- There are 54 parliamentary constituencies in Yorkshire and the Humber. Currently Labour hold 32, the Conservatives 19, and the Liberal Democrats three.
- Whilst seats such as Scunthorpe, Wakefield, Halifax, and Morley and Outwood suggest that the Conservatives have potential for good medium-term growth in this region, with further seats in Leeds as long-term prospects, all signs point to 2015 being a defensive election. With little prospect of any direct gains from Labour, the Tories will be fighting hard to hold onto seats like Cleethorpes, Dewsbury, Keighley and Pudsey, each of which would give Miliband an effective two-seat swing. However the party reportedly holds out distant hopes for Morley and Outwood where Ed Balls, the Shadow Chancellor, defends a precarious majority.
- This should be a fairly exciting region for Ed Miliband’s team in May. There is a decent clutch of the vital Conservative-Labour marginals which they need, and Electoral Calculus predict that they will pick up seven of them on the night. They should also have high hopes of gains from the Liberal Democrats in seats like Bradford East and, if the consistent constituency polling is any indication, of pulling off a spectacular scalp and furnishing 2015’s “Portillo moment” by unseating Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister, in Sheffield Hallam.
- Yorkshire and the Humber was something of a broken promise for the Liberal Democrats in 2010. After having their hopes raised by ‘Cleggmania’ not only did they miss out on seats like Hull North and Sheffield Central by eye-watering three-figure margins, but they actually lost seats like York Outer and Harrogate and Knaresborough. Whilst this notionally leaves the party with a decent handful of prospects based on the 2010 results, in truth this region can only be the scene of a ferocious rearguard action as the party fights to save its leader, and his safe seat, from a gleeful and determined Labour attack.
- UKIP are on the rise in this province, with many constituency polls finding ten or even twenty point increases in the party’s share of the voting intention and the Liberal Democrats pushed into fourth. Whilst this isn’t going to immediately translate into seats it does auger well, if it produces similar results on the day itself, for future growth. The party does have its eye on two Labour-held constituencies, and whilst Rochdale is likely beyond its reach this time Lord Ashcroft’s constituency polling has found Victoria Ayling closing to a single point in Great Grimsby.
National issues such as immigration, welfare and the economy have plenty of resonance in Yorkshire, but there are also local concerns such as the region’s treatment vis-a-vis the devolved nations and the poor performance of its schools.
- Jobs and the Economy: The Chancellor likes to boast that under the Conservatives Yorkshire has created more jobs than the whole of France, and Coalition candidates of both stripes make much of the Government’s economic track record. On the other side, Labour candidates like to attack zero-hours contracts, the economic impact of spending cuts, and highlight local funding and investment reductions. The Yorkshire Post has called for any incoming Government to rule out regional pay for teachers “from day one”.
- Local Power: Amongst the issues raised in the Yorkshire Post’s manifesto are the need to give England and Scotland an “equal say on devolution” and for the next Government to appoint a Minister for Yorkshire, “to act as a voice for the region”. The paper emphasises the need for the region’s MPs to band together to prevent it “losing out to the devolved nations” and “London-centric decision making”.
- Education: Another subject raised by the Post, Yorkshire’s schools are amongst the most poorly rated in England. The paper identifies education as critical to the long-term rebalancing of the British economy and advocates a Yorkshire version of the London Challenge, as well as policies to foster closer links between schools and business. The region has gained several of the Government’s new free schools.
- Minor Parties: If UKIP’s long-term strategy is to quietly build its strength in the north to make strong incursions into Labour territory in 2020 and beyond, constituency polling suggests they may be well on track. The party’s growth may also have a direct impact on several important Conservative-Labour marginals this time out, and if the party does manage to win a Labour-held seat here it will do much to lend credence to its claims of a broader national appeal.
Battleground Rating: 7/10
Targets by party:
(NB These are our own suggestions of potential attack seats for each party – including those officially designated as targets and others where the incumbent has a relatively small majority, or local factors are at play which may open the seat to change.)
