21st April 2017
Barring a political earthquake, most politicians, commentators and pollsters agree that Theresa May’s Conservative party is going to be celebrating in the early hours of June 9th with a large majority, and possibly a landslide. Despite the final result being in little doubt, the election is set in the context of a generational shift in the Tectonic plates of politics (Brexit, the unravelling of the Union and the collapse of the Labour Party), which gives us much to look forward to: How many ‘safe’ Labour seats will be lost to the Conservatives in the Brexit-backing heartlands? To what extent will the Liberal Democrats bounce back from 2015? Can the Conservatives take seats from the SNP in Scotland? Will this be the end of UKIP?
Despite Theresa May calling for a ‘snap’ election, we are still seven weeks out, and much can still change during this time. The polls will likely tighten. Election media rules mean Labour/Corbyn will get more TV coverage, and the Party has a good war chest thanks to its membership numbers. Popular constituency MPs could defy national trends. Local candidates are still to be selected. Policy platforms are still to be set out.
With so many unknowns, it’s difficult to predict constituency results with much certainty. However, below I’ve taken an initial look at some of the most fascinating seats, which could prove hugely significant for our understanding of election night, both in terms of the way people are going to vote, and why they will have voted the way they have.
Wakefield – Labour, Mary Creagh MP (Majority 2,613)
It is understood that the Tories are targeting any seat where Labour has an 8,000 or lower majority over the Conservatives. This translates to a significant number of Labour seats. Whilst this is incredibly optimistic, Labour undoubtedly have a problem in their traditional heartlands in the North and the Midlands, especially in areas that voted for Brexit. As with the Copeland by-election in February, there are a number of Labour seats with relatively slim majorities, which may be ready to switch to the Conservatives.
This seemingly puts former leadership candidate Mary Creagh at risk of losing her Wakefield seat. Held by Labour since 1932, it’s been a soft-target for the Tories over the last couple of election cycles, and in fact they came 1,613 votes short of securing a majority in 2010. The Wakefield area voted 63% in favour of Brexit, and this is likely to be a significant issue for Creagh locally, who is a leading proponent of Open Britain, and only last month said that there was no mandate for a hard Brexit. If this seat falls to the Conservatives on election night expect other such as North East Derbyshire (Labour since 1935), Newcastle-under-Lyme (Labour since 1919), Halifax (Labour since 1987) and Bishop Auckland (Labour since 1935) to follow suit.
Bath – Conservative, Ben Howlett MP (Majority 3,833)
Just as we expect the Conservatives to take many pro-leave areas from Labour, we will likely see many seats that went blue from yellow in 2015 return to the Lib Dems in 2017. The Richmond Park by-election earlier this year showed the Lib Dems that if they focused their efforts on strongly pro-remain areas they would reap the rewards. This means that seats they won 20 years ago at the 1997 General Election and lost in 2015, including; Kingston and Surbiton, Lewes and Twickenham (with a returning Vince Cable) might return to the Lib Dems. More optimistically, they may harvest hopes of winning back seats such as Wells, Cheltenham and Oxford West and Abingdon.
Bath will be a key target for the Lib Dems. It was held by Don Foster from 1992 until he stepped down at 2015 to take a seat in the House of Lords. The current Conservative MP, Ben Howlett, has had a somewhat controversial first couple of years in Parliament, and despite his own pro-remain credentials, he looks set to face a tough fight to retain his seat against local Lib Dem campaigner, Jay Risbridger. With the Lib Dem party machine focusing on specific seats, we should expect a number of seats in the South West to go against the national swing in favour of the Lib Dems, whether it will be enough to return more than ten seats from the Tories is unknown.
Moray – SNP, Angus Robertson MP (Majority 9,065)
The SNP’s position in the polls hasn’t changed much from the 2015 General Election – falling from around 50% to 47%. What has changed is that the Conservatives are resurgent in Scotland, and buoyed from their improved standing at the 2016 Holyrood elections. Whilst we shouldn’t expect the SNP to lose many of the 56 of 59 seats they won in 2015, any fall, would undoubtedly be painted as a significant loss by the Conservatives. The SNP are clearly aware of this, and the campaign started in earnest this week, when the biggest threat to the SNP north of the border, Ruth Davidson MSP, came under attack for her support of the Tory policy to limit tax credit to families’ first two children – unless women can prove subsequent children were conceived through rape.
Making any in-roads in Scotland for the Conservatives will be a challenge, however, they will certainly have at least one eye on the seat of SNP deputy leader Angus Robertson. He has a strong majority of 9,000, but the region had the tightest result of any Scottish area in the EU referendum. There was also a closely-fought battle over the seat in 2016, with Richard Lochhead MSP holding on in the face of a big swing to the Tories. If this seat comes under threat expect to see others such as West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine; Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk; and Dumfries and Galloway to be close and possible gains for the Tories.
Hartlepool – Labour, Iain Wright MP (Majority 3,024)
After a string of predicted election breakthroughs that never materialised, hope is thin on the ground for UKIP, which has been falling back in the polls since Brexit and its interminable leadership contests.
The party will talk up its prospects in the Hartlepool constituency following Iain Wright’s announcement that he will not be standing at the 2017 General Election. UKIP beat the Conservatives into second place by nearly 3,000 votes in 2015. However, Theresa May's popularity and the Conservatives' polling will mean that they will themselves consider a victory in pro-leave Hartlepool a very real possibility. This has all the hallmarks of an exciting three-way marginal. That being said a worse than expected showing here from UKIP would be a bad sign for their chances in other targets, such as; South Thanet, Thurrock and Clacton.
With Nigel Farage taking a back seat during this election campaign, the General Election could be the beginning of the end for UKIP.
Vauxhall – Labour, Kate Hoey MP (Majority 12,708)
Labour also faces a challenge in some pro-Remain areas, where Liberal Democrats – who are polling better than they were in 2015 – look set to retake some seats. Cambridge, which is being contested by its former incumbent Julian Huppert, seems a likely target, as does the London seat of Bermondsey and Old Southwark.
More optimistically, the Lib Dems might fancy their chances in Vauxhall, where despite representing one of the most pro-Remain constituencies in the country, Hoey campaigned fiercely for Brexit, even appearing alongside UKIP's then leader, Nigel Farage. Hoey is likely to face a strong battle from the Liberal Democrat candidate, George Turner – despite the Lib Dems coming fourth in the constituency in 2015, and achieving over 22,000 votes less than Hoey. The Lib Dems will state that this is less than the majority they overturned to defeat Zac Goldsmith at the Richmond Park by-election. However, getting cut through at the General Election is very different, and a victory here would be a very clear statement from the London electorate against Labour’s stance on Brexit.
If Labour lose Vauxhall, their night will be worse than anyone could have expected.
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