Last week the Boundary Commission for Wales presented a series of proposals for a revamp of Parliamentary constituencies, with plans including cutting one of Newport’s two MPs and abolishing Islwyn altogether. But this isn’t the first time changes such as these have been on the table. Ian Craig takes a look at the issue and what it could mean for voters in Gwent.

THE idea of cutting back on the number of MPs is a contentious one.

While there are many who would welcome the idea of fewer politicians, the implications of the plan could be wide-ranging.

The Boundary Commission for Wales presented the proposals last week as part of a plan to cut the number of MPs in Wales from 40 to 29, and the overall number in the UK by 50 to 600 from 2020.

Among its recommendations are to create a single Newport constituency comprising Alway, Beechwood, Liswerry, Ringland, St Julians and Victoria in the east and Allt-yr-yn, Bettws, Gaer, Malpas, Marshfield, Pill, Shaftesbury, Stow Hill and Tredegar Park in the west.

Meanwhile, Langstone, Llanwern and the remainder of Newport East will be merged into Monmouth, while the Newport West wards of Graig and Rogerstone will join Caerphilly and Caerleon will become part of Torfaen.

Croesyceiliog and Llanyrafon, currently in Monmouth, will also be merged into Torfaen, while the Islwyn seat will be scrapped altogether, with its northern section becoming part of Blaenau Gwent, the southern part joining Caerphilly and Aberbargoed falling into Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney.

The northern part of Caerphilly, from Nelson upwards, will also become part of Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney.

As well as cutting costs, it is also hoped the plans will make the Parliamentary system fairer by ensuring each constituency has a roughly equal number of residents – only 178 years after Newport’s Chartists demanded the same thing.

Currently the smallest constituency in Wales, Arfon, has only 37,739 people on the electoral roll, while the largest, Cardiff South and Penarth, has almost twice as many at 72,395. Under the new proposals every constituency in the country will have between 71,031 and 78,507 voters.

But, while this seems like a significant change, it’s not the first time a revamp of this magnitude has been on the cards.

In 2012 the boundary commission presented a set of proposals to cut the number of Welsh MPs to 30, which mirrored the new plans in that it included creating a single Newport constituency and abolishing Islwyn.

But it differed from the current plans in that almost a third of the current Newport West constituency and about 15 per cent of Islwyn would have formed part of a Cardiff North and Gwent South West seat.

Part of Newport East would have been merged with Monmouth, while a small part of both Monmouth and Newport West would have joined Torfaen and the remainder of Islwyn became part of Blaenau Gwent and Caerphilly.

About 10 per cent of Caerphilly and a small part of Islwyn, along with about a quarter of Cynon Valley, would also have merged with Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney.

But the plans, originally due to take effect at 2015’s General Election, were ditched in 2013, with the review being rebooted as part of the Conservative Party’s election manifesto.

So, while the new proposals look significant, it’s far from a done deal.

And Boundary Commission officials have said the new plans are likely to be reworked according to feedback from a public consultation, which launched last week and will run until Monday, December 5.

But what does this mean for the political makeup of Wales?

Research director at YouGov Anthony Wells said, despite the changes, under current polling figures Labour would retain all its Gwent seats, with the Conservatives hanging onto Monmouth.

But the wider implications could be more serious, with Labour likely to lose seven of its Welsh seats and the Conservatives four, with the three Plaid Cymru MPs and one Liberal Democrat to hold onto their seats.

He added, if the plans were enacted immediately, across the UK as a whole Theresa May’s Conservatives would extend their majority to 40 rather than the current 12.

In a blog posted on the YouGov website Mr Wells said: "Almost all boundary changes favour the Conservatives because of the pattern of population changes.

"In the last 50-odd years in Britain we’ve tended to see the population in the old industrial cities in the north fall relative to the population in the London commuter belt.

"As a result, over time the electorate in inner-city northern seats, which happen to be Labour, falls and the electorate in southern, suburban seats, which happen to be Conservative, rises.

"This means the more out of date boundaries are, the better they are for Labour as they’ll still be returning lots of MPs from areas whose population has since fallen and who no longer deserve so many seats.

"To bring seats back towards equality, seats in Labour areas tend to be amalgamated and new seats are created in Conservative voting areas, meaning the more up-to-date the boundaries are the more it helps the Tories."

The proposals could spell bad news for Labour, so it’s not surprising they have been met with widespread condemnation from many of Gwent’s MPs.

Calling the plans “a serious blow to Newport", Paul Flynn, who has represented Newport West for Labour since 1987, said a better way of cutting costs to the taxpayer would be to cut the number of peers in the House of Lords.

"I don't disagree with the idea that all constituencies should be same size," he said.

"But there should be some agreement about how we could reduce the size of the Lords.

"Also we should look at the Assembly because the work of AMs has probably trebled since 1999."

Meanwhile, many have claimed the population figures used for the review, based on the electoral roll as of December 2015, are not accurate as a reported two million more people registered to vote ahead of June's EU referendum.

Torfaen’s Nick Thomas-Symonds claimed the changes were “driven by naked political interest”.

"These boundary changes are designed to give the Tories an advantage for the next general election," he said.

But Monmouth’s David Davies, Gwent’s only Conservative MP, called the proposals “not entirely unexpected”.

“It looks very similar to what was suggested before,” he said.

He added: “I went to school in Caldicot and it would be a pleasure to canvass Hall Park where I used to live.

“And I will be delighted to represent the parts of Monmouthshire County Council that are currently in Newport East.”

Islwyn MP Chris Evans, who could lose his seat if the plans are given the go-ahead, called the proposal “extremely disappointing”.

“Many of the reformed constituencies make very little geographical sense and the majority of my constituents will be unhappy with these plans,” he said.

He added: “I will do everything I can to fight for the community to be represented together as one in Parliament.”

And Caerphilly MP Wayne David said the proposals “deny the geographic reality of the area and the sense of community that exists in the Valleys.”

“It might be easy to draw lines on a map but that doesn’t recognise the topography of the area,” he said.

As part of the 12-week public consultation five two-day hearings will be held across Wales where members of the public can scrutinise the plans and have their say, with the closest one to Argus readers to be held at Cardiff’s Mercure Holland House on Wednesday, October 26 and the following day.

Others will be held in Carmarthen, Bangor, Llandrindod and Wrexham. Boundary Commission officials said none of these hearings were being held in Gwent as by law they are only allowed to hold five sessions.

Revised proposals will then be presented next spring, followed by a second, four-week consultation, before the final recommendations are presented to Parliament by the start of October 2018.

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