Anger over Commons boundary changes

Radical proposals to re-draw the Westcountry political map will create an MP representing both Devon and Cornwall on the north coast where the two counties meet.

Boundary commissioners were last night criticised for overseeing a "dog's dinner" as they set out how the region will be affected by plans to slash the number of MPs from 650 to 600.

Confirming the two counties will lose one MP between them, officials have opted to create a so-called "Devonwall" seat that includes Bude in North Cornwall and Bideford in West Devon. The Boundary Commission for England, which is wielding the axe, has decided against crossing the border at the River Tamar to create a constituency that included Plymouth and Saltash.

It said the historic Tamar "presents a far more significant boundary between the two counties". The 'Devonwall' seat – provisionally called Bideford and Bude – was justified by arguing the A39 that connects the two counties "provides a strong communication link along the north coast".

But some MPs in the region were angered by the commission's provisional proposals. With no-one yet indicating they plan to step aside ahead of the next General Election, scheduled for 2015, at least one MP in the region would either have to stand down or run against another sitting Member.

This, in turn, could cause a

chain reaction across the region as party colleagues suddenly find themselves pitched into battles to contest merged seats and revised constituencies that previously comfortable majorities cannot be guaranteed.

Of the 18 MPs that represent Devon and Cornwall in Parliament, only four escaped with no changes to their patch. They are Ben Bradshaw (Lab, Exeter), Nick Harvey (Lib Dem, North Devon), Neil Parish (Con, Tiverton and Honiton) and Adrian Sanders (Lib Dem, Torbay).

By contrast, Gary Streeter, Conservative MP for South West Devon since 1992, will effectively see his seat disappear as the constituency is carved into three.

Mathematically, the former Tory minister is likely to stand in the newly created Tavistock and Plympton seat, an eclectic constituency likely to raise eyebrows as it sweeps up Okehampton on the northern edge of Dartmoor.

He said: "To me these proposals in my part of the world look like a dog's dinner. You have people living in Plympton put in the same constituency as people living in Okehampton whose two world's are very different and very distant. I will be asking the Boundary Commission to think again."

MPs across the region were last night combing through the new-look political landscape, which has echoes of the electoral map following the 2005 general election.

Who will be the new 'Devonwall' MP is one potential flashpoint. Under the proposals, the Bideford and Bude seat is a hybrid of North Cornwall, held by Lib Dem Dan Rogerson, and Torridge and West Devon, the constituency of Tory Geoffrey Cox.

Its creation has been hugely controversial. Scores took part in an anti-Devonwall demonstration on the Cornwall banks of the Tamar, and Prime Minister David Cameron was criticised for a flippant attitude towards the Cornish identity when he quipped on television: "It's the Tamar, not the Amazon, for Heaven's sake."

George Eustice, Conservative MP for Camborne and Redruth, said: "Everyone feels that the option being considered is easier than crossing the Tamar bridge – it might not be the Amazon, but it is a very important symbol of the border."

The overhaul has already prompted some MPs to make decisions on where they would prefer to run the next time the country goes to the polls.

In Cornwall, the newly created Falmouth and Camborne seat is made up of around 64 per cent of the existing Camborne and Redruth constituency, held by Mr Eustice, and 36 per cent Truro and Falmouth, the seat of fellow Conservative Sarah Newton.

Last night, Mrs Newton said she would stand in Truro and St Austell – which has inherited the majority of her existing seat – if selected by the local Conservative party.

It is likely to mean fighting it out with Lib Dem Stephen Gilbert, the incumbent MP for St Austell and Newquay.

She said: "Since it became clear we were reducing from 650 MPs to 600, the seat was always likely to face some of the biggest changes because it is slap bang in the middle of Cornwall."

The alterations will reduce the total of MPs in England from 533 to 502 in time for a 2015 general election.

It was brought in by the coalition Government in an attempt to iron out discrepancies in constituency electorates.

These must be within five per cent of the national average – roughly 75,000 voter strong – with the exception of three seats.

The speeded-up consultation and review process will involve examination by the Boundary Commission for England of written representations on its initial proposals and comments in public hearings.

 

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