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2018 Review: Birmingham & Black Country – full submission

In Birmingham,boundary changes,Dudley,redistricting,Sandwell,Walsall,West Midlands,Wolverhampton on December 12, 2017 by dadge

This counterproposal covers the 26 seats of Birmingham (excluding Sutton Coldfield) and the Black Country (excluding Wolverhampton). The Commission’s proposals for Sutton Coldfield and Wolverhampton proposals are acceptable, although I’m submitting separately a possible improvement to the latter.

The Commission’s revised proposals for the West Midlands region are generally good. When it comes to the West Midlands county itself (excluding Coventry) several serious problems remain. This counterproposal addresses those problems seat by seat. It would be better if the Commission respected metropolitan borough boundaries more, but this counterproposal, whilst not accepting the argument that the flexibility afforded by the Commission’s policy of amorphous blobbism (i.e. treating regions as single units with little respect for the local authority boundaries within them) is necessary, does go along with it: it includes six cross-border seats, only one fewer than in the Commission’s proposals. It also keeps the number of split wards to a minimum: there are four to the Commission’s three.

Here is a summary map of my counterproposals, taken from the interactive Google map at https://www.google.com/maps/d/u/0/viewer?mid=1uqlgR6_V01Q023524AzUZWA2EijxAoSK

bce bbc0


1. Aldridge 76,572
18. Walsall 73,255
4. Erdington 73,557
6. Hodge Hill 77,643
3. Birmingham Central 77,926
9. Small Heath 77,267
5. Hall Green 72,658
7. Kings Norton 71,831
8. Northfield 75,118
11. Edgbaston & Warley South 76,863
19. Warley North 71,590
12. Halesowen & Cradley Heath 78,132
16. Stourbridge 72,591
10. Dudley 78,270
20. Wednesbury 72,803
14. Sandwell Valley 76,523

Aldridge, Brownhills & Bloxwich (1)

As per the Commission’s proposals. The name is a bit of a mouthful; I’m just calling it Aldridge. “Walsall Wood” might be a clever name for this seat.

Walsall & Oscott (18)

Problems: (1) the seat excludes Pleck, which is a central part of the town, and (2) it includes the orphan Oscott ward of Birmingham, thereby splitting the Kingstanding/Perry Beeches part of the city between seats.

Solutions: (1) put Pleck back in the seat, and (2) add the Great Barr & Yew Tree ward from West Bromwich. Still an orphan ward, but with better defined margins. Yew Tree and the Delves have always been closely connected. (3) Rename the seat to Walsall Town (rather than simply “Walsall”, in order to distinguish it from the borough).

Erdington & Perry Barr (4)

Problem: inclusion of the Perry Barr ward. In Birmingham terms, the Walsall Road (the heart of the Perry Barr ward) is geographically distant from the communities that make up Erdington. If the Perry Barr ward didn’t have its Witton tail, the idea of joining Perry Barr to Erdington would be out of the question.

(According to the Commission’s report (p 33) no-one proposed adding Perry Barr to Erdington except John Bryant, a member of the public from Kent whom the Commission like to quote because he’s a fundamentalist dissectologist like they are, i.e. he treats the country like a jigsaw and refuses to split wards even when local circumstances and local people suggest otherwise.)

Solutions: (1) Include Oscott ward instead of Perry Barr. Oscott and Kingstanding wards are the two wards that cover the Kingstanding area of north Birmingham – it’d be good not to have them split between seats. (2) Put Castle Vale in the Hodge Hill seat. The Vale is part of Erdington, but it is a self-contained community, with two shopping centres and a clear boundary with the Pype Hayes area. (3) Rename the seat Erdington.

(Note: my preferred option** is still to split the Oscott ward, with the part of Perry Beeches north of the M6 going into the constituency on the other side of the motorway. However, I’m not recommending that here because it doesn’t work as a solution in the context of the Commission’s revised proposals.)

Hodge Hill (6)

Problem: the inclusion of the Stechford ward means that the Yardley area will be split between constituencies. However, retaining the existing constituency boundary would create difficult knock-on effects on other seats. So the southern boundary of the seat is accepted.

