Boundary changes favour the Tories

EADT political editor looks at how the Tories will cash in on boundary changes in EssexEVEN Labour's most optimistic supporters will have to concede that the new Parliamentary boundaries in Essex have done the party no favours.

EVEN Labour's most optimistic supporters will have to concede that the new Parliamentary boundaries in Essex have done the party no favours.

Splitting Clacton from Harwich and Witham from Braintree, and giving all four towns large rural chunks with chocolate box villages makes the Conservatives odds on to win all four with comfortable majorities.

The independent Boundary Commission will todayconfirm its draft proposals to redraw the election map of Essex to give the county an extra seat because of the population explosion in the Thurrock-Billericay-Basildon-Chelmsford areas.

Although Labour calculates it would have won the new Clacton seat - with Jaywick, St Osyth, Frinton, Walton, and Holland - by a majority of 100 had it been in place in 2001, last year's local authority elections produced big swings to the Conservatives.

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The current Harwich and Braintree seats are two of the most marginal in the whole of the UK. Should current Labour MPs Ivan Henderson (Harwich) and Alan Hurst (Braintree) cling on next time - and given the Conservative revival, that seems highly doubtful - they will opt to stand in the new Clacton and Braintree seats because they are the better bets for Labour.

But Mr Henderson's power base is the old town of Harwich, where he worked at the International Port before becoming an MP, and that is being swallowed into the new Harwich and North Essex constituency from the Rivers Colne and Stour to take in Wivenhoe and Manningtree.

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Braintree loses Witham, one of the 1960s London overspill estates, and will stretch northwards through the rural idylls of mid Essex. Braintree itself has thousands of newly built commuter homes whose voters opted for Labour in 1997 and 2001 but whose political allegiances can no longer be guaranteed.

The Witham constituency will include Stanway from Colchester as well as Tory inclined Hatfield Peverel, Kelvedon, Tolleshunt d'Arcy, Coggleshall, Marks Tey and Tiptree. The loss of Stanway from Colchester should be neutral for the Tories and Liberal Democrats.

Further south in Chelmsford, where Tory voting villages such as Stock and Boreham of the current West Chelmsford division are being transferred to neighbouring rural seats, Labour and the Liberal Democrat hopes of making it a three-way marginal have been dashed. The Boundary Commission has decided to add Galleywood to the new constituency, which consistently returns Conservative councillors.

Maldon absorbs the Hanningfields and Rettendon from the current Rayleigh seat and Stock and Margaretting from West Chelmsford and although losing the Baddows to Chelmsford and Tolleshunt d'Arcy to Witham, this safest of safe Tory seats will become impregnable.

The new Basildon and Billericay seat looks set to be marginally Tory while East Thurrock and Pitsea should be safe for the Labour.

The changes come into effect from June 30 2006, too late for the next General Election.

The new boundaries should result in the following outcomes at the following General Election, assuming the Tory revival under Michael Howard lifts them from their nadir of 1997 and 2001:

Conservative: Braintree, Brentwood & Ongar, Castle Point, Chelmsford, Clacton, Epping Forest, Harwich & North Essex, Maldon, Rayleigh & Wickford, Saffron Walden, Rochford & Southend East, Southend West, Witham.

Labour: East Thurrock & Pitsea, Thurrock.

Swing seats: Basildon & Billericay, Colchester, Harlow.

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