The final recommendations for new constituency boundaries have been published. The aim is to equalise the size of the electorate in each constituency and reduce the number of MPs from 650 to 600. Our county MPs should vote against the proposals.
Under the plans, Ludlow will become part of a new constituency with Leominster. Bridgnorth will join with the Wrekin. If the proposals go through, and that’s a “big if” right now, we will get a shakeup of MPs in the south and east of the county.
Ludlow is Shropshire. It should remain in Shropshire at every political level and not be merged with a very different county.
Not all boundaries in national and local government work (and they have never worked for the European Parliament). Many boundaries are steeped in history. Most have developed organically. They have shaped their communities. To me, living in south Shropshire feels quite different from living in north Herefordshire. The seemingly arbitrary county boundary matters. The county line has been the south boundary of the Ludlow parliamentary constituency for a long while.
Reform and reshaping of local and national government boundaries has taken place over the years, most notably in 1974. But artificial boundaries generally don’t work. The hugely disliked Tyne and Wear County Council was abolished just 12 years after its creation. Boundary revisions and reshaping of local government that have worked have almost involved regrouping authorities, not redrawing boundaries.
It has always struck me that the Boundary Commission for England is driven more by its demographic models than any understanding of how local communities work. Its bureaucratic approach means that it has no understanding of what local representation means on the ground. It wants to do what it wants to do, rather than listen to what communities need.
The result is that the Boundary Commission has done a rubbish job for south Shropshire.
The Commission wants to lump Bridgnorth in with the Wrekin, taking in Newport and Wellington on the way. Wellington is a very distinctive town. It is in a symbiotic relationship with Telford. Democratically it should be in the same constituency as Telford. Bridgnorth has nothing in common with Wellington or and has no links with Newport.
If you are a first-time visitor to Ludlow and Leominster, you might think they are no different. They feel different to those of us that live here. The proposed change is likely to pit Philip Dunne against Bill Wiggin in a competition for the seat, unless one of them stands down.
This reorganisation might not go ahead. Nationally, Labour is set to lose seats, as will the Lib Dems. MPs are unlikely to vote for a reduction in their party’s representation in parliament. The Tories will gain seats in this so-called reform but there is no guarantee that they will all vote for it. Many Tories are furious that the Commission has failed to grasp how the traditional rural shires work, especially in the south of the country. Should this proposal get as far as a parliamentary division it will be a cliff hanger as close as the Brexit referendum.
For Shropshire, the Boundary Commission has done a bad job. It’s plans to breach our county’s integrity. It undermines Shropshire as a concept, as an experience and as a place we belong to. I hope our county MPs will all vote against it.