Preston needs changing to stay the same…

Preston City Councillor Bill Shannon, (LibDem, Ingol), has set out why he believes the city council requires serious reform if it is to survive in the long-term. In short, Cllr. Shannon believes Preston can no longer remain as a mid-sized unit on the banks of the River Ribble, constrained by the compromise boundaries drawn around it forty-ish years ago.

Whilst disagreeing with Cllr. Shannon on certain subjects I won’t go into here, he’s absolutely right about the future of our city. For Preston to survive, it needs to change, and that means a slow but sure process of amalgamating services as a precursor to full merger with neighbouring administrations.

The fix-and-fudge of local government reform generations ago has left its mark across the country, particularly England where there’s been less change than in either Scotland or Wales. Almost all the local authorities created in the 1970s as a compromise position to the contentious Redcliffe-Maud report remain in place today, their sizes and shapes unmoved despite mammoth changes in population, work-load and responsibilities, employment and the like.

Nobody in Manchester, for example, can fully explain why the council area is such an elongated blob. Of course cynics can suggest plenty of reasons – it kept out largely Tory-leaning bits in Trafford and the semi-rural north, it ensured the Airport and its growth area had to use the “Manchester” name, and so on. Generations away from the map redrawing, the reality on the ground is a population almost unrelated to the official demarcation lines.

Preston, like Manchester, is a city constrained by the flicks of an administrator’s pencil. The city doesn’t stop at the Ribble; people who live to the south are no less “Prestonian”, or less likely to work in Preston, on the grounds of living on the opposite side of an arbitrary border.  The reality of life in this part of Lancashire has seen Preston grow in stature and relevance, and all within the lines of a borough decided upon on a coin-toss in the 1970s.

The financial consequence for the city and its people is profound and dangerous. The only way to safeguard the integrity of Preston, and to ensure the financial security for the services provided for people who live here, is to be bold on the manner in which administrations are formed.

Cllr. Shannon builds a two-step process. Initially councils need to share services, cutting back on duplication which builds up in the everyday processes of providing day-to-day services. As Preston is a two-tier city, served by 57 city councillors and ten County Councillors, there’s plenty of duplication amongst the administrative scaffolding around the representative buildings housed here. Numerous towns and cities across the country are dealing with the Government’s budget slashing by sharing services, and this process can only continue.

The next step, hinted at in Cllr. Shannon’s statement, is a full merger with neighbouring authorities, and is something I’ve always supported. It’s not enough for back-room staff in Preston to work alongside those in the Boroughs of Fylde and South Ribble. Preston is an economic possibility stifled by its status, locked in by suspicious and cynical council leaders in neighbouring towns.

The modern economic reality is too serious for such parochialism. Our city boundaries need to respect that work, study and play in this part of Central Lancashire is no longer respectful of invisible lines drawn on across rivers and along roads. There’s no legitimate reason for South Ribble, Chorley or Fylde being separate when hundreds of thousands of residents already treat Preston as their “hub” for employment, university or college study, or social/piss-up outpost. There’s no legitimate reason why, having cooperated in reducing costs by merging backroom jobs, local councils can’t take the natural step to amalgamate.

My principle is “sphere of influence”. If you live in Tarleton, you’re within the Southport “sphere of influence”, only to be denied by the decision to create Sefton in the 1970s. Preston suffers the same – thousands of potential workers, students, and wealth creators living in Bamber Bridge, Leyland, Chorley, Kirkham, Lytham, all denied by an arbitrary line on a map.

Let’s respect opportunity more than geography. I’ve no time for the types in historic county organisations who wish to reclaim parts of the world which have no existed in forty or more years. I don’t accept calls to “bring back” such places as Middlesex or Westmorland, no more than I do any request to scrap decimal currency.

There’s far too much broken with our democracy – the voting systems at local councils are as close to “corrupt” as you can get, and Scotland is proof of how to resolve that simply by converting to the STV voting system. One other issue is the size and composition of the councils at this level – outdated boundaries drawn for partisan reasons. Cllr. Shannon says we need the “necessary courage” to create a new council, what would inevitably be called “Greater Preston”. I agree with him.

“Preston” was once over  half the size it is now, growing in size only when the separate borough of Fulwood was added in the 1970s. Now the next step has to be taken, not just to correct the problems of Prestonians living far beyond official borders, but to ensure the financial security of Lancashire’s true heart. Anything else is not an option – staying still won’t mean staying the same.

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Lancashire – Boundary Review, take 2

And so it’s here, Schrödinger’s review, a wholesale review of Parliamentary boundaries which is both alive and dead, relevant and pointless, current and abandoned. Is it ongoing whilst also aware of its demise? It could be worth sitting down with a large cup of tea, or something stronger, to consider its position. First of all, a personal point. Whilst I had every faith that the Commission would take some notice of the Liberal Democrat proposals I supported (and in some cases assisted in selling at two public meetings), it appears that we failed to convince the scribes there to come round to our way of thinking. In some parts of this region the revised recommendations are – somehow – worse than the already cuckoo-bananas initial ideas. I challenge anyone to find a smaller community than “Reddish North” to be name-checked in a constituency. Anyway, to focus on the red rose county, here’s what the Commission now think should be the parliamentary make-up of Lancashire. You’ll find the maps for Lancashire over here.

Blackburn, Blackpool North and Fleetwood and Blackpool South are all unchanged from the initial proposals.

 Burnley and Accrington East and Pendle are significantly different from the initial proposals. Burnley is no longer divided somewhat arbitrarily across the town centre, which is a breakout of normality. It’s good to see Accrington isn’t cut up like a badly hacked onion either, though the justification for joining the two towns together is still fairly flimsy. There’s something of the “flat map syndrome” about it to my eyes, but at least the word “Pendle” has re-appeared on a constituency map. No explanation behind the reason to ditch it in the first place, by the way.

