In 2015 and 2017, we ran a region-by-region overview of the key seats which could decide the general election. We have revived it for 2019, and these battleground profiles run regularly throughout the campaign.
- There are 58 parliamentary constituencies here. At the last election the Conservatives took 50, Labour seven, and the Liberal Democrats one.
- Despite the Tories’ dominant position there is room for improvement. Three of their five possible gains below were held up until 2017, and a fourth was reliably Conservative prior to the 1990s. Yet this may be offset by losses to the Lib Dems in ‘Remainia’.
- Once again, a combination of Labour’s bad poll ratings and their generally weak position in this region give them relatively few opportunities. There are a few seats where they face thin Tory majorities on paper, but unless something changes during the campaign gains seem unlikely.
- This region has a couple strong Liberal Democrat prospects in well-to-do, heavily Remain towns such as Cambridge and St Albans, and a small clutch of other potential targets including Cambridge South, of Heidi Allen fame. Question over whether they can hold North Norfolk, but the Brexit Party standing will help.
- With Nigel Farage’s decision to pull out of Tory-held seat taking Thurrock of the table the East of England has one obvious Brexit Party target: Peterborough. They did extremely well in the bye-election earlier this year and are running the same candidate this time. Long shot to win, but could very easily keep the seat in Labour’s hands.
As in 2015 and 2017, we’ll be taking a region-by-region look at the seats which could change hands. 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.
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.)
Bedford: A set which has apparently returned one or more MPs since 1295, but its recent history has swung between the two major parties: Labour from 1997 until 2010, and then held by the Conservatives’ Richard Fuller until 2017. The incumbent, Mohammed Yasin, sits on a majority of just 789. This seat was pretty evenly split on Brexit, with a slight Leave lean, but Yasin’s vote may still be undercut if the Liberal Democrats can get back to their 2010 share. Electoral Calculus predicts a comfortable victory for the Tories.
Ipswich: Labour since 1992 before Ben Gummer won it in 2010, and he never secured majorities of more than a couple of thousand before losing it back to Labour at the 2017 election (of which manifesto he was an architect). Yet the current MP, Sandy Martin, is again only on a three-figure majority of 831, and there is again scope for the Lib Dems to undercut his vote if they recover to pre-Coalition levels. Another seat where Electoral Calculus forecast a Conservative again.
Luton South: Like its northern counterpart, which has drifted far enough from the Tories that we’ve decided not to include it, this has been moving the wrong way for CCHQ over the past few cycles: Gavin Shuker increased a 2010 of just 2,329 to a 2017 one just shy of 14,000. Electoral Calculus only gives the Tories a one in four chance of winning, but two factors might give the Conservatives an outside chance. First, it leans leave (54 per cent), and second, Shuker is fighting the upcoming election as an independent.
North Norfolk: One of those unusual seats which the Conservatives held during their annus horribilis in 1997 but contrived to lose in 2001. Norman Lamb went on to rack up five-figure majorities in 2005 and 2010, although the Tories ran him closer in the most recent elections and he departs Parliament with a majority of 3,512. Four factors pull this seat in different directions: it’s quite Leave-y (58 per cent); the Brexit Party will be standing; the Lib Dems have recovered in the polls; and Lamb’s personal vote will be gone. Electoral Calculus gives the Conservatives a four-in-ten chance.
Peterborough: One of Michael Howard’s prizes from 2005, Stewart Jackson lost this by just 607 votes in 2017. After Labour’s Fiona Osananya was recalled, they held the seat in a close-fought by-election in June where the Conservatives came third behind the Brexit Party. Their candidate, Mike Greene, is standing again, and this by far the closest thing they have to a target in the region. Electoral Calculus gives the Tories good odds on recapturing it, but that will depend on their really squeezing the Brexit Party vote in what is an extremely Leave (63 per cent) seat.
Norwich North: If Labour were to start picking up seats in the East of England they would probably start here. Chloe Smith has held this seat since picking it up in a 2009 by-election, prior to which it had been Labour since 1997. Her majority was cut to just 507 votes in 2017. Yet Labour might be hurt by a revival of the Lib Dem vote, and unlike its southern neighbour this seat did vote Leave in 2016, so Smith will benefit from the absence of a Brexit Party candidate. Electoral Calculus foresee a comfortable hold.
Stevenage: Stephen McPartland has held this seat since 2010, and his 2017 majority of 3,384 is healthy but not unassailable were Labour to have a good night. But it broke almost six-to-four for Leave in 2016, and McPartland will benefit from the Brexit Party’s decision to withdraw. On current polling Labour are very likely to go backwards here, but you never know.
