West Midlands Boundary Changes Part 2: Staffordshire

by Jackie_South on August 22, 2012

For the second in our series looking at the impact of the proposed constituency boundary changes in the West Midlands, we turn to Staffordshire.  The current constituencies, including an indication of the majority for the winning party in 2010, are shown below.

Staffordshire currently has twelve constituencies, with an average electorate of 70,094: below the new statutory minimum of 72,810.  As a result, the proposals reduce the number of constituencies in the county to eleven.

The map below summarises these proposals.  The current boundaries are shown in dark blue, the proposed one in green.  After the map, we look at each of the proposed constituencies in turn, running clockwise from South Staffordshire.

South Staffordshire

South Staffordshire is a constituency of suburbs and villages bordering the Black Country boroughs of Dudley, Wolverhampton and Walsall.  None of its settlements amounts to a town: the largest settlement is the large village of Womborne.

It is safely Conservative.  Even in 1997, Tory Sir Patrick Cormack held on with a majority of almost 8,000.  His successor Gavin Williamson had more than doubled that to 16,590 (32.9%) in 2010.

There are no proposed changes to this constituency.  The result in 2010 was:

Stafford

Stafford had been a Conservative seat before 1997, when a combination of boundary changes and the national landslide delivered it to local Labour man David Kidney.  Its previous MP, Bill Cash, went with the stronger Conservative territory to become MP of the then new Stone constituency and a new Conservative candidate, one David Cameron, was the Conservative loser in 1997, making him the last person to beat Cameron in an election.

Kidney held on until 2010, when Jeremy Lefroy won for the Conservatives by a majority of 5,460 (10.9%).

The constituency is currently based on the town of Stafford itself and the immediately surrounding rural areas in the Stafford district, together with the area around the small town of Penkridge in the South Staffordshire district.

The proposals remove one rural ward to Lichfield whilst bringing in five wards back from Stone, from around the small town of Eccleshall.  Whilst the lost ward is good for the Conservatives, the new ones are on average far better, so five of them makes this constituency safer still for them.  Our projection of the 2010 result on these new boundaries is:

Newcastle-under-Lyme and Stone

As its name suggests, this new constituency combines most of the current Newcastle-under-Lyme and Stone constituencies.  Newcastle-under-Lyme is a Labour-Conservative marginal, although the seat has been held by Labour since 1922.  Paul Farrelly held on with a narrow 1,552 vote (3.6%) majority in 2010.

Stone is a safe Conservative rural constituency.  Bill Cash had a 13,292 vote (28.1%) majority in 2010.

The proposed changes remove the north Newcastle-under-Lyme, Labour’s strongest area in the constituency.  Stone loses five wards around Eccleshall to Stafford, the area around Cheadle to Staffordshire Moorlands and one ward to the new Kidsgrove and Tunstall seat.  The Conservatives lead in all the wards that remain from Stone.

As a result, the new seat starts with a significant Conservative advantage: Labour would need a swing of over 8% to win here.  Despite the effective abolition of the Conservative Stone constituency, it is Labour that loses an MP from Staffordshire through the changes.  Our projection of the 2010 result on these new boundaries is:

Kidsgrove and Tunstall

This is a effectively a new name for Stoke-on-Trent North, where both Tunstall and most of Kidsgrove currently lie,  which is joined by the northern parts of Newcastle-under-Lyme and Stone (around Audley and the north of Newcastle) and the west corner of Staffordshire Moorlands (the east of Kidsgrove).

Stoke-on-Trent North already expends beyond Stoke city’s boundaries: Kidsgrove is in the district Newcastle-under-Lyme, and so the proposal is a reasonable one, despite the impact it has elsewhere.

Stoke-on-Trent North is Labour’s safest constituency in the county: Joan Walley had a 8,235 vote (20.5%) majority in 2010.  The new constituency will not be as strong for them, but safe enough.  Our projection of the 2010 result on these new boundaries is:

Stoke-on-Trent Central

Stoke-on-Trent Central should be a pretty safe seat for Labour: its previous MP Mark Fisher had a 35% majority in 2005, and almost 50% in 1997.  However, in 2010 its new MP, Tristram Hunt, only had a majority of 5,566 (17.1%) votes over the Lib Dems – safe enough, but worth explanation.

TV historian Hunt seemed an unnatural pick for this solidly working class seat, and the result probably represents a backlash to his candidacy.  However, it is likely that his support will rebound with five years’ incumbency under his belt.

The proposals alter the boundaries of this constituency, which currently only has 61,774 electors.  One ward transfers to Stoke-on-Trent South, whilst three wards come in from Stoke-on-Trent North.

