Somerset being "merrily chopped up" in constituency shake-up, says Jacob Rees-Mogg

By Stephen Sumner   |   Local Democracy Reporter   |
Wednesday 16th March 2022 1:47 pm
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Jacob Rees-Mogg has hit out at plans to “merrily chop up” one of the United Kingdom’s “most ancient counties”. 

The MP’s North East Somerset constituency will be completely redrawn under Boundary Commission for England’s proposals to rebalance the number of electors represented by each Member of Parliament. 

If approved, its western section will absorb the firmly Conservative South Gloucestershire wards of Hanham, Longwell Green, Parkwall & Warmley, and Bitton & Oldland Common and become Keynsham and North East Somerset; communities in the east will join a new Frome constituency and areas north of Bath will come under an expanded city seat. 

Mr Rees-Mogg, who has held his seat since it was formed in 2010 and was re-elected in 2019 with a majority of more than 14,000, said in his objection: “The former county of Avon was viewed with considerable antipathy by most of its residents who preferred to be in their historic counties. 

“The basis of these proposals thus has the perverse effect of trying to recreate an unpopular local tie which was abolished 25 years ago.”

He said the Boundary Commission recognised Dorset as a ceremonial county but ignored the equally important Somerset and Gloucestershire, which were being “merrily chopped up”. 

“There is no logical reason for this other than the erroneous and legislatively unsanctioned reference to Avon,” added the Minister for Brexit Opportunities. 

“As I am sure you know, Bristol has historically been viewed as looking to Gloucestershire, including having the county cricket ground within its boundary, so there is no tie broken or created by viewing them together. Equally, Somerset is one of the kingdom’s most ancient counties.”

Mr Rees-Mogg did not suggest an alternative arrangement but argued that the proposals did not meet the requirements of the legislation. 

The shakeup was revealed in June in a bid to deliver the legal requirement of between 69,724 and 77,062 voters in each constituency. In 2018, Bath’s electorate stood at 59,887 and North East Somerset’s was well within that margin at 70,070.

Mr Rees-Mogg is not the only person to raise concerns about the proposals. 

In one response on the Boundary Commission website, a Pensford voter said it “cannot be right for democracy” that the village’s traditional links with Somerset were being “erased and ignored”.

The plans were branded a “nightmare” by a Bristol man, who said the River Avon had always been a natural border for council activities. 

“Common sense should say that mixing South Gloucestershire county region with the Bath and North East Somerset region will add confusion to existing voters. How is it feasible to expect support for this absurd politically motivated plan?” he said. 

Someone in Kingswood said splitting the communities between the Bristol East and Keynsham and North East Somerset constituencies “demonstrates little or no understanding of local cultural, historic and economic realities” and warned it would sow confusion among voters. 

They said: “The proposal will further damage public trust and confidence in our democratic institutions. The apparently arbitrary decisions that it contains will not be understood or given anything other than grudging, resigned acceptance. Local pride in the Kingswood area will be badly damaged, and many local people will be gravely offended.”

The current consultation on the proposals closes on April 4. 

Boundary Commission secretary Tim Bowden, said: “Constituency boundaries are changing, and this is your chance to have your say. Your feedback helps make our proposals the best they can be, and we’re looking forward to hearing from you during our secondary consultation. Our review of all constituencies in England is an important process. 

“It will make sure each MP represents roughly the same number of electors across the country. Help us get our proposals for South West right – tell us your views at a public hearing or via bcereviews.org.uk before April 4th.”

Public hearings will be held in Bath’s Assembly Rooms on March 28th and 29th. To book a ten-minute slot to speak, visit: bit.ly/bcepublichearings.

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