On Friday, I posted my concerns about the proposal to bring the West Berkshire Council wards of Reading West into an expanded Newbury West Berkshire local Liberal Democrat party. As a good Liberal Democrat, I am now going to lay out the counter-arguments, in favour of the change.
The first thing to note is that the English Liberal Democrat party recently changed its rules concerning the formation of local parties. This has prompted a number of local parties to consider changing boundaries between themselves. A common theme is balancing parliamentary boundaries versus local authority ones.
Just recently, in Suffolk, members have decided to reorganise along District council borders. Surrey is reorganising on those same lines. Buckinghamshire and Hampshire have indicated they also want to move in that direction.
Reading has merged into one large party containing Reading East and Reading West constituencies, centred on Reading Borough Council’s area.
The example of Kingston-on-Thames is interesting. For decades, Kingston local party area has contained an electorate 160,000 and one and a third constituencies, being very electorally successful at all levels.
As parliamentary boundaries tend to change quite often, organising around Local Authority areas tends to lead to rather more stable local party situations.
Another key point is that Reading Borough Council holds elections in thirds. That is, they have elections each year for three years and then a “rest” year. Of course, in West Berkshire we have council elections in one fell swoop every four years. So, there is a strong argument to put the Reading West/West Berkshire Council wards in with the bulk of the rest of the West Berkshire wards, in order to synchronise campaigning on the same timetable.
I am particularly grateful to James Moore, the campaigns and membership development officer of the Greater Reading Lib Dem party. He has explained that the proposal to regroup the local parties has been approved by the members of Greater Reading, the Local Party Executive, the Berkshire Lib Dem Leaders meeting, and the Regional Executive. The Chair of the West Berkshire branch (Reading West WBC area branch) was present at the All-Reading meeting which approved this. They also held their own branch meeting where their members agreed the change.
I am also extremely grateful to Theale councillor, Alan Macro, who is “very much in favour” of the change. He mentioned that the Greater Reading local party is more focussed on winning seats on Reading Borough Council than either Reading parliamentary seats or the West Berkshire seats.
I should also mention that I have been sharply reminded that residents of the wards under discussion do not regard themselves as being in suburbs of Reading. Sorry.
I hope my two posts have helped to ventilate the various aspects of this important debate.