Here are England's worst (new) constituency names

The proposed new constituencies of the East Midlands. Image: bce2018.org.uk.

The naming of constituencies is an important matter. A good constituency name conveys a sense of the place, both its major settlements and features, and ideally also a clue to its most important electoral features while nodding to its history. Also, the names of constituencies should make sense in context with one another.

The 2018 boundary review has had some undoubted successes: Corby has become the more fitting Corby & East Northamptonshire, reflecting not only the town but the outlying villages that are such an important part of why the seat is marginal.

My own new constituency of Finsbury Park & Stoke Newington does a lot of these well, containing within it its major park, Underground station, and the historic and now defunct borough it contains within it.

But the other names… they’re not so good. Some, in fact, are downright awful. Here, I attempt to explain why, and to offer positive alternatives.

Basildon & East Thurrock

How can there one constituency called Thurrock and another called Basildon & East Thurrock? Either there is Thurrock left over once the boundaries of Thurrock constituency have been drawn, in which case Thurrock is a lie, or there is no Thurrock left in which case Basildon & Thurrock East needs to thurrock right off, to put it mildly.

The bulk of Thurrock town is in Thurrock but some outlying wards of the council are in Basildon & East Thurrock, admittedly. But by that argument Billericay should have a namechange too, as it contains Basildon wards, while a good chunk of the actual town is Castle Point. The three constituencies should be called Thurrock, Basildon & Stanford-le-Hope and Billericay. Castle Point meanwhile should become Castle Point & Pitsea.

Bermondsey and Old Southwark

This makes no sense. The reason for the “old” is that it contains all the wards of the ancient (as opposed to the current) borough of Southwark. But of course, no other ancient borough is represented in this way. There is no “Old” in front of the St Pancras in Camden & St Pancras, or Shoreditch in Shoreditch and Bethnal Green, or in front of the “Finsbury” in Islington South & Finsbury (of which, more below).

But the confusion of course is that these other names have either fallen into disuse or refer to the same area, while the meaning of “Southwark” has changed significantly. Just call it Bermondsey & Two Cathedrals.

Bosworth

This is an odd one: it contains the majority of the wards of Bosworth & Hinckley Borough Council, including all the wards of Bosworth and Hinckley. Yet it’s not called Bosworth & Hinckley, when it clearly should be.

This is more aggravating because there are number of constituencies named for their local authority with a significantly weaker claim to the name. Amber Valley, for instance, is named for its local authority, which takes its name from the Amber River. Neither the mouth nor the source of the river is contained within the constituency, and there are a number of leftover Amber Valley wards scattered elsewhere. However, I cannot think of a more obvious name, so I will allow it, but seriously: this should be called Bosworth  Hinckley.

Brighton Seahaven & Kemptown, Brighton Pavilion, Hove & Regency

What kind of nomenclature even is this? Three Brighton and Hove constituencies, one of which doesn’t have the Brighton prefix, one of which is named for a major settlement, another which is named for a pretty cool architectural feature.

The problem is that the boundary changes have resulted in a really weird set of ward choices, which means it’s difficult to see what you could do to fix it. But let’s at least call Pavilion Brighton Elm Grove, a pleasingly fitting name for Caroline Lucas’ constituency and one that fits with Seahaven & Kempton.

Bristol North West

Can we stop and appreciate how strange Bristol North West’s boundaries are? They stretch way out into the seat to encompass a series of neighbouring islands, which, fair enough, people on very small islands deserve the vote too. Except, plot twist: there are no people on these islands.

They don’t need to be franchised! This is just a bizarre choice that no other set of boundaries makes. Why do it?

Carshalton & Wallington

Why do Carshalton and Wallington merit inclusion in the constituency name but Beddington, which has an equivalent population, does not? Call it Carshalton, Beddington & Wallington.

City of Chester

Why is this allowed? It’s not City of Colchester, or Wells, or to be frank any number of places who could do this sort of thing.  (And let’s be frank, if your city fits in a constituency boundary, its city status is dubious at best.) What makes Chester think it deserves special treatment?

Just call it Chester.

