- Matthew Alexander
GE 2019: Battleground Britain
The election is here! Psephologists, politicians and pundits will be returning to our lives over the next five weeks as we countdown to the election dubbed “the most important in a lifetime”. Not only is the December election important, it also promises to be exciting with the two-horse race of 2017 being torn open with resurgent Liberal Democrats and the young upstart Brexit Party taking chunks out of Labour and Conservative’s vote shares respectively. Strikingly, this election is particularly regional in nature; the age of uniform national swing is over with huge variations in the fortunes in different regions. To assess the possible outcomes of the next election it is necessary to analyse regionally to reveal the battlegrounds of this election campaign using YouGov’s recent regional polling.
North East (29 seats)
The latest regional polling suggested a Labour collapse from 55% to just 32% in their heartland. This is also the strongest region for the Brexit Party at 19%. The Conservatives believe they can pick up a few gains, yet considering the region voted Leave in 2016, many constituents are hesitant to vote for the party due to historic and cultural reasons. As much as they dislike Labour’s Brexit policy, they are still grounded in old school class politics and therefore reluctant to back the Conservatives. The North East will be a bellwether to see whether Boris Johnson can shake off the Tories’ tag as the ‘nasty party’.
Seat to Watch: Hartlepool (Mike Hill, Labour) - Richard Tice, Brexit Party chairman, is standing here in what can be considered Brexit Party’s number one target seat. 69.5% of Hartlepool voted to Leave yet Conservatives failed to make a mark in 2017. If the Brexit Party fail to win here then their populist insurgency is over.
North West (75 seats)
Much has been written about the ‘Workington Man’, supposedly the target voter for the Conservatives in this campaign. That is to mean voters that are older, without a degree, Leave-voting and culturally conservative. These characteristics are particularly prevalent in target constituencies such as Warrington, Workington and Blackpool and the Tories will look optimistically at the latest polling showing an 11 point swing from Labour to the Conservatives. However, the North West could also be a happy hunting ground for the Liberal Democrats as they eye up affluent, suburban, constituencies like Cheadle and Hazel Grove.
Seat to Watch: Workington (Sue Hayman, Labour) - If the Tories win this seat, the 61st target on uniform national swing, it will be a vindication of their pivot to blue-collar conservatism and they will start to think about the prospects of a majority.
London (73 seats)
Boris Johnson’s 2012 mayoral victory is no indicator of his popularity in London this time around. Instead, the Conservative Party will continue to struggle in the Remain-voting capital. The big change from 2017 is a decline in Labour’s standing. Jeremy Corbyn’s historic euroscepticism and accusations of antisemitism has led some London Labour leaflets carrying images of Sadiq Khan instead. This has opened space for the proudly anti-Brexit, internationalist Liberal Democrats who are targeting just about every seat with new members Sam Gyiamh and Luciana Berger leading the charge in Kensington and Finchley and Golders Green respectively.
Seat to Watch: Finchley and Golders Green (Mike Freer, Conservative): Luciana Berger left the Labour Party after attacking “institutional anti-semitism”, she now stands as a Liberal Democrat. A recent constituency poll suggest she may well win the seat with an incredible 26.2% swing from Conservatives to the Liberal Democrats.
East of England (58 seats)
Fifty of the fifty-eight seats are held by Conservatives and they will be eyeing up another strong performance, currently leading the polls here by 27%. The Liberal Democrats have overtaken Labour into second place and will be hoping for a strong performance in remain voting regions such as St Albans and South Cambridgeshire.
Seat to Watch: South Cambridgeshire (Heidi Allen, Liberal Democrat) - this seat could become an interesting three-way battle with a ‘Unite to Remain’ candidate facing the two mainstream parties. Current constituency polling suggests a 23.6% swing from the Conservatives to the Liberal Democrats. A Tory defeat here would suggest their re-alignment to attract new demographics has backfired by alienating current Remain Tory voters.
