Friday, 19 October 2012

When A Constituency Name Dies

One thing that the Boundary Commissions have to deal with is naming constituencies.

I have been going through the proposed new constituencies and when I look at the ward breakdown, I see the names of old constituencies.

One thing that has happened over the latter half of the 20th century is that the population seems to have become less concentrated in the big cities, and more in the suburban areas.

If you go back to the October 1951 general election, one which the Conservatives won narrowly (and where Labour got its highest ever share of the vote- there is the irony that Labour did better in defeat than it has ever done in victory), the big cities are:

  • Birmingham- 14 seats (Labour 9, Conservative 5)
  • Glasgow- 15 seats (Labour 8, Conservative 7)
  • Liverpool- 9 seats (Conservative 5, Labour 4)
  • Manchester- 9 seats (Labour 5, Conservative 4)
  • The situation now for them is:

  • Birmingham- 10 seats (Labour 8, Conservative 1, Liberal Democrat 1)
  • Glasgow- 7 seats (all Labour)
  • Liverpool- 4 seats and one shared (all Labour)
  • Manchester- 3 seats and 2 shared ones (Labour 4, Liberal Democrat 1)
  • The decline can be explained, in part, by constituencies now crossing boundaries (such as Blackley & Broughton crossing the border between Manchester City and Salford City; Garston & Halewood crossing the border between Liverpool City and Knowsley Borough; and Wythenshawe & Sale East crossing the border between Manchester City and Trafford Borough). But that is only part of it.

    One thing to note about that era is that there were Conservative MPs in these cities. In Glasgow, the last Conservative was Tam Galbraith, who was MP for Glasgow Hillhead and died in January 1982- the by-election in March 1982 saw the former Labour Home Secretary and Chancellor of the Exchequer, Roy Jenkins, elected as a Social Democrat, with support from the Liberals.

    Liverpool is interesting- the last Conservative seat to fall was Liverpool Broadgreen to Labour at the June 1983 general election. However, there had been boundary changes, and the last Conservative MP was Malcolm Thornton, for Liverpool Garston, who won Crosby in 1983 (this was a seat which had been Conservative at the May 1979 general election, the sitting MP Graham Page had died in October 1981, and the by-election in November 1981 was won by the former Labour Education & Science Secretary, Shirley Williams, elected as a Social Democrat with support from the Liberals).

    It seems that at the 1983 election, boundary changes sent Garston notionally Labour and created a new notionally Conservative seat, Broadgreen.

    Manchester was slightly better for the Conservatives, with Fred Silvester losing Manchester Withington to Labour at the June 1987 general election.

    However, this is a side track. As these cities see their representation fall, then we see historic names abolished. Sure, sometimes a seat will be created that draws heavily from 2 old ones and will be City Name X & Y. As time goes on. names vanish.

    In the review that led to the current constituencies, the Boundary Commission suggested a Plymouth North and a Plymouth South. Plymouth historically had 3 constituencies- Plymouth Devonport, Plymouth Drake (whose name vanished at the May 1997 general election) and Plymouth Sutton. To keep the historic names, the Boundary Commission settled on Plymouth Sutton & Devonport for the southern seat.

    Their latest proposals bring back a Devonport/Sutton split, but the only suggestion I have made so far is renaming their proposed Plymouth Sutton as Plymouth Sutton & Drake.

    [Added 20 October- in line with bringing back names of historic constituencies, I have also suggested renaming the proposed Manchester Central as Manchester Ardwick & Moss Side]

    Southampton is an unusual one, as the Boundary Commission avoid the bland points-of-the-compass approach and take the names of the rivers to give us Southampton Test and Southampton Itchen- there is part of the city in Romsey & Southampton North.

    One of the original proposals was a Hedge End & Hamble taking part of Southampton Itchen along with the southern bit of Eastleigh and the western bit of Fareham, crossing the river Hamble. I never got round to suggesting Southampton Hamble for this one- which would have been in keeping with the "Southampton river-name" approach.

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