The Prime Minister began his regional tour in the North-West yesterday. Well, of course he did! Have a look at the table above, from Policy Exchange’s paper Northern Lights.
The think-tank chose the 1951 general election, which the Conservatives narrowly won, as the best poll to compare with the 2010 one, which they narrowly didn’t win.
The Tory share of seats is up in the South-East and Yorkshire & Humberside (just), in Wales (by over a third), the West Midlands (by well over a third), the East Midlands (where it has almost doubled) and Eastern (where it was very high to start with, and now stands at an amazing 90 per cent).
However, the Conservative share is down in the south-west (Liberal Democrat advance), down more in London (partly the ethnic minority factor), has halved in the north-east (though it was nugatory to start with) and has vanished through the floor in Scotland.
Now have a look at the North-West, where it is down by a third. The party hasn’t had much of a hold on the north-east in modern times. And in those times, it has lost out in Scotland. The drop of the Tory vote in the north-west is so marked that it threatens to join them.
Like all the others, though, it isn’t a single homogeneous lump.
- The Party has a solitary seat in Merseyside – rising star Esther McVey’s in Wirral West. During the last Parliament, it was a Conservative-free zone.
- In Greater Manchester, it has two seats – David Nuttall’s marginal one in Bury North, and Graham Brady’s safer one in Altrincham and Sale West.
- In Cumbria, it also has two – Rory Stewart’s rural seat, Penrith and the Border, and John Stevenson’s more urban one of Carlisle. But that’s two out of five: not a bad total at all.
- In Lancashire, it has nine out of 16 – Lancaster & Fleetwood, Morecombe & Lunesdale, Blackpool North & Cleveleys, Pendle, Rossendale & Darwen, South Ribble, Fylde, Ribble Valley, and Wyre & Preston North.
- Six of those seats are marginal – Lancaster & Fleetwood (333), Morecombe & Lunesdale (866), Blackpool North & Cleveleys (2150), Pendle (3585), Rossendale & Darwen (4493), and South Ribble (5554).
- Labour holds four of its seats by fewer than 5000 votes: Blackpool South (1851), Chorley (2593), Hyndburn (3090) and West Lancashire (4343).
- In Cheshire, the Conservatives have eight out of 11 – City of Chester, Congleton, Crewe & Nantwich, Eddisbury, Macclesfield, Tatton, Warrington South and Weaver Vale.
- Four of those seats are marginal – Weaver Vale (991), Warrington South (1553), City of Chester (2583) and Crewe & Nantwich (6046).
- Labour holds one of his seats by fewer than 5000 votes – Ellesmere Port and Neston (4331). Its majority in Warrington North is 6771.
As I say, no wonder David Cameron has kicked off his regional tour in the North-West. Lose all or the bulk of those marginals, and he would probably be out of Downing Street – because such defeats would be likely to be repeated in other regions.
But were he to gain those five Labour marginals, he might well make it over the winning line because, again, he would be likely to win similar narrow victories outside the north-west too.
When I followed the Prime Minister on tour at roughly this time last year, where was he going then? The north-west, needless to say. We were bound for Preston, then Barnoldswick – and then out deep into the moors.
The Conservatives have been on the retreat in the region. Cameron is throwing the kitchen sink (or as close to one as he can get his hands on) at those marginal seats in Cheshire and Lancashire, in order to hold his ground – or even advance slightly.
All areas in general elections are crucial, but some are more crucial than others – more marginal, at any rate. The Prime Minister is fighting for survival far from his Witney heartland in the blue south-east. The region is his North-West Frontier.
The struggle there between the two main parties will help to decide next May’s result. It is rather more important to it than the media frenzy over the past fortnight about the debates between the leader of Britain’s third party and the leader of one with no seats at all.