City of Durham & Easington

The “City of” is acceptable because, unlike the previous example, the city and the county are called the same thing. But I have follow-ups, too, which is I don’t understand why the outlying town of Easington (population 5,559) deserves to be in the constituency name but Horton (5,809) and Murton (5,820) do not. Just call this one City of Durham.

Epping Forest

This is particularly aggravating: not only does this constituency not contain all of the wards of the Epping Forest local authority, it doesn’t contain all of the actual forest (the tip of the forest proper is in Chingford & Woodford Green, while parts of the lower forest are in Brentwood & Ongar). Call it Loughton, Chigwell & Waltham Abbey to capture its essential Essex Toryness and historic abbey.

Hackney

Fuck off.

Seriously. Fuck off.

The metropolitan borough of Hackney contains 21 wards, ten of which are not in this constituency. Many of the borough’s iconic buildings and parks are not in this constituency. London Fields is not in this constituency. The Rio Cinema is not in this constituency. Stamford Hill is not in this constituency. The CLR James Memorial Library is not in this constituency. Clissold Park is not in this constituency. The Geffreye Museum is not in this constituency. Church Street is not in this-[That’s enough-Ed.]

I would say this is typical of the flattening of the borough’s identity thanks to hipsters but this constituency DOESN’T EVEN INCLUDE THE MOST HIPSTER PARTS OF THE FUCKING BOROUGH.

Why not just call this constituency London and have done with it? I mean, if names don’t matter, if the Boundary Commission is just fucking around for no good reason, let’s go crazy. Let’s call it Europe.

I would be willing to accept Hackney Central.

Harlow

Harlow, like a lot of town constituencies, is a mixture of its major town and outlying villages, most of which are Epping Forest wards. It’s a bit of a shame that on the whole constituencies like this are better served by the boundary review – as mentioned earlier, Corby & East Northamptonshire, but also Luton North & Houghton Regis, both formerly just Corby and Luton North, who both come out well here.

The joy of renaming Epping Forest is that allows us to give Harlow the more accurate name of Harlow & Epping Forest North.

Lincoln & North Hykeham

This is accurate, but it’s quite sad that the very narrow strictures of the Boundary Comission have led to its creation. If these changes go ahead, the next parliament will be the first since 1254 not to have a Lincoln constituency: solely to satisfy a very poor analysis of why Labour did so well in 2005, and in order to give the Conservatives a pretty paltry advantage over Labour (which may in any case quickly flip the other way round, such is the nature of electoral coalitions).

Loughborough & North Rushcliffe, South Rushcliffe & Clifton

Rushcliffe borough council possesses the country’s most gloriously eccentric names – it contains, among other delights, a Bunny ward, a Gotham ward and a Suton Bonington, which sounds like the name of a British fop in an American sitcom.

But it’s also the scene of this particularly annoying bit of inconsistent constituency naming. Either have a North Rushcliffe & Loughborough or a Clifton & South Rushcliffe (I narrowly prefer the latter, but I’m not going to go to war over one or the other).

Oxford

See Hackney. There are major parts of Oxford that are not in this constituency.

In many ways this is arguably worse than what they’ve done with Hackney because at least then they’ve followed through and pretended that there aren’t any bits of Hackney anywhere else.  But there’s also an Abingdon & Oxford North. Even the Boundary Commission think this is a stupid name.

Just take a leaf out of York’s book and call this one Oxford Central and Abingdon & Oxford North can stay as it is. Or become Oxford Outer.

Norwich North

The majority of this constituency is not in Norwich, either from a local authority perspective or a plain common sense perspective. The bulk of voters in “Norwich” North live in the Norfolk local authority of Broadland. And we wonder why people are disillusioned with politics these days. How can we trust the system when we can’t even trust our constituencies? Call it Norwich North & Sprowston.

Richmond Park

It’s a small thing, but it’s silly to need to differentiate between this constituency and Richmond (Yorks) in Yorkshire when we could just call the one in London Barnes & East Sheen.

Sheffield Hallam

Sheffield constituencies: Sheffield CentralSheffield North & EcclesfieldSheffield SouthSheffield South East, and Sheffield Hallam. One of these is not a compass point. Sort it out.

South Holland & the Deepings

Great band, lost their way a bit after their third album though.

