WALTER CRONXITE, in a final review of the Boundary Commissioners’ review, lays out the extraordinary lengths undertaken to squeeze out of existence a Labour-held seat in south-west London
If any further proof was needed to demonstrate that the Tories are determined to abuse the power they hold in government to gerrymander control of parliament for a good deal longer than five years, then take a look at the bugger’s muddle that is the Boundary Commissioners’ review of constituencies in Merton.
This is not to impune the integrity of the Boundary Commissioners, who are independent of government. But they have had few real options. They were given a brief to reduce the number of MPs from 650 to 600, to restrict the size of constituencies to between 71,000 and 78,500 voters, and they have had to discount around 2 million electors newly registered in the first six months of this year. And that’s before you ask yourself whether the conservative (small “c”) Establishment (big “E”) wields any broader influence over public bodies.
Population in Croydon, and London more broadly, is growing. Yet the Labour-voting capital is to end up with five fewer seats in 2020 than the city had in 2015, if the review’s recommendations are followed. This, Tories maintain, is in the interests of “fairness”, and to have more “balanced” seats. Yet in the report delivered overnight, Croydon North retains 10 per cent more voters than Croydon South. More balanced? Really?
Across the country, the Commission’s review is expected to cost Labour around 30 seats (out of 232) and the Liberal Democrats around four (out of eight). All this from a process introduced by a political party which currently has more than two dozen of its MPs under police investigation for electoral fraud in 2015.
George Eaton, the New Statesman’s political editor, reckons that had the alternative boundaries been in place at the last election, the Conservatives would have won a majority of around 44, as opposed to 12.
One of the Labour seats under threat of being magicked away is Siobhain McDonagh in Mitcham and Morden, which until now has been part of Merton. The Boundary Commissioners appear here to have gone to extraordinary lengths to fulfill the criteria they were given. All with the effect of dissipating the core support of what McDonagh had made into a safe Labour seat.
The Commissioners must have considered their options elsewhere.
Take Croydon North, for example. Had they tried to unload some of the steadfastly red wards in Steve Reed OBE’s constituency, they might have made the present Tory marginal of Croydon Central even more marginal. That, surely, would never have done. Instead, the Commission has picked wards here and there towards the effect of transforming Croydon Central into a 5,000-vote majority Conservative seat.
So they have needed to jettison another seat in south London. To do that, the Commissioners have managed to knit together a new seat of Streatham and Mitcham from wards taken from no fewer than four current constituencies, including Norbury from Croydon North. It places McDonagh and Streatham MP Chuka Umunna facing a game of musical seats for their parliamentary futures.
With McDonagh’s seat wedged next to true blue Wimbledon, she appears to be one London Labour MP who could be squeezed out by this Tory-commissioned review, unless she opts to seek selection against Umunna for any newly formed constituency.
The seemingly randomised collection of wards in south-west London has had a knock-on effect elsewhere, too.
As the Commissioners state in their report: “In the boroughs of Merton and Wandsworth, we propose a Wimbledon Common and Putney constituency, which retains all six wards from the existing Putney constituency, and adds two Merton borough wards – Wimbledon Park, and Village (including Wimbledon Common) – from the existing Wimbledon constituency.
“This reconfiguration includes Wimbledon Common wholly in one constituency. We have amended the name of this constituency to reflect this. The remaining eight wards from the existing Wimbledon constituency have been included in a proposed Merton and Wimbledon Central constituency, with four wards from the existing Mitcham and Morden constituency.”
Which all means that the Tory MP for Wimbledon, Stephen Hammond, does not so much have a safe seat, more a very comfy sofa. Odd that.
There now begins a 12-week consultation period, including a series of public hearings, details of which can be found at www.bce2018.org.uk. The consultation closes on December 5. There will be a further two rounds of consultation in 2017. Following which, final recommendations will be made to Parliament in September 2018.
And if you had any doubts that the process and work of the Boundary Commission was a little on this dull side, this video produced by the Commissioners should put your mind completely at rest…
- How the Boundary Commission’s review affects Croydon
- The Brake Escape: How Sutton emerged relatively unscathed from the Boundary Review
- Still Croydon’s only independent news source, and based in the heart of the borough: 1.97 million page views 2013-2015
- Inside Croydon: Named among best regional media campaigns, 2014
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