Batley and Spen: Conservative from 1983 to 1997, Labour’s Mike Wood held here in 2010 with a majority of just under four and a half thousand. He is stepping down, and hoping to hold for Labour is Jo Cox, a charity campaigner and national chair of the Labour Women’s Network whose website adopts a puzzling “white text on white background” style. Her Conservative opponent is Imtiaz Ameen, a local solicitor who fought Blackburn for the party in 2005 and was selected in August of last year. Cameron would have to be on course for a majority for this seat to be in contention, and Electoral Calculus gives him only a 14 per cent chance of winning.
Bradford East: This Liberal Democrat-held three-way marginal is a top Labour target, but the Tories were only about 2,600 votes behind them in 2010 so it ought not to be impossible for them to carry the day. Hoping to pull off a surprise result and unseat controversial MP David Ward is business consultant Iftikhar ‘Ifti’ Ahmed, whose campaign emphasises the need to bring businesses to Bradford. Unfortunately for him a Lord Ashcroft Poll in June 2014 found the Tories slumping to a distant third place, but Electoral Calculus gives Ahmed just under a one in five chance of winning – nine times the odds they give Ward of holding on.
Don Valley: Labour have held this seat since they took it off the National Democratic Party in 1922, but in 2010 Caroline Flint saw her majority cut by 5,000 to just 3,595 over the Conservatives. Running against the Shadow Climate Change Secretary is Carl Jackson, a solicitor and consultant who once worked as a policy advisor to David Davis, whose campaign stresses the classic Conservative themes of immigration, retirement and the European Union. Electoral Calculus predict a comfortable Labour retention, so Jackson will have to hope that effective local campaigning can buck the national trend.
Great Grimsby: Whilst the Tory candidate from 2010, Victoria Ayling, is now standing for UKIP in what is one of their regional targets, the fact that the Conservatives only fell 714 votes short of defeating Austin Mitchell means the party should still be able to approach this borough constituency with some optimism. In the blue corner in 2015 is Grimsby-born housing entrepreneur and community activist Marc Jones, selected in August last year to take on Melanie Onn, Mitchell’s replacement. A series of Lord Ashcroft Polls conducted last year found the Tories falling back and UKIP within a single point of Labour, but whilst Electoral Calculus predict a Labour hold they still give Jones a 22 per cent chance of being returned in May.
Halifax: Although this seat was last won by the Conservatives for a single term in 1983, Labour incumbent Linda Riordan saw her majority more than cut in half in 2010 to just 1,472. Aiming to finish the job he started in 2010 is returning Conservative candidate Philip Alott, a lawyer and self-made businessman whose website emphasises his credentials as an effective local campaigner on subjects such as jobs, health facilities and post offices. A Lord Ashcroft Poll in May last year found Labour had opened a 17 point lead, so he will need to put his campaigning skills to full effect if he hopes to disprove Electoral Calculus’ 75 per cent prediction of a Labour hold.
Leeds North West: Picked out by Conservative sources as being “technically in play”, this was once a safe Tory seat before falling to Labour in 1997. Liberal Democrat incumbent Greg Mulholland turfed Labour out in 2005, and enters the 2015 election with a majority of 9,103 over the second-placed Conservatives. Electoral Calculus finds Labour and the Liberal Democrats neck and neck and predicts a Lib Dem hold, but still gives the Conservatives a one in five chance of winning. Unfortunately the selection was left extremely late, and Alex Story, a former Olympic rower who fought Wakefield in 2010, was only selected last weekend.
Morley and Outwood: Almost the site of 2010’s ‘Portillo moment’, Tory Antony Calvert fell just 1,101 votes short of defeating the now Shadow Chancellor, Ed Balls. Following his decampment to Wakefield, the Tory candidate hoping to provide one of 2015’s most memorable upsets is Andrea Jenkyns, who has pursued a varied career in the private and public sectors and emphasises transport, planning and the health service. Alas, a Lord Ashcroft Poll in May last found Balls had opened up a 17 point lead over the Conservatives, but Electoral Calculus gives Jenkyns a one in four chance of taking one of the night’s biggest scalps.