Proposal: to add Castle Vale to the seat, in order to bring the size of the Erdington seat within quota. Although the Vale is separated from the rest of the Hodge Hill seat by the M6, the two parts are strongly linked by the A452, and people from Hodge Hill and Washwood Heath shop at the Fort and Castle Vale retail parks.

Ladywood (3)

Problem: Inclusion of the Soho & Victoria ward, an orphan Sandwell ward. This ward is an integral part of the town of Smethwick; therefore the Commission is splitting that town.

Solution: Include the Nechells ward instead. This ward is part of the existing Ladywood constituency, so including it will significantly reduce the amount of change. In order to do this, four polling districts (CTH CTI CTJ CTK) will need to be included in the Small Heath seat. This would actually be a good thing, since it would bring all parts of Bordesley Green and Small Heath together in the same seat.

I suggest renaming the seat to Birmingham Central. There has been a Central seat before, and the name seems appropriate for a seat that includes the Aston area as well as Ladywood.

Yardley (9)

Problems: (1) the name: the centre of Yardley isn’t in the seat; (2) the proposed seat stretches from Sheldon to Aston, a “bacon strip” of wards obviously put together because of the numbers game the Commission is playing.

Solutions: (1) name the seat Small Heath – this name is more appropriate and has a long pedigree. (2) Remove the Nechells ward and replace with Acocks Green, thereby reducing the amount of change to the seat. Add polling districts CTH CTI CTJ CTK from Nechells ward in order to unite the Wyndcliffe and Holy Trinity areas with the rest of Bordesley Green and Small Heath and bring the electorates of this and the Central seat into the permitted range.

Hall Green (5)

Proposals: (1) Remove Acocks Green ward and add Moseley ward, thereby reverting the seat to its current boundaries. (2) Transfer polling district DEG (Swanshurst Park) from Springfield ward to the Kings Norton seat in order to bring that seat up to quota.

Brandwood (7)

Proposals: (1) remove Moseley ward and add Kings Norton ward. This will unite the Bournville-Cotteridge-Kings Norton area along the A441 in one seat. (2) Add polling district DEG (Swanshurst Park) in order to bring the electorate of the seat up to quota. (3) Rename the seat to Kings Norton – a name with pedigree.

Northfield (8)

Problem: the inclusion of Bromsgrove district wards, making up just 7% of the electorate of the seat. My original proposal** respected the county boundary. It isn’t necessary to include Worcestershire wards in a Birmingham seat, and it’s bad practice to do so, but in order to reduce the amount of upheaval in this counter-proposal I’ve left the Rubery wards in the Northfield seat.

Proposal: remove Kings Norton ward and add Bartley Green ward. This reverts the seat largely to its pre-1997 boundaries and unites the areas either side of Shenley Lane.

Edgbaston & Selly Oak (11)

Proposals: (1) Transfer Bartley Green to the Northfield seat, where it used to be. (2) Add the Abbey and Old Warley wards from Sandwell to this seat. These two wards are more suitable for a cross-border seat than the Soho & Victoria ward that the Commission is proposing to add to the Ladywood seat. Brandhall and Bearwood face Quinton and Harborne across the Hagley Road. (3) Rename the seat Edgbaston & Warley South.

Warley (19)

Problems: (1) Includes orphan Dudley ward (St Thomas) which splits Dudley town between seats. (2) Includes only part of Smethwick – Smethwick is split between three seats.

Solutions: (1) Return St Thomas ward to a Dudley seat. (2) Include all three Smethwick wards (Smethwick, Soho/Victoria and St Pauls) in this seat. (3) Add Rowley ward to this seat. It’s not ideal to split the Rowley Regis area, but the Rowley ward does have good links with Tividale and Oldbury. (4) Rename the seat Warley North.

Halesowen & Rowley Regis (12)

Problem: the Netherton ward, which is part of Dudley town, has been included in this seat to make the numbers up.

Solution: Transfer the Netherton ward to the Dudley town seat. In order to facilitate this, transfer the Wollescote/Cradley and Dudley Wood wards from the Stourbridge seat and remove the Rowley ward. On balance, having Wollescote in the Halesowen seat is preferable to having Woodside in the Halesowen seat. (2) Rename the seat Halesowen & Cradley Heath.

