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 it’s time to review the Liberal Democrat graveyard that is the South West.
- The Conservatives knocked this region out of the park. They took every single possible target we looked at bar Exeter, and then went on to exceed expectations by capturing totemic seats such as Bath, which Chris Patten lost in 1992, and Yeovil, which Paddy Ashdown represented from 1983 until 2001 when he was succeeded by David Laws. They also held every seat we listed that other parties might be targeting.
- The South West has never really been Labour country, but despite Ben Bradshaw holding Exeter they will still be disappointed with this performance. The loss of Plymouth Moor View, which they actually held last time round, will particularly sting. However the party did manage to capture Bristol West, where we had assumed a strong Green performance would let the Lib Dems hang on.
- Once the party’s strongest region, there is now not a single Liberal Democrat MP from one end of the South West to the other. In many constituencies, party bastions once thought practically untouchable have returned to the Tory fold with the sort of thumping majorities they might have had in the 1980s. The Lib Dems may find a few toe-holds here on their long climb back to relevance, especially in Devon and Cornwall, but it will be a long time before they enjoy the position they held at the beginning of the month.
- As everywhere, so here: UKIP managed to rack up some impressive vote increases but didn’t come close to capturing any of the seats they might have had their eye on. There may be potential for growth here if they can supplant the Lib Dems as the home of the region’s protest votes.
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.)
>Mid Dorset and North Poole: The Tories fell just 269 votes short here in 2010, but with incumbent MP Annette Brooke stepping down they stormed it this time, with Michael Tomlinson racking up a majority of 10,530.
>Wells: Tessa Munt took this seat from the Tories by 800 votes in 2010, but where in the past we might expect a Lib Dem to get their tentacles in and secure a substantial majority second time out the Conservatives retook this seat by a decisive margin of 7,585 votes.
>St Austell and Newquay: One of the three Cornish seats the Lib Dems held in 2010, the slender majority of just over 1,300 was always at risk. Tory Steve Double overturned it comfortably, and now enjoys a majority of 8,173.
>Somerton and Frome: This was a rather irritating seat for the Tories, as Lib Dem incumbent David Heath captured it in 1997 with a tiny majority and then continued to secure fractionally larger ones with each election: he only broke into four figures in 2010. He stepped down and the electorate appear to have broken it off with his successor with much enthusiasm: new Conservative MP David Warburton took more than 50 per cent of the vote and a majority of over 20,000.
>St Ives: Andrew George took this seat in 1997 and secured five-figure majorities in 2001 and 2005. The Tories fell just over 1,700 votes short last time, and Derek Thomas finished the job on May 7 with a comparatively slender Conservative majority of just under 2,500 votes. One of his party’s left-wing MPs (he suggested to Andrew Marr that privacy and wariness of the state were libertarian but not liberal), George has indicated that he’s “not walking away” from the seat and is confident of a Lib Dem recapture next time.
>Taunton Deane: Formerly home to right-wing liberal Jeremy Browne, he was not able to bequeath his majority of just under 4,000 to his successor. Rebecca Pow enters Parliament with a Tory majority of 15,491.
>Plymouth Moor View: The party’s only win from Labour, Johnny Mercer (who will be familiar to ConHome readers) turned a 2010 Labour majority of 1,588 into a Conservative one of 1,026, turfing out incumbent MP Alison Seabeck in the process.
>Chippenham: This seat became emblematic of the woes of the ‘A-list’ when Duncan Hames saw off Wilfred Emmanuel-Jones (of ‘Black Farmer’ fame) to win this seat for the Lib Dems by almost 2,500 votes in 2010. Michelle Donelan unseated him by a margin of over 10,000 votes.
>Exeter: A fly in the ointment and no mistake: Ben Bradshaw managed to extend his slender 2010 majority of 2,721 into a crushing lead of over seven thousand, hoovering up what looks like two thirds of the collapsed Lib Dem vote (the remainder of which seems to have gone to the Greens). The local Tories have a mountain to climb if they are to regain this seat, which the party held from 1970 until 1997.
>North Devon: This constituency has a long Liberal pedigree, having been the seat of former leader Jeremy Thorpe for twenty years until he was defeated in 1979. The Lib Dems recaptured it in 1992 and have held it with fluctuating but generally increasing majorities ever since. This time out, incumbent Nick Harvey saw his majority of just under 6,000 flipped into a Conservative one of almost 7,000 by Peter Heaton-Jones.
