- There are 46 parliamentary constituencies in the East Midlands. Currently the Conservatives hold 31, and Labour 15.
- Despite holding two thirds of the seats in this region, in a good year the Tories could set their sights on several more, and we have picked out five whose majorities suggest that they could be within Conservative reach. Unfortunately, both local sources and a string of Lord Ashcroft Polls suggest that UKIP is playing havoc with the Tory vote as they supplant the Liberal Democrats as the alternative to the two main parties here. This leaves the Tories ahead in none of their potential attack seats, and the campaign will probably be an exercise in damage limitation.
- Evidence suggests that Labour will have a better night here. Although not romping home by the sort of margins that portend an overall majority, they appear to be securing narrow, efficient leads in the great majority of this region’s important Tory-Labour marginals. If available polling is any indication they are set to capture at minimum Amber Valley, Broxtowe and Sherwood, with close-fought races in Erewash, Lincoln, Northampton North, and Loughborough where Nicky Morgan, the Education Secretary, is fighting to avoid being one of 2015’s memorable decapitations.
- The Liberal Democrats are entirely without representation in the East Midlands after losing Chesterfield in 2010, and despite only needing to overturn three figure majorities in both that constituency and Ashfield their prospects next month look grim. With most constituency polls showing them falling behind UKIP as the third-placed vehicle for protest voters, they seem likely to become a bit player here.
- UKIP don’t, according to word on the ground, have any real target constituencies in this region. However local Tories report that they are really savaging the Conservative vote, undermining the party in a string of critical blue-red marginal seats such as Derby North and Erewash. Apart from contributing to the return of at least half a dozen Labour MPs, new and old, the party’s best hope appears to be trying to build the local machine required to nurture long-term prospects.
With a regional identity perhaps less distinct than areas such as Yorkshire, the East Midlands campaign appears primarily to cleave to the national campaign with health and the economy front and centre. Amongst more specific concerns raised in local sources are:
- Housing and Development: The Nottingham Post plays host to several pieces on the subject at time of writing, several candidates put championing the green belt front and centre on their websites, whilst readers’ letters raise concerns about “buy to leave” investors inflating house prices. In Nicky Morgan’s seat of Loughborough the local paper provides readers with a running round-up of the area’s planning applications. Meanwhile, Derby was one of the places where the idea of a new Midlands garden city was floated in a speech back in 2012.
- UKIP: Prominent mentions in the political sections of local papers such as the Derby Telegraph only reinforce the important role Nigel Farage’s party will play here, which may have been under-recognised due to the lack of actual targets. The battle between the two main parties here is so decisive that the East Midlands may provide as clear an indication as there will be on the extent to which UKIP has fallen back from their 2014 high, if at all, and the impact this has on Conservative fortunes.
Battleground Rating: 5/10
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.)
Corby: At first glance, the almost 8,000 majority of Labour Co-operative incumbent Andy Sawford does little to suggest this seat is a marginal. However a longer view of its record reveals a seat that has gone with the winner at every election since 1983 and was marginal in 2005, scarcely a great year for the Conservatives. The man in the blue rosette this time is Tom Pursglove, a former local councillor in the area and director of an anti-wind farm campaign. That he was selected in May 2013, months after the party’s loss of this seat in the 2012 by-election, suggests the party is taking it seriously. However, a Lord Ashcroft Poll in October 2014 found Labour ten points ahead, with UKIP coming from nowhere to 21 per cent of the voting intention and a strong third place. Electoral Calculus gives Sawford a 57 per cent of holding.
Derby North: The Conservatives fell just 613 votes short here in 2010, so if David Cameron is on course for a majority this should be one of the seats to watch. Lined up to try to take it is Amanda Solloway, a local businesswoman and community volunteer and other early selection, having been picked in April 2013. Unfortunately the Tory position here appears severely weakened since 2010: a Lord Ashcroft Poll in May 2014 found Labour’s Chris Williamson fully 21 points ahead of the Conservatives, with the Liberal Democrats having collapsed and UKIP in third place, only six points behind Solloway. Electoral Calculus gives her just a 30 per cent chance of picking up what ought to have been a bellwether result.
Gedling: Vernon Coaker, the Shadow Defence Secretary, enters the upcoming election defending a majority of just 1,859 in a seat which returned five-figure Conservative majorities up until 1997. Seeking to pry him loose is Carolyn Abbott, who we describe in our profile as the director an ironwork business she co-runs with her husband and a former A-lister who has fought seats for the Tories at every general election since 2001. Electoral Calculus gives her a one in four chance of taking a scalp on election night.
North East Derbyshire: Somewhat unusually for a county constituency this has historically been a Labour stronghold, and the party has held it since 1931. Yet in 2010 incumbent Natascha Engel’s majority fell from over 10,000 to just under 2,500, and in February 2013 the Party selected local-born businessman Lee Rowley to finish her off. His campaign emphasises local issues such as council tax and fire stations, and he was selected in February 2013. Electoral Calculus gives Rowley a 23 per cent chance of winning here.