Stourbridge (16)

Proposal: move Brierley Hill town centre into this seat. (A lot of the town is in the proposed seat already.) Transfer Cradley/Wollescote and Quarry Bank/Dudley Wood wards to Halesowen seat. Include Wordsley ward, all of Brierley Hill ward, and Brockmoor part of Brockmoor/Pensnett ward in this seat. Possibly rename the seat Stourbridge & Brierley Hill.

Dudley (10)

Problems: This seat includes only half of Dudley town, and half of Brierley Hill.

Solutions: Add the St Thomas and Netherton/Woodside/St Andrew wards to this seat to unite the main parts of the town in one seat. Include Wordsley ward, all of Brierley Hill ward, and the Brockmoor part of Brockmoor/Pensnett ward in the Stourbridge seat. Possibly change the name of the seat to Dudley Castle to distinguish it from the borough.

Darlaston & Tipton (20)

Problems: (1) The Pleck ward from the centre of Walsall has been included in this seat; (2) Friar Park ward (mostly Wednesbury) has been omitted from the seat; (3) the name of the seat omits Wednesbury, which is the main town in the seat.

Solutions: (1) Remove Pleck; (2) add Friar Park ward. Now all the wards that make up Darlaston, Wednesbury and Tipton are in the seat. (3) Rename the seat, either simply to Wednesbury, or possibly to “Wednesbury, Tipton & Darlaston”.

West Bromwich (14)

Problems: (1) Greets Green & Lyng ward has been split; (2) The seat includes part of Smethwick (via a second split ward); (3) the seat includes a Wednesbury ward (Friar Park); (4) the seat includes an orphan Birmingham ward, Handsworth Wood.

Solutions: (1) Keep all of the Greets Green/Lyng ward in the seat, and (2) put all of the St Pauls ward in the Smethwick (“Warley North”) seat; (3) transfer Friar Park ward to the Wednesbury seat.

(4) My original plan** kept Handsworth Wood in a Birmingham seat. In order to base this counter-proposal as closely as possible on the Commission’s revised proposals, I’ve kept the Handsworth Wood ward in the West Bromwich seat. It’s not a very good ward to use for this purpose, since it’s really one of a pair with its neighbouring Lozells/East Handsworth ward, and it’s separated from West Bromwich by Sandwell Valley. However, perhaps a virtue can be made out of this unfortunate choice. If the Perry Barr ward is added to the new seat instead of to the Erdington seat, Handsworth Wood is no longer an orphan, and the seat can be named Sandwell Valley because the seat surrounds it. Perry Barr ward is a reasonable fit: it merges into Sandwell’s Newton ward at Hamstead.

The Commission’s splitting of wards in Sandwell seems somewhat bizarre. The borough really is the poor relation of their redistricting process – not only has the Commission breached its border six times (see map below), it’s unnecessarily split wards in the borough, going against its own policy. The Commission’s policy, as I understand it, is that wards may be split in extremis if the knock-on effects of not doing so would be unacceptable seats elsewhere. In this case the Commission has done the opposite: it’s avoided splitting wards in Birmingham at all costs, leaving loose ends to be tied in Sandwell. What it should have done – and what I have done – is split wards in Birmingham in order to mitigate problems elsewhere.

bce sandwell nos

In the end I split three wards in Birmingham in order to construct better seats both in the city and throughout the sub-region. I submit that that’s a reasonable compromise, and certainly better than the two splits in Sandwell, one of which divides West Bromwich between seats, and the other one of which divides Smethwick between seats.

Summary of improvements:

  1. Pleck is in the Walsall seat.

  2. Oscott is in a Birmingham seat.

  3. There’s no Sandwell ward in the Ladywood seat.

  4. Nechells ward is in the Ladywood seat instead of the Yardley seat.

  5. Hall Green almost unchanged from the existing seat.

  6. Smethwick is united in one seat instead of being split between three seats.

  7. Woodside is in the Dudley seat instead of in the Halesowen seat.

  8. There’s no Dudley ward in a Warley seat.

  9. Dudley town is united in one seat instead of being split between three seats.

  10. Friar Park is in the Wednesbury seat.

  11. No split wards in Sandwell.

Of course, eradicating these faults in the Commission’s revised proposals has required a few compromises to made, but I commend those compromises to you as necessary in order to improve the overall picture of constituencies in Birmingham and the Black Country. Also, the two split wards in Sandwell have been replaced with three split wards in Birmingham, although I hope you’ll agree that the splits are reasonable.