 The seat of Chorley has been left untouched, meaning it follow the size and shape of the council boundaries as initially proposed, as will Fylde.

 In the west of Lancashire, there’s a slightly different shape and a familiar name for Lancaster and Wyre, a modified version of the initially recommended “Lancaster”. The boundary alteration is the loss of Greyfriars, the most Fulwoodian of all Preston’s Fulwood wards, which is moved from Preston to join the towns of the A6 corridor all the way up to Lancaster city centre.

As ever, the city of Lancaster is split in half at Skerton, allowing Morecambe and Lunesdale to remain unchanged, All three parties agreed with each other on the “Fishwick issue”, brought about by the Commission initially proposing that the Preston ward of Fishwick should be attached to the rural expanse of Ribble Valley.

To balance up the numbers, Fishwick is now back with Preston, which loses Greyfriars but is otherwise exactly the same, so if these changes actually make it through the Commons (stop laughing), the constituency would be formed from almost the entire city, omitting Lea/Cottam, Greyfriars and the rural communities to the north. The modified Ribble Valley is essentially the seat fought at the 2010 election, taking in Bowland, Clitheroe, Longridge and Bamber Bridge/Walton-le-Dale. The ne thing this time round is the addition of Rishton and Great Harwood (dare I suggest amending the name to “Valleys of Ribble and Hynd”?).

South Ribble and West Lancashire have not been changed either, meaning that the former stretches from Leyland to the Southport border, crossing the River Douglas, and the latter brings together Ormskirk, Skelmersdale and all points surrounding. This leaves us with two very peculiar East Lancashire seats indeed, and these really are the Commission at their most…erm….well, peculiar. The new Rossendale and Oswaldtwistle gets a bonus point for mentioning Oswaldtwistle (let’s please have an honourable member for Oswaldtwistle.). The geography of the area is a bit tenuous, to put it nicely. I suppose it’s something that the connecting road is tarmaced at least. The shape of the seat resembles a dead rabbit, just squint.

Bolton North and Darwen joins together the northern suburbs from Bolton with the town of Darwen, logically enough, with a fair amount of hilly bits, moorland and twisty turny roads in between. To be fair, it’s an improvement on Rossendale and Darwen as currently exists (which the Commission seems to hate in its dismissal of our proposal). Wiser men than I will conclude what this means for the defending parties in each seat. It’s true that some already existing marginal seats will remain so – Blackpool, Chorley and South Ribble are already knife-edge without being altered too much. Significant additions of Tory territory into Lancaster and Preston will give Labour a bigger threat than usual, and in the east all three parties will face tough challenges in Burnley and Pendle.

Of course, all of this may be so much photocopier paper and highlighter pens. If there is no agreement between Coalition partners, never mind any other parties, there will be no boundary changes at all. Here’s to a whole host of “What might have been….”

Wales under review

Much later to the party than their counterparts across the other bits of the country, the Boundary Commissioners for Wales are gearing up to show off how they’ve managed to carve up Cymru under the new parliamentary constituency rules.

Reducing the number of MPs to 600 was never going to be without controversy – the English Commission was accused of treating the exercise like men of Empire armed with a ruler, a sharp HB and northern Africa. Their “Mersey Banks” will go down in legend.

Welsh MPs and commentators have been heavily critical of the consequences of the law, as the country will lose ten MPs,  25% in one strike. Arguments for and against have been oft-repeated – the Valleys seats are too small, the Valleys seats have to be that small, Welsh language constituencies must be protected, there should not be any protection for seats in Wales as there has been in the Highlands. Perhaps inevitably, Labour have been most critical, claiming the new legislation disrespects the Welsh people and their parliamentary history. In one waft of a hand, ten constituencies are removed from the map, Wales loses any influence within Parliament for purely partisan reasons.

These claims are so much fluff and bluster. The loss of MPs everywhere as part of this process does not rob anyone of their voice, influence or supply of green ink to write letters to the local gazette on the matter. Britain has always had too many parliamentarians – the reduction to 600 should be a first-step, not the final destination. Wales has its own Assembly and will have forty MPs shouting very loudly for attention – I don’t believe the loss of influence argument much at all.

The Welsh Commission have left it this late through all manner of confusion and administrative cock-ups. Their Local Government colleagues dropped enough balls to drown the First XI, which impacted on the national review. We’ve finally got whispers and hints on what’s to come this week, putting into motion the very tight timetable which has to end by October 2013.

North Wales should be the easiest for the Commissioners to fathom. Ynys Mon (Isle of Anglesey to you and me) has to be attached to the mainland somehow, which is handy because the Menai Strait isn’t exactly the Amazon (if you allow me to coin a phrase). The towns of the North Welsh coast are compacted together like neat jigsaw pieces, so expect Wrexham, Denbighshire, Flintshire and (Aber)Conwy to be largely touched. Good news for the three parties in contention to mop up the seats here – y Blaid will pick up the Anglesey/Bangor seat, Labour and Conservatives will divvy up the rest. One to watch? Wrexham, a dim and distant Conservative target which might yet one day turn blue.

South Wales has a trickier time of it. There’s a fair few mountains and valleys which get in the way, and the small town attitude is not mere awkwardness. The pride and tradition of the industrial and mining past will live on as long as women of ample bosom have enough breath in their lungs to belt out “Land of my Fathers” at fifty paces. This is where the problems start. Cardiff will lose a seat, and this puts the Liberal Democrats under particular strain in holding on to their only bit of the capital city. Swansea will be divided into two – one bit attached to Gower – whilst Newport is likely to be broken up into “doughnut” style into central and outer seats.

What happens to the Labour bankers (if you will) depends on how many mountain passes and mining villages the Commissioners choose to split down the middle.

