Some MPs currently represent as few as 40,492 voters, others as many as 91,987 (leaving aside the anomalies of the Western Isles – the smallest; and Isle of Wight – the largest.) That cannot be right, and the independent Boundary Commission is hard at work correcting it. Under the current legislation, by the time of the next election in 2020, all seats will be 74,769 plus or minus 5%. At the same time, under a law passed in the last Parliament (but skewered by the Lib Dems in the Lords), we are reducing the numbers of MPs from 650 to 600. The Commission which produced its first draft proposals last week, will be considering all kinds of representations through until early December; they will then produce final proposals around next summer, which will thereafter be open for any further minor amendment.
The proposals for North Wiltshire are that I would lose Calne, Calne Without, Box and Colerne, whilst regaining Chippenham and Corsham which pretty much returns my constituency to that which I won in 1997 and held until the last boundary change in 2010. Michelle Donelan meanwhile would move south to represent her existing towns of Melksham and Bradford on Avon while gaining Trowbridge. In many ways I would welcome that. Chippenham remains one of my favourite spots, and I would be glad once again to represent its people. But I would be very disappointed to lose Calne and its surrounding area where I have worked hard over the past 8 years and Box and Colerne with which I have a long association. What’s more, it is quite a dramatic change to the boundaries (and elsewhere in Wiltshire and Dorset too), which goes against the Commission’s aim of creating as little disturbance as allowable. My friends and colleagues throughout Wiltshire are also keen to retain seats with as little change as possible and Michelle would, I know, be sorry to lose Chippenham where she has worked so hard.
We are therefore tinkering with an alternative proposal, which would allow Michelle to keep the town, together with Trowbridge and Bradford on Avon and the villages in between, with only Corsham coming to North Wilts which still works well from the point of view of numbers of voters. My seat would be pretty much unaltered from now with the simple addition of Corsham town which I would be delighted to represent again. Once we have finalised our plans, we will be making representations to the Boundary Commission, as will others who take a keen interest in these things.
I very much support the equalisation of seats, although am perhaps less enthusiastic about the reduction to 600 which will result in some colleagues losing seats (especially at a time when we're increasing the size of the House of Lords.) But I also strongly feel that constituencies should be a good reflection of the communities themselves and the towns within them should sit easily together. I am not sure that Box and Colerne feel quite at home with the proposed new Trowbridge seat, nor that places as far north as Foxham fit very neatly with Devizes, which is what is proposed.
These are delicate matters, which we must get right, so I will keep you up to date as the Boundary Commission’s considerations progress. In the meantime, I would be glad to hear your views about the proposed boundary changes, and you can also submit your comments to the Boundary Commission at https://www.bce2018.org.uk/