East Midlands (46 seats)
This is yet another ground Tories will be keen to attack with six target seats having a majority of fewer than 5,000 votes. On the other hand Rushcliffe, Ken Clarke’s seat until this election, is the most heavily remain area in the East Midlands and is yet another long-held Conservative constituency likely to slide away and will need to be made up elsewhere.
Seat to Watch: Bassetlaw (John Mann, Labour) - having voted 2:1 to leave the EU, no incumbency advantage and the Labour candidate selection process being referred to the police by former MP Mann, this is a key target for the Conservatives to achieve a majority.
West Midlands (59 seats)
The West Midlands is also a stronghold for Conservatism though they do have to contend with hostile cosmopolitan areas in Birmingham and Wolverhampton. The Tories are hoping to persuade conservative ethnic Asian voters by putting Sajid Javid and Priti Patel at the forefront of their campaign. Regional polling suggests Conservatives can be hopeful of making gains with a 7% swing from Labour to the Conservatives since the last election.
Seat to Watch: Warwick and Leamington (Matt Western, Labour) - Matt Western is handicapped by an out-of-term election and is now expected to lose the seat. This seat could be a bellwether for the vitality of the student enthusiasm that propelled a Corbyn comeback in 2017.
Yorkshire & Humber (54 seats)
An historic Labour heartland, latest polling shows Conservatives to be the most popular party here by 5 points. If this is translated into votes on December 12th then Boris Johnson can expect to pick up a slew of seats which could propel him to his majority. For Corbyn however Yorkshire could be a nightmare. Not only are Conservatives eyeing up their traditional seats but the Liberal Democrats are looking at the more urban seats in Leeds and Sheffield as potential gains. An interesting side note to this election will be the fortunes of the Yorkshire Party, after picking up 4% of the vote in European Elections, the disaffection surrounding Westminster may continue to benefit this regional party.
Seat to Watch: Halifax (Holly Lynch, Labour) - Theresa May’s disastrous manifesto was launched here with the full expectation of an easy Conservative gain, in fact Labour increased their majority by almost 5000 votes. If the Tories win here it would be a sure sign they’ve learnt from their mistakes and Johnson may get the majority May believed was hers.
South West (55 seats)
The South West is a region of contradictions: it is one of the poorest parts of the UK yet Labour struggle here. It was a previous Liberal Democrat stronghold yet voted to leave the EU. This makes for an interesting election in this region. It’s leave voting nature and its aversion to Labour suggests it should be a safe Conservative region. This comes with the exception of urban areas such as Bristol and Exeter and affluent towns such as Cheltenham likely coming under heavy attack from the Liberal Democrats.
Seat to Watch: North Devon (Peter Heaton-Jones, Conservative) - a previous Liberal Democrat safe seat before their 2015 collapse, if they win this seat it will be fair to say they are back to their 2000s best. However, it will be an uphill struggle to win in a Leave seat and if they fail it may prove the limits of being a pro-European protest party.
South East (84 seats)
Historically the safest region for the Conservatives, the demographic change due to young commuters to London entering towns such as Milton Keynes and Reading as well as burgeoning university towns like Canterbury has given Johnson cause for concern. Whether Liberal Democrats can convert the current 12.5% swing from Conservatives into seats will be the tale of the night.
Seat to Watch: Winchester (Steve Brine, Conservative) - the incumbent MP had the whip removed as he tried to stop a hard Brexit, no doubt he had half an eye on his constituency as he did so, as 60% voted to remain here. A ‘Unite to Remain’ candidate is running in this seat, will the constituents reward Brine’s disloyalty or punish the Tories for Brexit?
Whatever the result in December it is clear there will be huge regional variety. This election will be a regional balancing act, can Boris Johnson please the economically left, culturally conservative ‘Workington man’ without alienating the Cameronite, economically right but culturally liberal affluent voters in the suburban south to form his majority? Only time will tell.