In the weeks before the General Election, we provided a region-by-region battleground profile for England and Wales. In light of the result we now revisit these posts to see how things played out, and this week we examine the Tory-Labour stalemate that is the East of England.
- This is a very strong area for the Conservatives, and they hold the overwhelming majority of the seats. However there was some room for growth and the party fell short: whilst it took Colchester from the Liberal Democrats, the party’s failure to make headway in seats like Luton South suggests that it is still having trouble broadening its coalition.
- But if the Tories didn’t manage to take any Labour seats, Labour didn’t unseat a single Conservative MP either. Low-hanging fruit such as Bedford and Waveney slipped through the party’s fingers, with the only progress being two gains from the embattled Lib Dems.
- A UKIP surge and the personal popularity of Norman Lamb prevented a Lib Dem wipe out here, and it looks as if a strong anti-Labour tactical shift by Tory votes almost saved Cambridge. However the party is reduced to a single seat, with only one other that looks like being competitive in the near term.
- The East of England is actually home to UKIP’s only MP, but we viewed Carswell as being safe enough in Clacton not to include it in our list of battleground seats. The story elsewhere is of strong increases in vote share across a huge range of constituencies, most of which the party simply isn’t competitive in, and a very near miss for Tim Aker in Thurrock. Both Thurrock and Great Yarmouth look promising if the party can maintain their position and momentum for the next four or five years.
- The Green Party looked like it had a strong prospect in Norwich South, where it returns half the local councillors. That it actually fell back despite the collapse of the Liberal Democrats is surprising, and the party will doubtless be picking carefully through the rubble of this result to try to work out what went wrong.
Targets by party:
(NB These were our own suggestions of potential attack seats for each party – including those officially designated as targets and others where the incumbent had a relatively small majority, or local factors were at play which might have opened the seat to change.)
>Cambridge: A very disappointing result for the Conservative candidate Chamali Fernando, who shed 9.9 points from the party’s 2010 share and fell from a close-fought second place to a remote third. The Liberal Democrat vote was down only 4.3 points, much less than elsewhere, suggesting she was the victim of an anti-Labour tactical squeeze that saw incumbent Julian Huppert fall just 599 votes short of holding on. Future Tory prospects here would appear to depend on whether they can supplant the shattered Lib Dems as the plausible anti-Labour option.
>Colchester: A 20.5 point fall in Bob Russell’s vote saw Tory candidate Will Quince home with a handsome majority of 5,575, overturning a previous Lib Dem margin of almost seven thousand. Labour and the Greens added almost four points apiece and UKIP more than nine, but the yellow team held on to second place.
>Luton North: Kelvin Hopkins increased his majority here from 7,520 to 9.504. At the last election Luton provided the only two Labour MPs in the entire region, and the Tories show no signs of challenging either.
>Luton South: This larger, more rural constituency was a much more plausible prospect for the Conservatives than its northern neighbour, and this result is therefore much more disappointing. Labour Co-op incumbent Gavin Shuker’s majority increased from a competitive 2,329 to a comfortable 5,711 as he gained more than nine points of vote share. Tory Katie Redmond added only 1.3 points, whist UKIP put on almost ten and the Lib Dems shed more than 15.
>North Norfolk: This was always going to be a very long shot, but given the night Norman Lamb’s party had it does not seem an impossible task in retrospect. His majority was cut from a rock-solid 11,626 to a much more competitive 4,043, but astonishingly the Conservatives actually lost both votes and vote share compared to 2010, whilst UKIP gained a remarkable 11.5 points to take almost 17 per cent of the vote. The Tory failure to attract those voters (or any new voters at all) seems to have saved Lamb’s seat.
>Bedford: Perhaps Labour’s second best prospect of a gain from the Conservatives, incumbent Richard Fuller saw his already slender majority cut from 1,353 to just 1,097 but managed to hold on, adding 3.7 per cent to his own vote share even as Labour added 4.3. None of the other parties are competitive here, although the Lib Dems shed 15.6 points and UKIP picked up just over seven.
>Cambridge: The Lib Dem vote held up very well here at the expense of the Tories, but despite a close contest Labour managed to turn a Liberal Democrat majority of 6,792 into a Labour one of 599.
