In 2011, MPs decided to cull their number in the Commons from 650 to 600 across the UK. The reasons given were to reduce costs, to make parliament more efficient and to even up the size of the constituencies. The suspicion at the time, and it lingers in some quarters, was that the move would boost the longer-term electoral chances of the Conservatives.
The Electoral Commission, which has been chewing over these matters for a while, has now published its proposals for consultation. The Commission’s plans have major implications for Shropshire. If these proposals go ahead, Ludlow will partner up with Leominster in a new constituency. Bridgnorth will join Wellington in an enlarged Wrekin constituency.
The Electoral Commission was tasked with creating constituencies with populations of between 71,000 and 78,500 voters. The West Midlands has been allocated 53 constituencies – a reduction of six from the current number. Only seven of the 59 existing constituencies will remain unchanged if the proposals go ahead.
The Commission says that it could have split the Shropshire unitary area into three constituencies into three constituencies. But because neighbouring authorities can’t be divided up so conveniently:
“We considered that it was necessary to pair it with the neighbouring authorities of Herefordshire, and Telford and Wrekin to allow us to create constituencies across the whole of the region with electorates within 5% of the electoral quota in each.”
My provisional reading of the proposals suggests that the Commission’s conclusions derive from the specific way that the Commission has divided the West Midlands into sub-regions rather than any overriding need to combine Shropshire electors with those of Telford and Wrekin and Herefordshire. Different conclusions might have been drawn under different definitions of sub-regions.
For Shropshire, the Commission proposes joining Ludlow with Leominster, towns linked by the A49 and railway but have little more in common:
“We propose a cross-county boundary constituency called Ludlow and Leominster containing 15 wards from Herefordshire and 11 wards from Shropshire. This is a geographically large constituency, but we noted that there are strong road links between the two towns along the A49.”
Further north in the county, the Commission proposes to leave the North Shropshire constituency intact but retaining the historic reference to Atcham in the Shrewsbury constituency is not on the commissioners’ agenda. Chirbury and Worthen in southwest Shropshire, currently in the Ludlow constituency, will be transferred to the new Shrewsbury constituency.
“We considered whether we could leave the existing North Shropshire, and Shrewsbury and Atcham constituencies unchanged, as both have an electorate within 5% of the electoral quota. We propose not to make any change to the North Shropshire constituency, but we propose to include the Shropshire county ward of Chirbury and Worthen in a renamed Shrewsbury constituency, which loses Atcham because the constituency is no longer based on the borough of that name, which no longer exists.”
I can foresee some grumpiness over these changes but the proposal that is likely to create the biggest row lies in moving south Shropshire’s eastern towns into a new constituency with parts of Telford and Wrekin:
“We also propose to extend the existing The Wrekin constituency by including six Shropshire county wards, from the existing Ludlow constituency, including the towns of Bridgnorth, Broseley, and Much Wenlock, in a constituency called Bridgnorth, Wellington and The Wrekin.”
How does this work out politically? That’s hard to answer without detailed analysis. The new Ludlow and Leominster constituency looks solid Tory but this requires analysis. Loss of Bridgnorth could strengthen the centre-left Lib Dem vote.
I am not certain the Commission has this right. I am reluctant to extend constituencies across long standing county borders. To commissioners who live far away, South Shropshire and north Herefordshire might seem similar places but we know there many differences.
The Electoral Commission is consulting on its proposals until 5 December.
House of Commons Library briefing on the Commission’s work.
The proposed constituencies