Cardiff Boundary Changes

There’s been a lot of discussion in the news about changes to electoral constituencies in the United Kingdom proposed by the Boundary Commissions for England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. These proposals are intended to achieve two goals: (a) to reduce the total number of constituencies (and hence Members of Parliament) from 650 to 600; and (b) to ensure that the resulting constituencies contain roughly the same number of votes (within 5% either way of the mean number).

In a bit more detail: each constituency in the UK should contain roughly the same number of eligible voters, the so-called “electoral quota” which is reached by dividing the total electorate of the UK by the number of required constituencies, except for the Isle of Wight and two Scottish island constituencies. The quota is then 74,769, based on the electoral register as it stood on 1 December 2015.

The purported aim of (a) is to reduce the running cost of Parliament. I’d be more convinced of that if the previous Prime Minister hadn’t appointed no fewer than 260 Members to the House of Lords, at considerably greater expense than the saving incurred by losing 50 MPs from the House of Commons. The intention of (b) is more reasonable, but it does threaten the rationale of the constituency-based system as it creates some larger and less homogeneous constituencies.

The Boundary Commisssion for Wales has proposed that the Welsh MPs be reduced from 40 to 29, which means the loss of some historically important constituencies altogether and a significant rearrangement of many others.  In fact there isn’t a seat in Wales that isn’t changed in some way. Here’s what the proposals mean for Cardiff, with the existing constituencies on the left and the proposed boundaries on the right:


I reside in Cardiff West (marked 12 on the left). You will see that the proposal involves extending this constituency on the western side of the River Taff down towards Cardiff Bay. This splits the former constituency Cardiff South and Penarth (11) into two, the western part (mainly Penarth) being absorbed into a new constituency called Vale of Glamorgan East (20 on the right). The other big change is that Cardiff Central (9 on the left) is eliminated entirely, absorbed by an enlarged Cardiff North (18 on the right, formerly 10 on the left) and a new Cardiff South and East (19) on the right. The net change is the loss of one seat in the City of Cardiff, which is currently held by Labour MP Jo Stevens.

I’m sure there’ll be quite a strong reaction to these changes, not least because they are based on the electoral register as it was on December 1st 2015 because the switch to individual electoral registration meant that 770,000 names dropped off the list before this date. The list also does not reflect those who registered to vote ahead of the EU referendum in June.

Going back to Wales for a moment, I think it’s unfair that while Scotland excluded two island constituencies from the quota formula to reflect their specific character, the same did not happen for Ynys Môn (Anglesey), a constituency which has been around since 1536, but which is now to be enlarged into a new entity called Ynys Môn and Arfon.  I’m sure someone will comment on that!

Anyway, these are proposals and there is now a period of consultation. The final boundaries will not be determined until 2018.



15 Responses to “Cardiff Boundary Changes”

  1. The proposed changes would transform the political landscape of most of the United Kingdom, and much of it negatively. The cause is, of course, not the boundary commissions’ recommendations, but the silly policies of substantially reducing the size of the House of Commons (by 8%) and the very small deviations from the mean number of electors (5%). Any one of those would have caused problems, but the two together will produce upheaval.

    Wales will experience a 28% reduction in representation. One of the reasons for this is that Wales and Scotland historically had more members of parliament than justified by their populations, in the hope this would reduce demands for devolution. The number of MPs from Scotland was reduced from 72 to 59 in 2005, following the creation of the Scottish Parliament in 1999. The number of Welsh MPs was not reduced, partly because the National Assembly for Wales had significantly fewer powers than the Scottish Parliament. So the proposed changes will impose on Wales the end of its stronger per capita representation in the Commons than England, and also its share of the reduction in the size of the Commons. This will be painful for political parties and for candidates. It’s a horrible situation.

    The boundaries of existing parliamentary constituencies have followed local authority boundaries as much as possible, as a deliberate and sensible strategy by the Boundary Commission for Wales. The silly 5% rule will destroy this. It looks from the maps as though the proposed new Cardiff North will incorporate part of Caerphilly county. Similarly, the proposed Ynys Môn ac Arfon will lump the Ynys Môn county (Isle of Anglesey) with part of Gwynedd county (specifically Bangor and Caernarfon), while other parts of Gwynedd will be lumped together with parts of Conwy county and Denbighshire. Another part of Gwynedd will be lumped with Montgomeryshire. The 5% rule causes great problems. It’s a mess and it’s a mess produced by the United Kingdom Government.

    I’ll say that the Boundary Commission for Wales has tried to act sensitively and sensibly. It appears to me that some effort has been taken to combine localities with broadly similar political outlooks as much as is possible given the severe constraints. The fault the proposals are clumsy lies entirely with the UK Government.

    At present constituencies for the National Assembly for Wales match exactly those for the House of Commons. This will end, creating two different sets of constituency boundaries for different parliaments.

    That’s Wales. I’m also trying to understand the proposals of the Boundary Commission for England. My current constituency of Bethnal Green and Bow will disappear, and I shall find myself in Hackney West and Bethnal Green. This lumps together communities from different London boroughs. The proposal is to combine Bow with parts of Newham, including Stratford and West Ham, to form Bow and Canning Town. Another mess.

  2. Yes. Boundary issues would be much less important with larger multi-member constituencies.

    • I actually like the Welsh Assembly election system.

    • I do not like the electoral system for the National Assembly for Wales. While the additional member system using party lists can work very well, in the case of the Welsh Assembly there are too few list members (20) to achieve a proportional result given 40 first-past-the-post constituencies and the distribution of party support.

      I strongly believe the number of list members was kept small to ensure Labour would achieve a majority given its historic polling record in Wales. This was a necessary concession by those designing Labour’s Welsh Assembly proposals in the mid-1990s to the wing of the Labour Party in Wales that was opposed to democratic devolution. (In reality Labour has polled more poorly than expected and has at times lost its majority.)

      The situation is made worse by the failure of many parties to use the list to try to get some of their stronger candidates elected if their fail to win in local constituencies. For example, in May Leighton Andrews did not win in the Rhondda constituency and did not appear on his regional Labour list: he was not elected. Indeed, for a period, standing both in a local constituency and on a party list was forbidden in a particularly sectarian change in the law by Peter Hain when he was Secretary of State for Wales. As a result, in 2011 the Conservatives lost their leader in Wales, Nick Bourne, and Plaid Cymru their deputy leader, Helen Mary Jones, from the Assembly. This abuse of democratic process was removed in time for the May 2016 election.

      The electoral system of the National Assembly for Wales could be improved by adding more list members.

    • “elected if their fail to win -> “elected if they fail to win”.

      Sorry – I changed what I was writing, but not enough!

    • Yes. That is very similar to the systems used in elections to the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly. In the case of the Scottish Parliament, there are 73 local first-past-the-post constituencies, and 56 members from party lists, 129 seats in total. There are separate lists in 8 regions. The proportion of list seats to constituencies is large enough that there is a proportional result.

      In Wales there are 40 constituencies, and 20 members in the party lists from 5 regions. This does not produce a proportional result.

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