6 Jan 2012

‘Tim Farron vs Rory Stewart’ quashed by cross-party deal

A fascinating fight at the next election between two of Cumbria’s most colourful MPs – the Lib Dem’s Tim Farron and the Conservative’s Rory Stewart – looks to have been averted. Under the new boundaries proposed by the English boundary commission last September it looked like the two MPs – both considered rising stars at Westminster – would be pitted against each other in what was being heralded as one of the most interesting constituency contests of the 2015 election.

But that fight-to-the-death has now been averted it seems, thanks to a cross-party agreement between the Conservatives, Lib Dems and Labour. Following the boundary commission announcement last September, Cumbria’s six existing MPs met at Westminster, sat round a map, and agreed an alternative carve-up amongst themselves.

Although the MPs accepted that Cumbria would have to lose one of its six seats under the new law, since nationally the number of seats at Westminster is being cut by 50 (and constituency sizes made more equal in terms of population). But MPs representing all three parties in Cumbria agreed a plan which they think better reflects the geography of the county. And it will mean that both Farron and Stewart can still fight seats at the 2015 election which are roughly similar to their existing constituencies.

The cross-party deal would overturn the boundary commission’s controversial plans to create a new seat which would have joined Windermere with Whitehaven. Most Cumbrians thought the plans were crazy, since the new seat would have been a geographical nightmare in terms of transport links, straddling England’s highest mountain range.

Under the alternative cross-party plan, two of Cumbria’s five seats would be centred around its biggest urban areas – Carlisle and Barrow. Another would take in the industrial towns of West Cumbria – Whitehaven, Workington and Maryport. A fourth, likely to be Stewart’s seat, would include Penrith, Keswick and Cockermouth. And Tim Farron, the president of the Liberal Democrats (and possible next leader) would be left with a Westmoreland seat around Kendal, Windermere, Ambleside and the southern Lake District.

The three main parties have submitted broadly similar plans to the boundary commission along these lines, with small variations. The commission is not obliged to accept what they say, but a decision to reject the almost unanimous views of the three main parties (as well as important local groups such as the national farmers’ union) would face a strong risk of being overturned in a judicial review.

Drat! That Farron-Stewart punch-up would have made a lovely constituency film in 2015.

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