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General Election 2017: Grayling’s top ten ones to watch

12th May 2017

Yesterday, the final list of prospective parliamentary candidates for the General Election was confirmed. With a number of MPs stepping down from safe seats, and radical swings likely across the UK, the number of new MPs entering the House of Commons in June is going to be significant.


With this in mind, Grayling has picked out our top ten potential winners likely to be making a big impact in the coming Parliament.


1. Neil O’Brien (Conservative candidate, Harborough, Oadby and Wigston)


One to watch: Neil O’Brien is a former Director of Policy Exchange and Open Europe, as well as a special adviser to George Osborne.   Despite strong links to the Cameron Government, O’Brien was one of the few advisers to make the jump to Team May and was put in charge of driving forward May’s flagship industrial strategy.  He is liked across the Party and is a shoe-in for a ministerial role within months of entering Parliament.


Why they will win: O’Brien has been parachuted into the safe Leicestershire seat which has a majority close to 20,000 and has been a Conservative hold since 1950.



2. Esther McVey (Conservative candidate, Tatton)


One to watch: Previously a Cabinet minister in the coalition government until she lost her Wirral West seat in 2015, McVey is another prospective candidate who could go straight into a top job.  A former broadcaster, McVey is a safe pair of hands, media savvy and an obvious choice for quick promotion.


Why they will win: McVey has inherited George Osborne’s former seat of Tatton and with it his majority of over 18,000. 


3. Ellie Reeves (Labour candidate, Lewisham West and Penge)


One to watch: An experienced political operator, Ellie Reeves has been identified as one to watch by party insiders for a number of years. Her years of experience on Labour's NEC means she knows what makes the party tick and her training as a barrister gives her a good grounding for life in the Commons. She also benefits from being the latest in a line of familial MPs: her sister, Rachel Reeves, is a future leadership contender and her husband, Jon Cryer, holds significant influence as Chair of the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP). Reeves is well set to be a future shadow cabinet minister, particularly under a more moderate leader.


Why they will win: There aren't many safe seats for Labour at this election, but Lewisham West and Penge is about as good as it gets. Jim Dowd, the departing Labour incumbent, managed to secure a healthy 12,000 vote majority, which Reeves should be able to defend with relative ease. Other London Labour incumbents with similar numbers are privately expressing nervousness, but the absence of any significant UKIP vote for the Tories to colonise sets this seat apart.



4. Kemi Badenoch AM (Conservative candidate, Saffron Walden)


One to watch: Badenoch is the former Deputy Leader of the Conservative group on the London Assembly and head of Digital at the Spectator. A staunch and deeply patriotic Conservative, she has often spoken out against the London Remainers “who think they’re smarter, more tolerant and even better-looking than everyone else”.  Bright, young and pro-Brexit, Badenoch’s star is on the rise and is the sort of MP that will appeal to waves of voters.


Why they will win: A Conservative safe seat since 1922, Badenoch will be inheriting a majority of nearly 25,000 from Sir Alan Haselhurst.


5. Alex Burghart (Conservative candidate, Brentwood and Ongar)


One to watch: Burghart is the lead adviser on social justice in the Prime Minister’s Policy Unit and was previously Director of Strategy for the Children’s Commissioner. From 2012 to 2016 he was Director of Policy at the Centre for Social Justice, where he worked closely with Theresa May’s Joint Chief of Staff Fiona Hill. Burghart’s close links with May’s team suggest he will rise quickly through the parliamentary ranks.


Why they will win: Burghart is looking to inherit the seat from Conservative grandee Sir Eric Pickles who had a majority of 21,810 in 2015. UKIP came second in the seat and if the Conservatives colonise the UKIP vote as they did at the local elections, Burghart should increase this majority still further. Despite the certainty of his victory, Burghart is actively campaigning to achieve one of the highest percentage majorities in the country.



6. Stephanie Peacock (Labour candidate, Barnsley East)


One to watch: Peacock is the political regional officer for the GMB in the West Midlands and has previously worked at an inner city secondary school and in adult education. She is well known in Labour circles, having been chairwoman of Young Labour in the West Midlands. Peacock has close links to Deputy Labour Leader Tom Watson and is expected to quickly make her mark as one of his key allies in Parliament.


Why they will win: Barnsley East is one of the few seats where a Labour MP is standing down with a strong majority (12,034). UKIP came second in the seat in 2015, but even if the Conservatives capture the UKIP vote and couple that with a sizeable swing, Peacock should manage to inherit the seat.


7. Clark Vasey (Conservative candidate, Workington)


One to watch: A born-and-bred Cumbrian from a working class background, Vasey is a strong believer in Brexit and the founder of Blue Collar Conservatism. As part of a new crop of ambitious northern Tory candidates likely to win seats, he is tailor made for the May-Timothy era.


Why they will win: Cumbria is a vulnerable area for Labour, with Copeland turning blue in February. Not only is there a high UKIP vote that is likely to turn Conservative, but the area depends strongly on the nuclear industry for jobs. It is no surprise then that Corbyn’s anti-nuclear views are proving toxic on the doorstep in Workington, where the current shadow environment secretary Sue Hayman is clinging on to a majority of under 5,000.



8. John Lamont (Conservative candidate, Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk)


One to watch: The son of a Berwickshire farmer, John Lamont represents the rural branch of the Conservative party, and will look to input on the agriculture sector’s Brexit settlement. Up until the election he held the Chief Whip and Business Manager brief under Ruth Davidson, and has proved himself as a solid team player. If Theresa May is looking to include more Scottish MPs in her government, Lamont could be seen as a safe choice for a ministerial positon.


Why they will win: Lamont has unsuccessfully contested this seat three times, and only lost by 328 votes in 2015. However, the following year he won the closely overlapping Scottish Parliamentary constituency of Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire, with a comfortable margin of 7,736 (23.4). Since then, the Scottish Conservatives have seen a rise in their poll numbers and a strong performance in the local elections, making this seat their number one target in Scotland.


9. Gillian Keegan (Conservative Candidate, Chichester)


One to watch: Gillian Keegan left school at 16 to start an apprenticeship in manufacturing and worked her way through various industries and roles in the UK and abroad, most recently as Chief Marketing Officer for a global company in the travel technology sector. She is presently Director of Women2Win, the organisation jointly founded by Theresa May and others to help women enter Parliament. An extremely diligent worker and team player, she is popular with Conservative MPs and activists and is tipped for rapid promotion.


Why they will win: Chichester was previously held by Chairman of the Treasury Select Committee Andrew Tyrie with a Conservative majority of 24,413. The seat was highly sought after by prospective parliamentary candidates and Keegan’s selection evidences the reach of her connections and her popularity within the Conservative party machine.


10. Andrew Atkinson (Conservative candidate, Wrexham)


One to watch: 32 year old Andrew Atkinson is the archetypal  self-made ‘working class’ Conservative the party needs to combat its longstanding image problem with the Welsh electorate. He set up his own window cleaning business in Wrexham aged 17, before founding and chairing a not-for-profit business networking club in 2002 aimed at supporting small to medium business growth at the local level. Given the strength of his local record and commitment to the town of Wrexham it’s hard not to expect him to excel if given the opportunity in Westminster.


Why they will win: As a parliamentary candidate in 2015, Andrew reduced Labour MP Ian Lucas’ majority in Wrexham to just 1,831 (5.6%). With national polling putting the Conservatives 6% ahead in Wales it’s highly likely that this once distant target will turn blue for the first time in its 99 year history.


Jonathan Curtis

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