South East Boundary Changes Part 3: West Sussex

by Jackie_South on June 8, 2012

For the third in our series on the proposed boundary changes to constituencies in South East England, following on from the Isle of Wight and Hampshire, we travel east along the South Coast to West Sussex.

West Sussex is a true blue county: all eight of its MPs are Conservative, and only one constituency in the county, Crawley, has had non-Conservative representation since 1924.  West Sussex remained solidly Tory even in 1945.  The map below indicates the current margins, with Labour in second place in Crawley and the Liberal Democrats second in the other seven constituencies.

Back in 1945, there were only four and a half constituencies: the county has seen rapid growth.  Its current eight are large enough on average to ensure that there is no need for a reduction in the number of seats through the boundary review, and so the proposed changes are relatively minor.  No changes at all are made to the two Worthing seats.

The map below illustrates the proposed changes, with the current boundaries shown in blue and the proposed ones in green.  After the map, we look at each proposed constituency in turn.

Chichester
The most westerly of the West Sussex constituencies, the Chichester seat includes not only the cathedral city (and county town) of that name but also a large rural swathe encompassing the market town of Midhurst to the north and the seaside town of Selsey to the south.

Chichester is one of the oldest continually habited places in England, built as a Roman regional capital.  Midhurst was a former rotten borough up to the 1832 Great Reform Act, with two MPs representing only 41 electors by that time.  Selsey (whose Bill was referenced by both The Jam in Saturday’s Kids and Madness in Driving In My Car) is home to Sir Patrick Moore.

It is a very safe Tory seat: local MP Andrew Tyrie, chair of the Treasury Select Committee, has a comfortable majority of almost 16,000 (28%).  The seat has been held by the Conservatives in 143 of the last 144 years (the Liberals held it between 1923 and 1924).

This will be dented only slightly by the proposed loss of some rural areas in the north of the current constituency to bring its electorate below the statutory maximum of 80,473, but this will not be by enough to worry the Conservatives.  Our projection of the 2010 result on these new boundaries is:
Bognor Regis and Littlehampton
The seaside constituency of Bognor Regis and Littlehampton was created in 1997, although it had formed the core of the pre-1997 Arundel constituency before then.

Bognor was given its ‘Regis’ suffix by King George V who convalesced there in 1929.  However, it appears to have been given under sufferance: the king told his private secretary “Oh, bugger Bognor!” when presented the petition requesting this honour.

Littlehampton, a favourite seaside resort for the Romantic poets, forms the westernmost settlement of the south Sussex conurbation, stretching to Brighton and home to almost half a million people.

The constituency currently has 70,535 electors, and so the Boundary Commission propose adding two rural wards to the north, Barnham and Walberton, from Arundel and South Downs.

Schools Minister Nick Gibb currently sits on a 13,000 majority (27.9%) there.  The proposed changes should make it safer still.  Our projection of the 2010 result on these new boundaries is:
Worthing West
The seaside town of Worthing has a reputation for having an elderly population, but this is becoming less so with the influx of families moving along the coast from more fashionable (and therefore pricier) Brighton.  Perhaps as a sign of this, the International Birdman competition has been held on the town’s pier each August since 2008.

It is a town with literary connections too: Oscar Wilde wrote The Importance of Being Earnest whilst staying in Worthing, and the town was also home to playwright Harold Pinter.

In addition to the majority of Worthing, the constituency also takes in areas to the west of Worthing district from the Arun district.  These include the resort of Rustington, where the world’s largest ever hot cross bun was baked in 2002.

No changes are proposed to this constituency, currently held by Sir Peter Bottomley.  The 2010 result was:
Worthing East and Shoreham
The eastern parts of Worthing were joined with the Adur local government district in 1997 to form this constituency.  The Adur section is formed by a number of eastern suburbs of Brighton and Hove nextdoor: Shoreham-on-Sea, Lancing and Southwick.

Shoreham is home to Labour-supporting DJ Chris Evans and Southwick is home to leftwing punk poet Attila the Stockbroker.  However, perhaps more politically typical of the area is controversial property magnate Nicholas van Hoogstraten (labelled as an “emissary of Beelzebub” by one high court judge) who grew up there.