Penistone and Stocksbridge: This new constituency was won by Labour’s Angela Smith by just over 3,000 votes in 2010. This time out her Conservative opponent is Steven Jackson, a local councillor whose campaign puts infrastructure front and centre but appears to be flying determinedly under the radar by apparently having no website. Despite the relative slenderness of the Labour lead both Electoral Calculus and the party appear to rate Conservative chances poorly here.
Scunthorpe: Labour’s majority here has been declining since 1997, and first-term incumbent Nic Dakin saw it fall from almost 9,000 to just 2,549 in 2010 after a 12.5 per cent swing away from the party. Hoping to finish the job and turn Scunthorpe blue is Cllr Jo Gideon, a local small businesswoman whose campaign emphasises investment by the Conservative government and council in local schools, infrastructure and industry. Competitive if the Conservatives were heading for a majority, Electoral Calculus give Dakin an almost four in five chance of holding his seat and reinforcing Labour’s precarious position here. Iain Dale flags it as “one for the Tories to target in 2020.”
Wakefield: Held by Labour since a by-election in 1932, in 2010 Mary Creagh saw her majority cut from over 5,000 to just 1,613. Against her is Antony Calvert, a self-described “Wakefield lad” who proved his mettle as a Tory candidate in 2010 by securing a 9.3 per cent swing in Ed Balls’ nominally safe Morley and Outwood constituency. At the time of writing he lacks a website, although his Twitter feed suggests one is imminent. Electoral Calculus give the Tories a 21 per cent chance here.
Bradford East: Notionally a three-way marginal after 2010, the aforementioned fall in the Tory vote means that Labour will be confident of turfing out David Ward. Their candidate in May is Imran Hussain, a Bradford-born barrister and deputy leader of the local council whose campaign emphasises jobs, pay and policing. He has every reason to be confident: a Lord Ashcroft Poll conducted last June found Labour had opened up a 22 point lead over the Liberal Democrats, and Electoral Calculus predict a three-in-four chance of a Labour gain.
Brigg and Goole: Labour from 1997 to 2010, Conservative Andrew Percy won this seat by over five thousand votes in 2010 after securing a handsome swing of almost ten per cent. Dispatched to win it back is local nurse and social worker Jackie Crawford, whose biography describes her career path as “very much forged by Labour policies”. Electoral Calculus predicts a close race but a Conservative hold, and the Tories have finished first in every local election here since 2007.
Cleethorpes: Labour held this seat from 1997 until 2010, when Conservative incumbent Martin Vickers secured a 7.8 point swing to replace Shona McIsaac on his second attempt. Hoping to regain this seat for Miliband is Ulster-born Peter Keith, who grew up in northern Belfast before crossing the water to study and pursue a career in publishing and business. Electoral Calculus have this seat as neck and neck, but somewhat confusingly predict a Labour gain despite giving the Tories slightly better odds. Iain Dale thinks that the precise impact of UKIP could decide the outcome, although he predicts that Vickers will hold it.
Colne Valley: Since 1974 this seat has spent extended periods of time in the hands of each of the three big parties, and after ditching the Conservatives for Labour in 1997 it was returned to the Tory fold by incumbent Jason McCartney in 2010. He approaches the next election with a majority of 4,837, and his Labour opponent is Jane East, a former Belfast social worker who has since pursued charity work in Africa and a career in the voluntary sector. Conservatives are worried that the substantial Liberal Democrat vote might break to Labour, and the fight in this constituency is incredibly close: Electoral Calculus predict a Labour gain by the narrowest of margins, whilst a Lord Ashcroft Poll in February found the Tories one point ahead despite an obvious squeeze on the Liberal Democrats and a substantial increase in UKIP support.
