Wales’ new boundary changes – who are the winners and losers?
Ifan Morgan Jones
The Boundary Commission for Wales has today published its initial proposals for the new map of Westminster constituencies which will come into force at the next General Election.
Under the changes, Wales is reduced from 40 to 32 MPs, with all constituencies apart from Ynys Môn facing significant alterations.
The proposals themselves are now open to eight weeks of consultation but are unlikely to be changed significantly at this point.
There will always be a few anomalies but there is no single seat that stands out having no particular logic behind its design, so I think what we’ll eventually get will be quite close to the map below.
All parties in Wales will of course likely lose MPs as a result of these cuts – there are eight fewer seats to go around in total – but I thought it worth taking a closer look to see who the winners and losers are likely to be due to the changes.
Plaid Cymru currently have four seats at Westminster at the moment – Arfon, Dwyfor-Meirionnydd, Ceredigion and Carmarthen East and Dinefwr.
They’re also competitive in Ynys Môn.
While that island seat is the only one untouched by any boundary changes, and will remain competitive as a result, all of Plaid Cymru’s present seats face quite major alternations.
Overall I think Plaid Cymru will be fairly happy with these changes, which leave them with one very solid seat, two winnable ones and another one they could win at a stretch. It could be worse.
Dwyfor-Meirionnydd now features the Caernarfon half of their former seat of Arfon, which is a Plaid Cymru stronghold.
This is probably the safest seat that could possibly be created for Plaid Cymru and guarantees that unless there is a huge calamity they will always have some foundation to build from.
Carmarthen is another one that I think, looking at the new map, they should retain. It now branches westwards into the west of Carmarthen, St. Clears and Whitland. But crucially it stops short before reaching the more Conservative Narberth, Tenby and Pembroke.
Despite the Pembrokeshire constituencies being a Conservative stronghold at Westminster and Senedd I think these changes probably strengthen Labour more than the Tories.
I’d expect this seat therefore to be a Plaid-Labour battle as it was back when Plaid first won it in 1966, with the party probably retaining it here barring a Labour revival at Westminster.
Ceredigion Preseli (or Ceredig-long as I’m choosing to call it) could be tricker I think. Ceredigion was already trending Conservative because of demographic changes and the collapse of the Lib Dems as the anti-Plaid Cymru alternative.
The new constituency includes some Welsh-speaking areas of Preseli like Crymych that will probably be fruitful for Plaid Cymru. However, this constituency goes further than the Ceredigion and Pembrokeshire North that Plaid won in 1992, all the way to St. David’s.
Despite great results for Plaid Cymru in Ceredigion at the most recent Senedd and General Election, I would think that this would be a close Conservative-Plaid Cymru swing seat.
The other seats Plaid Cymru may want to have a look at would be the new Aberconwy and Llanelli.
Aberconwy is probably beyond Plaid Cymru at a Westminster level. It will now include Bethesda which is good territory for them, but Bangor probably benefits Labour as much as Plaid.
Llanelli goes a bit further north and into the former Plaid Cymru Carmarthen East and Dinefwr East but probably not enough to overhaul Labour’s significant advantage there.
If Plaid Cymru can’t win these seats even at a Senedd level then throwing in a few extra rural communities and towns at Westminster level probably won’t get them over the line.
Elsewhere on the map, creating a seat called ‘Glyndwr’ which Plaid have essentially no hope of winning might be regarded as a little cruel.
Verdict: 1-3 seats, down from 4
The Liberal Democrats
Despite winning a by-election in Brecon and Radnorshire as recently as 2019, after the Senedd election the Liberal Democrats look out of luck, particularly at a constituency level.
These changes do not help them. The three constituencies where they were competitive – Montgomeryshire, Brecon and Radnorshire and Ceredigion – now jut into areas where they essentially have no presence at all.
Despite being strong advocates of proportional representation I think that First Past the Post had essentially kept the Lib Dems alive in mid-Wales because they could credibly claim to be the main opposition and that anything else was a wasted vote.
With such a fundamental shift in boundaries however that’s going to be a harder sell than it was.
While Ceredigion seems destined to become a Plaid Cymru-Conservative contest there may be some hope in the new Brecon and Radnor and Montgomeryshire and Glyndwr as the areas included – such as Llangollen and the upper Swansea valley – are still quite rural in nature or in the case of Pontardawe might be ready to vote Lib Dems to keep the Conservatives out.
They will have to work hard to establish an election-winning machine in those areas between now and the next General Election however and I do question whether they have the presence in those communities to pull that off.
Verdict: Still 0 seats but with even less chance of a revival
In the north, the Conservatives will be happy. It looks like they will definitely be down just one MP as the seven seats there (only one currently Labour) are reduced to five. Given that one of their number has already lost the whip that game of musical chairs is unlikely to take long.
The constituencies here remain a mix of coastal and rural which would be quite amenable for them. They may be thankful to have avoided the ‘North Wales Coast’ constituency suggested by former boundary change designs which would have locked the bulk of their support into one very safe but very narrow strip of land.
Further east, Alyn and Deeside and Wrexham remain largely untouched and will no doubt remain as Labour-Conservative swing seats.
To the west, the inclusion of Bangor into Aberconwy will be a worry – I think that seat could now be lean Labour.
In the south things are tricker. They have struggled to make headway here at the General Election and Senedd election and these changes don’t make things any easier.
Their two Pembrokeshire seats are reduced to one very safe seat. They might eye ‘Ceredig-long’ but it’s probably no consolation for losing Preseli Pembrokeshire.
The Vale of Glamorgan also becomes safer as Cardiff south eats west into more urban areas. But their Bridgend-Porthcawl gain is broken up into one impossible Port Talbot-Porthcawl seat and a Bridgend-Ogmore one that doesn’t look as promising either.
Their main target of Cardiff North also now juts in the direction on Pontypridd which doesn’t look particularly Conservative friendly.
Monmouth is probably safer for them however now that it including the market town of Caldicot.
Verdict: 9-11 seats, down from 14
You could draw Wales’ map essentially at random and Labour would probably still win over half the seats due to the red fortress in the south-east. Any way you slice it, it’s still red.
There is little here that will worry them, although I think the north-east Wales seats could have ended up a little more favourable to them if the designers had gone for constituencies that spread across the coast rather than long and thin ones that jutted inland.
Aberconwy however looks a likelier gain for them with the inclusion of Bangor. Carmarthen is also winnable with the west of the town included.
There may even be some hope of positioning themselves as the main opposition to the Conservatives in Brecon and Radnorshire, with the inclusion of parts of the former Neath constituency.
Gower also looks like a safer hold with the inclusion of more of Swansea West, and they will hope to win back Bridgend after its merger with Ogmore.
All in all, although the Conservative plan with these boundary changes was no doubt to reduce Labour’s numbers at Westminster overall, I think Labour will probably be the happiest with the proposed changes in Wales.
Verdict: 19-21 seats, down from 22