***

A note on wards. The Commission has a policy of not splitting wards. In general terms this a sensible policy, since it reduces the permutations from an infinite number to something more manageable. However, when the law was changed to reduce the permitted leeway in seat size from +/-10% to +/-5% this made the policy unworkable. It reduced the number of possible arrangements in authorities with large wards like Birmingham and Dudley to zero, or close to zero, and blindly pursuing the policy has led the Commission to propose ludicrous “bacon strip” seats and multiple cross-border seats and orphan wards, leeching neighbouring authorities to make up the numbers. The irony of this situation is not lost on psephologists who clearly remember how the Commission insisted for so long that the process was not a numbers game – a position with which the courts agreed.

To see how futile the task is of forming seats in Birmingham on the basis of whole wards, consider the following: the electorate of Birmingham (excluding Sutton Coldfield) is 616,632. Therefore the 36 wards have an average electorate of 17,045. Four whole wards have an average electorate of 68,180 and five whole wards have an average electorate of 85,225. Given that the permitted range is 71,031 to 78,507, it can be seen that it’s impossible to form whole-ward seats in the city, except where through luck there’s the odd ward or two considerably above or below the average size. Hopefully this gives a flavour of how crass the unwillingness to deviate from the whole-ward policy had become.

As a footnote to the footnote, it should also be noticed that (a) the Birmingham wards that the Commission is using as its building blocks are obsolete, having been replaced by new wards last year, and (b) the electorates being used by the Commission are also out of date, having been considerably affected by the registration drives before the EU referendum and the 2017 general election.

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Articles

2018 Review: Durham

In boundary changes,North East,redistricting on December 11, 2017 by dadge

For some reason the Commission has decided that the Northumberland border is sacrosanct, even though (a) it’s played fast and loose with county boundaries elsewhere in the country, and (b) doing so produces an unsatisfactory boundary in the Ashington/Bedlington area. Local factors, especially the fact that the Tyne & Wear county boundary is long gone and there are good ties across the border with the neighbouring local authorities, should come into play.

Perhaps the main irony of the Commission’s decision regarding Northumberland is that it has caused them to create a seat (Blaydon) with an orphan ward (Burnopfield) in County Durham, and it’s not clear why a sensible crossing of the Northumberland border would be worse than this rather pathetic crossing of the Durham border. What’s worse, the removal of the Burnopfield ward has unfortunate knock-on effects, in particular the loss of the Framwellgate ward from the Durham city seat. Newton Hall is an integral part of the city. (The fact that the Commission thinks this loss is acceptable demonstrates how it sets too much store by physical characteristics, ignoring administrative, socio-economic and historical factors.) Current boundaries of Durham city (from ordnancesurvey.co.uk/election-maps/):

bce durham

Therefore the main purpose of this counter-proposal is to put the Framwellgate Moor area back into the Durham city seat, and Burnopfield back into a Durham county seat.

BLAYDON

The minimum-change option (with regard to the Revised Proposals), i.e. without needing to cross the Northumberland border, for eliminating the orphan ward is probably as follows:

bce blaydon

Blaydon 76,652

Gateshead West 71,415

Gateshead East 73,497

If the Northumberland border is crossed, the least disruptive option is to include Prudhoe in the Blaydon seat:

bce newc v2

Blaydon 71,402

Newcastle Central 76,027

Newcastle North 74,691

Hexham 77,442

Blyth & Wansbeck 73,869

Berwick & Morpeth 73,286

For boundaries around Morpeth and Cramlington, see my original submission.

Speaking of which, I still think my Hexham & Blaydon and Castle Ward seats are a better arrangement than the Commission’s Blaydon & Newburn and Hexham & Cramlington seats, but either of the above plans is a reasonable compromise.