>Great Yarmouth: Brandon Lewis comfortably increased his majority from 4,276 to over 6,000. Labour actually lost four points as UKIP gained an astonishing 18 to take more than 23 per cent of the vote and come within striking distance of second place.
>Ipswich: Ben Gummer added 5.6 points to his vote share even as Labour only added 2.4, extending his majority from just over 2,000 to 3,733.
>Norwich North: Chloe Smith, who first took this seat in a 2009 by-election, extended her 2010 majority of 3,901 to 4,463 today, adding more than three points to her vote share whilst Labour’s Jess Asato only added two. Whilst not competitive, UKIP gained 9.3 points. The Lib Dems shed almost 14.
>Norwich South: One of the few gains the Liberal Democrats managed to make in 2010, when they unseated Charles Clarke, Simon Wright was always going to have to work a remarkable feat of his party’s famous incumbency magic to maintain his majority of just 310. Government put paid to any hope of doing that, and Labour surged back with a majority of 7,654. The Tories fractionally increased their own share and took second whilst the Greens, who return 15 councillors from wards in this constituency and were targeting it, fell back.
>Peterborough: Stewart Jackson shed less than a point of vote share, but a 6.1 point increase in the Labour share saw his majority slashed from 4,861 to just 1,925 as UKIP replaced the Lib Dems as the third party. The closeness of the race clearly took its toll on the two major parties, and Jackson’s combative speech from the podium at the Peterborough account was much shared on social media.
>Stevenage: One of the few Labour outposts in now all-Tory Hertfordshire until 2010, Stephen McPartland added another three per cent to his vote share since 2010 and extended his lead over Labour from 3,578 to just under 5,000.
>Thurrock: The scene of some high drama – Jackie Doyle-Price’s 2010 majority was just 92 and both Labour’s Polly Billington (an advisor to Ed Miliband) and UKIP’s Tim Aker hoped to capture the seat. Despite both major parties losing several points of vote share, Doyle-Price emerged victorious with a larger (but still slender) majority of 536, with fewer than 1,000 votes separating her from third-placed Aker.
>Watford: A bit of a weird seat; when Richard Harrington captured Watford for the Tories in 2010 the town didn’t have a single Conservative councillor. This is now no longer the case, and the Conservative recovery in local government was matched by Harrington securing a new majority of almost 10,000 votes, up from just just under 1,500 five years ago and turning a three-way marginal into what looks like a safe seat.
>Waveney: With a 2010 Tory majority of just 769, this was one of Labour’s best chances to win a seat from David Cameron. Yet incumbent Peter Aldous added more than two points to his vote share whilst Labour lost one, and he returns to the Commons with a new majority of 2,408. UKIP took third place, whilst the Liberal Democrats lost their deposit.
Liberal Democrat: 0/1
>Watford: The Liberal Democrat candidate here was Dorothy Thornhill, who seemed to have turned Watford into something of a personal fiefdom after being being elected mayor four times in a row (she has served since 2002). Yet despite running a candidate with such local strength the party still shed more than fourteen points from their vote share and fell into a distant third, more than four thousand votes behind Labour and 14,000 behind the Conservative MP.
>Thurrock: Tim Aker added more than 24 points to the UKIP share of the vote here and came within 1,000 votes of eventual winner, Tory incumbent Jackie Doyle-Price. However he didn’t managed to beat Labour to second place. It is up to the party now to try and maintain their position on the ground between now and 2020.
>Great Yarmouth: Seaside towns are good territory for UKIP, and the party took 23 per cent of the vote here after adding more than 18 points since 2010. However, in third place it is more than 2,600 votes behind Labour and almost 9,000 short of the Conservatives.
>Norwich South: Natalie Bennett’s troops will be very disappointed with this result. This seat has a very strong Green base: in 2010 they placed fourth with more than 14 per cent of the vote, and they are the opposition on Norwich Council by dint of returning 15 councillors from five of the ten wards that make up this constituency. Despite this they shed both voters and vote share, only moving into third place because the incumbent Liberal Democrats disintegrated.