Saturday, 18 September 2010

What's in a name? - electoral boundaries a farce

Plans by the Con-Dem coalition to reduce the number of parliamentary constituencies in Wales from 40 to 30 have prompted the Electoral Reform Society to look at re-drawing the boundaries.
Personally the sooner Wales has zero MPs in Westminster from Wales, but until then we need strong representation for our communities. North-east Wales suffers disproportionately as it will be left with just four MPs instead of the current six.
The dangers of such a dramatic reduction - far greater proportionally than that facing England - is that Welsh geography is ignored by those drawing up the maps. Look at this effort by the Electoral Reform Society, which commissioned some CACI research to map the new constituencies.
Take the new Wrexham and Brymbo/Gwersyllt seat - this all but unites the Clwyd South and Wrecsam constituencies but, bizarrely given the name, does not include Brymbo! Instead it manages to put Brymbo in a new "Shotton, Hawarden and Buckley" constituency that also includes Flint, despite it being a natural part of any Wrecsam constituency.
Another curious one is "Halesworth and Blaenau Ffestiniog" (altogether now - where the hell is Halesworth?) which reaches from Betws y Coed to Caersws and to the English border at Guildsfield.
"Prestatyn and Flint" will also include Corwen, Llanrhaeadr ym Mochnant and Dyffryn Ceiriog!
"Llandudno and Deganwy/Llandudno Junction" is lumped with the Llyn pensinsula while Caernarfon and Bangor unite with Ynys Mon. It's an absolute hotchpotch.
Leighton Andrews has highlighted the failure to understand the topography of Wales in the Rhondda and there are doubtless other delights awaiting us.

UPDATE: National Left has also pointed out the consequences of this exercise in his area.


Alwyn ap Huw said...

According to Wikepedia Halesworth is a small market town in the northeastern corner of Suffolk, England. – Halesworth and Blaenau Ffestiniog will be an interesting constituency to watch.

James D said...

Halesworth is apparently in Suffolk, near Lowestoft. No, seriously: that's the only Halesworth in the OS Gazetteer, and there are no wards or communities in Wales of that name.

I do believe what has happened is that they left their auto-complete on, started typing "Harlech" and then accepted the suggestion too early. Even so, Harlech and Blaenau Ffestiniog would be a pretty dreadful name for a constituency.

I also think that the constituency names are automatically generated by picking the names of the two wards with highest populations within the boundaries.

glynbeddau said...

Thanks to Leighton Andrews pointing to this mess. I looked up my own area and it's ridiculous. I've commented on this on my National Left blog (this is not a plug). Where I came to the conclusion this is a ploy by the ERS to show that the Libcon plans for 880000 member seats is impractable.

Plaid Whitegate said...

@glynbeddau - have updated to refer to your post, thanks.

@jamesd - you may have a point with the auto-complete. Doesn't inspire much confidence! The curious naming also revealed a lack of local knowledge and, even if you're right, doesn't explain Brymbo.

@alwyn - maybe twinning Welsh constituencies with English ones is the Tory tactic for winning the next election...

James D said...

Apologies for the long comment. I have had to split it to get through the character limit.


Looking more closely at their spreadsheet than I was able to last night, there are a few more things indicative of bad work:

1) They seem to have unilaterally decided that Aberconwy is a Gwynedd seat (it's legally a Clwyd one) and that Caerffili is a Mid Glamorgan one (it's legally a Gwent one). Seeing as constituency boundaries are partially based on Preserved County boundaries, you would have thought they would have at least ensured that those were right.

2) In a related error, they have the Llanrhaeadr-ym-Mochnant electoral division of Powys marked as being in Clwyd, despite it having been transferred to the Montgomeryshire constituency at the last boundary changes (as a result of the community itself having already been transferred).

3) Pontaman in Carmarthenshire and Sandfields East in Port Talbot seem to have suffered damnatio memoriae.

4) Their constituencies aren't very evenly sized at all. Ignoring island areas, here are the three largest and smallest:

Bournville & Brandwood West Midlands England 100,672
Aberdeen & Kingswells Grampian Scotland 99,764
Garston Merseyside England 99,302

Alloa & Dunblane Central Scotland 74,387
Paisley & Barrhead Strathclyde Scotland 71,063
Helensburgh & Dunoon Strathclyde Scotland 56,024

Is this all some great Glaswegian gerrymander, one wonders?

James D said...


5) I think I'm getting closer to working out what set of data those bizarre names are from. These strange names look like they have used Urban Areas and Urban Subdivisions. Urban Areas do what they say on the tin: they're about contiguous built-up areas, although this means they can be a bit spindly, as larger places tend to grab smaller ones by getting within about an eighth of a mile of them on single roads. Urban Subdivisions, however, are an ugly cludge: they take the Urban Areas they have defined statistically, then split them up using (for the most part) pre-1974 district council boundaries (but annoyingly not always the same names!). To the extent to which the pre-1974 boundaries corresponded to local loyalties (and, to be fair, they are generally a lot better in England than they are in Wales), Urban Subdivisions look like a list of towns. So you can see how it would happen that some bright spark might think "X-town and Y-town" sounds like a constituency name. And, reasonably enough, it looks like they have a rule that all of Y-town needn't be included in the constituency to include it in the name. So here's what's caused the Brymbo issue:

a) The Wrecsam Urban Area is one of those ones that has attached a load of places by narrow corridors.
b) National Statistics have slapped down their horrible, lazy pre-1974 boundaries and called the bit protruding north-west into the former Wrecsam Rural District "Brymbo/Gwersyllt".
c) Some idiot who doesn't understand the limitations of the dataset he is working with mindlessly accepts "Brymbo/Gwersyllt" as the name of a single town.
ch) Said idiot includes some north-western parts of Wrecsam that had been in Wrecsam Rural District pre-1974 in his Wrecsam constituency and thinks he has included a substantial portion of his town of "Brymbo/Gwersyllt".
d) At no point does anyone query the fitness for purpose of the data after it comes out full of obliques. In fact they probably ban themselves from carrying out a human sanity check, as that would spoil the objectiveness of their data.
dd) Nevertheless, they clearly have mixed data-sets as this nomenclature falls apart in Urban Subdivisions that are over twice the size of a constituency (look at Cardiff, or Birmingham, or Liverpool). So their intellectual purity of idiocy is compromised anyway.
e) Everyone laughs at them, and they don't understand why. And that's the saddest bit: they probably honestly think that this effort is good.

glynbeddau said...

Thanls for including the Link. Can I make a plea for any other Welsh Blogger to look up thier own area and let us know how daft this is.