DURHAM

Now that the Burnopfield ward is no longer being kidnapped, the County Durham seats can be slightly rejigged to allow all of Durham city to be united in one seat:

bce durham rev

North Durham 77,212

North West Durham 74,536

Bishop Auckland 75,434

Sedgefield & Billingham 76,459

Durham & Easington 77,766

Articles

2018 Review: North London versions 2.1 and 2.2

In boundary changes,London,redistricting on December 11, 2017 by dadge

Counterproposal for Enfield, Barnet and Haringey

Problems with the Commission’s Revised Proposals:

Finchley split between 3 seats

Golders Green area split between 2 seats

Wood Green split between 2 seats

Palmers Green split between 2 seats

A seat that stretches from East Finchley to Hadley Wood

Unnecessary split ward in Enfield

Map of Commission’s proposals:

bce finchley

Finchley comprises the 5 wards of West, East, Church End, Woodhouse and Garden Suburb (plus part of Totteridge ward). Currently all 5 (i.e. all of Finchley) are in the Finchley & Golders Green seat.

There are two alternatives in this counterproposal: one (A) keeps all 5 wards together; the other (B) retains Garden Suburb ward in the Hampstead seat, as per the Commission’s proposal.

(A)

barnet enfield

Main advantage of this scheme: all 5 Finchley wards in one seat.

Main disadvantage: Barnet split between seats.

(B)

barnet v2

Advantages of this scheme:

All of Barnet (Chipping, East, Friern) kept together, unchanged from current seat.

Most of Finchley in one seat.

Wood Green and Palmers Green not split between seats.

No split ward.

Disadvantage:

Haringey divided between three seats.

 

Both of these plans are at least as good as that proposed by the Commission but neither requires a split ward.

Articles

2018 Review: Northwich (Cheshire)

In boundary changes,Cheshire,North West,redistricting on December 11, 2017 by dadge

The Commission has so far missed an excellent opportunity to propose a proper Northwich seat. The town has suffered for too long from being split between seats, and the seats in the Revised Proposals perpetuate this problem:

bce northwich0

(The blue line is the border between the Commission’s proposed Weaver Vale and Eddisbury seats.)

If the Frodsham area is included in the Eddisbury seat this can be rectified. (Frodsham was in the Eddisbury constituency up till 1997, and was also in Eddisbury hundred.) Therefore I counter-propose the following arrangement:

bce eddisbury

Weaver Vale 74,877
Halton 75,381
Eddisbury 73,627
Crewe & Nantwich 72,326

Articles

2018 Review: Brighton and Newhaven

In boundary changes,redistricting,South East,Sussex on December 10, 2017 by dadge

In the revised proposals, the knock-on effect of Brighton’s large ward sizes is causing a harmful split in Newhaven, with one third of the town (the Valley ward) included in the Lewes seat.

bce brighton4

Although Sussex can be dealt with generally without split wards, Brighton is a special case. The wards are very large such that creating a Brighton Pavilion seat relies on luck. (Excluding the two-councillor ward (Woodingdean) there are 101,106 electors between 10 wards, an average of 10,111. Now notice that 7×10,111=70,777 and 8×10,111=80,888, both of which totals are outside the permitted range.) That luck has allowed the formation of a seat (Pavilion) that scrapes over the bottom end of the permitted range, but when a seat scrapes over the line in this way it naturally pushes an excess of voters into the neighbouring seat. This is what has happened in the case of Kemptown & Seahaven.

What to do in such a case? One could, rather unreasonably, expect the responsibility for solving the problem to fall on the neighbouring seat, even though it’s not its wards that are the cause of the problem. This is what the Commission have done by looking for a solution in Newhaven. The two suggested solutions: splitting the Denton & Meeching ward, or the loss of the whole Valley ward to Lewes, are both very bad.

Instead, and much more reasonably, we can look to Brighton. On the border between the Kemptown and Pavilion seats is Hanover. Until 2010 all of Hanover was in the Pavilion seat, but some of it is now in the Kemptown seat. (This was caused by the moving of the constituency boundary to the new ward boundary.) This area (polling districts EY and EZ, the area around Windmill Street) can be returned to the Pavilion seat, providing a reasonable solution to the problem.

bce brighton9

Brighton Pavilion 71527 + EY 1238 + EZ 745 = 73510

Brighton Kemptown & Seahaven 76167 + Newhaven Valley 2554 – EY 1238 – EZ 745 = 76738

Lewes 77696 – Newhaven Valley 2554 = 75142

bce brighton10

Articles

2018 Review – West Midlands v2.0

In Birmingham,boundary changes,boundary commission,Coventry,Dudley,News,redistricting,Sandwell,Stoke,Walsall,Warwickshire,West Midlands,West Midlands county,Wolverhampton on October 23, 2017 by dadge

The Commission has published its revised recommendations, and there are many improvements. Warwickshire will now have the sensible arrangement of seats that had been obvious to everyone except the Commission. And they have accepted my proposals for Stoke and Newcastle, which is nice.