Mid Wales will see both east and west sides of the country carved up as never before – the statutory minimum constituency size is not kind to sparsely populated rural hinterlands and as a result there will be clumsy rural/urban combinations. The Conservatives and Liberal Democrats will be concerned with how the Carmarthen/Pembroke mathematics work out. Geography may have to mean nothing for the sake of making the numbers work – as the English Commission has so enthusiastically displayed.

For your perusal, a very convincing 30-seat Wales is presented on the Syniadu blog, written by blogger Penddu.

The Boundary Commission will present its initial proposals this week on their website

Ballot papers decide elections though the administrator’s pencil is sharp enough to make points in the fabric of democracy. How Wales is governed in the long-term depends on the decisions of the Assembly and of Westminster – the loss of 10 MPs in one go will colour that debate intensely.

Boundary Review – NW England – LibDem Proposals

These maps show an overview of the NW Region LibDem counter-proposals for the North West review region.

ELA – Rossendale and Ramsbottom
ELB – Darwen, Accrington and Oswaldtwistle
ELC – Burnley
WLA – Southport
WLB – West Lancashire
WLC – Mid Lancashire
WLD – Chorley and Leyland
NLA – Valleys of Ribble and Lune
NLB – Lancaster and Morecambe
NLC – Blackpool North and Fleetwood
NLD – Blackpool South
NLE – Fylde
NLF – Wyre and Preston North
NLG – Preston
NLH – Blackburn
NLJ – Pendle and Clitheroe

taking the register

Justice Minister Michael Willis has hailed the switch to individual registration as “radical” and “an unprecedented move”.  To tackle electoral registration fraud, including at the initial stage and on polling day, the step-change away from blanket forms for one house is a welcome development in attitudes by central Government.

Mr Michael Willis is now…….Lord Willis, and his place in the Justice Ministry is no longer occupied by a person from his Labour Party. The profound shift in electoral registration came before the most recent general election and was a direct consequence of decreasing confidence in Britain’s credibility as a place for free and fair elections. Labour had been stung by an electoral judge condemning the ease with which fraud could be conducted as something which would “shame a banana republic”

Back in 2009, when Mr Willis was flying the flag for this policy as a Minister in a Labour government, the rash of condemnation appears to have been muted. Not so now, as the Coalition’s desired move towards the same policy has whipped up the kind of furious anger reserved for filling in comments sections at the bottom of newspaper on-line content. At the core of the opposition argument is a flawed premise – “Ah, it will deny the poor a vote!” – and a disingenuous one at that.  “Elections should be based on population not electorate” is another auto-response, an attempt to suggest that all future elections should involve people who are not eligible to vote. Population figures were not used for the boundary review instigated under Labour, and nobody with much of a mind about them is suggesting that should happen again.

Labour helped bring individual registration to the United Kingdom during their time in power by way of Northern Ireland. Known for having…colourful and not always, shall we say, expected attitudes towards putting names on the electoral register, the Norn Iron experience has seen a fall in numbers. How many people were real in the first place is open to argument, and it’s that argument which now needs to be tackled here. As the Birmingham case has shown (and not exclusively), we cannot be confident that the rigorous checks we expect on validity are being made. We certainly cannot be confident that the names on an electoral register are always real.

On the politics forum I visit – Vote-UK – this issue has been roundly discussed. As an adjunct to the main debate, one poster said;

 At the 2010 election I witnessed some quite disgraceful behaviour at several polling stations in inner city Birmingham. There was clear intimidation and bribery of electors and in several cases the police stood by and watched. If they were willing to turn a blind eye to what I witnessed I have no difficulty believing that they would ignore other cases of electoral fraud.

Another poster added:

Individual registration is obviously superior and it will also hopefully help to keep people on the register who move from place to place regularly. My only concern is that complaints about it removing people from the register are being viewed solely through a partisan prism. I think we should all be able to accept that those legitimate voters leaving the register are more likely to be Labour supporters, but still agree that we ought to be making an especial effort to try to keep the register as full as possible.

Whilst a much less enthusiastic tone was set by the member who wrote:

The real issue here – which I’m surprised hasn’t been mentioned in this thread – is not (thread title notwithstanding) moving to individual registration (for which there may be some good arguments, as already mentioned) but effectively making registration voluntary……

As the story says, this is a deliberate calculated decision to lessen involvement in the democratic process – something which I regard as fundamentally immoral 

 

This last post has been the prevailing tone of the opposition. It is not one I agree with – and deep down, I suspect many opponents realise that too. From my own experience in Preston, there is a clear case of “head of the household” registration in some communities, something which cannot be tackled if election officers lack the safety net which individual registration provides. Broader arguments against the change talk about working class, or black and ethnic minority or non-English speaking people having the ladder of democracy somehow whipped away from them. This is far removed from either reality or intention; it is the responsibility of everyone involved in “politics” generally, be it national or hyper-local, to ensure the people we want to represent have the ability and opportunity to case a vote. “This is excluding the poorest in society” is not a valid claim if either you do nothing to ensure that the people who worry about have registered.

Another thread in the argument involves the moves to make parliamentary boundaries fairer, and reviews of constituencies more frequent. From around 15-year cycles to 5, the first of which is now underway. “This is just gerrymandering!” cry opponents, showing another blatant misunderstanding which borders on the medically unstable. Elections have always asked those who are able to vote to do so – it makes no sense to set up straw man arguments about immigrants or under-18s.  If opponents wish to encourage individuals to register for elections who are, for example, about to turn 16 and for whom “voting” and “politics” seem like bizarre sexual fetishes, they could do well to help the Youth Citizenship Commission in their aim to roll out registration in schools and colleges.

