Late last year, the Boundary Commissions for England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland delivered their draft maps for the next UK Boundary Review (national redistricting in American parlance). It should be noted that the last review came into effect for the 2010 elections (except in Scotland, where it was in 2005), but the numbers used were vintage 2000. This new review is using vintage 2016 numbers. The figures in question are those of eligible voters, not total population. These maps followed new rules set out by Prime Minister David Cameron and carried forward by Theresa May; namely, that there would be a reduction in seats in the the House of Commons from six-hundred and fifty to six hundred, that the Isle of Wight would now have two seats instead of one, that population variance targets (5% deviation with three islands excepted) would be tightened considerably, and that Wales would now be subject to these variance targets. This means that all four countries would have reduced seat numbers, but Wales would be hit particularly hard. We’ll go country by country and break down what happened.
Cymru (pronounced ‘cum-ree’) suffers the most from the new rules changes. Previous governments, especially Labour ones, have long given the country special treatment when it comes to population targets. Since Welsh targets are now being brought into line with national standards after years of underpopulation, Wales loses eleven of its forty seats. This means that just about everyone’s ox should get gored. However, it looks like the Tories and Plaid Cymru have allied to make sure that the bulk the pain falls on Labour.
In northern Wales, the Tories theoretically lose two seats, as do Labour. However, two of the new seats that are theoretically Labour ones are very swingy. Given current polling numbers, the Conservatives should be able to capture them fairly easily. That would mean that Labour would lose four seats on net and the Tories would lose none. Plaid Cymru is fairly secure in both of its seats, despite absorbing the Labour-held marginal of Ynys Mon into the Arfon seat.
Southern Wales is mostly a wash for the Tories. They lose one of their safe Pembrokeshire seats, but will almost certainly pick up a new seat in the Vale of Glamorgan. The only seats that they really have to worry about are Gower and Swansea West and Cardiff North. They barely picked up Gower in a three-way fight in 2015, and it got worse for them when it had to expand. Still, it’s very holdable with their current polling numbers. Cardiff North only got a little worse and should hold if they win a majority. Labour fares much worse; counting the new Tory-leaning Vale of Glamorgan seat as a loss, they forfeit seven seats in southern wales. Most of this is due to very bad population numbers in the Valleys north of Cardiff. These are very poor areas that used to provide Britain with much of its coal, but have been declining for a while (they’re also where the Labour Party was born in the first place).
In short, this appears to be the only commission where the Tories didn’t get their way. Sinn Fein appears to have made out like bandits. Expect even more of the Northern Irish delegation to not show up than usual (Sinn fein is a separatist party that refuses to show up ton any English-dominated parliament). Then again, maybe this is what the Conservatives wanted. The more MPs that don’t show up from Northern Ireland, the easier it is for the Tories to have a rock-solid majority because the number needed for said majority gets lowered. The one seat loss that NI suffers is likely to come from one of the Unionist parties.
Alba loses six of its fifty-nine seats. These almost surely will come at the expense of the SNP, as they currently hold fifty-six of the country’s seats. The only LibDem seat is Orkney and Shetland, which is has protected island status. Edinburgh East, which is Labour’s only seat, is now nominally an SNP seat, but I like Labour’s chances at holding it. The same goes goes for the Tories’ only seat, which now reaches farther north and has been relabeled as Clydesdale and Eskdale. I think that this map was probably an SNP attempt to take the Tory and Labour seats, but given the Tories recent poll numbers in Scotland, it will probably backfire. The Conservatives now have decent shots at Dumfries and Galloway (on a good night), Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk (almost certainly a pickup), and Edinburgh South West and Central (on a decent night). Labour also has a decent chance to take Highland North. The LibDems have an outside shot at Inverness and Skye and a slightly better one at Gordon and Deeside. I’m being conservative with these given the poll numbers, but I think they’re a bit inflated and will lead to a lot of anti-SNP vote splitting.
This region is a Labour killing field. Labour outright loses four seats in Northeast England, two seats in Cumbria and Lancashire, two seats in Merseyside, three seats in Greater Manchester, and three seats in Yorkshire to seat reductions. That’s sixteen seats that Team Red desperately needs, gone forever. The Tories also lose a seat in Humberside and another in Lancashire (though they made up for both with other moves).
There are also a lot of lines changed among the remaining seats. About a dozen swing seats move to the right. Of special interest are Hull, whose three seats get reorganized so that the Tories can win one, Grimsby, which gets cracked between two seats to make up for the loss of Brigg and Goole, and The Wirral, where Wirral West gets reformed into Bebington and Heswall, almost assuring a Tory pickup. Also, former Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg’s seat of Sheffield Hallam (now Sheffield Hallam and Stocksbridge) is definitely in danger of a takeover by Labour.
The East Midlands aren’t actually that interesting. Labour and the Tories each lose a seat to elimination. The lines in Derby get rejiggered to flip Derby South and turn Derby North into a superpack.
The West Midlands have a bit more to see. The Tories lose two rural seats and Labour loses one in Stoke-on-Trent. Labour also loses two seats in the Black Country near Birmingham. There are a lot of interesting seat moves. The most interesting ones are the conversion of the Labour bastion of Coventry North West to a safely Tory seat as Coventry West and Meriden and the baconxtripping of southern Birmingham (which very much helps the Conservatives).
East Anglia only loses one seat, in Essex, and unfortunately it has to be a Tory one. The commission went after UKIP’s Douglas Carswell in Clacton, but he still has a fighting chance. This region is basically a Tory seat bank.
The Tories technically lose a set in the Home Counties, in Kent, but make up for it with a new solidly blue seat on the Isle of Wight for no net change in seats. This region, as with East Anglia, is almost all safe Tory seats with a few red bastions and a handful of competitive seats. It should also be noted that the commission targeted Caroline Lucas, the only Green MP. It’ll be interesting to see whether she’ll run in Brighton North or Brighton Central and Hove.
London is pretty interesting. Even though the economy there is thriving, Greater London still loses five seats. Labour bears the full brunt of those losses. Most of the important moves in London are the Tories playing defense. I think that’s smart given the demographic shifts in parts of the city. They target a few seats, too. Brentford and Isleworth becomes Brentford and Chiswick and almost surely flips. Enfield North absorbs a new ward that flips it to the Tories and becomes simply Enfield. A Labour seat (Harrow West) gets moved around and reconstituted as Kenton. Watch that one. If the Tories are winning it on Election Night, they’re having a pretty good showing.
The Tories have two seats eliminated in the West Country. Otherwise, not much happens, though the Plymouth seats do get shored up. There’s a trend in Southern England to move the city center from one seat to the other, then add rural territory in these two seat cities such as Norwich, Southampton, and Plymouth.
After reviewing all of this and looking at the notional 2015 results for the new seats, things look pretty good for the Conservative Party. Right off the bat, they have two-hundred and ninety Safe seats. If you add in their Likely and Lean seats, you get to three-hundred and twenty-one seats, which is a decent majority. Right now I’d guess conservatively that they’d take about three-hundred and forty seats. That’s not bad. If their poll numbers are actually as strong as they appear, I could easily see them passing three-hundred and sixty. After that, things get really tough because the Labour seats beyond a certain point are very safe. Also, I’d like to point out that despite being deeply in the minority, Labour loses about thirty of the fifty eliminated seats. I’m sure that poll numbers will shift and that Labour will be victorious once more in the future. For now, however, they have a very deep hole out of which to start digging themselves.