The Torymander: An Overview

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).

Northern Ireland

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.

Northern England

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 Midlands

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).

Southern England

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.

My Conclusion

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.

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  • The Emperor February 11, 2017 at 1:22 pm

    UK redistricting in 2017, US Redistricting 2021! Let’s hope both end up the same way!

    male/21/R/TX-22, CA-52/originally CA-45, KS-03
    Rubio Republican

    • Son_of_the_South February 11, 2017 at 5:14 pm

      We, we don’t control redistricting on a national level, lol.

      24, R, TN-09
      Classical liberals are a minority. Fusionism is the answer.

    • Jon February 11, 2017 at 6:00 pm

      The new UK lines don’t take effect until 2018. Note that at the moment, the comment period has ended from these, and some time this spring the commissions will announce their revised proposals.

      45, M, MO-02

      • Son_of_the_South February 11, 2017 at 6:35 pm

        If past is prologue, there won’t be too many major changes.

        24, R, TN-09
        Classical liberals are a minority. Fusionism is the answer.

  • rdelbov February 11, 2017 at 8:45 pm

    great stuff

  • Red Oaks February 11, 2017 at 9:20 pm

    Interesting article on how Labour could be even worse off without Corbyn – all his likely successors as party leader would be even more anti-Brexit and further weaken Labour’s ability to win working class support.

    MI-03: Tired of Presidency; Focused more on downballot races; Chris Afendoulis for State Senate

    • Son_of_the_South February 11, 2017 at 10:12 pm

      Yeah. I’ve been of the same general opinion for a while. Corbyn isn’t a great leader, but he’s also facing an almost undoable task. I think that the Labour Party will probably rise again, but it has to unite the left first. In my opinion that means that Job One is getting rid of the SNP. Labour needs forty-ish seats out of Scotland (or arguably more) if it ever hopes to get close to a majority again. You could make the argument that Labour could govern in coalition with the SNP. However, there is a non-zero number of English swing voters for whom that prospect alone is enough for them to vote against Labour. Job Two is to get past the Brexit divide, which I think will start to fade a few years after Britain actually leaves. Corbyn will likely be gone by then, so I don’t think that he’ll ever have a good shot at winning an election. Once those two things are accomplished, Labour will still have to pull itself out of what is likely to be about a 100-seat hole (even after they’ve recovered in Scotland) to get a majority. It will likely happen eventually, but probably not before the 2030 election.

      24, R, TN-09
      Classical liberals are a minority. Fusionism is the answer.

      • Greyhound February 11, 2017 at 11:58 pm

        The Labor party’s problem is that their main reasons for existing were either enacted by Attlee or repealed by Thatcher. They got a strong boost with Blair’s New Labor, but even that was more a reaction to the chaos of the Tories in the mid 90’s (Which ironically, was heavily tied to the UK’s relationship with the EU), and have been losing it ever since.

        Just as a reminder, there are only 3 people who have ever won majorities for Labor (Atlee, Wilson, and Blair), and they took over from the Liberals as the Tory’s main opponents almost 100 years ago. It has been 43 years since anyone not named Tony Blair has won a majority for Labor.

        R, 27, CA-18. Anti-Anti-Trump

        • Son_of_the_South February 12, 2017 at 12:43 am

          Rightly said. However, I think it’s important to mention the role of FPTP in the right’s relative dominance of British politics. Because the right is rarely divided, it rarely loses in a world where the left is often divided. As long as the Tories can get ~40% of the vote, they likely have a majority, and often a substantial one. That might sound like a tall order, but it’s really not. The left has really only been divided since the early 80s. Between the war and Thatcher, the parties were pretty evenly matched. Beginning in the early 80s, the left was divided. This was even the case with Tony Blair. It just so happened that the right was so unpopular that it was reduced to the low 30s in support, leaving enough room for other left-wing parties that Labour could cross 40%. This is why I think it’s so important for Labour that the SNP be crushed. This is also why the Tories are doing their darnedest to bury UKIP. Right now they can coexist with them because the British right is probably an outright majority at the moment. The problem will come when that’s not the case, and the Tories need those extra votes. May has been doing a good job at coopting their main issue. We’ll see if they fade or not (I think they will), but we won’t know until after Brexit.

