- There are 55 constituencies in the South West of England. Currently the Conservatives hold 51 and Labour four, with the Liberal Democrats (for whom this was previously something of a heartland) with none.
- This is the major front in the Tory defence against a resurgent Lib Dems, and some MPs from the area have apparently been amongst the staunchest opponents of an early election. Including a rather long shot in Bristol West, every remaining seat in the region is a plausible Conservative target.
- For Labour, this election is probably about trying to cling on to some of their few southern seats outside of London. The party currently holds three of Bristol’s four seats plus Exeter – but will try to go on the offensive against slender Conservative majorities in Plymouth’s two seats too.
- Tim Farron’s troops want this to be the cradle of their comeback – six of their 20 narrowest margins are in the South West. But that may not be as easy as they might like, for many of their former seats voted Leave and have big UKIP votes for the incumbent Tories to plunder. The Lib Dems best chances are where either their regional support is concentrated into particular strongholds, and a local source estimates about four Conservative losses.
- The Greens launched their campaign here and have one seat firmly in their sights: Bristol West. However they may also be a factor in Plymouth Sutton & Devonport, where they may stand aside to boost Labour’s chances of unseating a Tory MP.
- UKIP’s relative strength in this Leave-supporting region has previously cost the Conservatives, ironically to the benefit of the arch-Europhile Lib Dems. If the Tories are able to substantially squeeze the People’s Army’s 2015 vote share it will greatly bolster their defence across a range of seats – especially if Paul Nuttall is serious about not standing against Eurosceptics.
Welcome back to our series on the election battlegrounds! As in 2015, we’ll be taking a region-by-region look at the seats which could change hands and offering our suggested lists of target seats for each party.
These lists aren’t predictions of gains: rather, they’re just seats which we think could be competitive. They might be official party targets, have a small majority, or be subject to other factors which could leave them open to change.
Amongst the resources we’ll be using to steer us through these murky waters are Electoral Calculus, UK Polling Report, Number Cruncher Politics, and Election Polling, whilst all Leave vote share estimations are from Chris Hanretty’s very helpful constituency-by-constituency charts. We’re also keeping an eye on the work of many other pollsters, psephologists, and analysts, some of whom our assistant editor has collated onto a Twitter list.
So without further ado… the South West.
Battleground Rating: 6/10
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.)
Bristol East: UK Polling Report classifies this as a ‘semi-marginal’, and in normal circumstances that would be about right. Kerry McCarthy’s majority has been down in the high 3000s since the 2010 election, so with pollsters predicting that any Labour seat with a majority under 5000 is in deep trouble the Conservatives must be optimistic about their chances here – especially since, according to Hanretty’s chart, almost 47 per cent of constituents voted Leave. Electoral Calculus is currently predicting a Conservative gain with 58 per cent probability.
Bristol South: If Bristol East is semi-marginal, UK Polling Report classes its southern neighbour as a ‘safe Labour seat’. Karin Smyth’s majority of 7,128 is at the upper end of the scale for Tory ambitions, but in 2010 it was a much more competitive 4,734 so there is clearly scope for an upset – especially as at 48 per cent this had the highest Leave share of any Bristol seat (North West, the Conservative seat, was third with just 39 per cent). Electoral Calculus predicts another Conservative gain, with slightly narrower odds than East.
Bristol West: This one is an odd one. By far the city’s most left-wing constituency, and with only a 21 per cent Leave vote, this is squaring up to be a strictly intra-left fight between Labour, the Greens, and possibly the Liberal Democrats. Yet Electoral Calculus gives the Tories a 39 per cent chance of winning here, despite predicting a Labour hold, and it has appeared on a couple of ‘gains in event of blowout’ lists. A very long shot indeed, not least since the Tories would be coming from fourth, but left-to-right swing voters do exist and if the left vote splits right it could be one of those shock results which so enliven election night.
Exeter: This was a disappointing seat for the Tories last time out, as Labour incumbent Ben Bradshaw managed to increase his majority from a competitive 2,721 to a much more intimidating 7,183. However, that was built on the back of a Lib Dem collapse, so if Tim Farron’s troops are making a comeback this could go blue. Hanretty has Exeter at 45 per cent Leave, which suggests the Tories could also squeeze both the UKIP and Labour votes. UK Polling Report thinks this is ‘safe’, and local activists think that failure to re-run 2015 challenger Dom Morris will hurt Tory chances, but Electoral Calculus foresees a Conservative gain with 53 per cent probability.
Plymouth Moor View: Formerly the storied Plymouth Devonport, home to such Labour giants as Michael Foot and David Owen, this seat was picked up by Johnny Mercer (sometime of this parish) in 2015 by just over 1,000 votes. UK Polling Report class it as the more working class of Plymouth’s seats and as a marginal, but Electoral Calculus predicts a 71 per cent chance of a Conservative hold, not least because Mercer may be able to squeeze the UKIP vote in a seat that went 66 per cent Leave.
Plymouth Sutton and Devonport: Conservative incumbent Oliver Colvile captured this seat in 2010, but in 2015 his majority was more than halved to 523 making this the more marginal of the two. It was also the more pro-Remain, although Leave still scooped 54 per cent of the vote. Electoral Calculus predicts another 71 per cent chance of a Tory hold, probably assuming Colvile will eat into the Leave-leaning portion of Labour’s share and the 6,731 who voted UKIP in 2015. However, this is one seat where a ‘progressive alliance’ may be a complicating factor: rumour is the local Greens (3,401 votes in 2015) may stand aside to give an anti-Tory candidate a better shot.
