Yesterday the Evening Standard published a story about proposed changes to parliamentary constituencies in southeast London. Let's pull this rubbish apart.
We are NOT with the Woolwich: genteel Bexley fights boundary shake-up
Essentially some noisy people are cross about being lumped in with different people.
Residents say house prices will fall if Lesnes Abbey ward joins new constituency named after ‘undesirable’ town
Residents are wrong, but who cares, journalists can sense a 'story' here.
The Evening Standard doesn't often venture as far as outer southeast London. A stock photo of the Woolwich Ferry has been inserted here to remind its core west London readership what the area is famous for.
Class war has broken out...
That first word is the paper's justification for running a non-story. Ooh, class war, readers love a bit of that.
...in one of south London’s most genteel suburbs...
We'll get to the precise location shortly, but it includes part of the Thamesmead estate, which could only be described as genteel by somebody who's never been there.
...which faces a merger with “edgy” Woolwich in a boundary shake-up.
Places currently merged with “edgy” Woolwich include Greenwich, North Greenwich, Blackheath and Charlton. You don't hear their voters complaining.
Residents of Lesnes Abbey ward — famed for its Norman ruins and nature reserve...
If you'd like to see an 8-page profile of Lesnes Abbey ward, including a map, click here. The ward consists of a sliver of Thamesmead, a lot of gorgeous historic woodland and some well-to-do residential avenues. You can guess where all the angry people live.
...in Tory-run Bexley...
Bexley is indeed run by the Conservatives, but this boundary review has nothing to do with councils, it's about parliamentary constituencies. These complaining residents currently live in a safe Labour constituency, and the proposals will merely transfer them to a new safe Labour constituency. As far as any Labour constituency is safe these days, that is.
...fear the change will hit house prices.
I don't know what affects house prices round your way, but it definitely isn't the parliamentary constituency you live in. It might be the council you live under, or your postcode, or a number of other factors, but it isn't the boundary of the area that elects your MP.
They in turn have been accused of snobbery over their campaign against the proposed changes from the Boundary Commission.
Now we're getting closer to the real story. And the real story isn't that some people have taken offence that some people have got angry. The real story is the impracticalities the Boundary Commission are being forced to propose as they redraw the electoral map of England.
It plans to move the ward from the Erith and Thamesmead parliamentary constituency to a newly formed seat called Woolwich as part of moves to slash the number of London MPs from 73 to 68 by 2020.
To make voting 'fairer', the government has insisted there be 50 fewer MPs and that each be represented by an electorate of between 71,031 and 78,507 voters. That may sound more equitable, but these inflexible parameters mean that several geographical compromises are having to be made.
Bexley has too many voters for two constituencies but too few for three, so certain council wards are having to be paired up with voters in other boroughs. Residents of Lesnes Abbey Ward are amongst those being shackled to the eastern part of Greenwich, because the government's rules don't allow them not to be.
If you'd like to play around and see what these boundary changes mean where you live, Ollie's interactive map is brilliant. Slide left for current boundaries and right for those proposed in 2020. There are probably similar "oh good grief I don't want to be bundled in with them!" streets near where you live.
But dozens of residents in Bexley — where singer Kate Bush and food writer Delia Smith grew up — have criticised the proposals, saying they have nothing in common with the riverside town best known for its huge Royal Arsenal.
Journalists at the Standard have thrown in mention of Kate and Delia in case you were falling asleep, or because they assume you've never been to Bexley and need some measure of the kind of people who live there. Neither Kate nor Delia live there now.
One of them, Maree Parra, said: “We have paid higher prices to live in Bexley as we have no desire to live in Woolwich and do not visit Woolwich for any reason.”
Here we go with the batshit section of the story. Maree will still be living in her beloved Bexley when the parliamentary boundaries change, not the hellhole of Woolwich where she never goes.
Mary Clark said: “Woolwich has gone downhill big time. I do not want to be classed as being in Woolwich, and the value of my house will go down.”
Mary will not be classed as being in Woolwich, she'll simply share an MP with them. The value of her Bexley-based house is secure.
Nicola Hunter wrote to the commission to say she moved to Bexley borough because “their ideas and priorities are far superior and in line with my views [and] aspirations”.
There's a lot of sense in moving to a borough whose political affiliations reflect your values. By moving from Labour Greenwich to Tory Bexley, Mary has made a sound personal decision. What she doesn't realise is that this won't change.
You might be wondering where the Evening Standard found all these people. I wondered too, until five minutes digging brought me to the Boundary Commission's website, and the outcomes of the first stage of their consultation. Initial reactions to the constituency proposals were published last Tuesday, and we're now in a four-week secondary consultation period until 27th March.
