I am an ordinary member of the public with an interest in local communities and representational democracy. I am not a member of any political party and tend in recent years to be very much a floating voter. I consider all the candidates and a range of issues but often tend towards a preference for independent candidates if suitable ones are standing in an election. The reasons for my proposals are not dependent on any party politics.
I gave a presentation (see NickyDavisPresentationToBCE.ppt attached) at the boundary hearing in Stafford on Monday 14th November, but also opt to provide this more detailed written submission. In providing this I note that as well as a submission for the attention of the Boundary Commission, as part of the ongoing consultation it will be read by other people, so I bear in mind other audiences in making this submission. I have made a minor change in my proposals since the boundary hearing, which I explain later.
I live in Trentham in Stoke-on-Trent and I am providing an alternative proposal for the Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent sub-region of the West Midlands region only.
General views on MPs and ward boundaries
As a grass roots democrat I actually disagree with the reduction in MPs being inflicted on us by the current government; I think democracy is better served by maximising involvement and devolution. However the act of parliament requires the reduction so I would rather express a view on how the constituencies are reorganised than not.
I also disagree with the reduction in Stoke-on-Trent, prior to this year’s elections, in the number of councillors, the scrapping of elections by thirds (local votes 3 years out of 4) and replacement with whole council elections (only 1 year out of 4) and the accompanying ward boundary changes from 3 member wards throughout to a haphazard mess of 1,2 and 3 member wards. This was inflicted on Stoke-on-Trent by the previous government. They imposed an unelected governance commission to dictate to the city, followed by an unelected transition board, the purpose of which seemed to me to be to reduce the democratic contribution of local people.
Despite the legitimate council vote not to move to whole council elections, the previous government used the dictatorial Local Government Act 2000 to force whole council elections on us. Then the Local Government Boundary Commission for England (LGBCE) was brought in to complete the ward boundary mess and slash the number of councillors from 60 to 44. Atrociously this also cut short by 1 year the legitimate 4 year mandate of 20 of our councillors, denying those councillors and the public who elected them decent democratic rights.
It was clear to me from the LGBCE consultation:
that almost everyone preferred a uniform system with the same number of councillors per ward across the city and that most ordinary people preferred this to be 2 member wards at least. This is not what the LGBCE decided.
I was one of the constituents who went to see my MP, Rob Flello, to ask him to pray against the LGBCE result in parliament, but he wouldn't, despite previously saying he thought Stoke-on-Trent needs 80 councillors. Politicians may pretend they want more public engagement, but reducing our voting rights contradicts this.
The reason this discussion of ward boundaries has some small relevance is that I don’t particularly mind the fact that the current constituency boundary review has regard to the 2010 ward boundaries rather than the 2011 ward boundaries. I have no affinity with the 2011 system or boundaries and I certainly don’t like the undemocratic way these were brought about in Stoke-on-Trent. In any case the rules require that the 2010 wards are used. It is a little inconsistent that the electorate numbers used are the 2011 election numbers, that didn’t apply in the 2010 election using the 2010 wards, but it does not make much difference and my proposals work with either the 2011 or 2010 electorate figures. In any case, again the rules require the 2011 numbers to be used.
Following a parliamentary decision, the number of MPs in the UK has to be reduced from 650 to 600 giving an average UK electoral quota of 76,641. In England a reduction from 533 to 502 constituencies is required, of which 2 must be for the Isle of Wight. 54 constituencies are needed for the West Midlands region as used for the European elections. This is divided into sub-regions including one for Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent to have 11 constituencies. With a total electorate of 841,133, this means an average of 76,467 each. The act of parliament requires the electorate in a constituency must not be more than 5% different from the UK quota. Each constituency must therefore have an electorate between 72,810 and 80,473.
I agree with the definition of the regions and sub-regions and approve of the use of the West Midlands region and Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent sub-regions with these boundaries not being crossed. The constituency numbers are appropriate given the demands of the act of parliament.
I agree with the principle of electoral equality although it can be appreciated that elected representatives do in practice have dealings with the entire population in their constituency or ward, not just the electorate. I think that the constraint for the electorate to be within 5% of the UK quota is quite tight and may prevent the most appropriate boundaries being defined in some cases, particularly in areas where large wards are in place and the aim is not to split these. We must nevertheless endeavour to do the best possible to respect community links. I personally think 10% would have been a better margin for variation but the act of parliament must be followed.
Ethos and methodology
My approach has been to put the greatest emphasis on local communities, geography, current and historical links and a strong emphasis on trying to match constituencies with local authorities. My reasoning is that I think this structure focuses on the issues that affect people’s lives locally and in an ideal world would feed ideas from the grass roots via the MPs to influence policy in parliament. Of course we don’t live in an ideal world but we can strive to do the best we can in that direction.
I don't regard matching the new constituencies with existing ones as that important. Indeed, with the reduction in MPs there is little point trying to retain existing constituencies as that is logically destined to fail. If a future review were only changing boundaries in order to balance electorate numbers, whilst retaining the same number of MPs, then I think regard to the previous constituency boundaries would have much more relevance and a minimal change to achieve electoral equality would be desirable. But given that in the current review the number of constituencies must be reduced, requiring significant changes, I put a much higher priority on the opportunity to match constituencies with local authorities as much as possible.