South Leicestershire

The constituencies that surround Leicester can’t decide whether they are named after compass points or places. Places are more informative. Call this one Blaby & Broughton-Astley and North-West Leicestershire should become Ashby & Three Castles.

Wakefield Rural

Wow, they phoned this one in pretty damn hard. Either call Wakefield Wakefield Urban” or come up with a proper name for this constituency.

Wirral West & Bebington

Spot the odd one out: BirkenheadWallasey, Garston & HaleswoodWirral West & Bebington. Just call this one Bebington & Heswall so it fits the theme of the rest of the area.

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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In South Africa's cities, evictions are happening despite a national ban

An aerial view shows a destroyed house in Lawley, south of Johannesburg, on April 20, 2020. The city has been demolishing informal structures on vacant land despite a moratorium on evictions. (Marco Longari/AFP via Getty Images)

On the morning of 15 July, a South African High Court judge ruled that the city of Cape Town’s Anti-Land Invasion Unit had illegally evicted a man when it destroyed the shack where he was living.

That afternoon, the Anti-Land Invasion Unit was out again, removing shacks in another informal settlement.

Evictions were banned in South Africa for nine weeks, after the national government placed the country under a strict Covid-19 lockdown in late March. At present, eviction orders are automatically suspended until the country moves to a lower “alert level” and can only be carried out with a special order from a judge.

Yet major cities including Cape Town, Johannesburg and eThekwini (created through the merger of Durban with several surrounding communities), have continued to use municipal law enforcement agencies and private security companies to remove people from informal housing. In many cases those operations have been conducted without a court order – something required under regular South African law.

Around 900 people were evicted from three informal settlements in eThekwini during the eviction ban, according to the Church Land Programme, a local NGO. Its director, Graham Philpott, says it’s also aware of evictions in other informal settlements.

While evictions aren’t a “new experience” in these communities, the NGO released a report on lockdown evictions because they were “so explicitly illegal”. “There was a moratorium in place,” Philpott says, “and the local municipality acted quite flagrantly against it. There’s no confusion, there’s no doubt whatsoever, it is illegal. But it is part of a trend where the eThekwini municipality has acted illegally in evicting the poor from informal settlements.”

Evictions also took place in Cape Town and Johannesburg during so-called “hard lockdown” according to local activists. In eThekwini and other municipalities, the evictions have continued despite restrictions. In Cape Town, authorities pulled a naked man, Bulelani Qholani, from his shack. That incident, which was captured on video, drew condemnation from the national government and four members of the Anti-Land Invasion unit were suspended. 


The cities say they’re fighting “land invasions” – illegal occupations without permission from the land owner.

“Land invasions derail housing and service projects, lead to the pollution of waterways, severely prejudice deserving housing beneficiaries and cause property owners to lose their investments over night,” Cape Town’s executive mayor, Dan Plato said in a statement. (Plato has also claimed that Qholani did not live in the shack he was pulled from and that he disrobed when municipal authorities arrived.)

South African municipalities often claim that the shacks they destroy are unoccupied. 

If they were occupied, says Msawakhe Mayisela, a spokesman for the eThekwini municipality, the city would get a court order before conducting an eviction. “Everything we’re doing is within the ambit of the law,” Mayisela says. But “rogue elements” are taking advantage of Covid-19, he added.

“We fully understand that people are desperately in need of land, but the number of people that are flocking to the cities is too much, the city won’t be able to provide housing or accommodation for everyone overnight,” he says. 

While eThekwini claims to be a caring city, local activists say the evictions show otherwise.

In one case, 29 women were evicted from shacks during the hard lockdown. With nowhere to go, they slept in an open field and were arrested by the South African Police Service for violating the lockdown, Philpott says.

“These evictions are dehumanizing people whose dignity is already compromised in many ways,” says S’bu Zikode, the president of Abahlali baseMjondolo, a community organization whose Zulu name translates to “the people of the shacks”. 

“It has reminded us that we are the people that do not count in our society.”

Municipal law enforcement and private security contractors hired by cities regularly fire rubber bullets, or even live ammunition, at residents during evictions. Some 18 Abahlali baseMjondolo activists have been killed since the organization was founded in 2005, Zikode says, most by the eThekwini Land Invasion Unit and Metro Police.