The map of Birmingham and the Black Country is looking a bit better, but there are still the following (main) problems:

  1. Pleck removed from Walsall*
  2. Oscott ward in a Walsall seat*
  3. Handsworth Wood in a Sandwell seat
  4. Handsworth split between seats
  5. Oddly shaped Erdington seat going up to the Scott Arms*
  6. Smethwick split between three constituencies*
  7. East Smethwick in a Birmingham seat*
  8. Nechells in a sinuous Yardley seat*
  9. Yardley split between seats
  10. Rubery in a Birmingham seat
  11. Netherton in the Halesowen & Rowley Regis seat*
  12. Dudley town split between seats*
  13. East Dudley town in a Sandwell seat*
  14. Friar Park ward not in the Wednesbury seat*
  15. Greets Green in the Tipton seat*

My counter-proposal (interactive map) solves 11 of those 15 problems (shown by stars), but creates five new ones:

  1. Perry Barr in a Sandwell seat
  2. Yew Tree in a Walsall seat
  3. Castle Vale in the Hodge Hill seat
  4. Bearwood and part of Oldbury in a Birmingham seat
  5. Rowley Regis split between seats

But I think that reducing the overall number of problems from 15 to 9 is quite good going. Also, I’d say we go from having eight bad constituencies (out of 20) to just one (can you guess which one?!) so I think that’s definitely an improvement. Excluding the seats in Wolverhampton and Sutton (which have general support), my proposed seats are:

  1. Aldridge, Brownhills & Bloxwich 76572
    18. Walsall 73255
    14. Sandwell Valley 76523
    4. Erdington 73557*
    6. Hodge Hill 77643* (includes Castle Vale DLC DLG DLH)
    3. Birmingham Central* 77926
    9. Small Heath 77267* (includes Bordesley Green CTH CTI CTJ CTK)
    5. Hall Green 72658*
    7. Kings Norton 71831* (includes Swanshurst Park DEG)
    8. Northfield 75118
    11. Edgbaston & Warley South 76863
    19. Warley North 71590
    20. Wednesbury, Tipton & Darlaston 72803
    10. Dudley 78270*
    16. Stourbridge 72591* (includes Brockmoor J05 J06 J07)
    12. Halesowen & Cradley Heath 78132

The stars indicate seats that include parts of split wards. (I have 4 split wards compared to the Commission’s 3.) Seats in bold include wards from two boroughs. (I have 8 compared with the Commission’s 9. Not a big difference there, but this counter-proposal doesn’t make wholesale changes. In an ideal world we’d be looking at something like my original plan, which only had 3 cross-border seats.)

Map of seats listed above:

bce bbc0

If you prefer all or part of this plan to the Commission’s proposals, email them by 11/12/17 at information@boundarycommissionengland.gov.uk

Articles

How to produce a fair arrangement of constituencies

In boundary changes,boundary commission,redistricting on July 18, 2015 by dadge

Just before the general election, the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee of the House of Commons issued a report on the parliamentary boundary review system. Sensibly, they recommended that the 5% rule be replaced with a 10% rule, i.e. that seats can have electorates up to 10 per cent above or below the average. But otherwise the report is quite conservative in its conclusions.

My input was as follows:

This submission is divided into two parts: recommendations within the current framework; and recommendations for a new framework.

 

In order to work effectively, Britain’s First Past The Post System requires a fair arrangement of constituencies.

