Earlier this year, the Boundary Commission came up with a draft set of proposals for new parliamentary constituencies. In Gateshead there was a straightforward proposal for 2 constituencies, both wholly within Gateshead. The new constituencies would retain the names of the two existing constituencies - Blaydon and Gateshead. Under the existing boundaries, 2 Gateshead wards are in Jarrow constituency so the change to two constituencies wholly within the borough were accepted by both Labour and Lib Dems as administration would be easier both within the council for electoral purposes and within local political parties for candidate selection and local campaigning purposes.
Then in November came the revised proposals and they are radically different for Gateshead. We end up with one constituency wholly within Gateshead (called Gateshead and Whickham) and 3 partial constituencies: Consett and Blaydon, Jarrow and Washington.
Labour's response is rather telling. They are deeply hostile to the inclusion of Whickham in the name of the constituency that is wholly within Gateshead and they are deeply unhappy with the creation of this constituency though they accept that it is too late to change the proposed boundaries. I wonder whether or not the hostility to both the boundaries and the name have anything to do with Whickham being represented wholly by 9 Lib Dem councillors on Gateshead Council. The inclusion of Whickham in the constituency name draws voters' attention to the possibility that this new constituency could be winnable for the Lib Dem. We were only a few percent behind Labour in the votes cast last May in the local elections within the new constituency. To make matters worse for Labour, the new constituency also includes Low Fell, a strong Lib Dem ward, plus the neighbouring ward of Saltwell where we were close to taking the ward in May.
Having stated they want to axe Whickham, their alternative name was "Gateshead Central". We argued that Whickham should be retained as it is the biggest town in Gateshead borough outside the urban core.
Labour argued that "Gateshead" should appear in other constituency names as well. They called for the Jarrow constituency to be renamed Jarrow and Gateshead East. I agreed that the name needed to be changed but Labour were not willing to accept my alternative of Jarrow and Felling. As I pointed out at council cabinet, the 4 Gateshead wards going into the constituency were previously part of the Felling Urban District. Labour were having none of it!
Labour also proposed "Washington and Gateshead South" for the new Washington constituency as 2 wards from the borough will be joined to it. But I put forward "Washington and Birtley" as an alternative. After all, most of the voters in the 2 wards actually live in Birtley. I suggested that if you asked people from Birtley where they lived, the answer would be Birtley, not Gateshead South.
Interestingly, Labour did not apply the same thinking to the new Consett and Blaydon constituency. At the cabinet meeting where this was discussed, I pointed out the inconsistency in Labour's approach: why weren't they calling for this constituency to be called Consett and Gateshead West? I didn't get an answer but shortly afterwards they quietly changed their position and called for Blaydon to be stripped out and Gateshead West to be inserted instead. It would be interesting to know whether Liz Twist, Labour MP for the current Blaydon constituency, supports scrapping the historic name of her constituency.
There will be 28 constituencies in the North East once these changes have gone through. Somehow, Labour in Gateshead expect Gateshead to appear in the name of 4 constituencies, in effect, one in seven constituencies to be named after Gateshead. Labour argue that in the 50 years that Gateshead Council have existed, residents have developed a strong sense of unity towards Gateshead. Whether or not this is the case is irrelevant because the constituencies are to elect people to Parliament. And interestingly, there are 22 wards here each electing 3 councillors to Gateshead Council. Not a single one has the name of Gateshead in it.
Anyway, below is the recording of the debate at cabinet on the new constituencies and the names.