Thurrock: Prior to 2010 this seat only went Conservative for a single term in 1997, and Jackie Doyle-Price has held it by two- or three-figure majorities at the past three elections. Yet despite her majority standing at only 345 she ought to be one of the biggest beneficiaries of the Brexit Party’s decision to withdraw from Tory-held seats: in 2015 UKIP turned this into a three-way marginal, and even in 2017 the ‘People’s Army’ still took 10,000 votes. Doyle-Price ought to pick up the great majority of those in what is an extremely pro-Brexit seat – Hanretty puts the Leave share at above 70 per cent, one of only 59 seats that went so strongly one way or the other. Electoral Calculus predict that it will become a safe Tory seat.
Watford: This seat has a history of swinging between the two main parties, but the Lib Dems are very strong in local government and it used to be something of a three-way marginal. Conservative incumbent Richard Harrington is standing down, and bequeaths his successor a majority of only just over 2,000. The big question is what happens to the Lib Dems, who are running here under the ‘Unite to Remain’ alliance. The seat is pretty evenly split on Brexit, but Labour would do well not to fall back here.
Cambridge: Reliably Conservative before 1992 and not at all since. The Liberal Democrats held it from 2005 to 2015, when Labour squeaked it back by just 599 votes… before racking up a majority of 12,661 in 2017. This is a very Remain seat (almost three-quarters so), and despite Labour shifting towards a more expressly pro-EU stance Electoral Calculus still gives the Lib Dems a 60 per cent chance of taking this back. However, one note of caution might be this year’s local election results, in which Labour held up very well.
Hitchin and Harpenden: This seat wouldn’t get a mention save that it is cropping up in stories about potentially-overlooked seats where the Lib Dems could break through, based on their Survation polling. It is quite Remain-y, but even so this feels like a stretch: Bim Afolami, the Conservative incumbent, has a majority of 12,000 and that’s over Labour. Even if the Lib Dems put on 20 points, it would probably auger a horrible night for the Tories to lose this. Electoral Calculus doesn’t think it likely.
South Cambridgeshire: Heidi Allen isn’t running, but even without her incumbency this must still be a strong prospect for the Lib Dems. In fact, there is already constituency polling putting them ahead – perhaps not surprising in a seat which broke more than 60 per cent for Remain three years ago. The Conservatives ought still to be competitive – even in 2016 Allen’s majority was almost 16,000 – but it may not help that their candidate is already facing calls to withdraw over allegedly racist arguments he advanced a Spectator article. Electoral Calculus puts the odds of a Tory hold at 80 per cent, but take that with salt.
St Albans: Probably the best shot at a gain from the Conservatives next month. This is a very Remain-y seat (over 60 per cent) and the Lib Dems are apparently working the seat extremely hard. Electoral Calculus only gives them a four-in-ten chance of picking it up, but the broader consensus seems to be that it will be an extremely disappointing night for the party if they don’t pick up Remain-voting southern seats like this.
Watford: An odd seat. The Conservatives have held it in 2010 despite zero representation on the Council, whereas the Lib Dems dominate local government but haven’t won the parliamentary seat since 1906, coming closest in 2010 when they got within 1,500 votes. Since then their vote has fallen back markedly, and with only a paltry Green vote to cannibalise through ‘Unite to Remain’ they will need to take a lot of votes off both Labour and the Tories to come through. Electoral Calculus puts the odds of a Tory retention at 80 per cent.
Peterborough: Mike Greene did very well here in the June by-election, losing out to Labour by just 683 votes and forcing the Conservatives into third. He’s standing again in an extremely Leave seat, and given that Nigel Farage’s withdrawal from Tory-held seats rules out Thurrock this is the only thing resembling a Brexit Party target in the entire region. Polls don’t show him winning, but he has a respectable base to work from and could very easily deny the Tories a win.
South West Hertfordshire: David Gauke has announced his intention to stand as an Independent in his old constituency following his failure to regain the Conservative whip. This has led Tom Newton Dunn to describe the seat as ‘at risk’, but from where we are at the moment that seems a stretch. The Conservative majority is almost 20,000 and the seat only leans Remain (about 54 per cent in 2016), so it would take a good night for both Gauke and the Lib Dems for either of them to overtake – although since he has come out for a second referendum he might get the Dominic Grieve treatment and have the latter stand aside.