On Monday, the final recommendations for new parliamentary boundaries were published which, if agreed by the House of Commons, will be the new boundaries at the next General Election expected to be in 2022.
The Royal Town has thankfully emerged unscathed with its ancient 500 year-old boundary intact, and following the significant local campaign to stop my constituency being dismembered, which resulted in the Commission overturning its initial recommendations. I was disappointed that despite strong local advocacy, the Boundary Commission did not add the ‘Royal’ prefix for Sutton Coldfield but I was pleased that they have removed the word ‘Birmingham’ from the title.
At a national level, the number of MPs will be cut from 650 to 600 which would save Parliament’s running costs to the tune of £12 million a year. Secondly, the plans will also even out the sizes of the electorate in each constituency, making the system more uniform and fair compared with the current system. Constituencies of equal size were a requirement of the Chartists so it is good we are finally getting around to it!
The Labour frontbench has decried the Independent Commission’s recommendations as gerrymandering. But the review’s main aim, is to ensure that no constituency is more than 5 per cent bigger or smaller than the national benchmark (74,769), which sounds uncontroversial to me. The need for regular boundary reviews is a simple geographical fact. Voters move around and populations fluctuate.
If MPs were to shamelessly reject the proposals, the next election would be fought on 22 year old demographic data and will not take into account any of the changes since then, which would be patently undemocratic. The effect of demographic shifts are well presented with Wirral West which returns one MP for 55,377 voters. While at the other end of the spectrum the Isle of Wight returns one MP with 110,697.
The House of Commons already has the uncomfortable reputation of being the largest lower chamber in the world except for China and North Korea. One is the most populous nation in the world. The other is a rogue state.
Obviously, concerns about the “democratic deficit” can be legitimate, particularly at such a sensitive time in British politics. Parliamentary arithmetic denotes that reducing the number of backbenchers will diminish scrutiny of the executive, i.e. the government will get stronger but this should be offset by devolving more power locally. The government should proceed further with proposals for elected mayors and continue to devolve power to cities. Our West Midlands Mayor, Andy Street, is doing a fantastic job and I know has a very high regard for the issues which concern us in Sutton Coldfield.
I also want to see more power devolved to the Royal Sutton Coldfield Town Council.
Many thanks to all those who voted for Scarlett Mitchell in the Westminster Dog of the Year 2018. She was narrowly beaten by a Red Setter named Corbyn in the popular vote. But she came second in a tightly fought competition - so if not outright victory, honour was satisfied.
Photo: Andrew Mitchell MP and Welsh Springer Spaniel, Scarlet Whosabootiful Mitchell