On Tuesday the Boundary Commission published their proposals for redrawing parliamentary constituencies, in order to reduce the number of MPs from 650 to 600. All three of the constituencies which fall within Southampton have been modified, and the consequences of these changes may well be felt come the next general election.
At the 2015 general election, the Conservative candidate Caroline Nokes held Romsey and Southampton North, which includes City Council wards Bassett and Swaythling. The Tories also won Southampton Itchen through candidate Royston Smith, which includes all of Southampton east of the river Itchen along with Bargate ward in the city centre. Long-term incumbent Alan Whitehead and Labour long held the final seat in Southampton, Test, which includes the remaining 7 city council wards west of the Itchen. If Parliament accepts the Boundary Commission’s current proposals, Southampton will be fully encompassed by two constituencies, Test and Itchen.
City Council wards Bassett and Swaythling will move from the current Romsey and Southampton North Constituency into Southampton Test. While Bassett is not generally known as a student oriented part of the city, the Glen Eyre halls complex does fall within the ward. Swaythling meanwhile is home to many students, both in the private rented sector – mainly on the several student roads to the north of the University – and as part of the Wessex Lane halls of residence. Bevois ward, which falls to the south of the University, will move away from its current location in Southampton Test into Southampton Itchen. Bevois contains a large amount of private rented student accommodation for both Southampton University and Solent, and is also home to the infamous nightclubs of Bevois valley, along with Southampton Football Club’s St Mary’s Stadium. Yet what would these changes mean for our political parties come the next general election?
Let’s start off with the two ‘Southampton North’ wards moving into the Southampton Test constituency. Bassett ward is heavily Conservative, and returns Tory Councillors even in Labour landslide years. Swaythling meanwhile is more of a ‘swing district’, having elected Councillors from both Labour and the Conservatives in recent times. In the 2016 Council Election Labour won the ward, although Tory candidates were elected in both 2015 and 2014. The movement of these wards into Test certainly represents an expansion of the Conservative vote in the constituency. This, coupled with the removal of solidly Labour Bevois, spells trouble for the incumbent, Alan Whitehead. Bevois is a very safe Labour ward, and its absence from Test will make it much easier for the Tories to capture the constituency.
On the other side of the river, the movement of Bevois into Itchen could spell trouble for Royston Smith, the Conservative incumbent there. His seat is currently one of the most marginal in the nation, and the addition of several thousand Labour voters into Itchen has the potential to threaten his 2,316 majority. Mr Smith will however benefit from his position as a well known incumbent, and his chances may well be further improved by the national political picture, which currently sees the Tories riding high in the polls.
Overall, it would be hard to argue that the changes to boundaries in Southampton decisively favour the Conservatives or Labour. Nether Itchen nor Test will become ‘safe’ seats for either party. However their partisan leanings will flip, and Test will become the more Conservatives of the two seats. Should an election be held under these boundaries tomorrow, and current national polling prove correct, it would be likely that the Tories would win both seats. However politics, as many of us know all too well, has a tendency to bring unforeseen surprises. In the end it won’t be until the early hours of the morning on May 8th 2020 that we will really know for sure the effects of these boundary changes on Southampton, and the nation.