On Tuesday 5th January, the Office for National Statistics published the latest official figures for the number of registered voters in each parliamentary constituency and ward.

Normally, this is of passing interest. But this year’s figures will be used by the Boundary Commission for the redrawing of constituencies.

The new figures for the electorate will mean constituencies will be allocated in each part of the UK as follows:

England – 543 (+10)

  • East Midlands – 47 (+1)
  • East of England – 61 (+3)
  • London – 75 (+2)
  • North East – 27 (-2)
  • North West – 73 (-2)
  • South East – 91 (+7)
  • South West – 58 (+3)
  • West Midlands – 57 (-2)
  • Yorkshire and Humber – 54 (unchanged)

Scotland – 57 (-2)

Wales – 32 (-8)

Northern Ireland – 18 (unchanged)

Why does this matter?

The redrawing of constituencies will, bluntly speaking, shift political power to areas where the population is growing fast, and away from those where it isn’t.

The geographic beneficiaries are those which have seen their electorate grow fastest since constituencies were last reviewed. That means the South East, South West, East of England and London, and especially the rural and suburban areas in London’s orbit. Parts of northern England will have reduced representation, and Wales will see 20% of its constituencies eliminated – an exaggerated impact as Wales has been purposely over-represented in the past.

Even areas which look like they will see little change on paper will actually see substantial changes which could shake up political affiliations. For example, Scotland will lose two seats, but within Scotland, there will be much wider changes as Glasgow and many of the surrounding areas are over-represented currently while much of eastern Scotland is under-represented.

The partisan political impact of these changes will be watched closely. Though the work of the Boundary Commission in drawing new boundaries is still to come, it’s likely the new boundaries will probably result in 5 or 6 net gains for the Conservatives. That might not sound huge, but it would have given Theresa May a small working majority in 2017.

However, Conservative hopes that updated boundaries would yield them 10 or more seats are likely to be misplaced. While it is likely the Conservatives will win all of the newly created constituencies outside London, which would gain them 14 seats, a significant number of currently Conservative constituencies are also likely to be abolished; and the creation of new Conservative seats in the commuter belt will have unpredictable knock-on effects on other seats, which might become more competitive as a result.

In Wales, for example, the average electorate in Conservative-held constituencies in Wales is just 57000 – well below the UK average of 73000. The extent of the changes needed in Wales means both major parties can expect to lose a handful of seats – though the precise split will be driven by decisions of the Boundary Commission.

It could also pose trouble for a number of the Conservatives representing the former Red Wall. In the English seats the Conservatives gained in 2019, the average number of voters is 70,652, compared to 73,546 in Labour-held seats and 76,138 in the other Conservative seats. All else being equal, the new Conservative intake are the most likely MPs in England to find their constituencies abolished or substantially altered.

Overall, CCHQ will be happier than Labour HQ when these changes are made, but up to a dozen Conservative MPs may need to relocate if they want to stay in Parliament. That could cause some internal dissent, but the change in the law to remove the need for parliamentary approval of new boundaries reduces their capacity to stand in the way of these changes.

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