Musical Chairs in Leeds

The Boundary Commission has published its initial proposals for new constituency boundaries in England to implement the reduction of seats in the House of Commons from 650 to 600: . I blogged last week about how unedifying it is to have politicians who appear to make decisions based on their personal career interests and tribalism rather than principally on the grounds of what is best for their constituents and the country: . But that is nothing compared to the “chicken run” of MPs in the affected seats (all but 77) as they play a massive game of musical chairs to find a new seat under the new boundary definitions.

It is understandable that in the heat of government Ministers might believe that there is little distinction between the interests of their government and that of the country. It is not even that surprising if they persuade themselves, albeit hubristically, that their personal progression and prospects are also in the national interest. It is rather less acceptable, with nearly 4 years to go to a General Election, for MPs to be positioning themselves for the seats and constituents they would like to be representing in 2015 rather than the ones they were voted in by less than 18 months ago. Reports from Parliament suggested that the queue of MPs to get their hands on the Boundary Commission proposals before the press embargo was lifted was longer even than those for getting into the Select Committee grillings of Rupert Murdoch and other News International executives. Every desk and table was apparently spread with maps like in a GCSE Geography exam as MPs pored over the fate of their seats and their careers.

From a “civilian” perspective, there’s going to be plenty of fun and games come election night 2015. Several high profile MPs from Ken Clarke, through Chris Huhne and Ed Balls are having their seats abolished or heavily changed. If you were one of the ones who stayed up for Michael Portillo losing his seat in 1997, the next election will be one to enjoy. Nadine Dorries’ seat is being split between a number of other seats, much to the joy of twitter.

In Leeds, which is of particular interest to me as it is where I live, there will be a great scramble for seats. Ed Balls, the Shadow Chancellor, who only just managed to win in Morley and Outwood in 2010 after his previous seat was abolished in the last reorganisation, finds his seat being split and donated to two other constituencies currently held by his Labour Party colleagues. Hilary Benn sees his Leeds Central Seat being split up. In fact, every seat in the city will look very different in 2015 if the proposals are accepted following consultation. Some have rubbed their hands at the prospect of finishing off Ed Balls, but I think it is most likely that one or maybe more Leeds Labour MPs will retire in 2015 to make space (eg George Mudie, who will be 70 and/or Fabian Hamilton).

As a resident of Leeds North West, the fate of our current MP, Liberal Democrat Greg Mulholland will be more fascinating and more representative of the effect of the proposed changes. The seat is being reorganised so that its wards will go to the new seats of Guiseley and Yeadon, Leeds North West and Nidderdale, and Leeds North. Mr Mulholland used to be a councillor in Headingley before being elected MP in 2005. Headingley and Hyde Park will form part of Leeds North. He also has a strong interest in pubs and beer (this is not a euphemism!) and appears from his twitter feed to spend a lot of time in Otley which will go into Guiseley and Yeadon. Which of the three seats will he pursue? It is a tough one to call, because, on the basis of votes cast in 2010, none would have returned him as MP despite the fact that he substantially increased his majority in the current Leeds North West constituency. He might breathe a sigh of relief that he won’t face the backlash over student fees if he lets Leeds North be fought by someone else – one of the three Lib Dem councillors in Headingley was soundly defeated earlier this year by Labour so it is likely to be a much safer seat for Labour than the 2010 General Election vote would suggest. Both of the other two constituencies are notionally Conservative seats (eg see the Guardian’s analysis at ) with the Lib Dems third, undoing the 14 years since Tony Blair’s landslide. He’ll also face a challenge from his fellow Lib Dem MP, David Ward who currently represents Bradford East if he decides to contest Guiseley and Yeadon, which will include the ward for which Mr Ward was a councillor prior to becoming an MP.

The question for local people here, and in a lot of other parts of the country, will be, will I have an MP for the next few years or someone who is rather keener on developing his reputation elsewhere? Reducing the number of MPs is a good idea, but, unless there is an uncharacteristic outbreak of altruism by the current crop of MPs, it might leave something of a democratic deficit for many people. As the reduction was accepted by the Lib Dems in exchange for the ill-fated AV referendum, the double blow of losing disproportionately more seats than the other two main parties might just be too much for local activists to bear. Particularly where, as in Leeds North West, this activist base had built a strong representation in the City Council and a growing majority for its MP only for it to be seen to be blown away by decisions made from the centre.


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