Proposed changes to Parliamentary constituencies could be good for Shaftesbury, The Blackmore Vale and Cranborne Chase according to a local MP.
In 2016, the Boundary Commission proposed replacing the North Dorset constituency with a new area covering Shaftesbury and Warminster. The North Dorset constituency name, used since 1885, could be erased from the political map. The suggested reorganisation is an attempt to reduce the number of constituencies and create seats with similar numbers of voters.
If approved, part of the new seat would take in the current constituency of Conservative South West Wiltshire MP, Dr Andrew Murrison. “The important thing is whether you think it is acceptable to reduce the number of MPs from 650 to 600,” he said, adding, “I think that this is something that could be supported.”
If MPs vote for this change in October then some parliamentary seats will cover more than one local authority area. “For the first time in our history then, you have seats that cut across county boundaries,” Andrew said.
Back in 2016, North Dorset MP Simon Hoare voiced concern over the new proposed constituency. “Creating a cross boundary seat is not desirable as it would operate under two councils. Clearly this duplication generates challenges but I don’t believe them to be, of themselves, insurmountable.”
“I think that the MP could act as a bridge between two authorities,” says Dr Murrison. “It’s important to remember that MPs have no executive function. We can simply cajole, badger and influence our local government colleagues. We do have a leadership role and I do think that if you are dealing with two local authorities then there are advantages,” he said.
So if the change happens, will it matter to most people?
“South Wiltshire and North Dorset are not dissimilar and I do see, particularly along the border, advantages for a constituency that straddles both sides,” Dr Murrison said. “Most people going about their day-to-day lives are not obsessed with lines on a map like politicians are,” Andrew added.
“Somebody might live in The Donheads or Semley, but they will get their services from Shaftesbury. We’ve had that with the debate in relation to the Shaftesbury Hospital recently. Lots of people from Wiltshire, including me, have been trying to get a solution that is good for Shaftesbury and North Dorset as well as South Wiltshire,” he said.
There will be administrative changes next year when a new council for rural Dorset is planned. It will eventually take on the roles of the current Dorset County Council and North Dorset District Council as well as the other local district councils, which will all be abolished.
Andrew was against the introduction of unitary council status when it was suggested for Wiltshire, but he says his opinion has changed, now he has seen the new system working. “I opposed it for all of the reasons that are being rehearsed now in Dorset. I think that I was wrong to do that. Wiltshire Council has been a big success. There have been more joined up services. It is a model that Dorset should replicate and I think you’ll be pleased with the results,” Dr Murrison said.
So how likely does Mr Murrison think it is that the parliamentary boundary will be redrawn? “I think the chance of it getting through the House of Commons is 50-50. So we might be talking about a hypothetical,” said Andrew.
If the plan succeeds, the new constituency name will undoubtedly become a hotly debated topic. Which town comes first – Shaftesbury or Warminster? Simon Hoare has suggested that a reference to North Dorset should be retained in the name. We can look forward to those discussions, or not, depending on what Parliament decides in the autumn.