Watching BBC News at 10 on Tuesday night you might have thought you’d accidentally turned on a programme intended for those with an unhealthy interest in elections, with the top story of the night not about Brexit, nor ISIS, nor Bake Off moving to Channel 4, but about Parliamentary boundary changes.
Had you been watching the news you might have been tempted to glance down to your iPad or go and make a cup of tea, until Huw Edwards moved onto a more conventionally interesting item of news. However, had you done that, you would’ve missed out on a story which could have significant effects on property and planning between now and the next General Election.
In case you’ve (understandably!) not been following the Parliamentary boundary debate that closely, a bit of background:
- When the Conservative – Liberal Democrat coalition was formed in 2010, the two parties agreed on a two-pronged package of reforms for the House of Commons: A referendum on the Alternative Vote electoral system and a programme of ‘reduction and equalisation’ for Commons constituencies, where the number of seats would fall from 650 to 600, and each constituency (aside from a handful of protected seats – islands not connected to the British mainland, etc.) would have to have a population size within 5% of the national mean figure
- The Coalition agreement also contained a commitment to introduce elections to the House of Lords
- When the Conservatives stalled House of Lords reform, the Liberal Democrats retaliated by blocking the piece of legislation which would confirm the ‘reduction and equalisation’ of constituencies
Reduction and equalisation was then quietly shelved, until David Cameron’s reasonably unexpected election victory last year – upon which the legislation authorising the proposals was quickly passed.
Whilst this may seem like quite a technical issue, the newly published draft boundaries will have real impacts on those of us within property and planning.
Who is the MP – and what sort of constituency do they represent?
Moving from 650 to 600 constituencies has inevitably meant some constituencies just disappear. The draft proposals see some very high profile MPs without obvious seats to move to – George Osborne and Jeremy Corbyn, to name just two.
And trying to cut the number of constituencies whilst insisting on the 5% mean population size rule has seen the Boundary Commission propose some very unusual seats. To ensure seats are of a broadly equal size, in many parts of the country urban and rural have been pushed together. Suddenly small, rural villages that metronomically vote Conservative find themselves attached to urban and suburban settlements that have returned Labour MPs for the last 80 years.
This is likely to have two major impacts on politics in the coming years.
First, MPs who may have previously taken a more relaxed approach to constituency issues will soon be fighting for seats, often against other members of their own parties, so will be keen to show how hard they work for their constituents, by scrutinising and closely engaging with every issue that emerges in their seat. And are there many better ways to show how hard you work than to lead an energetic campaign against development?
Second, should the changes be adopted and MPs elected on the new boundaries in 2020, the political dynamic of engagement could thoroughly change. Imagine, for example, a leafy, Tory voting village about fifteen miles away from a heavily Labour city. In various parts of the country these villages are suddenly absorbed into the city and attached to safe Labour constituencies. Places that you would never expect to have a Labour MP could, with sites suddenly being represented by Parliamentarians who have little local support and completely different priorities.
It’s worth stressing these proposed boundary changes apply to Parliamentary constituencies alone, so Local Planning Authorities will not be directly impacted, but with years of political upheaval ahead, it’s easy to see why BBC News at 10 felt this was a story worth covering.
You can see further information on the boundary changes at the below links.
Northern Ireland: https://www.boundarycommission.org.uk/