Residents of Camberwell in south-east London have been shocked by proposals from the Boundary Commission that we feel could have a detrimental impact on our political voice and our community identity.
For most of us, the existence of a Boundary Commission for England was not something to worry about on a day-to-day basis. It’s one of those offshoots of government known as an ‘arms-length body’ whose role is to periodically rework the geographical boundaries of the constituencies that elect MPs, to account for population changes.
For the past few years, the Boundary Commission had thrown the major part of Camberwell in with Peckham, so we were represented by Harriet Harman MP for Camberwell and Peckham. The rest of the area, rather confusingly, looked to Florence Eshalomi, in the Vauxhall constituency as our member of parliament.
The Boundary Commission’s new proposal is to chop Camberwell into three. A larger part, including Camberwell Green, will go to Vauxhall, the southern part to Dulwich and West Norwood, and the rest to a newly renamed “Peckham” constituency.
Camberwell’s town centre would be sliced up, and our name would disappear from the Commons.
When we first heard the news in 2021, local community organisations got together to highlight the damage it would cause to the community and businesses.
What upset everyone was the way that a community with common concerns and interests was being dissected just to make the numbers add up, even though part of the Boundary Commission’s remit is to keep communities together.
More than 800 people in the area took the time to sign a petition asking to keep Camberwell together, on change.org.
Community organisations, the SE5 Forum for Camberwell, the Camberwell Society and the Camberwell Identity Group submitted a consultation response, cross-referencing the public petition.
Why Camberwell’s name matters
Camberwell is an area of London with a longstanding identity, all the way back to the Domesday book. The old parish of Camberwell included Peckham and Dulwich. Today, it’s most clearly defined as a postcode area – SE5, aligned with the former Metropolitan Borough of Camberwell.
Part of the reason community feeling in Camberwell is so strong is because locals feel their identity can be overshadowed by its better-known neighbours – Brixton and Peckham.
Local people are keen to identify Camberwell as the place we call home. Reactions vary from irritation to extreme annoyance when we are mistakenly told we live in Camberley. Maybe Camberwell in Australia is more understandable.
It’s a strong community with its own identity – diverse, green, with world-leading art and medicine and independent shops. The Camberwell brand logo and colours were agreed upon by the community in consultations in tenants’ halls and on the green, created by our artist and paid for through crowdfunding.
Why do the names of constituencies matter?
Our democratic process is very rooted in geography. We have a strong sense that we are voting for a candidate that will go to parliament and represent the interests of our local area. If we want people to vote and take an interest in the democratic process, we need to see that linkage between community and representation. So a poorly aligned constituency area degrades that linkage and is also likely to degrade democratic participation.
Constituents want to know that their MP is accountable for their area. An active MP is able to promote his or her home constituency and can influence, at a number of levels, inward investment that might come to the area.
Camberwell sees itself as a town centre. The people that live here, want to shop locally and want work to be available locally. Experience has shown that if the centre of gravity is down the road in Peckham or Brixton, that’s where the money goes.
How can community members help to keep the Camberwell name?
We’ll keep the Camberwell flag flying until the next iteration of Boundary Commission changes. Meantime, we are campaigning at least to keep Camberwell as part of the name of one parliamentary constituency.
If you are reading this before 5 December, let the Boundary Commission know you sympathise and don’t want to see the Camberwell name cancelled like this.
Visit the BCE Consultation Portal or tweet your support @SE5Forum @BCEReviews