Gareth Knight is an independent political consultant specialising in party conference activity and is a Director of Conservatives for International Travel. He was a Conservative Party Agent for 5 years and has been part of Iain Dale's election night team as a resident psephologist since 2007.
ConservativeHome ran a campaign, the Conservative Party supported it, and the coalition agreement specifies it, so whatever happens between now and May 2015, another boundary review is on the way and, regardless of the result of a referendum on the ‘alternative vote’, the next General Election will be fought on new boundaries, with equalizing the size of the electorate the absolute priority for how those boundaries are drawn up.
Boundary reviews are extremely contentious and exciting for political anoraks. National political parties want to place their own safe wards into marginal constituencies and safe opposition wards into non-marginal constituencies, the objective being to maximize the number of marginal constituencies that err towards their own side. Local parties want to keep to a more logical local link – if they live in a plush village they like to be associated with the other villages, not with the urban area nearby. Members of Parliament like to use boundary reviews to rack up huge majorities, the MP’s equivalent of ‘look at the size of my car’, but if this isn’t an option, they’d prefer to maintain as much of the status quo as possible (less chance of an awkward re-selection process if 95% of a constituency is made up of your current seat!). Councils like constituency boundaries to neatly fit the council boundary, local newspapers like them to neatly fit the circulation area of the newspaper.
Throw all these together, and there’s little wonder that the Boundary Commission has to use a set of criteria which can end up creating seats that range in size from 28,000 electors (Na h-Eileanan an Iar) to 103,000 (Isle of Wight). They may wish that every seat had an equal-sized electorate of 69,000, but tell that to all the interested parties which spend days at commission hearings arguing that ‘in this circumstance, the local connections outweigh the arguments on the size of the electorate’ and quite literally call in witnesses to argue for or against a ward of 1,500 electors being in one constituency or the other.