West Midlands Boundary Changes Part 5: Warwickshire (including Coventry and Solihull)

by Jackie_South on August 29, 2012

For the fifth and final instalment in our series on the proposed constituency boundary changes in the West Midlands we turn to Warwickshire, including the metropolitan boroughs of Coventry and Solihull.  Those two boroughs are in the West Midlands metropolitan county, which has been considered together with Warwickshire proper in the Boundary Commission’s review, and it makes sense with the proposals to consider them here.  The map below shows the current constituencies, including the party they are held by and an indication of the winning margin.

As you may know, I am writing this from New Orleans, so forgive the following hurricane analogy.

The proposals leave only three constituencies across the West Midlands county and Warwickshire unchanged, the three Coventry seats.  Think of those as the Labour-held eye of the storm, with the encircling coalition-held constituencies all shifting clockwise around it and you have a fair summary of the proposals here.

To make up the numbers, two wards are brought in from the city of Birmingham.  This allows for the current eleven constituencies here not to be reduced in number.

The map below shows the Commission’s proposals, with the current constituencies shown in dark blue and the proposed ones in green.  After the map, we consider all the proposed constituencies in turn, running north to south.

North Warwickshire

The current North Warwickshire takes in the former mining towns of Atherstone and Bedworth, the large villages of Polesworth and Kingsbury along the M42 and the Birmingham suburbs around Coleshill.

The constituency was created in 1983, in the first boundary changes that recognised the creation of the metropolitan councils, and was held by Conservative Francis Maude until he lost in 1992 to Labour’s Mike O’Brien.  O’Brien lost the seat in 2010 to Tory Dan Byles by the narrowest of margins: 54 votes (0.1%).

The proposed changes will help Byles very slightly.  Those suburbs around Coleshill are removed to the west of the constituency and replaced with areas from the north of the current Nuneaton constituency that lay to the immediate north and west of that town.

All of these wards moving in and out are conservative-leaning, and so the net impact is fairly minimal in the grand scheme of things (but given the tightness in 2010 actually makes a ninefold increase in the majority).  The revised seat will remain a must-win target for Labour if they are to regain power nationally.  Our projection of the 2010 result on these new boundaries is:

Nuneaton

Like North Warwickshire next door, Nuneaton was held by the Conservatives between 1983 and 1992, then Labour until 2010 before returning to the Tories.  Its current MP, Marcus Jones, has a 2,069 vote majority (4.6%) over Labour.

Nuneaton developed as the centre of the Warwickshire coalfield and Warwickshire’s largest town, excluding the parts of the county that were absorbed into the West Midlands county in 1974.  The current seat contains the town and some rural areas to the north and west, but not its neighbouring town in the same local authority area, Bedworth.

The Boundary Commission’s proposals transfer those rural parts of the constituency to North Warwickshire and bring in a larger rural area to the south of the town, taking in the large village of Bulkington and the area between Coventry and Rugby.

Again like North Warwickshire, all the areas transferring in and out lean towards the Conservatives, but because the number of electors from these increases this will increase their vote over all.  These boundaries would have almost doubled Jones’ 2010 majority, although the constituency would remain marginal.  Our projection of the 2010 result on these new boundaries is:

Meriden

There has been a Meriden constituency of varying compositions since 1955, originally taking in much of what is now North Warwickshire.  In that form, it changed hands fairly regularly between Conservatives and Labour.

That changed in the 1983 boundary changes, when it turned into a seat for the east of the borough of Solihull, covering the suburban and rural area between Birmingham and Coventry and also curving south of Solihull itself.  It includes the east Birmingham suburbs of Castle Bromwich, Fordbridge, Kingshurst and Chelmsley Wood, Birmingham International airport, the large commuter villages of Dorridge, Knowle and Balsall Common and the smaller village of Meriden itself, the centre point of England.

It has been held continuously by the Conservatives in this guise, with Caroline Spelman holding it with a large 16,253 vote majority (31.2%) in 2010.  Nevertheless, it has been close on occasion.  My colleague, Knowle-raised Bobby West, expressed surprise at the 1997 election that Labour had reduced Spelman’s majority to only 582 votes.

The proposals will turn the seat marginal again, although Bobby may be disappointed that this will not include Knowle.  The constituency stands to lose the southwest of the current seat around Dorridge and Knowle, and Castle Bromwich transfers to the revised Birmingham Erdington constituency.  In return the areas around Coleshill come in from North Warwickshire (this makes some sense as this area has now effectively merged into the eastern suburbs of Birmingham) and Shard End ward from Birmingham itself.

The impact of those removals is important: of the constituency’s nine wards, we calculate that the Conservatives would have won six, taking an overall majority of the vote in all of them, and Labour would have won in three, but with less than 50% in each.  The proposals remove four of those solid Tory wards and keeps all three Labour ones (Chelmsley Wood; Kingshurst & Fordbridge; and Smiths Wood) in the north of the seat.  Although the three new wards from North Warwickshire are also Conservative-leaning, they are not to the same extent as the four that depart.