>North Cornwall: Dependably Liberal until the War and then almost continually Tory from 1950, the Lib Dems took this seat in 1992. Since taking over in 2005, incumbent Dan Rogerson had enjoyed much narrower majorities than his predecessor Paul Tyler, but still went into the election with a majority a shade under 3,000 votes, which Scott Mann turned into a Conservative one of 6,621.
>Torbay: Another once-reliable Tory seat that went yellow in 1997, Kevin Foster overturned a 4,000 majority to win by 3,286 votes. This is one of the narrower wins, and the Liberal Democrats remain competitive here.
>Cheltenham: Tory from 1911 to 1992, the Lib Dem majority here fluctuated between 1,600 and 6,600. In 2010 it stood at just under 5,000, but that wasn’t enough to prevent Alex Chalk romping home for the Tories with a winning margin of over 6,500.
>Plymouth Sutton and Devonport: Labour managed to cut Oliver Colville’s majority 1,149 from to 523, but he held on as both major parties added several thousand votes to their totals and the Liberal Democrats collapsed. UKIP took third place.
>Gloucester: Labour fell back here, whilst Richard Graham added five points to his vote share and extended his majority from 2,420 to 7,241. UKIP beat the Liberal Democrats into fourth place.
>Bristol North West: A very familiar face to ConHome readers, Charlotte Leslie returned to Parliament with an increased majority of almost 5,000, up from 3,274 in 2010. The Liberal Democrats once again slipped from a competitive second place to a distant fourth, behind Labour and UKIP.
>Stroud: This seat was Labour from 1997 until 2010, when Neil Carmichael won it by just 1,299 votes. His majority this time is 4,866, and he added just under five points to his total whilst Labour slipped back. UKIP took third place whilst the Liberal Democrats went from a possibly competitive third to a remote fifth, behind the Greens.
>Kingswood: This was one of the big surprises of election night 2010, when Chris Skidmore overturned a Labour majority of almost 8,000 to capture this seat by almost 2,500 votes. The unwinding of the Labour vote in the absence of incumbency has been much more dramatic here than elsewhere: the party share dropped by almost six points even as Skidmore added another eight to his, transforming his majority into one of over 9,000.
>North East Somerset: Given that all but two wards of this seat were once the Labour-voting Wansdyke constituency, the precipitous fall in that party’s vote exceeds Kingswood for scale: Labour shed seven points since 2010 whilst the Tories added 8.5, leaving Jacob Rees-Mogg with a handsome majority of 12,749 (up from just under 5,000 last time).
>Camborne and Redruth: This was also a Liberal Democrat target. Going into the election this was the third most marginal seat in the entire kingdom, with George Eustace holding a lead of just 66 votes over ousted Lib Dem Julia Goldsworthy. Labour added 8.6 points to their share and came a respectable second, but the Lib Dem collapse saw Eustace secure a majority of 7,004.
Lib Dem: 0/4
>South East Cornwall: The good news is that the party managed to maintain second place. The bad news is that they lost 22 points whilst the Tories added 5.4, so Tory incumbent Sheryll Murray was returned with more than 50 per cent of the vote and a majority up from 3,220 to just under 17,000.
>Truro and Falmouth: The same horrible process crushed the Liberal Democrats here, where Sarah Newton added 2.3 points to her vote share whilst the Lib Dems shed 24. The party again held second place, but the Conservative majority is up from 435 to exactly 14,000.
>Newton Abbot: A narrow Tory gain in 2010, when Anne Marie Morris unseated Richard Younger-Ross by just 523 votes. He was back for another go this time, but despite holding on to second place on the night the Lib Dems shed 18.1 points whilst the Conservatives added 4.3, producing a Tory majority of 11,288.
>Camborne and Redruth: Julia Goldsworthy only lost this seat by 66 votes in 2010, and contested it again. However, her party lost a whopping 25 points of the vote since the last election, and Eustace retained this seat with a majority of over 7,000 over Labour. Goldsworthy placed fourth, behind UKIP.
>Plymouth Moor View: UKIP took 21.5 per cent of the vote and third place here, and seem to have secured the vast majority of the former Liberal Democrat vote (which declined by 13.9 points whilst UKIP’s climbed by 13.8). They remain just under 7,000 points behind the winner, so there remains much work to do if the People’s Army is to be competitive here.
>Camborne and Redruth: The party added 9.7 points to its share of the vote and took third place, however it remains almost 6,000 votes behind second-placed Labour in what is now a rather safe Conservative seat.