Here are the UK’s most infuriating constituency names

What’s the matter with Wirral? Image: Ordnance Survey.

I have a lot of feelings about Britain’s constituency names: that is to say, a lot of them are just wrong. Here’s my A to Z of the most egregious.

Aberavon

This seems innocuous enough. This constituency is named for the historic town of Aberavon, but here’s the problem: Aberavon isn’t even the most significant location in the constituency. The historic town is now effectively part of Port Talbot, which makes a great deal more sense as the constituency name.

But it’s nice to have a bit of history, so you can make case that this is a good way to name constituencies, except…

Aberconwy

Quite literally the next constituency in the alphabet upends this rule. In the 1970s, government went in for creating new names for combined local authorities – Avon, Humberside and so forth – and Aberconwy was one – the borough existed from 1974 to 1996.

If you’re naming this constituency on the Aberavon “pick something historical and stick with it” principle, it really ought to be called Conwy. Or if you are going for major-ish settlements, Llandudno and Conwy works. But seriously Wales. Pick a theme and stick to it.

Aberdeenshire West and Kincardine

This is the first example of what I think of as the “Mewtwo Strikes Back” problem. As any millennial will be able to tell you, the first Pokémon film was called Mewtwo Strikes Back, raising the question of when, exactly Mewtwo struck.

Where is the Aberdeenshire East constituency? It’s chaos, just chaos.

Airdrie and Shotts

This is an early example of the Scottish disease: excessive use of the word “and” in constituency names. The town of Airdrie makes up the overwhelming bulk of the constituency’s population, some 38,000 or so people. Shotts has a population of under 8,000.

There is no case to be made for Shotts being included in the name. And the thing about this is once you start doing it you end up with, well… you’ll see. You’ll all see.


Aldridge-Brownhills

No excuse for this goddamn hyphen. Use an ampersand like everyone else, or failing that, a space.

Alyn and Deeside

Another artefact of 1974 government reorganisation in Wales. It’s the inconsistency that mithers me; either name your constituencies after something you came up with in the 1970s or an ancient town. But not both, Jeez. It’s anarchy. Anarchy.

Angus

A rare Scottish constituency with no unnecessary “ands” in it. So, of course, it will become “Angus Glens and Dundee East” in the boundary review, as well as “Angus West and Kincardine”.

I don’t want to get diverted on the new constituency names because we’ll be here all day – but can we just pause on the craziness of halving a location, calling one Angus West and one Angus Glens? There is no “Glens” on a compass.

East, North and South Antrim

Northern Ireland actually has very sensible constituency names.

Arfon

Wales switches its constituency names abruptly back to historical towns. It’s a nice pretty name, though under the Aberconwy rule it really ought to be called Gwynedd, or Bangor and Caernarfon if you are going for the “major settlements” rule.  

Argyll & Bute

Reasonable name, shared with the local authority it contains. But note the “and”. Scotland is actually responsible for 90 per cent of the mentions of “and” in Hansard. True story.

Arundel and South Downs

This English constituency is named for the market town and the National Park it contains. Gets away with the “and” because it sounds like a band name. Though, again, this is fine, but wildly inconsistent.

Ashfield, Ashford, Ashton Under Lyne, Aylesbury

Four sensible and easy to understand constituency names, not one stupid name.

Oh, god. Image: Ordnance Survey.

Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock

“Hi, I’m the Scottish Electoral Commission, and from 1997 to the present day, I became addicted to commas and ampersands.”

“It started small, just adding a couple of tiny towns to constituency names. But by the 2010 election it had had spiralled out of control.”

This constituency is materially unaltered from when it was just called Ayr. Seriously, if you’re reading this at the Scottish Electoral Commission, the first path to ending dependency is to admit you have a problem.

Central Ayrshire

Isn’t the centre of Ayrshire, you know, Ayr? So called because it combines bits of both North and South Ayshire, which is fine, except…

North Ayrshire and Arran

Seriously? What kind of directions are you giving here? “North” and “Central”? Shout-out to the Isle of Arran, getting its name in the place despite having just 4,000 people there.

Banff and Buchan

Another Scottish constituency with an “and” in the title. Should really be called Aberdeenshire North, but it gets off because it sounds like a great name for a firm of incompetent lawyers.

