Wednesday, 27 August 2014

If There Were A New Boundary Review, Would The Hampshire Constituencies Survive?

It is fortunately rare that oodles of parliamentary time is spent on an Act of Parliament which becomes law but which has no impact - and we had the Parliamentary Voting System & Constituencies Act 2011 which fell into that category. It had two purposes:

  1. A referendum on switching from Single Member Plurality (often called "First Past The Post") to the Alternative Vote for elections to the House of Commons
  2. Changing the way that boundary reviews are carried out, so the House of Commons is fixed at 600 MPs and all constituencies (with rare exceptions) are within 5% of the electoral quota

In May 2011, a switch to AV was rejected in a referendum.

And a clause in the Electoral Registration & Administration Act 2013 postponed the Boundary Commissions submitting their reports from 2013 to 2018 - effectively meaning that May 2015 general election would be held on the current constituency boundaries.

One of the controversial aspects of the Act was that the constituency boundaries would be constantly reviewed - every 5 years the Boundary Commissions would be submitting reports to Parliament (which could, in theory, vote them down). This led to concerns about constantly changing constituencies, with some wards constantly flitting from constituency-to-constituency, the way Chandlers' Ford is often treated as a problem to be fitted in somewhere.

The Boundary Commission for England did draw up proposals, and I am using the 2014 electorates to examine one issue - supposing these proposals had gone ahead and been approved, would they be viable for the May 2020 general election?

Begin by looking at the number of constituencies that each English region would have:

Region Constituencies
Boundary Commission report On 2014 electorate
Eastern England 56 56
East Midlands 44 44
London 68 69
North East England 26 26
North West England 68 68
South East England (excluding the Isle of Wight) 81 82
South West England 53 52
West Midlands 54 53
Yorkshire & Humberside 50 50

As can be seen immediately, if the Boundary Commission proposals were introduced, then in the next review, London and South East England would each gain a seat, while South West England and the West Midlands would each lose a seat, meaning that there would be constituency changes in those regions at least.

The electoral quota would be 76,970, and on a 5% rule, constituencies would have to be within 3,848 electors of that - so the minimum size is 73,122 and the maximum 80,818.

We can now break down South East England:

County Constituency entitlement Nearest integer Difference from quota
Berkshire 8.02 8 235 over
Buckinghamshire 7.31 7 3,462 over
East Sussex 7.63 8 3,584 under
Hampshire 17.29 17 1,291 over
Kent 16.34 16 1,648 over
Oxfordshire 6.25 6 3,238 over
Surrey 10.86 11 995 under
West Sussex 7.86 8 1,337 under

If you add up the integers, we get 81 - so one less than the 82 that South East England would be entitled to. The reason for this is that South East England would be entitled to 81.57 constituencies, so when you start dividing it up and rounding to the nearest integer there is no surprise that we would be a seat out.

There are some counties - Buckinghamshire, East Sussex and Oxfordshire - where the average constituency size would be close to the maximum or minimum allowed. Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire would be entitled to 13.57 seats between them, and so together could have 14 constituencies (rather than the 13 if treated separately) with the average being 2,379 below the electoral quota.

The proposed pairing of East Sussex with Kent would be entitled to 23.97 seats between them, and if they had 24 constituencies, then the average would be 96 below the electoral quota.

This gives the constituency allocation for the sub-regions as:

Sub-region Constituencies
Boundary Commission report On 2014 electorate
Berkshire & Surrey* 19 19
Buckinghamshire & Oxfordshire 13 14
East Sussex & Kent 24 24
Hampshire 17 17
West Sussex 8 8

[* The Boundary Commission proposed a Spelthorne constituency that would cross the Berkshire/Surrey border]

We should also note there are local authorities which would be the right size for one constituency - Crawley, Lewes, Shepway, Tunbridge Wells, West Oxfordshire and Worthing. Not all of these would be reasonable - Lewes separates Brighton & Hove from the rest of East Sussex (and the Boundary Commission proposed splitting it between Brighton East & Seahaven and Lewes & Uckfield).

The Boundary Commission proposed keeping Worthing split between Worthing East & Shoreham and Worthing West. A single Worthing seat would cause disruption - looking at the map of South East England it seems that Arundel & South Downs would have to be split up.

The Commission proposed splitting Shepway between Dover & Deal (just one ward - North Downs East) and Folkestone & Hythe (which contains only one non-Shepway ward - Saxon Shore from Ashford).

The Commission proposed splitting Tunbridge Wells between The Weald and Tunbridge Wells.

Crawley and West Oxfordshire are coterminous with the constituencies of Crawley and Witney.

Next we can look at the electorates of the proposed constituencies based on current figures:

Constituency Electorate From quota
Aldershot* 81,595 +6.01%
Basingstoke 81,277 +5.60%
Eastleigh 80,686 +4.83%
Fareham 77,982 +1.31%
Gosport 80,552 +4.65%
Hampshire East 73,574 -4.41%
Hampshire North East & Alton* 78,868 +2.47%
Hampshire North West 82,328 +7.03%
Havant 79,459 +3.23%
New Forest East 73,377 -4.67%
New Forest West 73,679 -4.28%
Portsmouth East 77,963 +1.29%
Portsmouth West 72,334 -6.01%
Romsey 81,390 +5.74%
Southampton Itchen 74,712 -2.93%
Southampton Test 79,469 +3.25%
Winchester 81,131 +5.41%

[* After the Boundary Commission drew up its revised proposals, the Local Government Boundary Commission for England drew up a new set of wards for the District of Hart. Hence some new Hart wards are split between the proposed Aldershot and Hampshire North East & Alton constituencies. The figures I've given may not be totally accurate]

Most constituencies are above the electoral quota - that's just a feature of Hampshire being a little bit too small for 18 constituencies.

One thing that stands out is the way that Hampshire's population centre-of-gravity is shifting northwards. In part this could be a new era's "M3 rule" - it used to be said that the Liberal Democrats won by-elections in seats on or near the M3. And the first impression is that the population is increasing along main rail lines (the line from London Waterloo to Exeter St Davids) and the M3. Unlike the Local Government Boundary Commission - which asks councils for predicted future electorates - the Boundary Commission for England has no power to consider this, only being allowed to take into account the electorate at one fixed point in time.

It is clear that if the Boundary Commission's proposed constituencies had been implemented for the May 2015 general election, then there would need to be a redrawing for the May 2020 general election as 5 constituencies are now larger than the maximum and 1 smaller than the minimum.

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