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Boundary Reviews: A Word of Warning

The Boundary Commission for Wales has just published a guide to how its review of parliamentary constituency boundaries will work.

It’s an attempt to head off the chorus of complaints the commission knows will greet its recommendations due out in January. The Westminster coalition’s decision to ‘reduce and equalise’ the constituencies will cut the number of Welsh seats from 40 to 30. So it will not really be a review of the existing boundaries at all, rather a case of starting from scratch.

Wales is the only part of the UK where provisional proposals have not yet been published but the guide is at pains to point out the restrictions within which the commissioners must work. They must base their proposals on the number of people on the electoral roll as of 1 December 2010 and the constituencies must have no more than 5% above or below the average electorate. That means between 72,810 and 80,473 electors.

There is only one existing seat within range. Cardiff South and Penarth is currently the largest Welsh constituency, where 73,690 people were entitled to vote last December. If it were to survive the review, it would become one of the smallest.

But it almost certainly won’t survive. As the commission puts it, ‘compromises will need to be made in order to create a pattern of constituencies across Wales that adheres to the rules of the new legislation. It is important to understand that even small changes to one constituency will have consequential impacts on adjacent areas and possibly the whole of Wales’.

The commission warns that ‘the result will be a fundamental change to the existing pattern of constituencies in every part of Wales. The commission wishes to make clear from the outset that given the relatively small number of electors in rural parts of Wales it is inevitable that there will be some geographically large constituencies’.

The smallest electorates are in Arfon, Dwyfor Meirionnydd, Aberconwy, Montgomeryshire and Ynys Môn, which have between 40,000 and 50,000 electors. Those five seats cover an area that will only be entitled to three constituencies under the new rules.

The commission also warns that ‘due to the limited numbers of electors in some of the south Wales valleys areas, constituencies will be formed which encompass more than one valley. Furthermore, in some areas the division of unitary authorities will be unavoidable’.

The new constituency map isn’t going to be pretty –and neither will be the battle between neighbouring MPs as they struggle to survive the upheaval.

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