Parliament is in recess now for the short conference season break. Next week I will be at the Conservative Party conference in Birmingham which promises to be interesting and exciting event.
The conference season has already been noteable. UKIP have elected a new leader replacing Nigel Farage who, for many, had been synonymous with UKIP for a great many years. The Labour Party made even more headlines by not replacing its leader with Jeremy Corbyn increasing his mandate as Leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition.
For the Conservatives it will be the first conference since Theresa May succeeded David Cameron as Prime Minister.
So politics has been through an exciting and febrile time nationally. It is also going through a volatile time internationally with Angela Merkel’s Party losing ground in Germany and the US Presidential election TV debates beginning between Donald Trump and Hilary Clinton.
With such momentous national and international change one would hope that the local scene would be a little calmer. That, though, is not the case with potentially large changes being brought forward in the last few weeks.
A manifesto commitment for the Government was to equalise the number of voters in every constituency and reduce the number of MPs from 650 to 600. This task is the job of the Boundary Commission.
Last week they published their proposals and they came as a bit of a surprise to many.
The ‘electoral quota’ is the average number of voters designated to each constituency. This quota has a tolerance either side of it which each constituency must meet. In rough terms this means that each constituency must contain between 70,000 and 80,000 electors. At the moment the Harrogate and Knaresborough constituency contains just over 75,000 electors and so, naturally, most would assume that there would not be much change.
However, movements in other constituencies can have a domino effect and that has been the case with the published proposals. In order to balance some of the West Yorkshire seats, some voters have been taken from the east side of the Selby and Ainsty constituency. This left that constituency well short of the electoral quota.
Selby and Ainsty therefore needed to acquire new voters and the Boundary Commission looked west. Their proposal is that the Boroughbridge and Claro wards, currently in the Harrogate and Knaresborough constituency, are transferred into the new constituency.
This leaves the rest of the Harrogate and Knaresborough constituency slightly short of the electoral quota and so the Boundary Commission looked west again and suggested moving the Washburn ward – currently in the Skipton and Ripon constituency – to join Harrogate, Starbeck, Knaresborough and the villages in the Killinghall area to make up the new constituency.
Clearly, this is a significant change for all the affected areas. At this stage the boundary commission proposals are out for consultation and I would encourage as many as possible to express their views. You can view all the changes and make your views known at a special website set up by the Boundary Commission at www.bce2018.org.uk.
These changes are in addition to the changes to local ward boundaries which will see the number of Harrogate Borough councillors reduced from 54 to 40. There are no proposed changes to the ward which make up the County Council.
While the proposals are some way from being finalised it is always sad to think that part of an area you have come to know well and people and groups you have met may become part of another constituency.
And I think it is that strong community ethos and willingness to step forward and help others that makes our area special. That is because that spirit seem to be particularly strong here.
We have just had the Council’s small grants awards announced. We are soon to have the brilliant Volunteer Oscars. Harrogate at Christmas are fundraising to repeat last year’s brilliant display of lights and we have won a host of In Bloom awards right across the constituency and the wider Harrogate District.
Which brings me to an event I was so pleased was a success. Last year, I partnered with the local Alzheimer’s Society to organise a Memory Walk in the Valley Gardens. It was the first one in our area and raised around £1,800, with dozens of people taking part. A great start.
This year, we decided to repeat the event and the public and businesses have generously contributed over £6,300 with probably double the number of people walking to beat dementia.
It is a demonstration of our community spirit that the walk was well-attended by young and old alike and people came from far and wide. So I would like to conclude this month’s column by saying that whatever changes we may see to the national and international political scene being a constituency MP is the most rewarding part of what I do. I want to thank everyone that supported the Memory Walk for reinforcing that community ethos which is so strong here.