If we are to have an electoral system people can believe in, then those seats we create for elections must be robust reflections of the voters within the boundaries who are able to vote; everyone who has the right to vote, with the ability to do so, on a register we can trust. There is too much doubt on the issue today, and partisan bleating about “fixing the system” pithily denies an awkward truth about the system as it currently stands today.

It is not evil for any Government to consider it vital that those who are willing to participate in elections should be encouraged to do so themselves. Labour recognised this in 2009, and the Coalition are now seeing it through.

Labour keeps its grip on the NW

When the Boundary Commission for England released its initial proposals to reduce the number of constituencies across the country, you couldn’t hear yourself think over the shouts from the Labour Party of “fix”, “fudge”, and “gerrymander”.  Got a Bingo Card? Full house before noon. “It’s a Tory stitch-up,” came the cries, and at the first glance it was almost enough to believe the hype.

Now the instant reaction buzz has died down, number crunchers have taken their time over the spreadsheets and maps, and found some rather interesting details which Labour’s critics may find interesting.

If we focus on the North West of England, the conclusion is very clear; Labour do very well out of the proposed changes, even if those include such insane creations as “Mersey Banks” (two sides of the River Mersey connected by the M65 and a couple of dual carriageways) and a “Leigh” seat which excludes Leigh town centre whilst requiring prospective parliamentarians to navigate Chat Moss.

From the website Electoral Calculus comes news about Greater Manchester. Rather than demolish the strongholds and citadels of Manchester, notoriously undersized Labour bankers as they were, the BCE proposes to strengthen Labour’s in built majority. Current LibDem seat Manchester Withington is calculated as a Labour hold; the same conclusion is made by UKPolling, who decides current MP John Leech would fall by just short of 2,000 votes.

The proposed Manchester Central (which also incorporates Salford city centre and Salford Quays) would fall from an 11,000 to 8,000 seat majority for Labour, not exactly a collapse. Indeed, factoring in the Hazel Blears factor (her cheque-waving fixed-grin arrogance cost thousands of votes last year), the seat could have an automatic majority beyond the existing figure.

There are notional gains for Labour too – the newly divided Burnley would present them with two notionally held seats. “Rochdale North and Rawtenstall”, a creation destined to force BBC news presenters to sound like Jane Horrocks, and “Rochdale South” would move further away from the grasp of the Liberal Democrats who regard the town as their northern spiritual home.

Under the new proposals, Warrington, Chester, and Bolton shift away from marginal status, which for Bolton at least should never have been allowed to happen in the first place. The proposed “Westhoughton” (which should be called “Westhoughton, Horwich South, Hindley and Leigh. And also Atherton”) creates a cushioned safe-hole of nearly 10,000 votes (around 7,000 using Electoral Calculus).

What this means in the wider picture brings two conclusions; that the in-built natural Labour bias has not been fully eradicated. Neither the BCE nor Democratic Audit found a way to jigsaw Manchester or Liverpool in such a way to make them any less safe for Labour. The second conclusion underlines the extent to which Labour misunderstands the concept of ‘gerrymandering’, almost certainly wilfully. The new rules presented the BCE with a challenging remit, something which occasionally produced unfortunate accidental brain-farts one assumes can be redressed (taking Fishwick out of Preston, for example, something which hasn’t been the case in any context since the mid 1830s). What has happened in the NW is an interesting result of taking boundaries further out into towns which have been consistently undersized before – in quite a lot of cases, it is the Labour Party which benefits the most.

Of course, there is quite a lot of tea-leaf stirring here. These predictions are drawn from past local electoral results and stats, and in politics as in business, past performance is no indicator of future behaviour. It’s notable that the loudest critics of the scheme to reduce the size and cost of Westminster have missed out the specific consequences in those parts of the country where first glances would have given the impression of impending disaster.

The whole episode makes things very tough for the Liberal Democrats, who I have supported for over 10 years now. We lose, notionally, two seats, and that is a significant number in a region where vote share and constituency numbers have never correlated particularly impressively. If anything, the results show just how much greatly strengthened should be our resolve against the Labour Party, in parts of the country where we have consistently out performed them.

If Labour go into the 2015 election thinking, genuinely or not, that the boundaries have been stacked against them, they may discover the flip side of getting what you wished for.

Boundary proposals – North West England

I have agreed to help the North West Region LibDems with their submission for this year’s great Parliamentary Boundary jamboree, so this post should be treated more a précis than any suggestion of what the Region is suggesting instead.

In very brief terms, what the Boundary Commission for England has performed is a highly impressive, highly skilled, and ultimately very controversial. In some cases, the proposals are simply not workable. They should be cohesive, coherent, and democratically valid.

However, commenting much on these proposals in this medium won’t get me very far with the bods in Region, so I present instead a quick overview of what is being proposed.

If you want to react to these changes, either do so in this blog (for I’m always up for seeing what other people suggest), or go to the Boundary Commission’s website.

City of Manchester

1) Blackley and Broughton.  Includes the Broughton and Kersal wards of Salford Council, and brings in Cheetham, Moston, Newton Heath, Crumpsall and surrounding areas.  The Charlestown ward is moved into a proposed cross-border seat called Middleton


2) Manchester Central.  Two city centres in this proposal – Manchester and Salford, four wards from each coming together into one constituency.

3)Manchester Gorton, Takes Ardwick, Gorton, Levenhsulme, Longsight, Moss Side and Rusholme

4) Manchester Withington. Loses Didsbury from the existing seat.  Includes such areas as Chorlton and Chorlton Park, Old Moat, Whalley Range and Fallowfield.

5) Middleton. Very close to an idea I had for a “Middleton, Moston and Failsworth” seat way back when, this new cross-border creation brings together communities whose common theme is close proximity to the point at which three local councils meet. Includes Chadderton, Heywood and Middleton

6) Wythenshawe. The southern quarter of Manchester, with Sale Moor ward from Trafford, also incorporates Didsbury.