          24, R, TN-09
          Classical liberals are a minority. Fusionism is the answer.

        • shamlet February 12, 2017 at 12:38 pm

          I’d go so far as to say the center-left has a better chance securing a majority in the near-to-medium-term under the banner of the Lib Dems rather than Labor. The LDs are probably better-suited to put together a coalition that resembles the modern US Dems.

          R, MD-7. Put not your trust in princes. Process is more important than outcome.

          • Greyhound February 12, 2017 at 1:20 pm

            The thing is, to do that they have to crack the Tory’s dominance of the UK’s Rich Burbs. The UK equivalent of Westchester, NY still votes like 60% Tory, which makes up for the fact that the UK equivalent of West Virginia votes solid (but currently softening) Labor. I’m not sure places like South Yorkshire is going to prefer a US-Democrats-style Left party over May’s Tories.

            Admittedly, May seems to be pushing the UK’s political system in that direction.

            R, 27, CA-18. Anti-Anti-Trump

            • shamlet February 12, 2017 at 1:26 pm

              I agree – my point is that the LibDems are probably better positioned to win a majority by doing that than Labor is to win a majority on blue-collar and leftist votes.

              R, MD-7. Put not your trust in princes. Process is more important than outcome.

  • rdelbov February 12, 2017 at 8:23 am

    My standard disclaimer on the word “mander” as in Torymander or Gerrymander. The 600 seat boundaries are fairly compact. The map also follows patterns for seats that makes geographic and COI sense. Historically with Gerrymanders you see tortured lines where a long line of precincts or towns are attached to pack voters from either party into them. You don’t see that in this map. Yes the lines are smooth and regular but they follow town or ward lines that are not regular and circular or squarish.

    So yes the lines favor the Tories and yes you could easily re-arrange lines to help Labour but IMO they are a Gerrymandered. Clearly some seats are packed or changed to help a particular party but the historical abuse of uneven population per seat or jagged and twisted lines that split up towns and cities do not exist. A bare minimum of split towns and cities are done in this map. The CA and AZ commissions could learn a lot about equal population for seats as well as respecting the lines for cities and counties. A favorable map but no gerrymandering!

    • Red Oaks February 12, 2017 at 8:52 am

      Good point. I would be curious what would happen if the overall environment shifted so that Labour and the Tories each won an equal percentage of votes at the national level. Under the old lines and 650 seats, Labour usually would win an overall majority or very close to it. They obviously wouldn’t now but how far would they really be behind in a such a neutral environment?

      MI-03: Tired of Presidency; Focused more on downballot races; Chris Afendoulis for State Senate

      • Jon February 12, 2017 at 9:48 am

        That’s difficult to determine: As a share of the national vote Labour’s percent actually increased more than the Tories in 2015 compared to 2010.
        Only 8 of the seats the Tories picked up were from Labour while Labour flipped 12 Tory seats. The Conservatives reached majority by flipping 16 Lib Dem seats. (Labour flipped 23 Lib Dem seats)

        If you consider the SNP to be a replacement for Scotish Labour and simply combine their vote & seats with Labour then 2015 looked fairly neutral.

        45, M, MO-02

      • Greyhound February 12, 2017 at 10:47 am

        The LibDems and UKIP actually make that kind of difficult. But modeling a 39/39/7/7 election leaves the Tories up about 315/255 seats, with the Nationalists winning pretty much all the seats needed to get Labor up to parity with the Tories.

        But the thing is, the LibDems don’t hurt Labor as much as you would think, because they usually tactical vote with Labor to keep the Tories out. Its one of the reason why Labor’s distribution of votes is so efficient (they get basically nothing in the True-Blue Tory seats in the South, where the LibDems take most of the rump 2nd party votes). The closest thing we have to an actual “neutral” environment was 2005, where Labor won by only 35%-32%, and yet won a 355-198 seat majority.

