry out a committee inquiry (presumably the Constitutional & Legislative Affairs Committee) to firmly establish the case first.
This reduction also makes the case for devolving criminal justice and policing much stronger - along with a separate Welsh legal jurisdiction - as that's part of the reason Wales was slightly over-represented in Westminster in the first place.


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