City of Liverpool

1) Bootle.  Due to the size and shape of Sefton’s wards, it’s no wonder things are a bit messy round there. One Liverpool ward is attached (they call it an “orphan” in the business) to this slight return to a previous constituency.  Kirkdale joins the southern swathes of Sefton.

2) Huyton and Halewood. This is the natural successor to existing Garston and Halewood, and incorporates only two Liverpool wards.  Why it drops “Garston” is a mystery.

3) Liverpool North A boring name for a pick-n-mix seat including, amongst other bits, Kirkby Central, Croxteth, Warbrek, and the Netherton/Orrell ward from Sefton.

4) Liverpool Riverside An expanded version of the existing seat –  includes the city centre, Everton, Picton and St Michael’s

5) Liverpool Wavertree  I think this is unchanged – includes Allerton, Hunts Cross,  Cressington, Woolton and Wavertree itself.

6) Liverpool West Derby Has been expanded and includes, amongst others,  Anfield, Knotty Ash, Tuebrook/Stoneycroft, Yew tree and Stockbridge from Knowsley.

City of Salford

1) Blackley and Broughton. As above

2) Leigh. In what is a badly drawn and incorrectly named seat (this is me trying not to judge or suggest alternatives), the outskirts of Leigh are attached to Irlam, Walkden and Little Hulton.  So not quite “Leigh” really, more “Salford East and Tyldesley”.

3) Manchester Central. As above

4) Swinton Or perhaps “Eccles and something, something”.  This is the left-over bits of Salford – Barton, Eccles, Pendlebury, Winton, Swinton, and Worsley.

Borough of Wigan

1) Leigh. As above

2) Makerfield Altered a bit – includes Ashton, Bryn, Lowton (both East and West), Winstanley and perennially mispronounced pub-quiz favourite Worsley Mesnes. Clue – it’s not “mes-nes”

3) Westhoughton The border-line fringes of both Wigan and Bolton combine in this one – includes Hindley and Leigh West, the latter being, pretty much, the town of Leigh.

4) Wigan. No change – the town itself plus Standish, Pemberton, Ince, Shevington and the ward name which looks like a mis-print “Aspull New Springs Whelley”.  No commas.

Borough of Bolton

1) Bolton North. Incorporates Astley Bridge, Heaton, one half of Horwich, Tonge with the Haulgh, and Crompton.

2) Bolton South which brings together Kearsley, Farnworth, a trio of Levers and Harper Green.

3) Bury North is over 90% Bury, and brings in Bradshaw ward from Bolton

4) Weshoughton as above

Borough of St Helens

1)  St Helens North 
2) St Helens South and Whiston   Neither of which change at all

Borough of Trafford

1) Altrincham and Sale.  The existing seat extended a bit further.

2) Stretford and Urmston.  Not much change here either –  Davyhulme, Stretford, Urmston, Clifford and Ashton-upon-Mersey all incorporated.

3) Wythenshawe  As above.

Borough of Oldham

1) Ashton-under-Lyne Takes the three Ashton wards and combines with Failsworth, Hollinwood and one half of Chadderton.  Name change needed perhaps?

2) Middleton. As above

3) Oldham and Saddleworth An expanded version of the existing Oldham East

4) Rochdale South No, it doesn’t make sense, but it’s Crompton, Royton’s northern ward and Shaw attached to Castleton, Kingsway and Deeplish amongst others.

Borough of Rochdale

1) Middleton As above

2) Rochdale North and Rawtenstall  A very ye-olde Lancashire seat this one, taking the town centre of Rochdale and all parts around and attaching it to the southern cotton and factory villages of Rossendale.

3) Rochdale South As above

Borough of Stockport

1) Cheadle  Combines, amongst others, Bramhall, Cheadle, Davenport and Heald Green

2) Denton Gives one ward – Bredbury and Woodley – to a cross-border seat with the Denton and Droylsden parts of Tameside

3) Hazel Grove and Poynton. Attaches Hazel Grove and Marple with Poynton from over the border in Cheshire

4) Stockport  The town itself, also including both Heatons and Reddish. I don’t mind saying at this point that I had proposed “Didsbury and The Heatons” but this was swiftly never spoken of again

Borough of Bury

1) Bury North takes Bradshaw from Bolton
2) Bury South doesn’t appear changed at all

Borough of Tameside

1) Ashton-under-Lyne As above

2) Denton As above

3) Stalybridge and Hyde. The existing seat, plus Dukinfield

Borough of Knowsley

1) Huyton and Halewood,. As above.

2) Liverpool North.  As above.

3) Liverpool West Derby. As above.

4) Maghull. One of the posher bits of Sefton (the other being Southport) attached to left over bits of Knowsley. The ward names are fairly anonymous – Park, Northwood, Whitefield – though these cover the northwest fringes of Kirkby.

5) St Helens South and Whiston.  As above.

Borough of Sefton

1) Bootle. As above

2) Liverpool North. As above.

3) Maghull. As above

4) Southport.  The existing town of Southport with approximately 2/3rd  Formby.

Lancashire –  Boroughs of Chorley, West Lancashire, and South Ribble

1) Chorley is drawn to be completely coterminous with the Borough

2) South Ribble is barely changed at all, adding Farington and Lostock Hall back into a seat they should not have been taken away from in the first place.  Also includes Tarleton, North Meols, Hesketh Bank, and Rufford from West Lancashire.

3) West Lancashire is unchanged – Ormskirk, Skelmersdale, Burscough and surrounding fields of what appears from the train to be two-thirds of the county’s entire vegetable import for the year

Lancashire – City of Preston, Boroughs of Fylde, Wyre,  Blackpool and Ribble Valley

1) Preston expands to take almost all the city wards – oddly, and somewhat free of all logic and reason, this means Lea, Cottam and Fishwick are all excluded. Would be the first time since, I think, before the Second World War that so much of the borough was included in the same constituency – only the rural parishes and Lea and Fishwick are elsewhere.

