UK constituency boundary changes: A raw deal for Wales?

by Tomos Evans

Last Tuesday, the government announced revised proposals for changes to UK Parliament constituency boundaries, reducing the total number of MPs in the House of Commons from 650 to 600. Critics of the proposals say that many people’s votes will be depreciated with the creation of larger constituencies. However, the government insists that the boundary changes will reduce the financial burden which politics inflicts on the taxpayer.

The original plans for the constituency boundary changes were published last year based on the electoral register from December 2015. The proposed changes would see a reduction in the number of MPs in England from 533 to 501, Scotland from 59 to 53, Northern Ireland from 18 to 17 and Wales would see over a quarter of their MPs scrapped with a reduction from 40 to 29. Many fear that the voices of the people of Wales will not be as audible in Westminster as a result of the proposed alterations.

However, it’s far from a done deal with many political analysts having cast doubt over whether the government will be successful in passing such a measure, claiming that they simply do not have the parliamentary arithmetic. The government faced opposition from the DUP over the last boundary review when it was put to the Commons in 2013. Crucially, however, the political landscape has drastically altered in this period with the government now relying on votes from the DUP to back them on key measures as part of their confidence-and-supply arrangement.

The DUP aren’t the only ones who may oppose the government on these boundary changes. Indeed, even some of the government’s own backbench MPs are unlikely to support it. One Welsh Conservative MP, Glyn Davies, told the BBC he believed the government is “crackers” over the proposals and warned that they would “damage democracy” in rural areas. Under the proposals, Mr Davies’s constituency of Montgomeryshire would disappear. Other proposed changes in Wales include the incorporation of Port Talbot in the new constituency of Ogmore and Aberavon as well as the inclusion of Caernarfon in a new Gwynedd constituency.

Plaid Cymru’s Westminster leader, Liz Saville Roberts, said that, whilst her party did not oppose reducing the number of MPs in principle, the dramatic reduction of MPs in Wales would “weaken Wales’s voice in Westminster”. However, the government claims that the proposed changes could save £12 million a year, adding that they would make elections fairer. Whether Wales would see such benefits, for the moment at least, remains to be seen.

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