WALTER CRONXITE on the latest recommendations for Croydon’s parliamentary seats from the Boundary Commissioners, just published
Croydon gets to keep three parliamentary constituencies under proposals published today by the Boundary Commission. But the Commissioners have surely delivered what the Tories’ ex-PM and now ex-MP, David Cameron, wanted when he set them to work on his nationwide gerrymandering exercise, as they look to have transformed the marginal Croydon Central seat into a safe Conservative constituency, something which proved beyond the political skills of its MP, Gavin Barwell.
This has all been done at some cost. Some of the work on the constituencies’ boundaries look worthy of a cut and shunt job by a dodgy garage under some south London railway arches.
And the Croydon parliamentary constituencies, at present made up of 24 council wards, would comprise just 23 wards under these proposals.
Norbury ward is to be cast into the outer darkness – well, a new, Lambeth-dominated constituency of Streatham and Mitcham – in a swap for Crystal Palace ward being dragged into Croydon North from Bromley, as the borough-wide integrity of the constituency has been traded in by the Commission in its efforts to balance the number of voters in each constituency within the 71,000 to 78,500 target range it has been set.
And also under these proposals, Shirley ward, where Barwell has recently joined with residents in opposing schemes to build new housing, would become part of a Beckenham constituency, alongside their neighbours from West Wickham.
The arbitrariness of the Commission’s target numbers for each constituency is amplified when it is considered that the number-crunching has been done with figures from before January 2016, therefore missing out on the high number of newly registered voters who joined the electoral roll before June’s EU Referendum. The whole exercise, intended to reduce the size of the Commons from 650 MPs to 600 by the 2020 General Election, is thus rendered out of date even before the virtual ink was dry on the official pdfs released at midnight.
The demands of its targets have also seen the Commission abandon certain principles to which it adhered when undertaking its previous review in 2011. In this part of south London, the Commission’s stated aspiration of basing parliamentary constituencies on the London Assembly dual-borough seats has been dropped.
So previous proposals to mix and match seats with wards from Sutton and Croydon have now been dismissed, the numbers balancing act performed instead by shunting the likes of true blue Purley and Croham wards from Croydon South into Central, as the counterweight to moving Waddon (currently Croydon South’s only Labour ward) and Broad Green (Croydon North) back into Central, where they were part of the constituency 40 years ago.
The end result is Croydon Central, where Barwell hung on by his fingertips in 2015 with just 165 votes, becoming a 5,800-vote Tory majority seat – according to independent analysis through Electoral Calculus, and based on recent opinion polls. Despite his own worst fears, the new Minister for Housing may have a parliamentary future after all…
Indeed, if the Commissioners’ recommendations are accepted – and there’s a 12-week consultation period underway now – the new boundaries will make Croydon far less politically contentious than at any time in the past couple of decades.
Even Steve Reed OBE has some cause to be grateful to the Commissioners: by simply tinkering around the edges with his Croydon North seat, the Progress MP escapes triggering Labour Party rules which might have seen him needing to face a re-selection process. On these boundaries, with the inclusion of council leader Tony Newman’s Woodside ward moved from Croydon Central, Croydon North remains a 15,000-vote Labour majority seat.
But after performing their wards juggling act, the Commissioners – on their outdated electoral figures – have barely managed to get Croydon North under the 78,500 electors limit.
And one snag for Reed will be the likelihood that, with Norbury in a reconfigured Streatham seat, its MP, currently Chuka Umunna, might take a growing interest in matters south of Streatham Common.
As if the Tories in Croydon South needed any more help, the boundary changes see their majority reinforced at 18,000 votes, even with the inclusion of the eastern wards from Croydon Central of New Addington and Fieldway. At a previous boundary review, the then Tory incumbent, Tricky Dicky Ottaway, was laughed at when he suggested that New Addington should be included in his constituency. Now, it seems to be the done thing.
The very idea that London, with its rapidly expanding population, should have to lose five parliamentary seats at all can be judged for the Tory gerrymandering that it is. More voters surely deserve more elected representatives, not fewer. But London is a Labour-voting city, and Cameron’s Tories wanted to dilute that political advantage.
The end result has led to some very contorted new constituencies – Purley, in Croydon Central? Seriously? – some of which have little natural relationship to geography, history or local authorities.
Read what the Commissioners say themselves about the task they were set:
“A particular issue that affected our distribution of constituencies throughout London is the electoral size of the wards in each London borough. The majority of wards contain more than 6,000 electors. This made it difficult to create constituencies with an electorate within 5 per cent of the electoral quota, while avoiding dividing wards between constituencies. In considering alternative distributions of constituencies in London, we noted that it was possible to create constituencies by aggregating wards from a number of neighbouring boroughs.”
It seems, then, that Brexit was not the only electoral mess to be left behind by David Cameron.
The Commissioners explained their proposals for Croydon thus:
“In the borough of Croydon, we have been able to retain three constituencies with minor reconfiguration. The proposed Croydon South constituency lies in the southernmost part of the borough and includes five wards from the existing constituency and three wards from the existing Croydon Central constituency.
“Our Boundary Commission for England proposed Croydon Central constituency retains three wards from the existing constituency, and includes the Broad Green ward from the existing Croydon North constituency, and three wards from the existing Croydon South constituency.
“We also propose a Croydon North constituency, which retains six wards from the existing constituency, and adds the Bromley borough ward of Crystal Palace from the existing Lewisham West and Penge constituency, and the Woodside ward from the existing Croydon Central constituency.”
Under the Boundary Commission’s proposals, below are the wards which will make up the parliamentary constituencies.
The figures in brackets are the number of electors (by constituency and by ward). Where a ward has been included from another borough, this too is stated in brackets. The colours used indicate the latest election outcome, at the 2015 General Election or, for the wards, the 2014 council elections.
CROYDON CENTRAL (72,694)
Broad Green (10,859)
CROYDON NORTH (77,793)
Crystal Palace (Bromley) (7,783)
Bensham Manor (9,553)
South Norwood (10,268)
Thornton Heath (9,557)
Upper Norwood (10,068)
West Thornton (10,159)
CROYDON SOUTH (71,401)
Coulsdon East (9,211)
Coulsdon West (9,900)
New Addington (6,923)
Selsdon and Ballards (9,085)
Such proposals, though, are not set in stone. Not yet, anyway.
“Today’s proposals are just the Commission’s initial thoughts – during the next 12 weeks we want people to take a look and tell us what they like and don’t like about our proposals,” Sam Hartley, the secretary to the Commission, said.
“Use our website to tell us what you think, or come along to one of our public events to give us your views in person.”
There is to be 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…
- The Brake Escape: How Sutton emerged relatively unscathed from the Boundary Review
- Wards from four constituencies forced together to squeeze out Mitcham and Morden
- 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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