The Boundary Commission is currently undertaking its 10-yearly review of parliamentary constituencies, though in fact this is the third review in a decade, as Government has dithered over the degree of change it wants. The initial proposals seem to avoid the worst excesses that some had feared, such as a Devonwall constituency spanning the Tamar, or Gloucester Cathedral not being in the Gloucester constituency. But the supposedly ‘Conservative’ government once again shows that the only things they are interested in conserving are privilege and injustice. Certainly, conserving historic county boundaries is low on their list of priorities.
Anyone familiar with the origins of Parliament will know that the Commons was created to represent shires and boroughs, lasting places with common interests, not arbitrary slabs of territory inhabited by rootless individuals just passing through. How will county-wide organisations now lobby MPs with cross-border seats – and thus divided loyalties? How will MPs ‘represent’ areas that match nothing in real life?
Those upset by the new map may blame the Commission but there is little point in commenting on it. The Commission are allowed no flexibility on numbers: the Isle of Wight enjoys a generous exception, enshrined in law, but there are no others in England. The map is the inevitable consequence of very tight restrictions put onto the statute book by this Government. Because of that, the boundaries will be forced to change again in the next review – as small changes in population are noted – and yet more damage will be done to the continuity of our representation. It’s as if the maths at Westminster is the only thing that matters and everything else is made to fit around what they want. No surprise there then.
Our position now is the same as it was last time. We remain opposed to the obsession with ensuring that constituencies are almost exactly the same size, the same obsession with ‘balance’ which, at a regional level, led to Wessex being split between artificial South West and South East regions. Rather, we believe that the primary concern should be community. The ancient patterns of shires, hundreds and parishes evolved over centuries, reflecting ties between people who lived in and built those communities. It is time our governments listened to those voices from the past…and the future.