Barnsley Central

Barnsley East

I know what you’re thinking. How do you split a town in two and end up with a “Central” and an “East”? A West and an East, sure. A Central and an Outer, fine. But what exactly are they sniffing over at the Boundary Commission?

Basildon & Billericay, Basildon South & Thurrock East

If “Basildon” is in “Basildon and Billericay”, by definition there is not any Basildon left to be “Basildon South”. It should therefore be “Basildon North”. It gets worse, there’s a Thurrock, too.


Mid-Bedfordshire, North-East Bedfordshire, South West Bedfordshire

That the Boundary Commission can pull off unity of theme makes it even more maddening that they mostly don’t.

North, East, West, and South Belfast

Big hand for Northern Irish constituency names.

Bermondsey & Old Southwark

This makes me angry. Very angry. There are lot of these in London which are basically “[Place Name] and [Defunct Local Authority]”. Why is this one “Old Southwark”? Hackney South and Shoreditch isn’t Hackney South and Old Shoreditch, despite the fact that it contains places that are only Shoreditch if you are a) an estate agent or b) moved to London after 2010.

Berwickshire, Roxburgh & Selkirk

Get a hold of yourself Scotland. Roxburgh is literally a village. I was going to say “Why don’t the other villages get their names in?” but it can only be a matter of time before they do.

Birkenhead

Right, let’s talk about the constituencies of the Wirral. Birkenhead, Wallasey, Ellesmere Port and Neston are four of them. So clearly what’s happened here is they’ve gone for major settlements, not Wirral [Direction], right? That’s fair enough.

Except…Wirral South and Wirral West. These directions don’t even relate to each other properly. Call Wirral South New Ferry and Bebington and Wirral West Hoylake and West Kirby, or rename the others.

Image: Ordnance Survey.

Birminghams Edgbaston, Erdington, Hall Green, Hodge Hill, Ladywood, Northfield, Perry Barr, Selly Oak, Yardley

The superficially consistent constituencies of the Birmingham local authority area. Except the qualifications for what size you need to be to be the suffix of a Birmingham constituency seem to range from “major settlement” (Erdington) to “pleasant sounding name” (Hall Green).

Bolton North East, Bolton South East, Bolton West    

These compass points are…different.

Bradford East, South, and West

What happened to Bradford North? It’s Mewtwo all over again.

Brent North, Brent Central

Again, how do you end up with a “North” and a “Central”?

Bridgwater & Somerset West, North Somerset, North East Somerset,

Never ask for directions in Somerset: a series.

Brighton Kemptown, Brighton Pavilion

Kemptown is a place. The Pavilion is literally a building, and yet somehow these are both acceptable constituency descriptions. And poor Hove doesn’t even get a Brighton in front of it.

Bristol East, Bristol North West, Bristol South, Bristol West

Never ask for directions in Somerset: the series continues. Slow clap for having enough constituencies to do a proper compass but not managing it.

Caithness, Sutherland & Easter Ross       

Scotland, of course. Fun fact: since 1951, the length of the average constituency name in Scotland has increased by 26 per cent. No, really. I’m not making this up.


North East Cambridgeshire, North West Cambridgeshire, South Cambridgeshire South East, Cambridgeshire.

Again, the maddening thing here is that you can very easily rearrange these boundaries to get a North, East, South and West.

City of Chester

Fuck off. Note how Bath, Wakefield, Wells, and so on don’t feel the need to do this. (And Wells really has a strong case for asserting its basically non-existent claim to be a city.)

“City of”. Ban this sick filth.

Clwyd South, Clwyd West, Vale of Clywd

What kind of crazy naming scheme even is this?

Coatbridge, Chryston & Bellshill

Ampersands Anonymous, are you there? It’s me, Scotland.

Colchester

Note to Chester, see how there is no “City of” here?

North Cornwall, South East Cornwall

What is the purpose of the word “east” here?

Coventry North East, Coventry North West, Coventry South

What even is this? And again, a small tweak would give you a Coventry North, a Coventry South and a Coventry Central.

Croydon Central, Croydon North, Croydon South

See, Coventry? Great constituency-naming from Croydon.

Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East   

Get a grip, Scotland: a series. This is doubly egregious as there is no constituency with “Kirkintilloch West” in the name.

Image: Ordnance Survey.

Derby North, Derby South, Derbyshire Dales, Mid-Derbyshire North East Derbyshire, South Derbyshire

Derbyshire comes close to unity of them, then ruins it with “Dales”. Is that a compass point? No, no it is not.