2) Fylde continues to incorporate the parish of Lea and Cottam. Otherwise the other major addition is Poulton-le-Fylde from Wyre.

3) Lancaster is very oddly named – the boundaries are essentially the same as “Lancaster and Wyre” which existed between 1997 and 2010.  Anyway, this is “Lancaster, the M6 Corridor and bits of rural Preston”, including Grimsargh, Goosnargh and Woodplumpton. I’m not making up any of those place-names.

4) Blackpool North and Fleetwood is essentially status quo ante

5) Blackpool South avoids the temptation to cross into Lytham St Annes and cause a riot, by  moving ever more suburban. Includes Squire’s Gate, Layton, Stanley, Waterloo, Bloomfield and Claremont.  I think the Tower is in this seat.

6) Ribble Valley continues to be a right old funny one – not only continuing to include Bamber Bridge, but now Fishwick, which would mean one of Preston’s main thoroughfares (not to mention some of the most socially and economically troubled parts of England) are hobbled onto one of the most expansive and rural.

Lancashire – City of Lancaster

1) Lancaster. As above

2) Morecambe and Lunesdale  A slightly bigger version of the current seat

Lancashire – Boroughs of Blackburn and Darwen, Hyndburn, and Rossendale

1) Blackburn is virtually unchanged. Includes only seats within and surrounding the town itself – amongst their number, Audley, Ewood, Livesey with Pleasington, Wensley Fold, Little Harwood and Roe Lee.

2) Darwen and Haslingden takes areas from three boroughs, including Oswaldtwistle and Haslingden, expanding the current Rossendale and Darwen seat into new directions,

3) Burnley South and Accrington joins together the industrial bits from both these stoic northern towns, including Cliviger, Huncoat, Hapton, Rosehill, Clayton-le-Moors, Overton and Gawthorpe.

4)Rochale North and Rawtenstall As above.

Lancashire – Boroughs of Burnley and Pendle

1) Burnley North and Nelson. Takes the borough of Pendle and slots the most immediate neighbours at the bottom. Nostalgics amongst you might think it’s a reinvention of an old seat, but it is pretty much untested territory.

2) Burnley South and Accrington. As above.

parallel lines

For a small island with enough room (just) to move about in, we sure do like having our towns, cities and counties carved up by administrators waving their sharpened HBs on a lazy Tuesday.  Through centuries of governmental landgrabs and civil servant line wobbling, there is barely half-a-year free of local administrative boundaries, or parliamentary boundaries, having changed for the benefit of democratic cohesion and representative validity.

Common changes which carry on without much comment outside the local press, if at all, are the product of the Local Government Commissions, hardy souls whose responsibility starts and ends with the Town Halls and Civil Centres of Great Britain. Right now, if you’re that way out of an evening, you can comment on the proposed council ward shake-up of Purbeck council. THRILLING, I am sure you agree. Some of you may even learn where Purbeck is, for I’m sure it came as news to me.

Next week sees the bigger brothers of the local boundary shakers take to the centre stage of political discussion, and boy, will it be bigger. You may have heard the cries of “Gerrymandering!” from the summer of last year, from ill-informed bitter opponents of the somewhat overdue plans to cut the number of MPs and do something about the huge difference in Westminster constituency sizes.  When the Boundary Commission for England publishes its proposals for the 500 English seats in a weeks time, followed by Northern Ireland and Scotland before November, and Wales in the new year, it will be part of the greatest constitutional shake-up since devolution.  Not since 1945 have Westminster constituencies been subject to such radical reforms.

First off – the reasons why it’s obviously a good idea to take an axe to 50 Members of Parliament and a stretching device to those seats which border soon-to-be-abolished constituency units.  Quite obviously, all boundaries are fake. All of them, completely invented. From the decision to draw country lines round mountains and through lakes by means of happenstance and expediency, through to contemporary council ward shapes, every attempt by some form of establishment or other to carve up nation states begins with circumstances nobody wants. It’s a measure of man how we agree to the invisible lines which bind us into boxes and files and codes: most significance is only drawn in this country through somewhat petty partisanship.  I often wonder what opponents of the forthcoming parliamentary boundary review would do in Israel or Somalia or Western Sahara.

We need smaller, more relevant democracy in this country, one in which the machinery of party politics is left to tick and tock far away from the streets and playing fields of peoples every day lives. To lost 50 MPs in one go is but a small step – it is necessary to take the axe to the ‘payroll vote’, reduce the size of most Town Halls and create more local, responsive parish/neighbourhood councils. Reducing the number of MPs by just 50 to 600 is a small, vital, and progressive step in the right direction. Having done nothing to reform the parliamentary establishment, it’s very rich of the Labour Party to sound off about ‘representing the people’.  Losing 50 MPs saves money in the long term, and opens up the possibility of greater,  more significant reforms in the long term.  Proportional representation, above all, an elected Senate, an axing of two-tier local government….Can you hear the creaking in the old guard’s strides?

What begins next week is not gerrymandering. The Labour Party can cry all it wants (not least because they did so well in persuading the Boundary Commission under their regime to divide Derbyshire, East London and a fair amount of Wales in their favour).  By making the new parliamentary seat rules so tight, so rigid, so difficult to twitch, alter, manoeuvre, the Coalition has created a refreshing alternative to the old school horse trading of years gone by. Having followed the most recent review, which ran up to the 2010 election having started over 10 years previously, I know only too well how ‘stitched up’ everything felt.