Dewsbury: Before Simon Reevell captured Dewsbury for the Tories in 2010 this seat had only returned Conservative MPs twice since 1868, in two single-term flirtations in 1918 and 1983. Intent on overturning his 1,526 majority and reasserting that unhappy pattern is Labour’s Paula Sherriff, a local district councillor with a background in the police and health service whose campaign leads heavily on the NHS. A Lord Ashcroft Poll in August last found Labour with a ten point lead over the Tories, with the Liberal Democrat vote squeezed and UKIP coming from nowhere to attract almost 20 per cent of the vote. Electoral Calculus predicts a Labour gain with 64 per cent probability. Along with Pudsey, this constituency is one of those deemed most at risk by the Tories.
Elmet and Rothwell: Alec Shelbrooke won this new seat for the Conservatives in 2010 with a majority of just over 4,500. His Labour opponent is Veronica King, a former national officer of the National Union of Students with a career in the voluntary sector, whose website leads with the happy news that Harriet Harman’s pink van recently visited the constituency. She will have her work cut out to win, for whilst Electoral Calculus predict a Labour win in a tight race a Lord Ashcroft Poll in December found Shelbrooke four points ahead of Labour.
Keighley: Historically a seat that regularly passed between Labour and the Tories, the former held this seat from 1997 until 2010. Kris Hopkins enters the coming election defending a Conservative majority of just under 3,000. In the red corner is John Grogan, who from 1997 to 2010 was the Labour MP for Selby and is currently chair of the Mongolian-British Chamber of Commerce. A Lord Ashcroft Poll in October of last year found that whilst Labour had only advanced one point on their 2010 score, an 11 point fall in the Conservative vote had given Grogan a six point lead. That poll also found UKIP storming into third place with 23 per cent of the voting intention, against only three per cent in 2010. Electoral Calculus predicts a Labour gain but gives Hopkins a 42 per cent chance of defending successfully.
Leeds North West: Despite only taking the seat for the first time in 2005, in true Liberal Democrat style incumbent Greg Mulholland enters the 2015 election with a majority of over 9,000. Yet despite being in third place Electoral Calculus puts Labour in close contention, albeit narrowly favouring Mulholland. The Labour candidate is Leeds-born councillor Alex Sobel, who runs Social Enterprise Yorkshire and the Humber.
Pudsey: Reliably Conservative from 1950 until 1997, Stuart Andrew retook this seat from Labour by just 1,659 votes in 2010. Challenging him for the second time is Labour’s Jamie Hanley, a lawyer, local councillor and campaigner who has represented Labour internationally in places like Serbia and Palestine. Electoral Calculus give him a two in three chance of unseating Andrew, but a Lord Ashcroft Poll in October of last year found both parties neck and neck, with UKIP pushing the Liberal Democrats into fourth place. Along with Dewsbury, this constituency is one of those deemed most at risk by the Tories.
Sheffield Hallam: The scalp to end scalps, Labour would dearly love to decapitate the Liberal Democrats by unseating Nick Clegg here. Hoping to come from third place and overturn the Deputy Prime Minister’s 15,284 majority is Oliver Coppard, a locally-born candidate who works in the sustainability sector and whose slick website emphasises students and cuts in investment to the city. Whilst Electoral Calculus is confident of a Liberal Democrat hold with 55 per cent probability, actual polling suggests this could be 2015’s ‘Portillo moment’: not only did a Lord Ashcroft Poll in November last find Labour three points ahead but it was actually the least impressive Labour lead yet found. An ICM poll commissioned by Lord Oakeshott in May 2014 found Labour nine points clear of the second-placed Conservatives and a Survation poll in January found Labour ten points head of the Liberal Democrats.
