I write this on a beautiful day of sunshine and ambient heat. Summer is thankfully now here after weeks of poor weather and I am certainly looking forward to spending more time outdoors. Whilst the tempo in Westminster and constituency workload continue to be fierce, I do hope that we will soon be able to put Covid-19 behind us and capitalise fully on the success of the vaccination programme. But as ever, much will depend on the science and the Government’s appetite for risk. I do hope that common sense prevails quickly.
I was asked recently to outline my position on the initial findings of the Boundary Commission. I do not profess to have all the answers as this is beyond the control or influence of most MPs, but I am happy to share a personal view. To start with, it has been suggested to me that the Government has attempted to drive its own outcome for political reasons, but this is just not the case as the Boundary Commission is entirely separate from any political party. While it is legitimised by central Government, it is actually independent of Government and its decisions are strictly subject to well-defined statutory criteria.
To start with, this is not about honouring or redefining extant battle lines but equalising all 650 Parliamentary constituencies so that they are of an equal size and ideally coterminus with existing borough boundaries. As the population has expanded in recent decades and new housing has sprung up everywhere, some constituencies have grown well beyond the mandated tolerance of circa 77,000 voters and some are well below it. This has benefited all political parties in different parts of the UK and it is right to redress the imbalance.
The fact that more people live in the South than the North is a key factor but it is the need to equalise the importance of every vote and regulate the size of each constituency so that no advantage is conferred on any party that ultimately drives change. Given too that the initial findings have been subject to rigorous stress-testing and independent review, I am comfortable that fairness has been employed and that the fundamental principles that underpin it have been robustly honoured. And before I am accused of nepotism, people who know me well will tell you that I am a man of integrity and I would soon call it out if I believed it to be unfair or politically biased. So this is an electoral not a political imperative.
In respect of Berkshire, the increasing population has ensured that there is a need for one new seat so this has mandated the re-drawing of boundaries and the reduction in size of the eight extant constituencies. Further details can be found at www.gov.uk but the upshot is that Bracknell is probably least affected, even though it sadly loses Finchampstead North, South and Wokingham Without. But all of the other Berkshire constituencies, namely: Wokingham, Windsor, Maidenhead, Newbury, Reading, Slough and the ‘new’ seats of Mid Berkshire and Earley & Woodley (both re-drawn from Reading West and East), will see more significant changes. The ‘Northern’ parishes of Binfield, Warfield, Winkfield and Ascot North also migrate from Windsor to Maidenhead, although part of Warfield comes into Bracknell.
I am yet to conduct any rigour into how this might translate into votes but I believe that the new boundaries confer no particular advantage on any party in Berkshire. I also suspect that it’s ‘swings and roundabouts’ across the UK depending on where you look. Either way, constituents will still vote for who they want and it is up to politicians to earn these votes, rather than take any for granted.