Bath: The 12th-most marginal Lib Dem target, they’d held this seat since unseating Chris Patten, the Conservative Party Chairman, in 1992 until Ben Howlett took it back in 2015 when Don Foster, the long-serving incumbent, stood down. Local sources tip this as at risk: the area is estimated to have voted 68 per cent Remain and there’s precious little UKIP vote to squeeze. Howlett himself backed Remain and is firmly on the Tories’ liberal wing, but with more than 6,000 Labour and 5,600 Green voters in 2015 this must be one seat where progressive tactical voting could make the difference. Electoral Calculus is having none of it, however, and gives the Lib Dems just a one-in-four chance of recapturing the seat.
Cheltenham: Alex Chalk captured this with an 11-point swing to secure a majority over the Lib Dems of over 6,500, but local sources suggest this pro-Remain town may be at risk. Not only do they have an overwhelming majority on Cheltenham Council but Martin Horwood, the former MP, is their candidate again. Whilst UKIP got just over 3,800 voters in 2015 there are plenty of Labour (3,902) and Green (2,689) to reinforce Horwood. Electoral Calculus give Chalk an almost four-in-five chance of hanging on, but that may be underestimating a concentration of Lib Dem strength in this seat.
Chippenham: This would be something of a long shot, as Michelle Donelan’s majority stands at over 10,000 – although first-term majorities can be soft. Hanretty puts the seat at 52 per cent Leave, and with UKIP third-placed in 2015 with almost 6,000 votes she should be able to hold on – indeed Electoral Calculus puts Donelan’s odds at 85 per cent. There is apparently some local concern about how the seat has been worked since the last election, however, so we include it here as an outsider.
North Cornwall: Scott Mann’s majority in this seat stands at a healthy 6,621, but word on the ground is that having his election expenses investigated by the CPS may be hurting him. Moreover Dan Rogerson, the former MP, is standing again. Nonetheless, the seat’s Leave vote is estimated at 60 per cent and Brexiteer Mann should have no trouble winning over a substantial chunk of UKIP’s more than 6,000 2015 voters, which may keep him safe. Electoral Calculus gives the Lib Dems just a 17 per cent shot.
North Devon: At 26th on the Lib Dems margin-based target list this is nominally a more plausible bet than seats such as Wells and North Cornwall, but word on the ground is that first-term Conservative incumbent Peter Heaton-Jones can be pretty confident of defending his majority of just under 7,000. The seat is estimated to have gone 57 per cent Leave, there are 7,719 UKIP votes to squeeze, and Electoral Calculus gives the Lib Dem challenger just an 18 per cent chance.
St Ives: By far the Lib Dems’ best prospect in Cornwall on paper, Andrew George lost by just under 2,500 votes in 2015 and is apparently consulting the people of Cornwall as to whether he should stand again. His message seems focused on uniting Remain voters, but the seat is estimated to have voted 55 per cent Leave and Derek Thomas, the Conservative incumbent who backed Leave, has 5,720 UKIP votes to woo. Electoral Calculus gives George, once the Lib Dems’ most rebellious MP, just a 28 per cent chance.
Thornbury & Yate: One of the most marginal seats to go in the 2015 wipe out, Tory incumbent Luke Hall won this by just under 1,500 votes after a 14-point fall in the Lib Dem share of the vote. However Steve Webb, the experienced former MP who served as Pensions Minister in the Coalition, is not standing again. None the less, despite the narrow margin, there the new candidate Claire Young faces some headwinds: Hanretty estimates that the seat went Leave by 52 per cent, the Conservatives are likely to squeeze the more than 5,000 votes UKIP won in 2015, and Hall’s backing Remain may cut across the Lib Dem core message. Despite it being fourth on the party’s most marginal target list, Electoral Calculus gives them only a 30 per cent chance of a win.
Torbay: Another seat which, by the standards of the region, only went Tory rather narrowly in 2015: Kevin Foster enjoys a majority of just 3,286 over the Lib Dems, who’d previously held the seat since 1997, and its their tenth-most marginal target. However, the seat is estimated to have gone 62 per cent Leave and Foster has over 6,500 votes to squeeze – and his backing Remain may help him with Con-LD switchers. Electoral Calculus give the Lib Dems just a 26 per cent chance and some local Tory sources tip a solid hold, although others think it could be one of the most likely Lib Dem pick-ups in the region.
Wells: James Heappey’s majority of just over 7,500 puts this down at the 27th-most marginal Lib Dem target, which would suggest a very good night for them. With the electorate believed to have gone 53 per cent Leave in the EU referendum and 5,600 votes from third-placed UKIP available he should be fine, although the Lib Dems will get a boost from the fact that Tessa Munt, the former MP, is standing again. Electoral Calculus puts her chances at less than one-in-five.
Yeovil: This was one of the more comfortable Conservative gains two years ago, and Marcus Fysh enjoys a majority of just under 5,300 after securing a 16-point swing. Hanretty estimates that Paddy Ashdown’s old seat went Leave by 60 per cent to 40, which will likely help Brexiteer Fysh attract some of UKIP’s 7,464 2015 voters. Local activists warn that the Lib Dems have a majority of the local councillors and that Fysh has not been as active as he might have been, but Electoral Calculus still gives his challenger just a 22 per cent chance of winning.
Bristol West: As discussed above, this is far and away the most left-wing seat in Bristol and it’s number one on the Greens’ target list, needing a swing of just 4.42 per cent to fall. They’re running Molly Scott Cato, their current MEP for the region, in order to get an increase on the impressive 17,227 they got last time. Only 21 per cent of constituents voted Leave, too. The big question for Labour is whether this is one of the few seats where Jeremy Corbyn’s left-wing leadership helps to woo voters back from their primary challenger. As noted above, Electoral Calculus predicts a Labour hold.