I can understand how the changes are disruptive to MPs if they think they are likely to be selected and elected again, but it was the MPs collectively who decided we should have this boundary review. Also whilst I can see MPs may wish to define constituencies that suit them personally, where that differs from the wishes of local communities ordinary people should take priority and knock on effects need also to be considered. From an ordinary person’s point of view, our existing MP may not decide to stand again in the area, may not be selected by their party, or may even not be elected again, so there is no guarantee of continuity anyway. Given these factors I think a focus on local links and local authorities is appropriate.
As a resident in the area I have the advantages of local knowledge and that I can focus on detailed links for this one small area. Other local people can provide similar input. In comparison the Boundary Commission for England (BCE) has to consider the whole of England and did not consult to discover local views on the boundaries prior to publishing initial proposals. The current consultation therefore is where interested local people such as myself can help the BCE arrive at more appropriate proposals based on local views.
I am strongly of the view that the BCE should choose local proposals such as mine in preference to their initial proposals, because local people should define such issues, according to my grass roots philosophy anyway. The BCE is useful for collating, publishing and facilitating compromise amongst local views and for making decisions in areas where there is little local interest.
I am not myself dismissive of other local views I have heard about, but at this stage of the consultation the focus is meant to be on comparing our individual proposals with the BCE initial proposals. When all our consultation contributions are published we will be able to access a comprehensive set of local views and at that stage will have the opportunity to comment on each other’s proposals.
Comparison of my current proposals with those I presented at Stafford
The only changes I have made since the Stafford hearing are to my proposed Newcastle-under-Lyme and West Staffordshire constituencies.
Although I am aware I have not yet heard a comprehensive set of views, those I heard during the short time at Stafford and have heard elsewhere led me to review my proposals. Three issues I particularly considered were; community links between Northern wards of Newcastle-under-Lyme and Stoke-on-Trent local authorities, the lack of strong links between Western Newcastle-under-Lyme wards and Northern Newcastle-under-Lyme and Stoke-on-Trent wards and the strength of links between Clayton and Seabridge wards with neighbouring Newcastle-under-Lyme wards.
I could not find any neat alternative way to divide the Stoke-on-Trent wards between constituencies than the one I had originally deduced. The main difficulty is that the wards are large so there are not many sensible ways to do this. I therefore decided not to propose combining Northern Newcastle-under-Lyme and Stoke-on-Trent wards because I consider a sensible arrangement of the 6 towns within two Stoke-on-Trent wards to be of greater importance.
The changes I have made do address the other two issues though, by placing Clayton and Seabridge in Newcastle-under-Lyme and Halmerend and Audley and Bignall End in West Staffordshire. I like this result better than my previous proposals because it concentrates the more urban wards largely in Newcastle-under-Lyme and the more rural wards largely in West Staffordshire.
Comparison of my proposals with the BCE initial proposals
There are substantial areas of agreement between my proposals for the Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent sub-region and the BCE initial proposals.
Please refer to the files attached for my proposals:
- NickyDavisFinalMap.pdf for the constituency map.
- NickyDavisMapKey.pdf adds notes to the map.
- BoundaryReview2013NickyDavis3.xls for details on the numbers.
The BCE initial proposals are of course at:
and further BCE numbers details are given at:
I am strongly in favour of the well defined Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent sub-region outer boundary, in agreement with the BCE.
With a view to community identity and links and the aim of matching constituencies with local authorities, of the 9 local authorities in the Staffordshire area, 3, Cannock Chase, Lichfield and Staffordshire Moorlands, have electorate in the correct range to neatly become constituencies.
Geography of the sub-region makes it impossible to have Lichfield local authority as a constituency because Tamworth would be too small. However it is possible to define Staffordshire Moorlands and Cannock Chase local authority areas as constituencies, so I am strongly in favour of these and have incorporated them in my proposals in agreement with the BCE.
I also agree with the BCE on the boundary for East Staffordshire, but I prefer the name East Staffordshire to the BCE suggestion of Burton, because I wish to match the constituency name with the local authority name for the wards it contains. This is consistent with the approach taken for other constituencies. My boundaries in the Northeast of the sub-region are therefore the same as the BCE proposals.
I agree with the BCE on the outer boundaries of:
- the 4 constituencies encompassing Stoke-on-Trent, Newcastle-under-Lyme and areas to the South of these (which I will refer to as Sub-region Northwest),
- the 2 constituencies Lichfield and Tamworth (which I will refer to as Sub-region Southeast),
- the 2 constituencies Stafford and South Staffordshire (which I will refer to as Sub-region Southwest).
The biggest difference between my proposals and the BCE ones turns out to be around my area of Trentham and Stoke-on-Trent. I live in the 2010 Trentham and Hanford ward in Stoke-on-Trent.
Stoke-on-Trent will not divide neatly into 2 or 3 constituencies. If combined with Newcastle-under-Lyme the total will not divide neatly into 3 or 4 constituencies, so the outcome for my area is destined to be a bit messy. This is compounded by the Stoke-on-Trent 2010 wards being large.
