Beware - the name game is a trap

QUICK off the mark in getting information out to constituents on his activities since the General Election is Douglas Carswell, whose full colour leaflet arrived through the post this month.

QUICK off the mark in getting information out to constituents on his activities since the General Election is Douglas Carswell, whose full colour leaflet arrived through the post this month.

And continuing the folksy style which marks him out from other MPs – during the election campaign, his doorstep introduction to voters was "Hi, I'm Douglas" – he starts his newsletter "Dear Neighbour."

It's not a modest little publication either – it contains 19 colour photos of the new Tory MP in various locations including the Trinity House headquarters opened last month in Harwich, the Clacton and District Hospital, Walton Community Project, the Leas School in Clacton, and Clacton Pier.

Unfortunately, Mr Carswell has joined a little band of MPs who arbitrarily have renamed their constituencies just to prove to their electors that they actually do represent them. He is not, as he claims, the MP for Harwich & Clacton – the name of the constituency is Harwich – and similarly, the MP for Bury St Edmunds is not the MP for Bury St Edmunds & Stowmarket.

Stowmarket has not figured in the official record of constituency names since 1918, when the seat created in 1885 to encompass Thetford Warren, Thetford, Cavenham, Stowmarket, Bradfield and Hawstead was redistributed to various divisions in Suffolk and Norfolk. Stowmarket itself had the ignominy of being submerged in the Eye constituency, where it remained until 1983 when it was incorporated into Central Suffolk only to be later lumped in with Bury St Edmunds in 1997.

Harwich was a historic parliamentary "rotten" borough, returning two members from 1603 to 1868 to represent the parishes of St Nicholas and Dovercourt. The surrounding countryside and seaside communities, including the Tendring coastline, were represented by the two MPs for Essex from 1290 to the Reform Act of 1832, when they were included in the two-member Essex Northern division with its place of election at Braintree.

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In 1868, the entire area was incorporated into the two-member Essex North-Eastern division with its place of election at Colchester.

The Harwich division was created in 1885 and remains today one of the few small towns in the UK to keep its name alive in Parliament. The constituency initially extended west to cover Wivenhoe, Brightlingsea and West Mersea but in 1918, the boundaries were redrawn to cover Manningtree, Brightlingsea and Wivenhoe.

Incidentally, places of election were the only locations the few people entitled to register a ballot could go to vote. Until the franchise was extended and legally protected polling stations established, the place of election would see riotous, bawdy, drunken behaviour as candidates bought votes.

The best description of such corruption remains the Eatansville by-election in Dickens' The Pickwick Papers. "Exciseable articles were remarkably cheap in all the public houses . . . under the influence of which, voters might frequently be seen lying on the pavements in a state of utter insensibility."

Elections are no longer that exciting – but that's what happens when you give women, leaseholders, journalists and council tenants the vote.

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