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Pushing The Bounds: Greater Manchester’s Political Battle Lines Redrawn

On 10 September, the Boundary Commission published its final proposals on parliamentary boundaries. The report aimed to cut the number of parliamentary constituencies – and thus MPs – from 650 to 600. By setting the target of having each constituency contain roughly the same number of voters – somewhere between 71,000 and 78,000 – the results have divided opinion in more ways than one.

Outside of the accusations of ‘fixing’ and gerrymandering parliamentary seats, which would allow a political party to unfairly gain advantage, some new seats have drawn attention. The changes made to the competitive outer suburbs of Manchester are perhaps worth some closer examination.

South Side Story

Greater Manchester currently consists of 27 constituencies: 23 in Labour hands, four with the Conservatives. The proposed borders leave the west and northern portions of the urban sprawl relatively untouched, but would see the old seat of Bolton West move back into the Labour fold, having been lost to the Tories in 2015. It is in the southern, comparatively wealthy, moderately leafy outskirts where the story is more interesting.

The area covered by Stockport Metropolitan Borough Council (SMBC) shows how hotly contested these quarters are, as the Lib Dems and Labour are represented on the council in a near-even deadlock, with the Conservatives running a consistently close third. This council’s wards currently make up the seats of Stockport (safe Labour), Cheadle, and Hazel Grove (Lib Dem / Conservative marginals). In short, it’s a politically diverse corner of Manchester, which is potentially going to be separated into four seats.

The Good, The (Two) Bad, and The Gerrymandered

Martin Baxter of the psephology site Electoral Calculus has quite cleverly run the numbers and provided suggested outcomes, which I have used to explain the seats here:

Stockport East and Denton: Good news for Labour, as this seat would contain part of the safe Labour seat of Denton and Reddish whilst adding to it the safest Labour wards in SMBC. However, it’s not necessarily in their interests to have all their known support bunched up into one seat, as reassuring as it may look on paper.

Stockport West and Cheadle: This seat would appear to be the closest-run and, by some measures, the better example of boundary drawing. It would represent the new local marginal, as it would hypothetically have been won by Labour at the last election by only a few hundred votes. It could be the centre of political focus and would no doubt bring to it more national attention during elections, should it remain as knife-edge as it is calculated to be.

Bramhall and Wilmslow: The safest Conservative seat of the lot, this wedge-shaped wonder contains the only two wards in SMBC that have all-Conservative councillors. More suspiciously though, whilst the boundaries of the Greater Manchester region ended just south of Bramhall, this new seat nabs that wealthy village and connects it to the equally renowned, ritzy towns of Wilmslow and Alderley Edge. Meaning either Greater Manchester has grown to include these towns, or it is surrendering a handful of council wards to the affluent commuter-belt of Cheshire.

Marple and Hyde: The most interesting fact about this new seat is that the town of Hyde, a reliably Labour area, will be fused to Marple, a reliably Conservative area. This conversely renders the seat fairly Conservative-leaning, and the only one where a large chunk of Labour voters are cut away from a previously safe seat, to form a constituency bordering the rugged hills of Derbyshire.

Liberal Disaster-crats

Spare a thought for the Liberal Democrats in all this. The seats of Cheadle and Hazel Grove are presently among their few remaining strongholds of support in the entire country, which, given a rise in the polls, could see them take back the seats lost during the Party’s wipe-out in 2015. However, under the new boundaries the tens of thousands of votes they won across the area will be nullified as the council wards they performed best in at the 2018 local elections are sectioned off into three different constituencies, meaning they would struggle to even come second in some races. It seems to be taking the Dem out of democratic, perhaps.

Altering Altrincham

Finally, away from Stockport, there is the proposed seat of Altrincham and Knutsford. During the 2018 local elections, the only Conservative controlled council in the region, Trafford Council, was won by Labour. The old seat of Altrincham and Sale West contains the Conservative-controlled geographic half of that council and is represented by Graham Brady. He is the head of the powerful ‘1922 Committee’ which has the power to remove Theresa May as leader of their party, and by extension sack her as Prime Minister.

In 2017, Mr Brady’s majority was halved, and the seat became as competitive as it has been since the Blair landslides over 17 years ago. Perhaps that is why, like the new seat of Bramhall and Wilmslow, the Conservative voting centre of the old constituency is being extended to the uber-posh and thoroughly Tory territory of Tatton Park.

Anything is possible in politics, however. During the local elections, the council ward of Altrincham saw the Conservatives lose two seats to the evidently left-wing Green Party, no less. If the force which caused a swing of allegiances that strong were to remain in this constituency, we could end up seeing one of the richest pockets of the nation turn even greener than it already is.

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