Central Devon, East Devon, North Devon, South West Devon, Devon West and Torridge

The “west” in South West Devon is particularly inexcusable. Torridge is in Devon, get rid of it from the name.

Mid-Dorset & Poole North, South Dorset, West Dorset, North Dorset

What happened to Poole South? We’ll never know.

Dunfermline & Fife West

Fifes: Fife West, and North East Fife. Where is the rest of Fife?

City of Durham

We talked about this. No likes, no favs.

North Durham, North West Durham

Never ask directions in Durham.

Ealing Central & Acton, Ealing North, Ealing Southall

Pick a theme and stick to it. There are three different naming conventions on show here.

East Kilbride, Strathaven & Lesmahagow

By 2030, it is estimated that there will no ampersands left for the rest of the English-speaking world. They will all be busy servicing Scottish constituency names.

Enfield North, Enfield Southgate

What? Why? One is a compass point, the other is a place. What even is this?

Mid-Kent and Faversham

The only Kent constituency with Kent in the name. Go home, Kent, you’re drunk.

Hackney South & Shoreditch

See Bermondsey and Old Southwark. Set to become the ridiculous Hackney West and Bethnal Green, a place that exists only in the minds of estate agents.

Harwich & Essex North

Where is Essex South? It’s not even the northmost constituency in Essex. What a joke.

Islington South and Finsbury

See Bermondsey and Old Southwark.

Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch & Strathspey

Those greedy Scots.

Leeds Central, Leeds East, Leeds North West, Leeds North East, Leeds West

The mystery of a city without an apparent south. It gets worse: Leeds Central is the most southernmost constituency by a distance. Look:

Image: Ordnance Survey.

West Lancashire, Lanark and Hamilton East

There is no other Lancashire. There is no Hamilton West. There is no God.

Leicester East, Leicester South, Leicester West

What happened to Leicester North? Mebbe Leeds stole it, I don’t know.

North West Leicestershire, South Leicestershire

What is the West adding here?

Lewisham Deptford, Lewisham East, Lewisham West & Penge

What kind of compass is this?

Linlithgow & Falkirk East

Turns out that that the constituency calling itself Falkirk was lying.


Manchester Central, Manchester Gorton, Manchester Withington

What kind of compass are they using, seriously?

Middlesbrough, Middlesbrough South and Cleveland East

A moment ago you had used all the Middlesbrough, now apparently there’s some left over. Which is it?

Normanton, Pontefract & Castleford

Are you Scotland in disguise? Seriously, what even is this? Actually this isn’t as unreasonable as it looks, as all three are chunky population centres, which is probably why it loses a big chunk to Wakefield.

Northampton North, Northampton South, Nuneaton, Norwich South, Norwich North, Nottingham East, Nottingham North, Nottingham South, Nuneaton

All good.

Old Bexley & Sidcup

See Bermondsey & Old Southwark.

Penistone & Stocksbridge

Hehehe.

Paisley & Renfrewshire North, Paisley & Renfrewshire South, East Renfrewshire

West Renfrewshire is where Amelia Earhardt ended up, presumably.

Richmond (Yorks), Richmond Park

The need to differentiate the Richmond in Yorkshire from the one in London could be fixed by calling the latter Barnes & East Sheen.

Ruislip, Northwood & Pinner

London getting in on the ludicrous names game. There is no excuse for this one.

Ross, Skye & Lochaber

Apparently they asked how long a constituency name could be in Scotland. The Skye’s the limit, apparently.

Romsey & Southampton North

The Southampton constituencies are a weird mess, because every boundary change they change the naming format so there are these weird appendices of constituencies past.

Scarborough & Whitby

That Whitby managed to squeak in here (Scarborough is the bulk of the constituency) is a good example of what soft power and a residents’ association can do for you.

Image: Ordnance Survey.

Sheffield Brightside & Hillsborough, Sheffield Hallam, Sheffield Heeley, Sheffield South East

What’s it to be, Sheffield? Compass points, place names? Pick one.

Sefton Central

There is no other Sefton constituency. Why is the word “Central” even there?

Sleaford & North Hykeham

There is no South Hykeham, apparently.

South Holland & The Deepings

Great band.

