Existing constituencies and wards in Birmingham - click to enlarge

As the Boundary Commission released its proposals for changes to constituency boundaries in England last night, we wrote about how proposed changes would affect Northfield.

The coalition government claims that these boundary changes will save money and make constituency sizes more uniform across the country meaning that each seat would reflect a fairer result.

The changes would mean that Northfield would lose Weoley ward and gain  Bournville voters. You can see the West Midlands proposals here.

How might this affect results? Many sources published analysis today on how different results may have been in the last general election (2010) if the proposed boundaries had been in place. Both The Guardian and Birmingham political blogger John O’Shea jiggled some numbers about and decided Northfield would have still been held by Labour’s long-serving MP Richard Burden.

What challenges will the changes throw up for Northfield’s MP, council staff and existing constituency-wide services and organisations?

We asked serving MP Richard Burden for his thoughts on the proposals and he sent us the following:

The Boundary Commission is recommending that from 2015, Weoley ward should no longer be part Northfield Parliamentary constituency and that it should be replaced by Bournville Ward. Some of the changes to other Birmingham seats are even more dramatic. So does it make sense?

If this goes ahead, I will be very sorry to lose Weoley ward. It has always been part of my constituency throughout the time I have been an MP. Half of Northfield town centre is technically in Weoley ward and people living in the B31 part of the ward probably think of themselves more as “Northfield” than “Weoley”. Obviously, there are links between Bournville and Northfield too and particularly between the Cotteridge part of Bournville ward and Kings Norton ward which is part of

Northfield constituency. Kings Norton railway station for example is already actually in Bournville ward. Meanwhile, the new Bournville College is in Longbridge. The old Bournville College building was in Weoley ward.  Confused? You should be!

Obviously, over the coming days we all need to look closely at what the Boundary Commission is recommending and make the representations that are right for the this area and for Birmingham as a whole. But this is not just an issue that affects us.

Across the country, a lot of the changes which the Boundary Commission are suggesting look like a real dog’s breakfast.  I even hear that an MP for one of the new Merseyside seats would have to cross the river or drive through two other constituencies just to get from one end of his/her own constituency to the other.  That sort of thing really makes no sense if we are going to represent our constituents effectively.

The real cause of all of this is the legislative straightjacket that the Government has now put on the Boundary Commission. The new law they have pushed through Parliament means that achieving mathematical neatness in constituency numbers now seems to trump everything else. It trumps common sense; it trumps community identities and it even trumps promoting the kind of close relationship between MPs and their constituents which makes for good representation.

This leads to really perverse consequences. The rules given to the Boundary Commission suggested that the existing Northfield constituency was just a few hundred electors short of the recommended size for constituencies at an arbitrary date in December 2010 when the calculations were done. By the time of the next general election, the projections are that new building and population movement into Northfield will mean that the constituency would be big enough to stand on its own. But, under the rules that have been laid down by the Government, that doesn’t matter. The Boundary Commission is only taking into account the position at that arbitrary date in December 2010. The result of all this is that to address notional shortfall on the electoral roll of 500 or so in 2010, over 36,000 electors in Weoley and Bournville wards are going to have to move between constituencies in 2015.  Does that really make sense?

Even with these changes, Northfield is not affected as dramatically as many other constituencies. This only underlines why the system itself is badly thought through and far too inflexible. Britain had a comprehensive review of Parliamentary boundaries just a few years ago. We didn’t need another one now.  There is little doubt in my mind that the Government brought in the new system because they thought it would benefit the Conservatives at the expense of Labour – a political fix that used to be called “gerrymandering”. The projected impact of all these changes now the Commission’s proposals have been published adds weight to that impression. It’s not the Commission that has done that. It is the rules handed down to them.  However, a growing number of Conservative and Lib Dem MPs may also now see playing for Party advantage through a numbers game is not everything. They may start to see that this is going to cause disruption that will hit them and their constituents as well as Labour areas. And it will cost a fortune. The question is, will they stand up and say so?

Richard Burden MP 13/09/2011

A public consultation will be held at the Copthorne Hotel in Birmingham on November 3rd & 4th 2011 and you will also be able to submit your opinions to the commission in writing, by email or via an online form.

Keep an eye on the Boundary Commission’s West Midlands page for more details as they become available.

 

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