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Fear and loathing in southern Bedfordshire

BedfordshireI had meant to post some more stuff here over the last couple of weeks but the reason why I have failed, other than being generally busy, was that I decided to write a quick post about the Boundary Commission’s revised recommendations for changing the parliamentary boundaries for Luton and the rest of Bedfordshire.

This was not a quick post.

In researching and writing it up I rather got lost in the subject. Which is a bit silly given the vote in parliament last week means that they are even less likely to be put in place than they were when the House of Lords reforms collapsed.

It is not so much the proposed boundaries themselves that I have got lost in, which are pretty straightforward once you’ve got your head around them, but the story that the report, the written submissions, and the transcript of the two days of public evidence, tells about how the different communities in southern Bedfordshire (or at least their elected representatives) see themselves and each other. It is a tale of identity, different ideas of urban and rural, party politics, misconceptions, genuine fears, and sadly I suspect lurking at the back of it is different forms of prejudice. It also provides evidence for the motivations behind many of the decisions that have taken place in local politics over recent years — much of them deeply irrational when looked at objectively. Most of this I was vaguely aware of — but now feel I should have understood better — and reading this has helped bring some clarity.

What I am talking about here, if you hadn’t already guessed, is how Luton is mistrusted — indeed to some extent feared — by its near neighbour Dunstable and the rural communities of south Bedfordshire. How important being “rural” is to those communities. And why the quite logical proposal to create a parliamentary constituency that combined Dunstable with the north of Luton generated such an extreme reaction from some.

This at least is the picture that the background papers to the Boundary Commission’s report gives us as presented at least by members of the local political class. How deeply this picture accurately reflects the views of the local population is an open question. Perhaps the controversy over the new boundaries might have given us some clues to this if it hadn’t been cut short by the bigger national controversy at Westminster.

As you can tell I have ended up with a much wider subject to talk about than the boundaries of parliamentary constituencies! A subject that may take me a while to do proper justice to.

But first the boundary proposals themselves…

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