Why the boundary changes pose tough choices for the Tories and Labour

Both of the main parties could find themselves asking whether they have the right strategies for the redrawn electoral map.

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MPs in England have woken up to discover if their constituencies will shrink, expand, shape-shift or disappear in 2023 in proposed changes to constituency boundaries published by the Boundary Commission.

These are the first changes to Westminster constituency boundaries since 2010 and will mean seats are redrawn so they each have between 69,724 and 77,062 registered voters (with some exceptions such as island constituencies). It means, in practice, that England gains ten seats while Wales loses eight and Scotland two, while the north of England and Midlands will lose seats to the south. (The Boundary Commissions for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will publish their recommended changes by 1 July.) 

There are already some high-profile casualties: the Defence Secretary Ben Wallace’s seat of Wyre and Preston North will be absorbed into three other constituencies, while Labour figures including the veteran left-wing MP Ian Lavery, the shadow minister for sport Alison McGovern, the shadow health minister Justin Madders and the shadow chief secretary to the Treasury Bridget Phillipson are set to be among those fighting over a reduced number of seats in their patches. 

But it isn’t the high-profile switches that will determine the electoral impact of the boundary review, as YouGov’s Anthony Wells reminds us, but smaller changes, the impact of which will take longer to identify. That is the real picture across Westminster this morning, with most MPs experiencing more muted emotions of private relief or vague worry at slight changes. For every MP relieved to lose a tricky Ukip-leaning area in their constituency, there is another concerned by a loss or addition that will make their seat even tighter, an awkward reality that is causing “stony silence” between colleagues on the issue, as one MP puts it. 

These changes will cause immediate, short-term tensions between neighbouring MPs from the same party. But they also point to some tricky electoral realities for Labour and the Conservatives. In a new era of fetish ising voters in the so-called Red Wall, the boundary changes (which are subject to further consultation) are a timely reminder of which way the wind is blowing in politics in the longer term. With population and demographic changes, it is the south of England that is piling up seats. Both of the main parties could find themselves asking whether they are prioritising the right voters at the moment, whether they have the right strategies for this redrawn electoral map, or whether they would be better off fighting the next election on the old dividing lines.

Ailbhe Rea is political correspondent at the New Statesman.

She co-hosts the New Statesman podcast, discussing the latest in UK politics.

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