WALTER CRONXITE reports on the latest stage of deliberations over whether to take parliamentary constituencies from Labour and give the Tories safer seats, or whether to give the Tories safer seats and erase some Labour constituencies
Croydon Tories, having originally suggested that proposed parliamentary boundary changes would make no significant difference to the likely voting outcome in a re-configured marginal of Croydon Central, have this week given their support to the Boundary Commissioners’ proposed changes which some suggest could finally provide career politician Gavin Barwell with the safe seat he so desires.
The Boundary Commissioners for England have the thankless task of conducting the national review of parliamentary seats, as part of a thinly veiled gerrymandering exercise engineered by Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron. Under the guise of reducing the number of MPs from 650 to 600, the terms given to the Commission, especially in London, leaves the Commission with little alternative and could see Labour lose at least 30 seats across the country in a wave of a map-maker’s HB pencil.
As we reported when the Boundary Commission published its initial proposals last month, by shuffling the pack of Croydon’s council wards to move strongly Tory areas such as Purley into Croydon Central, Conservative MP Gavin Barwell appeared to have had his parliamentary seat changed from a 165-vote uber-marginal to a comfortable looking 6,000 majority.
That assessment was based on figures from Electoral Calculus, and it was quickly picked up by the hard-pressed journos at the Croydon Guardian.
Oddly, within 24 hours the report on the freebie paper’s website was radically altered to suggest that, based on alternative analysis, after the proposed changes Croydon Central would still be a marginal seat. This interpretation might be seen as more fitting with a Conservative narrative that the boundary changes are not a crass stitch-up to favour their party.
Despite a lengthy explanation of the changed copy on their website, the Croydon Guardian has not revealed publicly who it was that belatedly drew to their attention this revised view, although you can have a good guess. Barwell, despite having six state-funded members of staff, “could not be contacted for comment” by the Croydon Guardian. Which is unusual.
And this week, Croydon’s Conservatives have emerged in support of the Commission’s proposals for Croydon Central. They are not usually known for backing changes that are not to their party’s direct advantage.
Elsewhere in Croydon, with Croydon North and Croydon South being substantially safe seats, the Commission’s proposed changes there represent little more than minor adjustments, although the people of Norbury could face a confusing voting future if the proposals are accepted. Once the consultation process is completed, the revised parliamentary boundaries are expected to be the political battleground for this bit of London for the 2020 General Election.
The Commission is undertaking a version of the Grand Tour, holding consultation meetings around the country, and yesterday and today they have been in Bromley.
It is notable that, in this part of London at least, the Commission’s plans have become a tug-of-war between the red-blue duopoly which controls the constituencies, with precious little input from other groups or political parties with less vested interests, and potentially more of a dispassionately fair view.
Andrew Pelling, the former Conservative MP for Croydon Central and now a Labour councillor in Waddon, attended the hearing yesterday to present alternative proposals for Croydon’s three constituencies, as prepared by his party’s regional officials.
Pelling says that he spoke in favour of a re-arrangement of wards in redrawn constituencies which tended to pair Croydon with Sutton, rather than with Bromley or other neighbouring boroughs. Croydon and Sutton are put together for the purpose of the London Assembly and Mayoral elections every four years. Croydon and Sutton share other commonalities, too: the boroughs are both in the South London Waste Partnership, the South London Partnership for economic development, and for regional planning for NHS services.
“Among many other things, I put forward the merits of Waddon being put back in Croydon Central, Shirley being kept in Croydon Central and Purley being kept in Croydon South,” Pelling said.
“Waddon was in Croydon Central before and has demographic challenges similar to other parts of central Croydon.”
But according to Pelling, other elements of the Commission’s contorted attempts to balance out the number of voters in each constituency make less good sense when looked at closely.
“The current proposals, which are backed by the Tories, would leave parts of Shirley represented by a Beckenham MP and western, northern and Upper Shirley represented by a Croydon Central MP. On the western border of Shirley ward, the parliamentary boundary would split the shopping parade on the Wickham Road and give a most ill-defined border.”
It would also mean that Barwell’s constituency office wouldn’t be in his constituency. A bit like his £700,000 home in Sanderstead…
Pelling made a particular point of opposing the proposal to split Purley away from its historical “twin”, Coulsdon, and move it into Croydon Central.
“Purley is clearly not in Central Croydon,” Pelling said. “The new Croydon South seat is in two separate geographical bits if you travel by road. It is united only if you want to walk down or take a horse ride down the steep paths from Riddlesdown to the Godstone Road.
“I said at the Commission hearing that having isolated pieces of a constituency seemed odd in an urban seat.”
According to Pelling, the Commissioners’ first day of consultation hearings were hardly a bustling hive of activity, with few people turning up to make representations. Tory MPs Bob Neill, David Evennett and Bob Stewart all spoke, while residents from Penge attended and, according to Pelling, “expressed their unhappiness with Crystal Palace and Penge being detached into Croydon North”.
Maggie Mansell, the veteran Norbury councillor, also spoke at the meeting, seeking to make a case for keeping her ward within a Croydon parliamentary constituency and not being hived off, as is proposed, to some new Mitcham and Streatham seat.
The Boundary Commissioners’ hearing continues today, until 5pm, at The Chapel, United Reform Church, 20 Widmore Road, Bromley, BR1 1RY.
There is another hearing at Kingston Town Hall council chambers on October 27 and 28.
The Commissioners are also taking written submissions, here, until December 5.
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