The other big factor is Shard End ward, from the safe Labour constituency of Hodge Hill.  This will be by far the largest ward in the proposed constituency, making up a quarter of it on its own, and we calculate that Labour were well over 2,000 votes ahead there in 2010.

Our projection of the 2010 result on these new boundaries is:

Solihull

In 2005, the Liberal Democrat Lorely Burt won this constituency from the Conservatives, who had previously held it since its creation in 1945.  Burt’s majority was cut to almost nothing – 175 votes (0.3%) in 2010.

Unlike the Lib Dem’s other MP in the region, John Hemmings, Burt has some reason to be grateful to the Boundary Commission for its proposals.  These remove the south of her constituency, in the form of the wards of Shirley South and Shirley West, whilst bringing in the Birmingham ward of Sheldon to the north.

Those two Shirley wards are Liberal Democrat inclined, but not as strongly so as Sheldon ward, which is brought in from the north from Hemming’s Birmingham Yardley constituency.  It appears that Hemming’s loss is to Burt’s benefit.  We calculate that her majority in 2010 would have been 1,100 (2.1%) – still extremely vulnerable but better for the Lib Dems than the status quo.

Our projection of the 2010 result on these new boundaries is:

Coventry North West

As stated above, the three Coventry constituencies are unaltered in the commission’s proposals.  All three are Labour-held, with the North West seat being the middle one in strength held by champagne socialist in-chief, Geoffrey Robinson, with a majority of 6,288 (13.5%).

As its name suggests, Coventry North West stretches north-west and west of the city’s ring-road that surround the town centre, and contains much of industrial Coventry, including the site of the former Jaguar car plant.  This is a mainly white working-class constituency: 89% of the population were white in the 2001 census.

At a council level, two of the eighteen councillors in the constituency are Conservative, the rest Labour.  Whilst their majority is perhaps not as large as they would like, this will remain reliable for the Labour Party.  The 2010 result was:

Coventry North East

Coventry North East is Labour’s safest seat in the city: moustachioed former Defence Secretary Bob Ainsworth had a majority of 11,775 (27.1%) in 2010.

The constituency lies to the north-east and east of the city centre, and is more ethnically diverse than Coventry North West.  Like Coventry North West, this constituency has an industrial heritage, particularly the textile industry.

22% of the population were non-white in the 2001 census, mainly Asian, with Sikhs forming the largest ethnic minority group (7% in 2001).  Inner city Foleshill ward has a majority of non-white residents.  All the local councillors here are Labour.

No changes are proposed.  The 2010 result here was:

Coventry South

Coventry South is the most marginal of the three constituencies in the city: Labour’s Jim Cunningham won with a majority of 3,845 votes (8.4%) in 2010.

The constituency includes the city centre, the areas south of the main railway line and two areas north of that line at the eastern and western edges of the city: Binley and Tile Hill respectively.  The University of Warwick lies on the southern border with Warwickshire proper.

As Cunningham’s majority shows, this is a much more politically mixed area than the other two seats.  Although the seat has been Labour since its (re-) creation in 1997 one of its predecessors, Coventry South West, was held by the Conservatives for the previous 18 years.  Wainbody ward (around the university), and Earlsdon ward (south-west of the train station) are both wholly Conservative-held on the city council, whilst two other wards – Cheylesmore and Westwood – have a mixture of Conservative and Labour councillors.  Only the eastern Binley and Willenhall ward and St Michael’s ward, covering the city centre, are reliably Labour.

As with the other two Coventry constituencies, no changes have been proposed.  The 2010 result was:

Rugby

Labour has managed to lose the Rugby constituency twice over in the last two elections: its Labour MP Andy King lost the seat’s predecessor (Rugby and Kenilworth) in 2005 to Conservative Jeremy Wright.  The 2010 boundary changes removed the more Conservative Kenilworth parts, making the seat now notionally Labour again.  King stood again only to lose out to Mark Pawsey, the son of the Tory MP that King defeated in 1997.  Pawsey now has a majority of 6,000 (12.6%).

The proposed changes only notionally increase the Conservative majority a little, but the Tories may be very pleased.  This is because the changes are such that it is the Liberal Democrats, not Labour, that are now notionally the second-placed party.

The current constituency covers the area directly east of Coventry, with the titular town in the south-east corner of the seat.  The proposals remove the areas to the north and west of the town, and bring in an area to the south, including the town of Southam, from the Kenilworth and Southam constituency.

Whilst Labour was behind in the rural wards transferring out, it is practically invisible in some that are coming in.  Labour only achieved 14% of the vote in Kenilworth and Southam in 2010, putting it well behind the two coalition parties.