Nottingham South: This seat last returned a Tory MP in 1987, but in 2010 the former incumbent Alan Simpson stepped down and Lillian Greenwood, his successor, found the Labour majority fall from 7,486 to 1,772. This seat is one of the Conservative attack seats under the 40:40 strategy and had selected early, but had to find a new candidate when Dr Rowena Holland, who fought the seat in 2010, resigned her candidacy at the end of 2013. The local association alighted upon Jane Hunt, a local councillor and council cabinet member whose key messages appear to centre on housing, education, and investment in the area. Electoral Calculus give her 26 per cent
Amber Valley: Nigel Mills, the Tory incumbent, overturned a majority of 5,275 to capture this seat by just 536 votes in 2010. Seeking to regain this seat, which Labour first won in 1997, is Kevin Gillott, the deputy leader of Derbyshire County Council. Evidence suggests he has a fight on his hands: whilst a Lord Ashcroft Poll in May last year found him 14 points ahead a second, in July, had the Tories just four points behind Labour despite UKIP surging to 22 per cent of the voting intention. Electoral Calculus give Gillott 62 per cent odds of winning and Iain Dale describes Amber Valley as a “surefire Labour gain”, especially after Mills was caught playing Candy Crush during a select committee meeting in December last.
Broxtowe: The nineteenth most marginal seat in Britain, Conservative Anna Soubry took this seat last time out by just 326 votes on a 2.6 point swing. The Labour candidate is Nick Palmer, the old MP, trying to return to the Commons. His chances look good, too: two Lord Ashcroft Polls in May and July of last year found him 14 and nine points up on the Tories, with UKIP rising to a strong third with 18 per cent of the voting intention. Electoral Calculus give Palmer odds just shy of two in three.
Erewash: Prior to 2010 this seat had a comfortable Labour majority of over 7,000, which Tory incumbent Jessica Lee overturned to secure her own of 2,501. This seat was comfortably Conservative until 1997, and Lee retook it when Liz Blackman, the MP from 1997 to 2010, stood down – thus appearing to fit a pattern of “Blair unwind”, seen elsewhere in this series, whereby seats captured by Labour during the Blair landslides gradually revert to old voting patterns when popular incumbents retire. Out to disprove this thesis and win the seat back is Catherine Atkinson, a barrister, whilst with Lee standing down the Conservative candidate is Maggie Throup, a trained scientist who runs a marketing agency. A Lord Ashcroft Poll in October last found Labour eight points ahead of the Tories, with UKIP only eight points back in third place having swept up to 22 per cent of the voting intention. Electoral Calculus predict a tight race but a Labour win.
Lincoln: Karl McCartney overcame a Labour majority of over 4,600 in 2010 to win this seat by over a thousand votes. It has an interesting history: before turning Tory in 1979 it had been Labour since the War and was, in the early Seventies, the site of a vicious battle between the local MP, Dick Taverne (who later chronicled the struggle), and far-left elements in his constituency party. Labour’s candidate this time is Lucy Rigby, a local solicitor. A Lord Ashcroft Poll in August 2014 found Labour four points ahead in a close-fought race, with UKIP overtaking the Liberal Democrats to take 17 per cent and a comfortable third place. Electoral Calculus estimates a 60 per cent chance of a Labour gain.
Loughborough: Nicky Morgan, the Education Secretary, secured a 5.5 per cent swing in 2010 to unseat Labour Co-operative incumbent Andy Reed and gain her 3,744 majority. Although solidly Labour before 1979 this seat was returning Tories with five-figure majorities before 1997, so Morgan will hope that this constituency reverts to previous form. Standing against her is Dr Matthew O’Callaghan, who has pursued a long and wide-ranging international career in agriculture, academia and pharmaceuticals. A Lord Ashcroft Poll in October 2014 found the Conservatives three points ahead, despite the Liberal Democrat vote collapsing and UKIP rising to 12 per cent. Electoral Calculus has the odds at 50 per cent Labour to 49 per cent Conservatives, although predict a Labour gain and a substantial scalp.
Northampton North: Conservative incumbent Michael Ellis enters next months election defending a majority a shade south of 2,000, having previously overturned a Labour one of almost double that. Sally Keeble, the previous MP, is fighting the seat again. A Lord Ashcroft Poll in October found her four points ahead of the Tories as UKIP rose to 22 per cent. Electoral Calculus predicts a Labour gain, with just over 50 per cent likelihood.
Sherwood: Mark Spencer took this seat for the Tories in 2010 when Paddy Tipping, the Labour MP since 1992, retired, and enters this election with a razor-thin majority of just 214. His Labour opponent is Léonie Mathers, a school secretary and trades unionist. Two Lord Ashcroft Polls in May and July of 2014 found Labour 12 and nine points ahead of the Tories as UKIP rose from three per cent of the vote in 2010 to 23 per cent of the intention. Electoral Calculus give Mathers a two-in-three prospect of being returned next month.
Ashfield: David Cameron wasn’t the only one to suffer problems with an ‘A list’ in 2010: such was the local anger at Labour’s attempts to impose former television presenter Gloria De Piero on this ultra-safe constituency that it came within a whisker of falling to the Liberal Democrats. Hoping to overturn her majority of just 192 is Philip Smith, a former deputy mayor of Mansfield who was selected just last week after Jason Zadrozny, the man who fought the seat so close in 2010, was suspended by the party following his arrest over accusations of child sex offences (which he “vehemently refutes”). The party’s prospects here almost certainly ended when they entered the Coalition, and Electoral Calculus predicts that De Piero will hold and substantially increase her majority whilst the Liberal Democrats fall into third or fourth place.
Chesterfield: This one must have stung in 2010, when after having their hopes raised by ‘Cleggmania’ the Liberal Democrats actually lost this seat to Labour by 549 votes. Fighting to recapture it is Julia Cambridge, a Cypriot-born “fashion designer, illustrator and senior lecturer” – although Paul Holmes, the former MP, has apparently been trying to force her out. It all seems rather academic, however: Electoral Calculus predict a Labour hold with no less than 85 per cent certainty.