Harrogate and Knaresborough: Phil Willis held this seat for the Liberal Democrats from 1997 until 2010, when he stepped down and Tory incumbent Andrew Jones edged out his replacement by just over 1,000 votes. Seeking to recapture the constituency this time around is Helen Flynn, a local councillor, smallholder and businesswoman who is a member of the Liberal Democrat Federal Policy Committee and the left-wing Social Liberal Forum. A Lord Ashcroft Poll in June of last year found the party had shed 20 points from its 2010 share, leaving it 17 points behind the Conservatives and only eight above UKIP, which has risen to third place. Electoral Calculus gives the Tories an 81 per cent chance of holding here, and it would be a very surprising result if Flynn achieved her much-publicised aim of being the constituency’s first female MP.
Kingston upon Hull North: In his second run at the constituency, Liberal Democrat Denis Healy cut Labour’s majority here from 7,351 to just 641 in 2010. He isn’t standing again, but seeking to finish what he started is Mike Ross, a local councillor since 2002 and deputy leader of the Liberal Democrat council group. Unfortunately for him Electoral Calculus predict that Labour incumbent Diana Johnson is safe and will comfortably retrench her party’s position in the constituency in May.
Sheffield Central: Prior to the Coalition Sheffield looked like fertile territory for the Liberal Democrats, for in 2010 they fell an eye-watering 165 votes short of capturing this seat. Their candidate this time is Cllr Joe Otten, a local businessman who serves as environment spokesman for the Liberal Democrat opposition on Sheffield council. However the golden moment appears to have truly passed by now, and Electoral Calculus predicts a Labour hold with nothing less than a 94 per cent probability. Iain Dale gives Otten an outside chance if Labour commit too many of their local resources into unseating Clegg in Sheffield Hallam.
York Outer: The Conservatives’ Julian Sturdy won this new seat in 2010, but it was a notional gain from the Liberal Democrats. The man they’ve picked to take it back is James Blanchard, whose rather sparse online profile reveals only that he joined the party whilst at Leeds University and has pursued a career in communications. His campaign emphasises the Government’s income tax cuts and the pupil premium. As with Sheffield Central this one seems to have passed well beyond reach: Electoral Calculus predicts a three-quarters chance of a Conservative hold, with a 20 per cent chance of a Labour win and the Liberal Democrats nowhere to be seen.
Cleethorpes: Iain Dale reports that “UKIP have their sights on this seat”, which Tory incumbent Martin Vickers captured from Labour for the first time in 2010 with swing of almost eight points. The party’s candidate this time is Stephen Harness, a councillor in North East Lincolnshire. Whilst Electoral Calculus gives him only a six per cent chance of being returned, a strong showing could still have a decisive impact on what looks like a tight two-party race between Labour and the Conservatives.
Great Grimsby: Retiring incumbent Austin Mitchell famously claimed that even a “raving alcoholic sex paedophile” could hold Grimsby for Labour, which displayed remarkable confidence given that Victoria Ayling, then the Conservative candidate, came just 714 votes of unseating him last time out. Now Ayling is standing for UKIP and two Lord Ashcroft Polls from May and December 2014 found her gaining ground, ending up just one point short of Labour’s replacement candidate, local-born union organiser Melanie Onn. Unfortunately for Ayling, a businesswoman and trained barrister, her candidacy has divided her local UKIP branch, with one member who thought she was racist branding her “possibly the worst candidate we could have”. Electoral Calculus give UKIP only a 13 per cent chance of victory here.
Rotherham: Despite placing a miserable sixth at the 2010 election, in 2012 Jane Collins MEP took UKIP into second place at the Rotherham by-election with 21 per cent of the vote. Now Collins, who was elected to the European Parliament in 2014, is hoping to throw out Labour’s Sarah Champion with a campaign that has zeroed in on the town’s child abuse scandal. Indeed so vigorous has she been that three of Rotherham’s Labour MPs, including Champion, announced in January that they were suing her for libel. Despite all that sound and fury Electoral Calculus predict a Labour hold with 90 per cent certainty, and the by-election performance does not seem strong enough to auger a breakthrough.