 

PART A: Recommendations within the current framework

 

  1. Some of the current problems with seat distribution are caused by the philosophy of “minimum change”. Minimum change leads to the perpetuation of arrangements of seats which contribute to the unfairness of the system. For example, smaller seats tend to stay smaller, marginals tend to stay marginals, and so on. The arrangement of constituencies is not for anyone’s convenience, least of all that of political parties, it’s for the effective and fair representation of voters and their communities, and hence each review should start with a blank canvas, as it were, rather than any attempt being made to keep changes to a minimum.
  2. In order to reduce the disruption this causes, the period between reviews should be as long as possible. Given that each review is allowed to make wholesale changes, and these will take time to get used to, I would suggest that the period be 15 years. Interim reviews can take place where constituencies grow or shrink very quickly.
  3. While the review areas at previous Reviews had often been too small, e.g. Northumberland, the Wirral, and the London boroughs, such that constituencies varied wildly in size, the policy at the last review changed to what I call “amorphous blobbism”: regional review areas with very little respect for the boundaries within them. All sorts of unnatural cross-border constituencies were recommended, many of which were removed on appeal. For reasons of tradition, belonging, and practicality it’s good to use counties and metropolitan boroughs as the basic review units. Just considering the review process, it’s rather unfair on a member of the public who wants to oppose a particular proposed constituency if they have to consider the knock-on effects across a huge region, most of which they won’t know.
  4. The size of review areas needs to be a compromise between working within known units and having areas big enough to give flexibility with regard to constituency electorate and formation. The normal review area should be the top-level local authority, i.e. county, metropolitan borough or unitary authority, but this is not possible with the new 5% tolerance in electorate, since this will only work if every review area has an electorate of 800,000+. Hence the tolerance should be put up to 10%. (At the last review, this would’ve allowed constituencies of between 68,977 and 84,305.) With these limits, review areas need an electorate of at least 414,000, which would once again allow review areas to be based on counties and the larger metropolitan boroughs.
  5. The Commission needs to be expressly told to protect communities from being split by the process whenever possible. During the last Review the English and Welsh Commissions were obsessively committed to completing their duties without splitting any wards. In several review areas there were very few constituency arrangements that were possible without splitting a ward, which meant they had effectively tied their own hands, as well as removing almost any element of choice in the consultation discussions and leaving some areas with constituencies that split established communities and forced unconnected areas together. The classic case was Cheshire, but the stubbornness also detrimentally affected the outcome of the Review in Birmingham, Leeds, Portsmouth, and several other areas.
  6. Wards are useful building blocks but they should be considered less, not more, sacrosanct than town or county boundaries. Despite the ludicrous claim by the Commission that there is no agreed way of splitting wards, polling districts with known electorates exist in every area and can be used in a limited way in order to create better constituencies.
  7. Working on the data from the last Review (with the current 5% tolerance),
    Constituency electorate: minimum 72,810, maximum 80,473. Once ward size reaches 8,000 redistricting is effectively impossible: 9×8,000=72,000, 10×8,000=80,000 and 8×9,000=72,000, 9×9,000=81,000 and 7×10,000=70,000, 8×10,000=80,000.

    There is a way for the Commission to allow ward-splitting without opening the floodgates: allow it only in districts where it is mathematically necessary, i.e. with an average ward size of a certain amount. I calculated this amount as 102.5% of the average constituency size, divided by 10, which at the last review was 7,856.

    Most, if not all, metropolitan boroughs would qualify (Rochdale’s average is 7,867, for example), giving the Commission the necessary flexibility in those places.

    A cap can also be put on how many splits are allowed in a particular review area, and I suggest this could be: number of seats divided by two, rounded down. In Rochdale’s case this would be 1, in Leeds 3, in Birmingham 4, in Cheshire-Wirral 5.