There is nothing in the Great British Rule Book which dictates “An MP must not represent both rural and urban communities”. We are a small island, where urban sprawl exists almost everywhere, and the outdated ideas of ‘rural isolation’ and ‘high street magnetising suburbs to its core’ all reek of ancient arguments dusted off by those most likely to do well from favourably drawn lines. It is not beyond the means of any conscientious MP to represent town, city and farmland in one go.

Cheaper democracy, and more vibrant too, as candidates fight over unfamiliar territory at the next election. Yes, the resulting constituencies in some parts of the country may have some contrived elements – watch out Leeds, things aren’t going to be pretty – though when did it become necessary for the United Kingdom to be marked up in straight boxes? This is not the United States, we do not need compact squares and rectangles to make it easier to colour in the lines.

Cheaper, vibrant, more reflective of the ‘commute to work’ culture, and more relevant to the population shifts in northern cities and the affluent south. The recent previous reviews finalised their ideas ready for 1983, 1997 and 2010;  from this year onwards, the reviews must take a maximum of 5 years. The most recent English review saw parts of the country experience two general elections and a change in Prime Minister before they finally got the chance to vote in the seat designed for them half-a-generation gone. It’s not very modern of our democracy to take outdated population figures and expect representative seats to be drawn from them.

Cheaper, vibrant, up to date, relevant, reflective – and independent. We are not the US – appropriation  is carried out by pen pushers and map mechanics, not political appointees and the interested parties. Our parliamentary representation is the more precious and important because of the way in which we draw our lines; it is vital we retain that independence, something opponents of the new regime seem to take for granted.

Is it a Tory gerrymander? No, and it is not because Labour supporters have proven it. The left-leaning Democratic Audit published its report and found rock solid Labour seats in Manchester, Liverpool, east London and Scotland remained even with the tougher, tighter electorate rules. As I discovered when thinking about submitting my own proposals to the Commission, the domino effect caused by the new regulations make the creation of isolated blobs of party support very hard indeed.

Labour’s opposition seems to be tainted by two flavours – bitterness that they didn’t get here first when they had the chance, and uncertainty over the safety of their smaller, compact inner city seats. It should do our parliamentary system some good if Labour, and all other parties, have to fight that little bit harder in newer, more unusual seats. Why the Labour Party is so obsessive in their opposition is beyond me; are they so cynical? Or bored, and in need of anything to shout down if it’s seen as easy enough to do?

Our attitude towards the ever changing, always shifting representative means seems mostly shrug-shoulders and rooted in the past. We cling to “Greater Manchester” and “Merseyside”, both of which no longer exist. We occasionally scratch our heads at “Middlesex”, and look in vain for “Clwyd”.  Our incessant bored fiddling with figures and numbers have awarded Southport with a PR postcode and L-accented Post Offices.  Next week sees one opportunity to take seriously the new chapter in representation which will revitalise our relationship with candidates, parliamentarians and politics. It’s lazy and churlish to whinge about the radical nature of the review process; remember, only 50 MPs are going. I would prefer far less with a proportional voting system; maybe you want even fewer than 500 by 2020.

If you want more information about the great boundary re-jig, then Wikipedia is your friend. Whatever happens when the Boundary Commission for England declares its provisional plans next week, let’s try and get through it without too much bruising.

I have been asked to advise the North West Region Liberal Democrats on some specific constituencies for the North West of England, and will be present at a number of North West public consultation meetings on behalf of them.. The proposals I linked to in this post are my own ideas, almost all of which are absent from those which are being considered by the NW Region. 

Greater Manchester Parliamentary Boundary Review

The Coalition Government’s proposal to reduce the number of MPs to 600 (the second part of this one), is one I support, if only to cut own costs of representation never mind the question of whether Britain requires so many Members of Parliament as an additional layer of representation.

Those “removed” MPs represent constituencies of thier own, of course, so as a consequence major boundary changes would have to be considered before the next (hopefully fixed-term) election in 2015. I have already given a broadbrush review of my Lancashire proposals elsewhere (though these have been tinkered with since, I’ll re-visit them later).

Greater Manchester had to, in my opinion, be attached to Lancashire for reasons of review. In some places, it seems very natural – Parbold and Appley Bridge are essentially Wigan anyway – though I concede some of my creations may raise eyebrows.

Manchester itself undertakes a massive change – gone is the very word “Manchester” itself from the Parliamentary map – whilst the one-time LibDem constituency of “Littleborough and Saddleworth” returns after 20-odd years away.

It’s not been easy, not least because the new regulations makes “wiggle room” almost impossible, but I present what I think it is a fair crack at the whip under the circumstances.

1. Wigan
2. Makerfield
3. Leigh
4. Westhoughton
5. Bolton
6. Radcliffe and Farnworth
7. Worsley
8. Bury and Heywood
9. Eccles and Prestwich
10. Salford Quays and Urmston
11. Altrincham and Sale West
12. Stretford and Chorlton
13. Piccadilly and Rusholme
14. Wythenshawe and Cheadle
15. Blackley and Newton Heath
16. Middleton, Moston and Failsworth
17. Rochdale
18. Ashton-under-Lyne
19. Littleborough and Saddleworth
20. Oldham
21. Stalybridge and Hyde
22. Stockport
23. Didsbury and The Heatons
24. Hazel Grove and Gatley
25. Gorton and Denton

Lancashire Under Review

To much (ignorant and misunderstood) cries of “fix!” and “gerrymander!” and “How dare you launch so many constitutional reforms in one go, it makes us look bad!”, the Labour Party are opposing the plan to reduce the number of Members of Parliament to 600, from 650.