The outcome is a constituency where Pawsey starts off over 7,000 votes ahead of the Liberal Democrats and almost 10,000 ahead of Labour.  Our projection of the 2010 result on these new boundaries is:

Kenilworth and Dorridge

As its name suggests, this constituency takes in parts of Warwickshire, around Kenilworth, and the south of the borough of Solihull, around Dorridge.  It takes in the largest part of the electorate of the current Kenilworth and Southam constituency, although over half the voters will actually come from the Solihull part of the seat.

Jeremy Wright, who first won in Rugby and Kenilworth in 2005, held Kenilworth and Southam for the Conservatives by a 12,552 vote majority (25.9%) in 2010.  39% of that seat is retained here, with the remainder split between the Rugby, Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwick & Leamington and Nuneaton constituencies.  This 39% is about as Conservative on average as the rest of the seat.

To this remnant of the old seat, parts of three others have been added.  On the Warwickshire side, the area around Tanworth-in-Arden, a strongly Tory area, is added from the current Stratford constituency.  Over the West Midlands county border, Dorridge, Knowle and Blythe have been added from Meriden (all safely Conservative) and parts of Lib Dem-leaning Shirley from the Solihull constituency.

The Shirley wards reduce the notional Conservative majority a little, but not much.  The most interesting political battle here will be to see whether it is Wright or Meriden’s Spelman that ends up as the candidate.  Our projection of the 2010 result on these new boundaries is:

Warwick and Leamington

Warwick and Leamington, the former seat of Prime Minister Anthony Eden, was a surprise Labour victory in 1997.  They held on here until Chris White won it back for the Conservatives with a majority of 3,513 (7.2%) in 2010.

The towns of Warwick and Royal Leamington Spa almost run into each other, but are quite different politically.  Ancient Warwick, with its famous castle, and the outlying rural areas are predominantly Conservative.  Despite the ‘Royal’ prefix, the larger town of Leamington Spa sends Labour, Lib Dem and independent councillors to the district’s town hall.

The current constituency, with 66,278 electors, is too small under the new rules and so five rural wards have been added to the constituency’s north-east and south-west.  All of these new wards are strongly Conservative, making the seat safer for them.  Our projection of the 2010 result on these new boundaries is:

Stratford-upon-Avon

The current seat of Stratford-on-Avon is named after the local authority district it covers, which for some reason has a slightly different name to that of its main town, Stratford-upon-Avon, to distinguish the two entities.  The constituency covers a large rural area, taking in the small towns of Alcester, Shipston-on-Stour and Henley-in-Arden and the large villages of Studley and Bidford-on-Avon, and so the name was meant to give these places a nod of recognition.

Whilst I know the town’s most famous son, Shakespeare, is known to have spelt his name a number of different ways, this can be the cause of confusion.  So the Boundary Commission have decided it might be a good idea to use the town’s proper name in the future.

Other than the name-tweaking, the constituency loses some wards to the north to the Kenilworth & Dorridge and Warwick & Leamington seats whilst gaining territory to the east from the current Kenilworth & Southam constituency, including the large village of Wellesbourne.

The current constituency (once held by John Profumo) is strongly Conservative: Nadhim Zahawi won with a 11,346 (22.4%) majority in his first contest there in 2010.

All the wards leaving and coming in are strongly Conservative, having little net impact on the result over all.  Our projection of the 2010 result on these new boundaries is:

Summary

Based on the 2010 elections, none of the parties would gain or lose seats here through the changes.  Labour’s three Coventry seats remain unaltered, whilst the Liberal Democrats’ marginal Solihull seat receive a small boost there.

Labour’s task in gaining ground is made more difficult: changes to Warwick and Leamington in particular make retaking that seat a challenge, whilst the changes to North Warwickshire and Nuneaton both help the Conservatives a little.  However, Labour does now have the intriguing prospect of a now-winnable Meriden constituency as some compensation for this.

The map below summarises the projected 2010 margins in each of the proposed constituencies.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Stephen Gray August 30, 2012 at 9:58 pm

It’s a bit odd to hear St Michael’s Ward being described as “reliably Labour”. It’s been a very close-fought ward between Labour and the Socialist Party ever since Dave Nellist was expelled from Labour for being part of Militant. Though in the last couple of local elections Labour have finally managed to take all the council seats there.

Having said that, Socialist support in the locals clearly doesn’t translate into General Election votes. Even accounting for the fact that the ward has a very low turnout and that almost all of their vote came from that ward (having been at the count, I’d say it was over 90%), it’s clearly not very much.

And speaking of Labour wards that aren’t, at local council level Chelmsley Wood and Smiths Wood in Meriden constituency are now solidly Green wards. If a substantial proportion of those voters stay Green in the General election then Meriden may not be winnable for Labour, even if the boundary changes do go through.

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