  8. Orphan wards. The Commission’s current policy of not splitting wards has led to the proliferation of orphan wards: a single ward from a particular authority is tacked on to a constituency otherwise formed entirely from wards in a different authority. This is unfair to electors since the MP will spend most of their time interacting with the “main” authority and will be seen as that authority’s MP. Therefore the policy should aim to reduce the number of such wards.
  9. Packing/cracking. If a town has an electorate of say, 120,000, the decision must be made whether to have an inner and an outer seat or a west and an east seat. In the jargon, to pack or to crack. This makes an important difference to the way the area is represented, and often makes a difference to which parties win seats. In these cases the Commission should listen particularly to the views of local people in general, rather than to the (biased) views of local parties. And there should be careful analysis to ensure that the national balance between packing and cracking is such that there is no national bias towards a particular party.
  10. Islands and sparsely populated areas. The vote of every elector should be of equal worth. Therefore it’s unacceptable to have places like the Isle of Wight where an elector’s vote is worth less, and places like the Western Isles where an elector’s vote is worth more.
  11. In the case of the Isle of Wight, part of the island should form a constituency with part of the New Forest.
  12. In the case of the Northern and Western Isles, I suggest that each sends a “proportional member” to parliament. This would mean that the Northern Isles would send an MP with 0.5 of a vote in parliament, and the Western Isles would send an MP with 0.33 of a vote. This is the best compromise, since it reduces the over-representation without attempting to combined these islands with the distant mainland.
  13. In the case of other sparsely populated areas (generally distant from Westminster), the rules have already correctly been changed to stop their over-representation. Funds should be available for extra staff for MPs in such areas in order that electors get the same level of service that is available to voters in more compact constituencies.
  14. The electoral register. Boundary reviews rely on correct electoral registers. Most (or all?) electoral registers have not been correct for many years. From my own experience of canvassing for Birmingham City Council I know how hard it is for local authorities to get everyone onto the register. If parliament is serious about accuracy in its parliamentary boundary reviewing, it needs to allocate more resources into getting everyone onto the register, especially as registration varies so widely between areas according to such factors as income and nationality. Among the poor practice that comes to mind from my researches is the extremely inaccurate register that Preston had a few years ago (I seem to remember that almost 20% of voters were missing), and the unavailability of any evidence for Leeds’s ward electorate data at the last Review. These issues are just the tip of the iceberg.
  15. Mapping. The Commission’s mapping was quite good at the last review, but pdf’s are unwieldy, and it was shameful that it was left up to third parties to come up with interactive mapping. If the Commission is serious in wanting members of the public to submit counter-proposals it needs to provide an online mapping tool to help them do this.
  16. The Commission should promote co-operation over confrontation. Why not invite proposals right at the outset and incorporate those ideas into its own initial proposals, rather than coming up with its own, often bizarre, ideas without consultation and then getting all precious about them when they’re criticised?
  17. The Review hearing system is still terribly biased in favour of political parties. They use their resources to produce comprehensive counter-proposals that appear to take up at least half of the process, even though they only provide about 10% of the counter-proposals by number. Although some local parties are quite good at representing local views, my main conclusion from sitting through hearings at the last and the previous Review is that, by and large, parties’ proposals are mainly directed at keeping their MPs (and gaining new ones).
  18. Make-up of Commission. At the last review the Commission was made up of two lawyers and a council manager, only one of whom appeared to be an expert in electoral law, and none of whom was a geographer or a statistician. This meant it was difficult to have faith that they knew what they were doing. The Commission should be increased in size to ensure a greater breadth of expertise.

PART B: Recommendations for a new framework

 

B1. A much simpler and easier-to-manage framework for the redistribution of parliamentary constituencies is a rolling review. This would operate as follows.

 

B2. Initial allocation and distribution. A constituency electorate would be decided. Let’s say 80,000. (This would give several fewer MPs than now, but it’s a good idea to use a round number in order to keep future data analysis as simple as possible.) Each review area receives the number of constituencies it’s entitled to. For example, if the electorate in Area P is 420,000, it would have 5 seats (420/80=5.25); and if the electorate in Area Q is 460,000, it would have 6 seats (460/80=5.75). In every area, the distribution of seats would be decided by an independent body. This could be a national body, as now, or a local body for each area.

 

B3. Subsequent reviews. There would be no national or regional boundary reviews. When the electorate of a review area increases or falls such that its entitlement increases or falls, then a review takes place in that review area. But not immediately. In order to avoid frequent reviews in areas which have an entitlement of approximately half a seat (For example, if the electorate in Area R is 441,000, it would have an entitlement to just over 5 and a half seats (441/80=5.51)) the entitlement would need to have increased/decreased for 3 consecutive years before the review takes place.

 

B4. Within a review area, if the electorate of any constituency goes beyond acceptable limits (the limits could either be +/- 10% of the average in the review area or +/- 10% of the national average, or whatever tolerance is agreed on) for 3 consecutive years, the boundary of that seat should be reviewed. This will of course require the review of at least one neighbouring seat, and possibly several others. Furthermore, if any seat in the review area remains over 10% smaller or larger than any other seat in the same review area over a period of 10 years, there should be a review of the seat (and its neighbours). This will avoid the long-term over- or under-representation of electors.

 

17 October 2014