Boundary review predicted to shore up Tory gains in northern England

Proposed changes to England’s parliamentary constituencies will strengthen Conservative party gains in parts of Labour’s former “red wall” heartlands, according to Tory MPs and strategists.

Tentative proposals for redrawing voting boundaries to reflect population shifts were released on Tuesday by the Boundary Commission. Under the new limits, England will gain 10 new seats in the House of Commons, while Wales and Scotland lose eight and two, respectively.

Although the North East stands to lose two seats in the review, newly elected Conservative MPs in the region are hopeful that the redistribution will help solidify gains made in the 2019 election, such as Sedgefield, former Labour prime minister Tony Blair’s old seat, and Bishop Auckland.

The independent review has been stalled for a decade because of political wrangling over the expectation that the outcome would disproportionately benefit Conservatives. The new seats are due to be finalised by mid 2023, ahead of the next general election expected in 2024.

One red wall Tory MP said the electoral outlook had “improved slightly” for many constituencies that would take in more rural elements. “All of the Tees Valley seats improve for us, except for Redcar, which is relatively neutral,” they said.

Darlington and North West Durham, which the Tories won for the first time with a majority of 1,144 in 2019, would become “much better” for the party, said another MP.

One Conservative party strategist said the picture would be reflected in other parts of England: “If you go back to 2015 when we had nobody in places in Darlington and Stockton, we are now building on gains. These are our seats for the foreseeable future and the changes are broadly good.”

An ally of Labour leader Keir Starmer, however, was sanguine about the impact of the review. “It’s pretty neutral, it won’t cost us or gain us many seats all round,” the official said.

Sir John Curtice, professor of politics at Strathclyde university, said the electoral impact of the 2023 boundary review would be limited as a result of population and political shifts over the past decade, with cities expanding and towns shrinking.

“The difference in the average size of Conservative and Labour constituencies is not as big as it was once was,” he said.

“In the 2019 election, the difference in the size of the average constituency was 2,500 voters. In England, it was just over 1,500, whereas the figure in 2015 and 2017 was 4,000.”

Curtice added that the Conservatives stood to gain approximately six seats by the new constituency boundaries.

“The pattern of people moving out of cities is no longer true. The rise in London’s population means the impact of the boundary review is less than expected,” he said.

Lord Robert Hayward, a Conservative peer and polling expert, said the net benefit to the Tories would be between five to 10 seats in total.

“The boundary review has produced more changes than expected across the country. By the time the process is finished, I imagine many of them will have been scaled back. But there is a net benefit to the Conservatives, no question,” said Hayward.

Several high-profile MPs — including defence secretary Ben Wallace, whose Wyre and Preston North constituency is subsumed into the surrounding area — are expected to lose their seats. The seats of Matt Hancock, health secretary, and Gavin Williamson, education secretary, are also set to disappear.

Ian Lavery, the leftwing Labour MP who served as party chair under Jeremy Corbyn, is expected to lose his Wansbeck constituency in Northumberland. One local activist predicted that Lavery would retire if his constituency were not saved on appeal.

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