Surrey East, Surrey Heath, Surrey South West

“Heath” is not a compass point. 0/10, fake and not canon.

Mid-Sussex

Where are the other Sussex constituencies?

Thurrock

See the entry for “Basildon & Billericay, Basildon South & Thurrock East”.

The Wrekin

The name of a Doctor Who monster, not a marginal constituency.

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at our parent title, the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.

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On Walter Benjamin, and the “Arcades Project”

Passage Verdue, Paris. Image: LPLT/Wikimedia Commons.

In 1940 a small group of refugees were turned away at the French-Spanish border. Having fled the Nazi invasion of France, they hoped to find safety in Spain. One of their number, a German-Jewish philosopher and writer, intended to have travelled onwards to America, where he would certainly be safe. So distraught was he by the refusal he met at the border that he took his own life.

The writer in question was Walter Benjamin, the prominent critical theorist who has contributed so much to our understanding of urban society, and he died with a manuscript close at hand. When asked previously if the briefcase of notes was really necessary to a man fleeing for his life he had replied, “I cannot risk losing it. It must be saved. It is more important than I am.”

The work that Benjamin died protecting was the Arcades Project. It was to be his magnus opus, intended by the author to illuminate the contradictions of modern city life. But it was never finished.

To Benjamin, the subject of the work, the arcades of Paris, were relics of a past social order, where consumerism ruled. The arcades were a precursor to the modern mall, lined with all sorts of shops, cafes and other establishments where visitors could buy into the good life. The area between these two lines of businesses was covered with glass and metal roofs, much like a conservatory: it gave visitors the high street feel in an intimate, sheltered and well-lit setting. You can still find examples of such places in modern London in the Burlington and Piccadilly arcades, both off Piccadilly.

Such arcades proved hugely popular, spreading across Europe’s capitals as the 19th century progressed. By Benjamin’s time, though, his type of shopping area was losing custom to the fancy department stores, and in Paris many of them had been obliterated in Haussmann’s city reforms of the 1850s and ‘60s. Whereas Parisians could once visit 300 arcades, now only 30 remain.

Through his research Benjamin started to see the arcades as representative of a pivotal moment in social history: the point when society became focused on consumption over production. Buying the latest fad product was just an opium, he thought, dulling senses to the true nature of the world. By bringing light to this, he hoped to wake people up from the consumerism of the 19th Century and bring forth some kind of socialist utopia.


He also warned that this shiny veneer of progress was hiding the true state of things. Instead, he revered crusty old cities like contemporary Marseilles and Moscow, where social life was more honest. In this way, Benjamin contributed to the intellectual movement focused on stripping away the excess of revivalism, standing alongside architects such as Le Corbusier. 

Through his newspaper essays throughout the first half of the 20th Century, Benjamin also became one of the first thinkers to focus on urban isolation. His suggestion that we can be most alone when among such a dense mass of other people is something many in modern cities would sympathise with. His work wasn’t all doom and gloom, however, as he saw cities as our salvation, too: laboratories from where society’s problems can be worked out.

It was 2000 before an English translation of the unfinished the Arcades Project was published, but by then the work had already had a significant impact. Just as he stood on the shoulders of giants such as Baudelaire and the Surrealists, modern thinkers have drawn on his work. Benjamin's concerns about common architectural forms can be seen to inspire modern architects such as Laurie Hawkinson, Steven Holl, Tod Williams and Billie Tsien.

The city of Paris itself was as much a part of the Arcade Project’s inspiration for Benjamin as was his intellectual predecessors. In his letters he repeats that it felt “more like home” than Berlin, and his days were spent marvelling at how the old and the modern exist together on the Parisian streets.

How groundbreaking the Arcades Project really was is hard to say. The fact it wasn’t finished certainly scuppered Benjamin’s plans to wake society up from its consumerist slumber, but that doesn’t make the work inconsequential. His fairytale of steel and glass is as much about the relationship between its author and Paris as it is a theoretical work. By putting the city as the main subject in human’s social history he laid the groundwork for future generations of thinkers.

Benjamin was lost to the tragic tide of the 20th century history, and his death marked the end of the project which could have changed the way we think of the urban landscape. Even if you shy away from the grandiose or don’t buy into his promises of socialist utopia, reading the work can still offer some eclectic factoids about 19th century France. At any rate, it must be acknowledged that the man gave his life to the betterment of society and the cities in which we live.