Minor modifications aside (apologies to the residents of Sully), Cardiff South and Penarth has been the relatively unchanged Westminster preserve of Alun Michael and Jim Callaghan before him since 1983. No longer. If the draft changes to Westminster constituencies are approved in October 2013, Penarth will be saying ‘hwyl fawr’ to Splott and Trowbridge, and ‘shwmae’ to Cathays and Gabalfa.
What does this mean for representation of Penarth’s citizens at Westminster?
The answer would appear to be ‘not a lot’. The electorate of Cardiff South and Penarth was already the biggest in Wales, at 73,690 and the proposed electorate will be 76,346, so our relative representation is reduced by about 3.5% (spare a thought for the electors of Arfon whose representation has been reduced by 45%).
Who would our representative be? Well, probably not Alun Michael. He’s confident of getting the nod to be Labour’s Police Commissioner for South Wales and will be stepping down as an MP. That coincidentally means a by-election for the shortest-serving Cardiff South and Penarth MP in history. I won’t be shedding many tears over Alun’s departure. His awful performance as First Secretary to the National Assembly for Wales along with his ‘strong support’ for the Iraq war and for renewing the UK’s nuclear arsenal are a matter of public record (I guess it’s easy to be generous with other people’s money when you’re on an MP’s salary). I just hope that the general contempt in which he appears to be held in Penarth is replicated throughout south Wales and he fails to get the £85,000 top job at South Wales Police. I know of die-hard Labour supporters who either abstain or vote Labour with a peg on their nose and with gritted teeth because of Alun Michael.
I’ll leave the analysis to the psephologists, but it seems unlikely that the Liberal Democrats will muster much support in Penarth given their total absence from the town’s politics (yes, I know, “fighting for Penarth residents year-round, not just at election time”). The Conservatives are unlikely to take this seat in the next millennium and Plaid have done a decent job of subsidising the Electoral Commission through fairly consistently surrendering their deposit in Cardiff South and Penarth and Cardiff Central. That means a fairly safe Labour seat for the rest of the 21st century, or until Wales become independent, whichever comes sooner.
The biggest shame is that our under-representation in the Senedd isn’t being rectified (80 AMs would be a good start). Per million people, Wales has 20AMs – there are 25 MSPs per million Scottish people and 60 MLAs per million people in Northern Ireland. Can we seriously expect our AMs to make cogent contributions to important Committee meetings when they’re appointed to up to three Committees?
So for the record, I’m delighted that these reductions in MPs are taking place. Welsh MPs – over-represented in any case – pass most of their casework onto their Assembly counterparts. Just how certain politicians are crying ‘foul’ is beyond me. A few less piggy snouts in the Westminster trough will do us all a power of good.
Finally, I’m going to respond to the consultation with the simple comment that our constituency be renamed “Penarth and Cardiff Central”, and I would urge all you loyal readers to do likewise. Why we should play second fiddle to a portion of Cardiff is beyond me. If it’s good enough for Gower (and Swansea West) and Caerphillly (and Cardiff North) then it’s good enough for Penarth.