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 our final profile is of the deepest of Tory heartlands: the South East.
- The Conservatives had a good night. Not only did they pick up Eastbourne and Eastleigh from the Liberal Democrats, but they also overturned Norman Baker’s 7,647 majority in Lewes. They also won Portsmouth South and took Southampton Itchen from Labour, whilst blocking Nigel Farage’s path to Parliament. Only the loss of marginal Hove marred the evening.
- Labour took a score-draw from the Tories in terms of seats changed, but picked up nothing from the Lib Dems and remain in a position of weakness, holding four of the region’s 84 constituencies (compared to 17 in 2005). Their failure to land so much as a scratch on Caroline Lucas, even with a leader as left-wing as Ed Miliband, also highlights how tenacious minor parties can become if given an opening.
- The Liberal Democrats had six seats here in 2005, and four in 2010, but are wiped out now. However in several of their losses they remain the only party with any realistic prospect of unseating the Conservatives, so they have reason to hope that they might remain in a position to start fighting back here, although without power their vote may also unwind further.
- This was a stinging region for UKIP. First, the People’s Army failed to replicate its astonishing by-election performance from 2013 in Eastleigh, placing only a remote if respectable third. Then Mark Reckless was toppled in Rochester and Strood by the very Tory he’d seen off in a by-election less than a year before. Finally Farage himself fell thousands of votes short of taking Thanet South, leaving maverick liberal Douglas Carswell as his party’s sole MP. There followed the resignation that never was, a nasty bout of public infighting, and the party’s recent disappearance from the news.
- Much like the Liberal Democrats of yore, Caroline Lucas shows how tenacious a minor party can be once it puts down roots. She has clearly endeared herself to the Brighton electorate since 2010, despite (or perhaps due to) publicly opposing the saner members of the town’s Green-run council. This is now a Green safe seat, the existence of which compensates somewhat for disappointing results elsewhere in the country.
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.)
>Eastbourne: Caroline Ansell overturned a Liberal Democrat majority of almost 3,500 here to win by 733 votes, despite a 1.1 point fall in the Conservative share of the vote. The Lib Dems shed 9.1 points, exactly the amount UKIP advanced by, but remain the only challenger here.
>Eastleigh: This constituency enjoyed a high profile after the 2013 by-election that almost saw it fall to UKIP, with Nigel Farage passing up perhaps his best shot at Parliament. This time his party placed third, ten points behind the Lib Dems, who were in turn a full 26.5 points and 9,147 votes behind Mims Davies, the new Tory MP. Again, despite shedding almost 21 per cent of the vote Tim Farron’s party are the only credible contenders here for the moment.
>Portsmouth South: Flick Drummond took this seat by a comfortable margin of over 5,200, seeing off disgraced independent incumbent and former Lib Dem Mike Hancock (who placed sixth) and his old party’s nominated candidate. The Lib Dems held on to second place but are barely more than 1,000 votes ahead of Labour, who were not previously competitive.
>Rochester & Strood: Mark Reckless held this seat in the 2014 by-election but could not repeat that performance in May, and Kelly Tolhurst beat him on her second attempt by a crushing margin of 7,133. The Conservative share was actually down five points on 2010, with UKIP taking 30.5 per cent of the vote having not stood at the last general election.
>Southampton Itchen: John Denham held off Tory candidate Royston Smith by just 172 votes last time, and with their incumbent standing down Labour were always at risk here. Smith secured a 5.4 per cent rise in the Conservative share and a winning margin of over 2,300, defeating Labour’s Rowenna Davis.
>Southampton Test: Labour and the Conservatives both ran the same candidates in May as they did in 2010, but the Tories fell back slightly whilst Labour put on almost three points. The result was an increased Labour majority of 3,810, although the Conservatives remain the only other competitive party.
>Brighton Kemptown: Simon Kirby’s already slender majority of 1,328 was cut to just under 700, but despite a 4.3 point rise in Labour’s share he put on 2.7 himself, enough to hold on. The Liberal Democrats dropped 15 points which seem to have split amongst the Tories, Labour, UKIP, and Greens.
>Brighton Pavilion: Caroline Lucas provided one of 2010′s surprise results when she beat Labour by 1,252, and her constituents clearly enjoy having the country’s only Green MP if her new majority of almost 8,000 is any indication. Both Labour and the Tories fell back a little whilst the Greens took an extra 10.5 points, almost all of the 11 points lost by the Lib Dems.
>Hastings & Rye: Amber Rudd captured this seat last time by just under 2,000 votes, but this time the now-Energy Secretary enjoys a majority a shade short of 4,800. She picked up an extra 3.4 per cent whilst Labour, the only other competitive party, shed two points.
>Hove: Mike Weatherly’s capture margin in 2010 was only 1,868, and he was unable to pass it on to his successor. Despite actually securing a 3.2 per cent increase in the Tory share of the vote, Graham Cox was overwhelmed by a nine-point surge in Labour support as they siphoned from the disintegrating Lib Dems, who dropped 19 points.
Liberal Democrats: 0/2
>Oxford West & Abingdon: High-profile Liberal Democrat Evan Harris was a surprise scalp in 2010, when Nicola Blackwood unseated him by just 176 votes. Her majority now stands at almost 9,600, with the Lib Dems shedding more than 13 points even as the Tories picked up 3.4. However this remains a two-horse race, with third-placed Labour still 16 points behind the Lib Dems.
>Portsmouth South: Mike Hancock had the Liberal Democrat whip withdrawn in 2013 following a string of scandals, and whilst he stood as an independent this seat was still essentially a Lib Dem defence. Tory candidate Flick Drummond actually only put on 1.6 points compared to 2010, but a 23.6 point fall in the Lib Dem share allowed her to flip their majority of 5,200 into a Conservative one of 5,221. This seat is now much more competitive than previously, with Labour fewer than three points behind the Lib Dems and UKIP only four behind them.
>Eastleigh: Almost a game-changing victory back in the halcyon days of 2013, UKIP’s respectable third place here can only be something of a disappointment. They took almost 16 per cent of the vote, up 12 points from 2010 but well below the 28 per cent Diane James secured.
>South Thanet: This is where the People’s Army’s best laid plans came off the rails: Nigel Farage fell more than 2,800 votes short of beating Conservative Craig Mackinlay, who was defending Laura Sandys’ 7,600 majority from 2010. A ten point fall in the Tory position and a 27 point advance for UKIP wasn’t enough to put Farage over the line, leaving Douglas Carswell as the only UKIP MP.