Boundary Commission proposals could lead to five fewer London constituencies, leaving some famous faces fighting for a parliamentary future
FOUR KEY BATTLES
Zac Goldsmith (Con) v Vince Cable (Lib Dem) for Richmond & Twickenham
Chuka Umunna (Lab) v Kate Hoey (Lab) for Brixton
David Evanette (Con) v James Brokenshire (Con) for Bexleyheath and Sidcup
Malcolm Rifkind (Con) v Mark Field (Con) for Westminster & Kensington
MPs and their staff queued around the block last month to pick up copies of the Boundary Commission’s proposals for redrawing the UK’s parliamentary constituencies. In recent weeks, they have not stopped studying the plans.
Boundary changes have been “the major topic of conversation among MPs” at the party conferences according to Peter Bingle, chairman of lobbying firm Bell Pottinger Public Affairs.
London MPs are acutely affected by the plans to reduce the current 650 Commons seats to 600. The capital is set to lose five seats – down from 73 to 68. Only four of the existing constituencies are to remain unchanged and some of London’s big political beasts could end up as high-profile casualties at the next election.
Round one: clear winners
In the capital, the four clear winners with unchanged seats are Labour’s Rushanara Ali in Bethnal Green & Bow and Jim Fitzpatrick in Poplar & Limehouse, along with the Tory MPs Theresa Villiers in Chipping Barnet and Matthew Offord in Hendon.
Elsewhere, several well known London MPs will see some tampering with their constituencies, but should emerge unscathed at the polls. Tory Bob Neil, a minister in Eric Pickles’ Department for Communities and Local Government, is largely unaffected in Bromley & Chiselhurst. Liberal Democrat deputy leader Simon Hughes sees his Bermondsey & Old Southwark seat disappear, but the bulk falls in to the winnable redrawn constituency of Bermondsey & Waterloo.
Key Labour politicians to have been let off the hook include the party’s deputy leader Harriet Harman, whose Camberwell and Peckham seat will remain largely intact. David Lammy, once touted as a Labour mayoral candidate to beat Boris Johnson, will also witness minimal disruption to his Tottenham seat. Rising star Stella Creasy, in the neighbouring constituency of Walhamstow, is similarly unaffected.
FOUR CLEAR WINNERS
Theresa Villiers, Conservative MP for Chipping Barnet.
Matthew Offord, Conservative MP for Hendon
Rushanara Ali, Labour MP for Bethnal Green & Bow
Jim Fitzpatrick, Labour MP for Poplar & Limehouse
Round two: tipped to lose?
But not all London MPs have been so fortunate. Anthony Wells, associate director at polling firm YouGov, notes that the capital has been subjected to “some of the most extreme changes anywhere”, with such changes producing notable losers as well as winners.
Work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith is one such loser in Chingford & Woodford Green. His current seat is to disappear and the former Tory leader faces a dilemma over where to go next. The new constituency of Chingford Edmonton, which swallows much of his current seat, is the obvious option – but this will be a marginal constituency that could fall to Labour in the next election. Another chunk of Duncan Smith’s seat falls in to the neighbouring new constituency of Wanstead & Woodford, which will also be a Tory/Labour marginal.
Former culture secretary Tessa Jowell faces a bigger quandary. The leading Blairite sees her seat of Dulwich & West Norwood seat chopped up in to pieces and scattered around south London. With no obvious successor seat, Labour insiders are clueless as to where she will go. Some expect she will she stand aside in the hope of a peerage and seat in the House of Lords. As Wells notes: “There’s no seat that she can really say belongs to her.”
FOUR BIG LOSERS
Iain Duncan Smith, Conservative MP for Chingford & Woodford Green
Tessa Jowell, Labour MP for Dulwich & West Norwood
Vince Cable, Liberal Democrat MP for Twickenham
Tom Brake, Liberal Democrat MP for Carshalton and Wallington
Round three: the rumble in Richmond, Cable v Goldsmith
The biggest casualty on the Liberal Democrat benches is widely believed to be business secretary Vince Cable in Twickenham. Part of his current seat goes in to a new constituency named Richmond & Twickenham, where he would come up against Tory Zac Goldsmith, who also sees his Richmond Park seat disappear.
