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 29 parliamentary constituencies here. At the last election the Conservatives took three and Labour all the rest.
- If Conservative strategists are right about Brexit opening up new territory for the Party, there is considerable scope to advance in a pro-Brexit region in which Labour hold nearly every seat. The crucial question may once again be how effectively the Brexit Party can be squeezed.
- Labour are short on targets here almost entirely because of how thoroughly they dominate the North East’s electoral map. On paper they’re competitive in one of the Tories’ three seats.
- The Liberal Democrats’ position in the North East has been really weakened by Brexit: it’s very difficult to see them coming back in places such as Berwick-upon-Tweed or Redcar, both of which are on the wrong side of the party’s new Brexit dividing line.
- If they don’t stand down then the Brexit Party have one clear target here: Hartlepool, where their Deputy Leader is running. Beyond that it’s hard to see them breaking through without a pact.
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.)
Bishop Auckland: This seat hasn’t gone to a candidate of the right since a one-term ‘Liberal National’ MP in 1931 (an election at which Labour lost 287 seats!), and has otherwise been Labour since 1918. Yet the Conservatives have been closing in since 2010 and at the last election they cut the majority to just 507 votes. Both the Liberal Democrats and UKIP put in solid performances here in 2010 and 2015, but with the Tories so close in a Leave-leaning seat they will probably be able to win over voters who might flirt with the Brexit Party. Very disappointing night if they miss this.
Blythe Valley: Very much an outside bet on paper, given the majority of almost 8,000, but this is another seat with a 2016 Leave share north of 60 per cent where Labour might be hurt by the shift in their national vote coalition towards Remain. Electoral Calculus gives the Tories a 46 per cent shot, so this might fall within their high-water line on a good night. Yet UKIP placed second here in 2015, and the Brexit Party could very well split the potential Conservative vote.
Darlington: Conservative from 1983 to 1992, the Party cut Labour’s majority to below 3,500 in 2010 and has failed to make much headway since. The Lib Dems picked up more than 10,000 votes here in 2010, so if their vote share revives it could be enough to cost Labour the seat – provided the Tories can keep the Brexit Party’s vote share down. Another of the ‘Labour Leave’ seats which is central to the Prime Minister’s strategy, and one of the four Electoral Calculus has him odds-on to gain. One good omen: the Party made gains here in May’s local elections.
Hartlepool: Probably one which would fall if the Brexit Party weren’t standing, but an uphill struggle if they are. This is a very Brexit-y seat, with a 2016 Leave share of almost 70 per cent – in fact, UKIP managed to place second here in 2015. These factors suggest the current Labour majority of 7,650 might be surmountable, but with the Brexit Party almost sure to be running a very high-profile campaign (see below) it’s hard to see the Tories pulling off the squeeze required. Electoral Calculus has it as a close race, but their estimate may be under-pricing the local impact of Farage’s troops.
North West Durham: This is one of the seats identified by the Daily Telegraph where the split between the Brexit Party and the Conservatives could save a pro-Remain MP – in this case Laura Pidcock, the arch-Corbynite Labour incumbent. It isn’t one of the ultra-Brexity seats where Nigel Farage’s troops might genuinely hold out hopes of a gain, but that very fact – combined with the fact that it has returned a Labour MP at every election since 1950 – suggests that the Conservatives would need all the advantages they could get to pull this one off. Polls suggest they might do it, but it would be a good night if they did.
Redcar: Apart from a one-term flirtation with the Lib Dems in 2010 (inevitably, ‘Yellowcar’), this was a solid Labour seat since 1974. The only time the Conservatives came close to taking it was 1983, and even Margaret Thatcher at the apex of her powers could only get the majority down to about 3,000. But if hopes of a Tory breakthrough in the North lie in strongly Leave seats then Redcar (68 per cent) would need to be on the table. A combination of the Conservatives winning over pro-Brexit Labour voters and a Lib Dem revival could put it in play, but the Brexit Party could act as a spoiler.
Sedgefield: No party ever came close to touching Tony Blair whilst he sat for this seat as Prime Minister, but in subsequent elections Labour’s majority has been worn down from almost 20,000 to just over 6,000. Combine that with an estimated 69 per cent Leave share in 2016 and you’ve got another seat which ought to be vulnerable if CCHQ’s operating theories are correct. Electoral Calculus tip a Tory win in a close race, abetted by a rebound in the Lib Dem vote and a failure by the Brexit Party to get back to UKIP’s 2015 support levels. Imagine the look on Blair’s face.
Stockton North: Unlike its southern neighbour this seat has no Conservative history, having returned a Labour MP at every election since 1983. Indeed the Party has actually gone backwards at the last two elections, and Labour’s majority currently stands at 8,715. The same conditions apply here as in several other North Eastern potential targets: historic vote shares for the Lib Dems and UKIP, plus a high Leave vote in 2016, suggest a pathway for the Conservatives – if the stars align on the night.
Stockton South: Some eight points less Brexit-y than the North, but held by the Tories from 2010 until 2017. James Wharton managed a majority of over 5,000 in 2015, the UKIP high tide, which suggests that the Conservatives should have a strong chance of overturning Labour’s current majority of just 888. Electoral Calculus puts their odds of doing so at over 60 per cent, and a failure to recapture this seat would probably mean the entire Tory strategy was in deep trouble.
Middlebrough South and East Cleveland: One of Theresa May’s small clutch of gains, Simon Clarke holds this by just over a thousand votes. Yet the Tories ran Labour close here in both 2010 and 2015, so their base is probably pretty solid. Also unhelpful for Labour will be that this seat apparently broke 65 per cent for Leave in 2016, as the party has lost ground with pro-Brexit voters since the last election. Another ill omen: Labour haemorrhaged councillors here in May.
Hartlepool: Polls apparently put the party ahead here at one point, and it is definitely one of their most high-profile targets: Richard Tice, their deputy leader, is standing here. UKIP have a strong history here, placing second in 2015 and only falling just over 3,000 votes away from a win. The question is whether or not the Brexit Party can revive that UKIP vote in the face of a Conservative Party committed to Brexit, plus however much extra required to actually overcome Labour’s remaining lead. Odds are against them at this point.