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 many ways, smart cities are really very dumb

Rio de Janeiro’s control centre. Image: Getty.

It’s not news that anything and everything is increasingly being prefaced with “smart”: phones, watches, homes, fridges, and even water (yes, smartwater exists). And it’s not unintentional either. 

Marketeers know that we, the public, are often stupid enough to believe that thanks to their technology, life is better now than it was way back in, say, the primitive Nineties. Imagine having to, like a Neanderthal, remember how to spell words without an autocorrecting algorithm, or open the fridge door to check if you’d run out of milk, or, worse still, interact with actual people.

So it’s hardly surprising that we’re now also witnessing the rise of the so-called “smart cities”; a concept which presupposes that cities that are not technologically  “smart” are dumb, which, as anyone interested in the millennia-old history of cities — from the crypto-currency grain storage algorythms of ancient Mesopotamia to the complex waste infrastructure of ancient Rome, to London’s public transport infrastructure — will know, is not true.

Deployed in these smart cities are cameras and other networked information-gathering devices, load cells and other “sensing devices” detecting passing pedestrians and vehicles, audio surveillance devices listening for gunshots – and even vending machines equipped with biometric sensors to recognise your face. This is not to mention beacon technology — tiny anonymous looking black boxes hidden in trees and on lampposts — which transmits advertising, offers and other information directly to smart phones in the vicinity. 

If that doesn’t seem sinister enough, take, for example, Rio de Janeiro, where, in 2014, the International Business Machines Corporation designed a mammoth “control centre” that integrates data from 30 agencies for the city’s police. 

Described by the Guardian as having “the functionality of a Bond villian’s techno lair”, the then local mayor, Eduardo Paes, claimed the centre was making the city safer while using technology to deploy its “special” police unit to carry out the state’s “pacification programme”. Launched in 2008, the programme, which aims to push out drug gangs from Rio’s favelas, has been criticised by Amnesty International: “in January and February 2017 in Rio de Janeiro alone, at least 182 people were killed during police operations in marginalized neighbourhoods (favelas) – a 78 per cent increase in comparison to the same period in 2016”.

Sinister or not, as smart cities grow, they create new problems. For example, as urbanist Adam Greenfield writes in Radical Technologies: The Design of Everyday Life, neither the algorithms nor their designers are subject to the ordinary processes of democratic accountability – a problem that international academics are currently attempting to tackle.  


“We need to understand that the authorship of an algorithm intended to guide the distribution of civic resources is itself an inherently political act,” writes Greenfield. “The architects of the smart city have utterly failed to reckon with the reality of power.”

The Real Smart Cities project, founded by Dr Gerald Moore, Dr Noel Fitzpatrick and Professor Bernard Stiegler, is investigating the ways in which so-called “smart city” technologies present a threat to democracy and citizenship, and how digital tools might be used create new forms of community participation.

Fitzpatrick is critical of current discourses around smart cities, which he says “tend to be technical fixes, where technology is presented as a means to solve the problems of the city.” The philosophy underpinning the project is “that technologies function as forms of pharmacology”, he adds, meaning that they can be both positive and negative. “The addictive negative effects are being felt at an individual and collective level.” 

An example of this lies in the way that many of these smart cities replace human workers with disembodied voices — “Alexa we need more toilet roll” — like those used to control the Amazon Echo listening device — the high priestess of smart home. These disembodied voices travel at the speed of light to cavernous, so-called “fulfilment centres”, where an invisible workforce are called into action by our buy-it-now, one-click impulse commands; moving robotically down seemingly endless aisles of algorithmically organised products arranged according to purchase preferences the like of which we never knew we had — someone who buys a crime novel might be more likely to go on and buy cat food, a wireless router, a teapot and a screwdriver. 

Oh to be the archeologists of the future who while digging through mounds of silicon dust happen upon these vast repositories of disembodies voices. That the digital is inherently material and the binary of virtual/real does not hold — there is no cyberspace, just space. Space that is being increasingly populated by technologies that want to watch you, listen to you, get to know you and sense your presence.

One project looking to solve some of the problems of smart cities is that of the development of a “clinic of contribution” within Pleine Commune in greater Paris (an area where one in three live in poverty).This attempts to deal with issues of communication between parents and children where the widespread use of smartphones as parental devices from infancy is having effects on the attention of young children and on the communicative abilities between parents and children. 

This in turn forms part of a wider project in the area that Stiegler describes as “installing a true urban intelligence”, which moves beyond what he sees as the bankrupt idea of smart cities. The aim is to create a “contributory income” in the area that responds to the loss of salaried jobs due to automation and the growth and spread of digitisation. 

The idea being that an income could be paid to residents, on the condition that they perform a service to society. This, if you are unemployed, living in poverty and urban deprivation, sounds like quite a simple and smart idea to try and solve some of the dumb effcts of the digital technology that's implemented in cities under the ideology of being “smart”.