Should the business secretary step in the ring, it would be some fight between Saint Vince and the Tory pin-up. According to projections by the Guardian’s datastore, the new constituency will have 27,947 Liberal Democrat voters and 26,174 Tory voters (Labour trails in third with just 3,559 voters).
But Cable could head elsewhere, with part of his seat falling in to the new constituency of Teddington & Hamworth, which will also have a notional Lib Dem majority. “It’s not going to be the incredibly safe seat that Twickenham was, but it’s still a good seat for him to go and stand in,” says Wells.
In worse shape than the business secretary is his lesser known Liberal Democrat counterpart Tom Brake, MP for the south London constituency of Carshalton and Wallington. “Brake’s in a mess,’ says Wells. ‘His seat gets chopped up and some big bits of Croydon thrown in. That makes it notionally Conservative.”
Who gets to stand where is the million dollar question. It is expected that the parties will put in place a system to ensure that if an MP can claim a certain percentage of a new seat – probably about 80 per cent – they will be automatically selected.
None of the three parties were able to confirm that such a system was being officially implemented, but a Conservative Party source said there was an understanding among MPs: “There’s a certain point that if the seat’s unchanged, you get to stay.”
Round four: fighting for survivial
For the many newly-drawn constituencies with no obvious owner, it will not be so straightforward. “If your seat has major changes, then there’s a chance of someone else making a claim for it,” said the Tory source. In the first instance, the parties are encouraging their MPs to come to agreements among themselves. But Cameron, Miliband and Clegg are all braced for some fighting within the ranks.
In London, one big Labour battle being talked about pits two of Ed Miliband’s close allies against each other. According to reports, shadow justice secretary and Tooting MP Sadiq Khan faces a fight with rising star and Streatham MP Chuka Umunna for the new constituency of Streatham & Tooting.
However, despite the speculation, well placed Labour sources say Khan is safe. Umunna – tipped by some as a future party leader – will step aside to fight for the newly-configured nearby constituency of Brixton. Here, he is likely to face opposition from fellow Labour MP Kate Hoey, who sees much of her Vauxhall seat shunted in to the constituency. The battle of Brixton could even feature a third heavyweight Labour MP, with party insiders tipping Tessa Jowell as another potential contender for the new seat.
On the Conservative side, the MPs David Evanett and James Brokenshire look set to do battle in outer London. Both men see their current seats carved up and both are believed to have designs on the newly configured safe Tory constituency of Bexleyheath
Another Tory battle pits former foreign secretary Malcolm Rifkind, MP for Kensington, against Mark Field, MP for City of London and Westminster. The two Tories will see their current seats disappear and look set to scrap it out for the redrawn constituency of Westminster & Kensington. Or will David Cameron intervene to hand Rifkind a peerage? “I wouldn’t bet against it,” says one Tory source.
The Boundary Commission will now invite responses from the public before MPs vote on the measures in 2013. In the meantime, observers of London politics are watching closely.
“I think we’ll see a lot more jockeying for position among current MPs, with many of them coming out and saying where they would prefer to move to,” says Chris Madel, director at the PR and lobbying firm London Communications Agency.
“At this stage it’s unclear who will make the decision about which MP goes in which seat. What we do know is that there is a reduction in seats in London, meaning some MPs will undoubtedly lose out.”
FOUR KEY PLAYERS LET OFF THE HOOK
Bob Neil, Conservative MP for Bromley & Chiselhurst
Harriet Harman, Labour MP for Camberwell and Peckham
David Lammy, Labour MP for Tottenham
Simon Hughes, Liberal Democrat MP for Bermondsey & Old Southwark