Stoke-on-Trent is historically a combination of 6 towns: Tunstall, Burslem, Hanley, Stoke, Fenton, Longton, each of which still retain a strong identity. Areas such as Trentham where I live have a village history and still retain some geographical separation.
Stoke-on-Trent City Council contains 2.4 UK quota of electorate so good local ties could be well represented by locating the 6 towns in 2 core Stoke-on-Trent constituencies and allocating some peripheral areas outside these. This is the basis for my Stoke-on-Trent North constituency, containing Tunstall and Burslem and my Stoke-on-Trent South constituency, containing Hanley, Stoke, Fenton and Longton. I prefer these to the BCE proposals which split Burslem at its centre and leave Burslem North and Tunstall outside the city constituencies. Stoke is also split. The BCE report states that it seeks to respect the Southern boundary of the city but I cannot see that this is more important than respecting the Northern boundary and the 6 towns.
Newcastle-under-Lyme Borough Council contains 1.3 UK quota of electorate so I have aimed to keep most of it in one constituency, joining 4 rural wards with neighbouring Stafford Borough wards and Southern peripheral wards of Stoke-on-Trent. I prefer this to the BCE proposals which split Newcastle-under-Lyme nearly equally in two and combine the wards around the town centre with Stone and Southern rural areas.
My proposal has 8 of the 2010 Stoke-on-Trent wards in each Stoke-on-Trent constituency leaving 4 more peripheral wards; Trentham and Hanford where I live, Blurton, Meir Park and Sandon and Weston and Meir North, to join with other villages such as Barlaston and the town of Stone, in Stafford Borough. Similarly my proposal has most Newcastle-under-Lyme wards in Newcastle-under-Lyme constituency leaving 4 rural wards; Audley and Bignall End, Halmerend, Madeley and Loggerheads and Whitmore, to join with the Stoke-on-Trent wards mentioned and Stafford Borough wards. This seems reasonable in terms of the geography and history of the areas involved. Trentham is currently split between local authorities with the smaller part in Stafford Borough. However my aim is not primarily to unite these, it is focused on the 6 towns of Stoke-on-Trent and central Newcastle-under-Lyme. The constituency I propose for my area includes wards from 3 different local authorities, but I think this is an acceptable compromise considering the character of the areas and the coherence of the proposals overall. In a purely self-centred sense I would not be unhappy, if the numbers were different, with remaining in a Stoke-on-Trent only constituency. But the UK quota laid down in law does not allow this for the whole city and I prefer a solution that relates well to local links throughout the wider area.
My proposals are almost identical to the BCE proposals in the Southeast of the sub-region. There are two wards where there is a difference: Whittington and Hammerwich. Whittington is a rural ward and in character is better placed with the rural wards around Tamworth than with Lichfield, this placement also gives the Tamworth constituency a better geographical shape. Hammerwich ward encompasses part of Burntwood, so it makes sense for this ward to be in the same constituency as the other Burntwood wards. In addition the A461 provides a very clear geographical separation between Hammerwich and wards to the Southeast.
My proposals are almost identical to the BCE proposals in the Southwest of the sub-region. There is only one ward where there is a difference: Wheaton Aston, Bishopswood and Lapley. I would place this ward in the same constituency as most of the other South Staffordshire District Council wards, which makes better sense to me. Additionally, the Northern boundary of the ward is better defined geographically than the Southern boundary which cuts through Kiddemore Green. My proposals have the advantage of placing the whole of Kiddemore Green in the same constituency.
My approach to naming constituencies is to match the names with the local authority name for the bulk of the wards in the constituency. Most of the names I have chosen are therefore self-explanatory. This is the reason why I prefer the name East Staffordshire over the BCE suggestion of Burton. I don’t have any strong objection to the name of Burton but I think my suggestion is more logical.
There are two Stoke-on-Trent constituencies and I have chosen to call them Stoke-on-Trent North and Stoke-on-Trent South. I far prefer this to the BCE suggestion of Stoke-on-Trent Central and Stoke-on-Trent South, as this appears illogical and anyone not knowing the area would wonder why there is no Stoke-on-Trent North.
I propose the name West Staffordshire for the constituency comprised of parts of Newcastle-under-Lyme Borough, Stafford Borough and Stoke-on-Trent City Councils. The three separate names have already been used for other constituencies and the name West Staffordshire pairs well with East Staffordshire. This West Staffordshire constituency has a fair amount in common with the previous Stone constituency. I don’t have any strong objection to the name of Stone but I think my suggestion is neater.
I present proposals which improve on the BCE initial proposals. I am sure there will be other proposals which disagree with mine, some of which may be better. Where I have made suggestions further from where I live, the views of those living in those areas must take priority. The important point is that the most local views should prevail but knock on effects must be considered and compromises arrived at. The key most important points for me, close to where I live, is that the 6 towns of Stoke-on-Trent should be neatly located within Stoke-on-Trent constituencies and the bulk of central Newcastle-under-Lyme should be located in one constituency. I also favour the Staffordshire Moorlands, Cannock Chase and East Staffordshire boundaries as suggested in the BCE initial proposals.