Specifically the Boundary Commission have produced a map showing every single comment they received in the first round, complete with name of the complainant, and this seems to be where the Standard sourced their quotes. The map reveals that West Londoners moaned a lot more than East Londoners, with particular hotspots in West Hampstead and Shepherd's Bush. But one particular flurry of pins stands out in the apathetic east, and that's in the Lesnes Abbey ward in Bexley.
The Evening Standard missed this grouse from Denise: "I moved here 4 years ago and if I had wanted a Woolwich MP I would have moved there."
And this geographical inaccuracy from Christine: "We are very close to the Bluewater Shopping centre and have links to Dartford Tunnel which is much closer than Woolwich."
And this complete misunderstanding from Brian: "I am nearly 80 years old and have lived in this area all my life. I have seen Bexley change from a municipal borough to become the London Borough of Bexley. I do not understand the reasoning for now dismantling the borough again for us to become part of South East London."
And this postal oneupmanship from Leslie: "I will look enviously at the Bexley system when I am no longer part of it. I feel this change will affect the value of property due to no longer having a Bexleyheath Kent address."
And this parochial attack from Derek: "I oppose this boundary change affecting my area. I did not agree being linked to Thamesmead with the last change and this is now a step too far. This is Kent and not Woolwich SE18. Kent should be Kent and we should be linked more to Dartford."
Ignore the usual bluster from refuseniks who firmly believe they still live in Kent. What's readily apparent from flicking through the local responses is how many people have completely misunderstood what a change in parliamentary boundary actually means. You don't see this level of general ignorance in other parts of London on the map, but in Lesnes Abbey ward it's endemic.
I'm willing to bet that somebody living in the area has done some first class agitating and urged a large group of people to write in to the Boundary Commission and complain. What's more they haven't explained the situation very well, either through omission or by design, hence their rabble-rousing has resulted in widespread uninformed disdain. This isn't news, simply a cluster of misdirected wrath.
For balance, Evening Standard journalists appear to have visited Woolwich to ask actual people what they think.
But Woolwich resident Nick Bradshaw, 60, a freelance musician and music teacher, said: “Having lived in this area for 20 years, there’s a clear divide between the sort of people inhabiting Plumstead and Woolwich and those in Welling or Bexleyheath. I was always aware of the different demographics and Bexley is less cosmopolitan. They seem more reactionary and conservative. I go to Bexley and can’t wait to get away from there. I think it’s them being snobby and they have not been sensible about it. These comments don’t surprise me because I know what kind of people these are.”
You might agree with Nick and think his comments better reflect the reality of the situation. Alternatively you might think his opinion just as ignorant and blinkered as those on the other side of the divide.
The story continues.
The ward is part of the Erith and Thamesmead constituency represented by Labour’s Teresa Pearce. Under the proposed changes, it would remain in Bexley borough but become part of the new Woolwich constituency.
If the Standard's journalists had written this at the start of the article, there wouldn't have been any need to write the rest.
Greenwich Labour councillor David Gardner said Bexley residents have “misjudged” Woolwich, which is a “cosmopolitan and vibrant” place. He added: “This will have no impact on house prices whatsoever.”
It sometimes feels like every story in the Evening Standard comes down to house prices. David is right to point out that they are an irrelevance here.
Boundary Commission spokesman Sam Hartley said: “Comments made during both consultations will help us develop a well-rounded picture of how local communities live and work together across the country. This local knowledge will be essential when we revise our proposals. Any changes will be based on your comments, so it’s important to have your say.”
And this is the real news item. The Boundary Commission are redrawing the map which decides how our constituencies will look at the next General Election. They've been given some annoyingly inflexible rules which mean they've been forced to make some geographically poor decisions, but those decisions aren't yet fixed. There are still three weeks to go to comment, suggest, propose, complain or rant, after which the Boundary Commission will make their final recommendations and we'll all be stuck with them. This matters because this is about the next government we get, and not about who collects Derek's bins.
I live in another of the angry clusters on the consultation map. Bow has been paired with Bethnal Green since 1974, but in 2020 that link is to be cut and we're to be coupled with Canning Town instead. The Boundary Commission are apologetic that they've had to create a two-borough constituency breaching the River Lea, but population numbers left them no choice, and Bow and Canning Town is the unfortunate result. I would write in and urge them to think again, except it seems they may then publish my comment on their website and the Evening Standard may then hold me up to ridicule. Be braver than me and have your say. The future of our country does actually depend on this.