Your MP might change at the next general election – and it won’t be down to your votes. A new map of parliamentary boundaries has been published this week after two years of consultations. Even though they don’t directly affect locals councils, these changes will have a big impact on the way the area is governed. If they happen, that is.
Here’s a quick guide to what’s happening, and why, and why it might not happen anyway. Or you can skip all this and look at bce2018.org.uk for more.
Why is this happening?
Way back in 2011, when the world seemed a calmer place, Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron wanted to cut the number of MPs from 650 to 600. “The House of Commons ought to be smaller, less expensive and we ought to have seats which are exactly the same size,” he declared. But in 2013, MPs voted against the changes, and that was that. This is the second attempt to get changes through.
So despite London’s ballooning population, we’re seeing a cut in the number of MPs. In particular, south London loses two. So something has to give. And most of the current constituencies in the 853 area are being ripped up.
There’s a big divide in Greenwich
The Prime Meridian won’t be the only important line in SE10 if these changes go through – Greenwich is being split into two new constituencies. West and central Greenwich (Greenwich West ward) go to Greenwich and Deptford; east Greenwich goes to a new Woolwich seat.
The Cutty Sark ship will be split from the Cutty Sark pub, the Greenwich Union split from the Meantime brewery.
Let’s take a tour of Greenwich & Deptford
For the first time, if this goes through, a Greenwich MP won’t be representing The Valley – but they will be representing The Den. Greenwich & Deptford stretches right from Millwall’s ground to the Royal Naval College and Greenwich Park, goes down through New Cross and Deptford to take in the northern and western bit of Brockley, unites Blackheath Standard with Blackheath Village, includes a small slice of Lewisham town centre, and takes in most of Lee and a bit of Hither Green.
This will be dominated by Lewisham borough politics – and is likely to become the fiefdom of current Lewisham Deptford MP Vicky Foxcroft, who will need to do some brushing up on Greenwich’s way of doing things. Jeremy Corbyn-backing pressure group Momentum has a strong presence in Lewisham Deptford, so expect some turbulence if these changes go through.
Are you with the Woolwich?
Most of the rest of the current Greenwich and Woolwich seat, represented by Matt Pennycook, shunts over to the east to become Woolwich. This seat will represent most of the north of Greenwich borough – from the Trafalgar Tavern right across to the Thamesmead boundary.
Early plans, backed by Greenwich Council, saw this constituency sprawl out even further to take in the Bexley side of Abbey Wood and the northern part of Bexleyheath, while excluding Woolwich Common, which would have been sent off to Eltham.
This drew a ferocious campaign from Bexley residents, who took great exception at being associated with a historic town with a proud royal and industrial heritage, although it’s a fair bet many did not expect their comments to be published online after.
One angry resident, whose address was given as Woolwich Road, wrote: “I pay Bexley council tax, use Bexley facilities and my child attended Bexley schools. I have absolutely nothing to do with Woolwich nor do I have any desire to.
“I do not under any circumstances want to be represented by a Woolwich MP who will certainly not have my interests at heart either by way of religion or activities of any shape or form. Indeed, why would they?”
Another wrote: “I left there 30 years ago. Moved to Bexley because it was [a] better run council that did not waste money on idiotic schemes. Had better schools. My property will go down in value. My council tax will go up. NO WAY.”
One man wrote wistfully about being able to see the Wrotham transmitter in Kent “on a fine day with a naked eye”.
The commission decided to duck the confrontation and included Woolwich Common in the ward instead. Probably rather sensible all round.
Eltham and… where?
In all this kerfuffle, the Eltham constituency stays largely the same. It still, to the bafflement of all concerned, takes in bits of Charlton and Plumstead, stretching down to the northern tip of Chislehurst. But now it expands eastwards to take in the western side of Tory-voting Welling, putting a blue bomb under what had become a fairly safe Labour seat. And it has a new name to reflect this – Eltham and East Wickham.
Greenwich Council lobbied against this in its official response, lobbying for the Eltham seat to swallow (Labour) Woolwich Common instead: “[Eltham] is a very distinct town with a strong sense of identity that has little affinity with the communities across the border in Bexley Borough, be that Blackfen, Falconwood, Welling, Sidcup or Bexleyheath. Eltham’s external connections tend northwards into Woolwich and Plumstead with the ancient Oxleas Wood and adjacent Eltham Common bringing communities together rather than separating them.”
This is bad news for combative local MP Clive Efford, and good news for anyone who fancies becoming the first Tory MP for Eltham in a generation. It’s likely to lead to even more political attention being piled onto the south of the borough – not great news for those who feel neglected and ignored in the north.
The big loser isn’t Greenwich being split up, it’s Thamesmead suffering the same fate. It’s been split between Greenwich and Bexley boroughs since the first blocks were built in the late 1960s, but since 1997, it has at least had the same MP. For the past eight years, that’s been Teresa Pearce, well-liked for sticking up for her residents’ interests in both boroughs.
But now the curtain is falling again, and the Bexley side of Thamesmead will be parcelled off into a tight-looking Erith & Crayford seat – pitching Pearce against veteran Tory Sir David Evenett. That’s if they fancy the fight. Good news for people who like close-fought elections, bad news for people in Thamesmead.
These constituencies are more about numbers than communities
Cameron wanted to cut the number of MPs by 50. So the Boundary Commission had to create 600 constituencies of between 71,031 and 78,507 voters, using local borough wards as their building blocks. This is why Blackheath’s Cator Estate is in Eltham (Middle Park & Sutcliffe ward), and why Lewisham police station is in Greenwich & Deptford (because it’s in that borough’s Blackheath ward).
Sometimes, they get something fairly sensible – the proposed Lewisham & Catford seat does pretty much what it says on the tin. Sometimes, they get something completely mad – Dulwich and Sydenham yawns out from Herne Hill to Beckenham Place Park. Although it’s similar to a plan suggested by Lewisham Council, try travelling by bus between these points within an hour.
Remember – boundaries have to go somewhere. The meeting point of Greenwich borough’s three current constituencies is the former toilets at the Slade in Plumstead; for Lewisham, it’s the end seat by the window in the front bar of Catford’s Blythe Hill Tavern. These would switch to the bridge over the A102 at Old Dover Road, Blackheath; and (practically-speaking) a British Legion hall in Eddystone Road, Brockley.
These are already based on out-of-date figures
It’s also worth bearing in mind these are based on voter rolls from February 2016 – so don’t take into account the large number of people who registered to vote in the EU referendum (something which vexed Lewisham Council). But more significantly, they also miss anyone that’s moved into the new developments that have opened their doors since then, such as Lewisham Gateway, chunks of Kidbrooke Village or the newer parts of the Greenwich Peninsula.
It might not happen anyway
The prime minister has refused to commit to holding a vote on these changes by Christmas – an apt deadline if you like turkey metaphors, as 50 MPs would effectively be voting on their own doom. Labour fiercely opposes the changes, and many Tories aren’t happy. So for all this expense and hassle, it might not happen anyway. As you were, then.
There’s another set of changes coming soon – and they definitely will happen
In June 2019, both Greenwich and Lewisham councils will undergo their own reviews into how many councillors they have and what wards they will cover. This could result in some big changes in areas with new developments that simply didn’t exist the last time this was looked at, two decades ago. More on that when it happens.
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