A new constituency for Kent
The Boundary Commission has proposed boundary changes for Kent that involve creating a new constituency of Weald Central. There are currently thirteen Parliamentary constituencies in Kent and four in Medway. The new proposal would mean electors in Kent will be divided between eighteen constituencies in all. You can check how this might affect your voting location. The Commission welcomes public comment on the change now, with a deadline of 2 August.
Contrary to assertions flying around social media, these proposals cannot be gerrymandered just to suit the government of the day. The Boundary Commission is officially independent though resourced from the Cabinet Office. The titular Chair of the commission is the current Speaker of the House of Commons, but the effective chair is a senior judge. Their decision-making is guided by five principles:
- physical geography
- local government boundaries
- existing constituency boundaries
- local ties
- inconvenience of any proposed changes
After this first phase of public consultation, there will be a second consultation phase lasting six weeks, including all the feedback from Stage 1. Stage 3 is expected in 2022, with the final report in July 2023 when the agreed changes will be settled into law.
How the commission arrives at its conclusions
The proposals take account of the most recent March 2020 statistics of registered electors received from the borough election offices. These tables are included in the public document. The overall number of parliamentary seats allocated to England does not change (543), but population increases in various areas make it necessary to change boundaries. The aim is to have between 69 724 and 77 062 registered electors in each constituency.
There are tables of the electors for each ward across the last ten years, which make interesting reading for those who might be tracking population increase in various parts of the county. In total, the demarcated area contains 1 325 000 electors, 1 127 470 in the KCC area and 197 530 in the Unitary Authority of Medway.
Note, this is less than the total population, as it does not include migrants, non-nationals, under-voting-age, or the apathetic who don’t want to register as voters.
Discerning one’s proper boundaries
For those active in political parties, trying to communicate with voters, the mismatch between constituency boundaries, county seat boundaries and borough wards is discombobulating.
Although wards close to the main town of a constituency remain the same for each of those three levels of election, wards on the outer edge may have voters that have to vote in a different constituency, while they remain in the borough. They write to a different MP from other voters in the borough, but the planning decisions that affect them are made by their ward councillors in the borough, while they are bunched with different neighbouring wards for county seats.
I think this is an argument for having a Boundary Review process that considers all boundaries at the same time. But the current process proposes constituency boundary changes first, then there is a different process for local boundary changes.
With so much house-building in Kent, some wards swell with a larger number of voters, so reallocation of ward boundaries then becomes necessary. However, the current boundary review is based on current ward boundaries, and their current tally of electors.
Let’s look at what is proposed for this new constituency of Weald Central. It includes several of the wards from the east of Tunbridge Wells, and more from the west of Ashford. Ashford also loses some north western wards to Maidstone, but gains two large rural wards in the North Downs area. The largest town in the proposed new constituency is Tenterden (pop. 8,000) larger than Cranbrook (pop. 7,000).
A personal reaction
Personally, from childhood affection for this part of the Weald, I think the proposed new constituency makes sense. Over the last seventy-five years, the voters in this beautiful rural part of Kent (protected by its status as an area of outstanding natural beauty (AONB) under CRoW Act of 2000), have been directed to vote, successively, in the Ashford constituency, in the Maidstone constituency and currently in Tunbridge Wells.
Now at last, they may have a constituency of their own. Maybe even plan for a new borough administrative centre, based in Tenterden?
Further proposed changes
There are other changes proposed for East Kent, with Thanet North and South becoming more like Thanet East and West. And changes to Swale. But writers more familiar with the geography of East Kent must chip in with comments.