John Osmond reflects on the impact this week’s announcement of new Westminster constituency boundaries will have
The publication this week of the Boundary Commission’s proposal for the thirty new Welsh constituencies – cutting Welsh MPs by a quarter, from 40 to 30, raises the question once again – what are they for?
In one of the parliamentary debates leading up to the 1997 referendum on the Assembly the former Merthyr MP, now Lord Ted Rowlands memorably said, and I paraphrase, “If I were advising a son or daughter of mine aspiring to go into politics today I would tell them to ignore the House of Commons. The future I would tell them is with either the European Parliament or the Welsh Assembly.”
Ted Rowlands, an early Minister in the Welsh Office in the 1960s and at that time an enthusiast for devolution, had cooled his ardour by the 1990s. In the 1997 referendum he advised us to vote No mainly, as I recall, because the Assembly would be elected by a partial form of proportional representation. By then his attitude towards devolution was one of sorrow rather than anger – sorrow at the decline of the Westminster Parliament and the Welsh MP.
The fact of the matter is that those ten lost MPs will be little missed by the Welsh electorate. The media pay them relatively little attention these days, often preferring to go first for comments on stories to Assembly Members who, after all, are responsible for what concerns most people most in politics – health, education, and economic development.
It is striking that a few years ago I could reel off the names of everyone of our 40 MPs. Most of them I knew personally. Today this is not the case, especially since the changes that took place at the election in 2010. Looking at the photos and names of some of those being predicted as casualties if the Boundary Review’s proposals go through I came across Chris Evans, MP for Islwyn. His seat is due to disappear, swallowed up by the new Newport West and Sirhowy Valley constituency.
Is it his fault or mine that I have never heard of Chris Evans? Check out his website and you’ll see that he was a researcher for the former MP for Islwyn Don (now Lord) Touhig for four years before stepping into his shoes. A Labour Party member since he was 15 he was educated at Porth County Comprehensive, Pontypridd College and Trinity College, Carmarthen where he graduated with a history degree.
After university, he worked for Jack Brown (Bookmakers) before moving to work for Lloyds TSB as a Personal Account Manager and then later working at the University of Glamorgan. In 2004, be became a full-time official with the Union of Finance Staff before joining Don Touhig’s team in Westminster.
Nothing wrong with any of this but where are the political waves that should have brought a bright thrusting young Welsh politician to our attention? The same can be said of many MPs across Wales of whom we have heard little.
Such invisibility makes the protestations of Welsh MPs from all parties at the disproportionality of the depletion of their number – 10 out of the 50 cuts to MPs across the whole of the UK – sound a bit hollow.
Of course, they still have crucial work to do – defending the Welsh budget and protesting at the operation of the Barnett formula which ignores the needs of Wales in distributing funds, but depends instead on a crude head count. They also have an important role on putting the Welsh view on defence matters such as retaining Trident and foreign adventures such as those in Iraq and Afghanistan.
But where are the Welsh MPs who have any profile on issues such as these? On Iraq I can name Cynon Valley MP Ann Clwyd as being ardently in favour and Newport West MP Paul Flynn as being ardently opposed. But they are among an older generation of MPs who cut their teeth in the 1970s. Anyway their seats are disappearing in the Boundary Review and they are likely to use the moment to retire.
More pertinently, on critical issues affecting the National Assembly and the Welsh Government they tend to remain at arms length, betraying resentment at new institutions that are usurping their role. This ought to change. We need a new and more effective partnership between our representatives in Cardiff Bay and Westminster. Let’s hope the constituency shake up will prompt a new start.