As part of the review, parliamentary seats have to be redrawn, one of my favourite activities, although the new legislation puts a lot of strain on me and the many “boundary anoraks” who have been trying out get things sorted in preparation. I point you to a couple of threads at VoteUK (“Equal Voting Size” and “AV Referendum set to be announced“), as well as this thread on USElectionAtlas (“Let the great boundary rejig commence“. These show just how difficult and drawn out the process may turn out to be. I am personally very set against splitting electoral wards between seats, something which may need to happen to make the numbers add up.

My proposals take a look at my home county of Lancashire. The numbers are quite clear; the county cannot lose a seat without being paired with a neighbouring county. I have added up and divided and subtracted as much as possible, for the County to go from 16 to 15 MPs, it must use wards from somewhere beyond Lancashire. To this end, I chose Greater Manchester. It allows for some flexibility, and avoids the problem of creating major knock-on effects elsewhere (as using Cumbria would, for example).

These are my proposed seats for Lancashire, so far. I now will move on to Greater Manchester. Some of these creations have been up and down and switched and changed, but ultimately these seem to be the best I can do with my knowledge of local geography, community links, and democratic validity. Labour supporters who oppose the reduction in MP numbers cry foul over the changes, without any understanding of the manner in which the changes take place. I did not set out with a plan to create constituencies which were anti-Labour, or pro-Tory, or likely-LibDem. It would be fruitless of me to try.

Anyway, here be what I have created so far…Lancashire down from 16 to 15…

1) Blackburn and Rishton. Takes the town of Blackburn and adds half of Hyndburn next door. This seat effectively merges the two existing seats together, although the extreme west of Blackburn, and east of Hyndburn, are moved elsewhere.

2) Blackpool North and Fleetwood. Not quite the pre-2010 seat, but close enough. Takes the eastern suburbs of Blackpool, so in essence the town is divided east/west rather than strictly north/south. This creation maintains the current divide of Thorton from Cleveleys, which wasn’t ideal but no alternative exists which doesn’t isolate Fleetwood from the rest of the county (no jokes about this already being the case, please….)

3) Blackpool South. Almost called “Squire’s Gate and The Golden Mile” for a bit of variety, this is the existing South with a “tail” extending along almost the whole coastal touristy bit.

4) Burnley and Accrington. Almost all the existing Burnley seat with the eastern bits of Hyndburn. I could not keep Burnley as a united authority because Pendle is undersized, but this I think neatly brings two near neighbours together in a credible combination.

5) Chorley and Wrightington. This caused me all sorts of headaches. Chorley is just the right size for a constituency, but no near neighbours are, so I had to add bits of Chorley to South Ribble to make up the numbers there. This seat takes Chorley into the south-west, with Parbold, Appleby Bridge, Lathom and Wrightington all joining in. I notice from Google Earth and Street View that there seems to be good road links between them all, so can’t see anything too unusual here. My first thought was “Chorley and Horwich”, but that would have been far too messy.

6) Darwen, Egerton and Pleasington. I know the name is a bit clumsy, but with the existing “Rossendale and Darwen” not having any actual direct road links between those two towns, something had to be done. I think this is a decent replacement, Darwen is connected to the parts of the authority it left Lancashire for, the northern bits of Bolton look north as much as they do south, and it replaces a constituency which had little democratic validity.

7) Fylde. The entire borough of Fylde coupled with the town of Poulton-le-Fylde. The seat is no longer coupled with Preston at all. This caused me a lot of headaches, as originally I envisaged Fylde being paired with Garstand and points east.

8) Lancaster and Morecambe. Exactly what it says on the tin. The city of Lancaster, and the towns of Morecambe and Heysham.

9) Pendle and Burnley North. With Pendle stuck in the top right corner of East Lancashire, it’s not easy to create a credible seat without splitting something into pieces. I have not been to silly here, I don’t think, moving Danehouse, Queensgate and Lanehead wards into Pendle.

10) Preston. The existing seat of Preston, minus Ingol ward, plus the ‘commute to work’ bits from over the Ribble. This is a slight return to the pre-2010 seat, although I have added Coupe Green and Gregson Lane as well, because it’s awkward positioning made adding to Chorley or Ribble Valley difficult without causing me headaches elsewhere. I did toy with calling this “Preston, Bamber Bridge and Samlesbury” but given the 1997-2010 seat was effectively this without a name change I don’t think one is needed here.

11) Rossendale and Ramsbottom. The whole of Rossendale borough is over 20,000 voters too small, so something had to be added. I tried north, I tried east where everything goes moorland and mountainy, I considered Darwen despite my misgivings. But this seems to be the best of a bad bunch. Takes three chunks out of Bury, going as far south as Tottington, but I don’t think a good MP will have any problem representing a seat of this size and shape.

12) South Ribble. No longer taking in any of the Lancashire Marsh Towns, this South Ribble includes the town of Euxton from Chorley. You only have to talk to people in my office for an hour or so to discover just how Euxton is considered a natual extension to Leyland, so a seat like this makes sense. The advantage of the larger constituency size plan is the reversal of the stupid decision to take Lostock Hall and Tardy Gate into Ribble Valley.

13) Valleys of Ribble and Lune. I know, it’s a great name, ain’t it? The whole of the Ribble Valley borough coupled with the rural bits from Lancaster, looping around to include Carnforth and Silverdale and other bits people assume are Cumbrian. This seat works because it keeps a lot of rural Lancashire together.

14) West Lancashire. The borough of West Lancs is too large, so bits have to be cut away. I think taking the southern bits into Chorley make sense, and anyway I haven’t considered adding Merseyside which would have opened the door to “Southport and Ormskirk” or some such mega creations. I think keeping a borough together as best as possible is preferable.

15) Wyre and Preston North. Originally ditched from the start, I could not fathom out an alternative which made sense. At one point I had “Fylde and Rural Preston”, but this painted me into a Garstang shaped corner. My WaPN is far larger than the current seat and of course does not include Poulton-le-Fylde.