Not only has Europe been on the brink of meltdown this autumn, but so have our MPs. Only seven of 75 constituencies in my home patch, the North West, are untouched by the meddling hands of boundary officials.
These London based bureaucrats know nothing of the Hardknott Pass or the middle class prejudice of people in Blundellsands who may henceforth share their parliamentary representative with the dockers and labourers of Bootle.
I have spent the golden days of autumn at public hearings from Carlisle to Manchester into the massive shake up of our parliamentary map in order to send 50 fewer MPs to Westminster. It has provided fascinating proof that, in a globalised world, what matters is local.
The media in general never give enough coverage to these boundary reviews. They sometimes have the effect of wrecking an MP’s career without a vote being cast. Indeed there are mutterings that when Parliament eventually gets to decide on the shake-up, the turkeys won’t vote for Christmas.
Much of this talk is coming from Conservatives. This is surprising as overall the reform is set to benefit the Tories.
All seats have to have populations of between 73 and 80,000. At present constituencies vary wildly in the number of electors: 56,000 in Wirral South and 109,000 for the Isle of Wight.
That’s because officials have been allowed to take geography into account. It’s generally meant Labour representing smaller urban seats and Conservatives larger suburban ones.
The Tories are determined to even things up but, in doing so, they are likely to incur a lot of collateral damage. For instance Graham Evans, just elected to represent the Weaver Vale seat, sees it scattered to the four winds.
Boundary officials have had a difficult job planning seats with the strict new population rules. That said they seem to have made a pig’s ear of it in many parts.
Let’s start in Cumbria at the fabled Hardknott Pass. With a gradient of one in three this would be the route traversed by the MP trying to represent the new seat of Copeland and Windermere – if it isn’t closed by winter snowfall. Instead of keeping the West Cumbrian industrial coast together, officials are recommending constituencies that bestride the Cumbrian mountains. Workington and Keswick is the other one.
At a hearing in Carlisle Tory MP Rory Stewart produced a geological map to show that even in the carboniferous era it would have been absurd to defy the lie of the land in this way.
The major upheaval of local government boundaries in 1974 still rankles with many people. At the hearing in Preston, an elderly gent from Earby yearned for the days when his town was in the West Riding of Yorkshire.
He railed against the officials’ plan to put his town in with “the urban sprawl of Pendle”. He wanted to be in a seat with the old Viking name of Staincliffe.
In 1974 Poynton successfully won its battle to stay out of Greater Manchester. Alarm has been raised by plans to join the Tory Cheshire town with the Hazel Grove parliamentary constituency. It could also dilute the Lib Dem majority of Andrew Stunell.
Hazel Blears had also been doing her historical research. The Salford MP is underwhelmed by the proposal that the centre of Salford should be absorbed by Manchester Central constituency.
She reminded the Boundary Commission that Salford was a medieval “hundred” when Manchester wasn’t big enough to be allowed a similar honour.
But the boundary officials’ most absurd proposal is for a seat called Mersey Banks. It would stretch from Bromborough in South Wirral to Weaverham in Cheshire taking in Hale village, which is separated from the rest of the constituency by a mile of the muddy Mersey.
There are many grievances on the northern flank of Liverpool.
You will search in vain for a seat with Knowsley in its name. Prescot and Formby are cut in twain and, horror of horrors, the people of Blundellsands and Crosby are put in with Bootle.
There is still time for people to make representations on the proposals. Indeed Parliament isn’t due to give the new map the nod until the autumn of 2013, a bare 18 months before the next General Election.