        R, 27, CA-18. Anti-Anti-Trump

  • Scottish Socialist February 12, 2017 at 4:38 pm

    The actual seat analysis here is a very good job, so congratulations for that, and the conclusion is also right. A redrawing of the map based on updated electorate figures does benefit the tories, because labour seats in general are underpopulated and tory seats in general are overpopulated. As does fixing wales over representation. So the review will, all things being equal, benefit the tories. It’s also, and I say this with a heavy heart given my being a member of Scottish Labour, absolutely the right thing to do. Reducing the number of MPs is populist nonsense, especially as there won’t be a corresponding decrease in the number of ministers (who can’t rebel in votes in parliament), but that won’t overly affect the map.

    But, I feel I must say, as a Brit, you simply can not just transfer concepts from American politics to british politics, and vice versa. This is not a gerrymander. The boundary commission is completely independent of parliament and of the governing party. The tories did not control the process. The commission draw the maps based on preserving council areas, wards, communities of interests, transport links and so on, it does not take into account partisanship. The maps are not a Machiavellian plan by the tories to gain as many seats as possible, they have been redrawn as they always have, under both labour and tory governments.

    In fact, if it were to come out that the Conservative party were using their position in government to gerrymander the boundaries, it would be an enormous scandal. It would be seen as corruption and would be punished accordingly. Ministers responsible would have to resign and the government may even fall over it. There is just a very different political culture and it can’t really be compared.

    • GOPTarHeel February 12, 2017 at 4:54 pm

      Kind of agree with your second paragraph. Some of the decisions seem to benefit the Tories-like splitting Labour-heavy towns surrounded by Tory rural areas into two lean Con seats. But without evidence that the commission is stacked I can’t call it a gerrymander. The Scottish and NI maps kind of rule that out anyway.

      Side note: how badly is ScotLab going to do in local elections this year? And is Kezla going to survive the year?

      R/NC. Waiting for a non-ossified establishment or sane populists. Not optimistic.

      • Scottish Socialist February 12, 2017 at 5:19 pm

        Yeah, there are plenty of places (in fact many more, given the fact that labour seats are far more likely to be underpopulated) where the maps are better for the tories than the current one, but that’s just geography and demographics, not intent, because there are also places where the changes benefit labour or at least cushion the blow. (BTW if anyone is interested in reading about/discussing these changes at the UK equivalent of here/DKE for US redistricting, it’s this forum: )

        Regarding my own dear party, it’s difficult to say with confidence about the scale, because Single Transferable vote is such an unpredictable system and scotland is such an unpredictable country politically. But we’re going to lose a lot of seats, especially as 2012 was actually a good year for us. I imagine that the patterns will be similar to 2015 and 2016, losing seats and councils to the SNP in the industrial central belt, and losing more genteel seats to the tories. Though I expect us to do fairly well (only losing a few seats) in my own home (Labour’s only MP in Edinburgh and only gain in 2016) and across Edinburgh Council.

        Regarding Kezia, I think it’s pretty fair to say that after the elections she’ll be leader if she still wants to be. No one blames her for our predicament, there is no obvious alternative, she’s not super charismatic but she is pretty smart and pretty likable in a low key way, and everyone in scottish labour is tired of the revolving door over the last 10 years.

        • GOPTarHeel February 12, 2017 at 5:42 pm

          Well let it be known that I’m somewhat rooting for ScotLab despite agreeing with you on nearly no issues, because I find the SNP to be one of the most disengenuous parties in the Western world, willing to say or do anything to achieve and hold power. Although I obviously prefer the Scottish Tories, your party at least has solid answers to the actual questions that are within Holyrood’s competence and are not obsessed with constitutional questions like the SNP.

          R/NC. Waiting for a non-ossified establishment or sane populists. Not optimistic.

    • rdelbov February 12, 2017 at 5:21 pm

      Yup I agree it favors the Tories because their seats are over populated and Labour self packs into cities/larger towns.

    • Son_of_the_South February 12, 2017 at 6:24 pm

      I see what you’re getting at, man. I understand the different culture. However, some of the moves, such as the cracking of Grimsby, the rearrangement in Hull, the baconstripping of southern Birmingham, and the way Bebington and Heswall was drawn look very suspicious to me. With the possible exception of the way Ealing shook out, I can’t find any pro-Labour equivalents to those. Still, maybe you’re right. Either way, I’m pretty happy with the map since I’m pro-Tory, gerrymander or no gerrymander.

      24, R, TN-09
      Classical liberals are a minority. Fusionism is the answer.

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