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Four MPs to go in North East and Cumbria Commons cull

Richard Moss | 11:52 UK time, Friday, 25 March 2011

Hadrian's Wall

Hadrian's Wall might be immovable, but parliamentary boundaries in Northumberland and Cumbria will be changing.

I don't expect many people to monitor the Boundary Commission website very often, so you could be forgiven for missing something very significant for the North East and Cumbria.

At the start of the month, the Commission released the latest electoral statistics.

That doesn't sound exciting (it certainly didn't set my pulse racing). But the figures will now decide just how many MPs the region has in the future - or perhaps more significantly how few.

The Government is cutting the number of MPs from 650 to 600, and that means fewer constituencies in every part of the country.

The Boundary Commission says that means the North East has to lose three seats - reducing the number of MPs from 29 to 26. The North West - which includes Cumbria - will have to lose seven seats. North Yorkshire should keep all its MPs.

Constituencies will also have to be more equal in size too though. The Government says the average electorate should be around 76,600, and no seat should have a population lower than 72,800 or higher than 80,400.

And one county almost certain to lose a seat will be Northumberland.

It has an electorate of around 240,000, but four MPs. Logic says that should come down to three.

But that will lead to some constituencies covering huge geographic areas.

Sir Alan Beith's Berwick seat already covers the second largest area in England - around 1,000 square miles.

It will have to get even bigger though, as it's its voting population of 56,000 makes it the country's second smallest in population.

Berwick-upon-Tweed

The Berwick constituency is amongst the biggest geographically, but has one of the smallest number of voters.

That is worrying some locals who feel that rural areas already struggle to get their voices heard.

And much will depend on how the electoral map is redrawn. Rural might have to be combined with more urban areas to make the numbers work. Parts of Northumberland might have to be mixed in with North Tyneside.

Cumbria will also have to get used to bigger constituencies. The population figures suggest it should have five MPs, rather than the current six.

And there are a whole series of seats across the region that fall well short of that 75,000 figure.

All three in Newcastle are below average. And overall Tyne and Wear would also need to lose a seat to reach the 75,000 figure.

There are similar shortfalls in County Durham and in Teesside.

The Government says reducing the number of MPs will offer value for money, and points out that Britain has far more national politicians per head of population than most other countries.

That is certainly true, but that figure is skewed by the size of the House of Lords which won't be reduced at all.

Ballot box

The Government believes voters will get better value for money from fewer MPs, but Labour disagrees.

It also fails to take into account that some of the countries the Government has compared the UK to (Germany and the USA) have federal structures with a whole tier of powerful politicians operating below national level.

Nevertheless, I don't expect many people will be manning the barricades to save a few MPs' jobs.

But don't believe there aren't party political interests in action here too.

The Conservatives have most to gain. They point out, rightly, that it currently takes fewer people to elect a Labour MP than a Tory one.

And there's no question the reduction in MPs stands to hit Labour hardest. Not surprisingly then, they are strongly opposed.

They say their motivation isn't self-interest though, but concern for voters who may be short-changed. And they also believe lax electoral registration in urban areas means their constituencies have larger populations than official figures suggest.

But then you would hardly expect turkeys to vote for Christmas.

The time for debate though is over. The Commons will be cut in size.

A consultation about the proposed numbers of MPs per region ends next week.

The Boundary Commission will then aim to redraw the boundaries by 2013 to allow the parties to begin selecting candidates.

And then some fun could really start as sitting MPs find out if they still have a seat, and discover whether it's as winnable as it used to be.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    The USA also has the most democratic and transparent electoral boundary revision procedures anywhere in the world, and GIS Software such as Maptitude is primarily used for this. The UK does not have a history of legal challenges to redistricting plans as laid down by the new Act. Challenges may now cause judicial review of specific boundary commission decisions as well as to variations in the overall national redistricting plan. So those constituents who find themselves in a disagreeable district, or those MPs who discover they no longer have a seat, now have some meaningful recourse if they choose to pursue it.

 

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