Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Lib Dems Attempt to Set Firm Boundaries for Tory Ambitions; Columnist

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Lib Dems Attempt to Set Firm Boundaries for Tory Ambitions; Columnist

Article excerpt

Byline: Paul Linford

THIS week, The Journal reported that there had been more than 900 objections lodged with the Boundary Commission over its plan to alter the face of the region's one real rock-solid Tory enclave - the parliamentary seat of Hexham.

The plans, drawn up last September as part of the Government's proposal to reduce the size of the House of Commons by around 50 seats, would see historic country boundaries crossed in the name of 'equalising' the size of constituencies across the country.

If the proposals go ahead, the North East will see its overall representation in Parliament fall from 29 to 26 with no part of the region unaffected by the changes.

For some of the region's MPs, it is likely to mean the end of the political road, while those that survive will find themselves standing for re-election in constituencies almost unrecognisable from their existing ones.

Nowhere has the opposition to the Government's plans been more intense than Hexham.

All three main parties - including the Conservatives and their sitting MP Guy Opperman - have come out against the proposals, with the 950 letters of opposition equalling the number received in all the other 28 North East constituencies put together. What the opponents of the changes find particularly galling is the fact that the proposed new constituency will breach the historic county boundary between Northumberland and County Durham, with Haltwhistle moving into a newly created seat of Consett and Barnard Castle.

Other proposed new constituencies in the region - for example Newcastle North and Cramlington - will see the traditional divide between metropolitan and non-metropolitan areas breached, although, perhaps surprisingly, these seem to have aroused much less opposition to date.

But the ongoing debate over Hexham could prove to be a microcosm of a much larger battle over the Government's proposals which could yet influence the timing and the outcome of the next general election.

In my column last week, I speculated that Nick Clegg's proposals for House of Lords reform could ultimately prove to be the rock on which the coalition founders, with Conservative peers, who want to maintain the second chamber''s built-in Tory majority, threatening to derail his plans. …

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