That will boost Hunt’s numerical majority, but mainly due to the extra electors: the percentage lead does not change much.  Still, it should be safe enough for him.  Our projection of the 2010 result on these new boundaries is:

Stoke-on-Trent South

Stoke-on-Trent South is the closest of the three current Stoke constituencies: Robert Flello won it for Labour by a 4,130 vote (10.4%) majority in 2010.  This is because it includes Stoke’s most middle-class neighbourhood, Trentham.

Flello may well therefore be grateful for the safe Stoke and Trent Vale ward from Stoke-on-Trent Central, which boosts his majority by almost 900 votes.  Our projection of the 2010 result on these new boundaries is:

Staffordshire Moorlands

Staffordshire Moorlands covers the largely rural areas in the northeast of the county, including parts of the Peak District, and is based around the towns of Leek and Biddulph.  It also includes the Alton Towers amusement park.

Labour gained the seat in 1997, helped in part by boundary changes that year that brought Kidsgrove into the constituency.  Once those changes were reversed in 2010, that alone would have been enough to hand the seat to the Conservatives.  Their candidate Karen Bradley won the constituency with a 6,689 vote (15.3%) majority in 2010.

The proposed changes remove the one remaining Kidsgrove ward whilst bringing in the area around Cheadle from the Stone constituency.  The proposed changes make the constituency co-terminus with the local government district of Staffordshire Moorlands.

Whilst that district is currently politically hung, the changes will have little net impact on the Conservative percentage lead, whilst increasing the numerical majority a little as the constituency’s electorate increases.  Our projection of the 2010 result on these new boundaries is:

Burton

The Burton constituency takes in an expanse of eastern Staffordshire along the Trent valley, including not only Burton upon Trent but the market town of Uttoxeter and surrounding rural areas.

Labour does well in Burton upon Trent itself, where it holds the majority of council seats.  However, the Conservatives dominate the rural parts of the constituency.

Janet Dean won the constituency for Labour off the Conservatives in 1997, but decided not stand in 2010 having narrowly held on in 2005.  The Conservatives won the seat back that year, with Tory Andrew Griffiths obtaining a sizable 6,304 vote (12.7%) majority.

The Boundary Commission is not proposing any changes to the Burton constituency this time.  The result in 2010 was:

Lichfield

The Lichfield constituency includes the cathedral city of Lichfield, the town of Burntwood, the surrounding rural areas and some villages to the north from the East Staffordshire district.

Labour had high hopes of winning here in 1997, but Conservative Michael Fabricant held on by 238 votes.  That majority increased to 17,683 (34.3%) in 2010 over the Liberal Democrats in second place, rather than Labour who were a 135 votes behind the Lib Dems.

The changes proposed are relatively minor.  One ward is ceded to the Tamworth constituency whilst another comes in from Stafford.  That will leave Fabricant just as safe, but would have shifted Labour into second place in 2010.  Our projection of the 2010 result on these new boundaries is:

Tamworth

As its name suggests, the Tamworth constituency is based on King Offa’s old capital in the south east of the county.  It takes in the whole of the Tamworth local government district as well as six wards from the Lichfield district.

Labour held the seat from its 1997 (re-)creation, having won the Staffordshire South East by-election on similar boundaries a year before.  The Conservative Chris Pincher won the constituency in 2010 after having pressed Labour’s Brian Jenkins hard in 2005.  Pincher’s majority is now 6,090 (13.1%).

The proposed changes bring in one ward from the Lichfield constituency to bring its electorate up to a level exceeding the statutory minimum.  That will make the seat slightly more strongly Conservative: our projection of the 2010 result on these new boundaries is:

Cannock Chase

The Cannock Chase constituency, co-terminus with the local government district of the same name, saw one of the most spectacular swings in the 2010 election.  In 2005, Labour’s Tony Wright held the seat with a seemingly comfortable 9,227 vote (21.4%) majority having first won the seat’s predecessor in 1992.  Wright stood down due to ill health in 2010, but his successor as candidate lost to the Conservatives’ Aidan Burley on a whopping 14% swing.  Burley’s majority stands at 3,195 (7%).

Despite this victory, the controversy around Burley puts in doubt whether he will stand again next time: the local Labour Party presumably secretly hope that he does.

The constituency covers the towns of Cannock and Rugeley, together with the Cannock Chase new forest in between.  Labour took control of the borough this May, with its strength concentrated in Cannock and its northern suburb Hednesford.

No changes are proposed to the constituency by the Commission.  The result last time was:

Summary

Like West Mercia, Labour is the clear loser from the Staffordshire proposals, effectively losing the Newcastle-under-Lyme constituency it has held since 1922.  Labour’s best chance will be to retake Cannock Chase, with its next most winnable seats, Burton and Tamworth, needing swings of over 6.5%.

However, only two constituencies look to be completely beyond Labour’s grasp in the county: Lichfield and South Staffordshire.  Labour would take the rest on a swing of 8.1%.

The map below summarises the margins for the winning party based on the 2010 election in the proposed constituencies.

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