(Mayisela says that if city employees have broken the law, Abahlali baseMjondolo can file a complaint with the police. “There is no conclusive evidence to the effect that our members have killed them,”  he says.)

Other Abahlali baseMjondolo activists have been killed by what Zikode calls “izinkabi,” hitmen hired by politicians. Two eThekwini city councillors were sentenced to life in prison 2016 after they organized the killing of Thuli Ndlovu, an Abahlali baseMjondolo organizer. A member of the Land Invasion Unit who is currently facing a charge of attempted murder after severely injuring a person during an eviction remains on the job, Zikode says.

South Africa’s 1996 constitution is intended to protect the public from arbitrary state violence and guarantees a right to housing, as well as due process in evictions. But for Zikode, the South African constitution is a “beautiful document on a shelf”.

“For the working class and the poor, it’s still difficult to have access to court. You’ve got to have money to get to court,” he says. 

The actions by municipal law enforcement are breaking down social trust, says Buhle Booi, a member of the Khayelitsha Community Action Network, a community group in the largest township in Cape Town.

“There’s a lack of police resources and those very few police resources that they have, they use to destroy people’s homes, to destroy people’s peace, rather than fighting crime, real criminal elements that we see in our society,” Booi says.

For him, it’s a continuation of the practices of the colonial and apartheid governments, pushing poor people, most of whom are Black, to the periphery of cities.

Around one-fifth of South Africa’s urban population live in shacks or informal dwellings, according to a 2018 report by SERI. Many more live in substandard housing. City governments maintain that the shacks destroyed during anti-land invasion operations are unfinished and unoccupied. But Edward Molopi, a research and advocacy officer at SERI, says that this claim is an attempt to escape their legal obligations to get a court order and to find alternative accommodation for affected people. 

The roots of the current eviction crisis go back to apartheid, which barred non-white people from living in cities. Between the 1940s and 1970s, tens of thousands of people were forcibly relocated from neighbourhoods like Johannesburg’s Sophiatown and Cape Town’s District Six to remote townships.

In the 26 years following the end of apartheid, deepening economic inequality and rampant unemployment have limited access to formal housing for millions of South Africans. Government housing programs have mostly focused on building small stand-alone homes, often on the peripheries of cities far from jobs and amenities.

While these well-intentioned projects have built millions of homes, they’ve failed to keep up with demand, says Marie Huchzermeyer, a professor at the Centre for Urbanism & Built Environment Studies at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg. Government-funded housing projects “will never on it’s own be enough,” she says. “It has to be accompanied by land release.”

Government policies call for the “upgrading” of informal settlements and the formalization of residents’ occupation. But “there are still very, very, very few projects” of that nature in South Africa, Huchzermeyer says. “Even if it’s an informal settlement that’s been around for 20 years, there still seems to be a political wish to punish people for having done that.” The government wants people to go through the formal process of being given a house, she says – and for them to be thankful to the government for providing it.

At the municipal level, change will require “real leadership around informal settlement upgrading and around ensuring that land is available for people to occupy,” she says. 

Despite the end of enforced racial segregation, spacial apartheid remains a factor in South Africa. There are few mixed-income neighbourhoods. Those who can afford to often live behind walls in sprawling low-density suburbs, while the poor live in overcrowded slums and apartment buildings.

The creation of the apartheid city “didn't happen by chance,” says Amira Osman, a professor of architecture at the Tshwane University of Technology. “It was a deliberate, structured approach to the design of the city. We need a deliberate, structured approach that will undo that.”

Since last fall, Johannesburg’s Inclusionary Housing Policy has required developments of 20 or more units to set aside 30% of those units for low-income housing.

The policy, which faced significant opposition from private developers, won’t lead to dramatic change, says Sarah Charlton, a professor at the Centre for Urbanism and Built Environment Studies, but it is “an important and significant step.”

Zikode isn’t optimistic that change will come for shack dwellers, however.

“People in the high positions of authority pretend that everything is normal,” he says. “They pretend that everyone is treated justly, they pretend that everyone has homes with running water, that everyone has a piece of land – and hide the truth and the lies of our democracy.”

Jacob Serebrin is a freelance journalist currently based in Johannesburg. Follow him on Twitter.