‘Electoral hokey cokey’ fear for constituencies facing shake-up

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A PROPOSED new political map of Yorkshire is “completely incoherent and impossible to justify” in parts, a coalition MP has warned.

A string of politicians lodged official objections to the proposals yesterday as they urged officials to re-think their plans which would see all but five parliamentary seats in the region changed at the next election.

One shadow cabinet minister warned voters will face a “hokey cokey” every five years as constituencies are shaken up before every election from now on, while a fierce lobbying campaign has been launched to stop the town of Batley being split between two seats.

The changes are being introduced because the Government wants to reduce the number of MPs from 650 to 60 – meaning Yorkshire and the Humber must lose four seats.

But Leeds North West MP Greg Mulholland said the first attempt to draw up new constituency boundaries had sparked “horror” in some communities by breaking traditional ties and joining areas which have no connection. Three seats would span the border between North and West Yorkshire.

He singled out the creation of a new Leeds North West and Nidderdale seat, which would run from north Leeds to Pateley Bridge in North Yorkshire, for particular concern.

“Unfortunately there’s an incoherence in the current proposals in the north of Leeds,” said the Liberal Democrat. “I have to say in the end there’s always going to be the danger somewhere will have a completely incoherent and impossible to justify seat.

“The one that has appeared in the region and stands out above all others is the extraordinary Leeds North West and Nidderdale.

“To link such a large area of North Yorkshire through a very long spine down to communities in North East Leeds which is a very different characteristic and linking four parliamentary constituencies simply doesn’t make sense and is not wanted by any of those areas.”

Mr Mulholland was speaking in Leeds at the second day of a public hearing into the proposals, which leave just five seats – three in Doncaster as well as Rother Valley and Scarborough and Whitby – unchanged. The Boundary Commission, the independent body charged with drawing up the seats, has begun a 12 week consultation into the draft proposals after which it will decide whether to make any changes.

Both the Liberal Democrats and Conservatives have put forward alternative proposals which leave more seats unchanged. The Tories are arguing that the eight North Yorkshire seats should not be changed.

But Leeds Central MP Hilary Benn, a member of Labour’s Shadow Cabinet, blamed the Government for causing chaos for setting rigid rules about how many voters must be in each seat, part of their plan to make sure MPs represent similar numbers of people. He warned there would also be upheaval every five years – when seats will have to be assessed to see if they have the correct number of voters – if the Boundary Commission sticks to its current rules and refuses to split up local authority wards into different parliamentary constituencies.

Mr Benn said: “There’s a real risk we will end up with a boundary hokey cokey with wards coming in and out every five years.

“I don’t believe these proposals will be good for the communities we seek to represent as MPs, I don’t think they will be good for the service constituents hope to receive from their MP.”

Although Labour has not yet made an official submission, Batley and Spen MP Mike Wood was one of a series of speakers who pleaded for plans to split Batley into two seats to be dropped, claiming it would be a severe blow to political engagement.

And David Ward, Liberal Democrat MP for Bradford East, warned the proposals would hamper the chances of local challengers taking on sitting MPs if seat boundaries change at each election.

Boundary Commission officials hosting the hearing – the first of four to be held around Yorkshire in the coming weeks – insist they will consider seriously all the submissions which have been made by the end of their consultation.