No changes have been proposed to this constituency by the Boundary Commission.

The local MP since the constituency’s creation has been Tim Loughton, the junior minister for children and families.  Labour came within 10% of the Conservatives in 1997 and retained second place in the subsequent two elections, before falling into third place in 2010.  That 2010 result was:
Arundel and South Downs
Despite the town of Arundel only having 3,500 inhabitants, it has a constituency named after it for historical reasons.  The town is famous for both its castle and its cathedral, the seat of the Bishop of Arundel and Brighton.  It has long been home to the Fitzalan-Howard family, the Dukes of Norfolk.

As the name suggests, the constituency also includes a significant portion of the South Downs National Park, England’s newest national park following its formation last year, stretching as far as Devil’s Dyke north of Brighton.  This includes the small towns of Petworth and Steyning, and the large villages of Hassocks, Hurstpierpoint and Pulborough.

The current constituency has sufficient electors under the new rules.  However, given its central position in the county it has been affected by the need to increase or decrease the size of the neighbouring constituencies.  As a result, two wards are donated to Bognor Regis and Littlehampton, two wards are added from Chichester and a third ward comes in from Mid Sussex.

Nick Herbert first won this seat in 2005 as the Conservative’s first openly gay non-incumbent candidate, and has a majority of almost 30%.  The various proposed changes will have little impact on that majority.  Our projection of the 2010 result on these new boundaries is:
Mid Sussex
Much of Mid Sussex was in East Sussex before 1974, including its three main towns of Burgess Hill, East Grinstead and Haywards Heath.  Burgess Hill and Haywards Heath are commuter centres on the main London-Brighton rail line.

The attractive town of East Grinstead, with its Medieval town centre, gave the world the band Right Said Fred, whilst Haywards Heath produced Suede.

These towns have some Liberal Democrat support, along with the village of Ashurst to the southeast of East Grinstead.  However, the Conservatives, in the massive form of Nicholas Soames, have not seriously been challenged here.

Soames’ majority in 2010 was 7,402 (13.3%) will be reduced a little by the shifting of Bolney ward to Arundel and South Downs, to create a clearer boundary.  In fact, it becomes the most marginal of the West Sussex seats, albeit one that the second-placed Liberal Democrats will find it hard to capitalize on.  Our projection of the 2010 result on these new boundaries is:
Horsham
Horsham’s name has been used for constituencies since 1295, the last 132 years of which it has been represented by the Conservatives.  The current incumbent is Francis Maude, who has a majority of 11,460 (20.5%) over the Liberal Democrats.

The large market town of Horsham, birthplace of Percy Bysshe Shelley, lies at the centre of the constituency.  It also includes much of the rural northeast of the county that curves east of Crawley, including the large villages of Billinghurst, Southwater and Copthorne.

To make up the numbers in Crawley, Copthorne is transferred over to that constituency.  This is a rock-solid Conservative ward, and so the impact is to make the seat a bit more marginal.  Our projection of the 2010 result on these new boundaries is:
Crawley
The Crawley constituency is co-terminous with the district of the same name.  Crawley, the New Town where The Cure was formed, grew significantly after the development of Gatwick Airport which lies in the north of the seat.

As stated earlier, Crawley is the only West Sussex constituency to have had a non-Tory MP in the last 88 years.  Laura Moffat held the constituency for Labour between 1997 and 2010, having the dubious honour of holding the most marginal seat in the country from 2005 onwards (a majority of only 37).

That made it one of the Conservatives’ easier victories in 2010, when it was won by  Henry Smith with a majority of almost 6,000 (12.5%).

Crawley’s electorate of 71,793 is less than the statutory minimum, and so Copthorne is added from the Horsham constituency.  The addition of this ward strengthens the Conservatives’ position.  Our projection of the 2010 result on these new boundaries is:
Conclusion
The changes in West Sussex are relatively minor, and the Conservatives would have won all eight easily in 2010 on the new boundaries.  The most likely constituency to change hands is still probably Crawley, although the proposals make this harder and Mid Sussex is now technically more marginal.

The map below summarises the winning margins for the Tories in each constituency.

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