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 84 parliamentary constituencies in this region. As dissolution 60 were represented by Conservative MPs, 11 by Independents, eight by Labour, 3 by Liberal Democrat MPs, 1 by a Green, and one was the outgoing Speaker, John Bercow.
- Much like the South West, the Tories’ position here is so dominant that there is only a narrow band of Conservative targets. Three of these were seats taken by Labour at the last election, and the last the unusual phenomenon of a Liberal Democrat-held seat which leans Leave.
- We have identified half a dozen seats where Labour is competitive on paper, each with a relatively slender Conservative majority. Their current national position is dire, however, and unless the polls change they would probably be pleasantly surprised to pick up even the most marginal.
- The Liberal Democrats stand a good chance of holding all their current seats – the big 2015 Tory majority in Oxford West lies on the other side of the EU referendum – and with their national campaign shifting to a more realistic footing could pick up a small clutch of seats.
- Whilst the Greens seem as far away as ever from picking up more representation in the House of Commons, Caroline Lucas will probably represent Brighton Pavilion for as long as she wants to. The Lib Dems standing aside for her as part of ‘Unite to Remain’ won’t hurt either.
- Finally we have two ex-Conservative MPs running as independents. As we explained in our article on the subject, neither seem likely to hold their seats. Of these Beaconsfield has a better-coordinated ‘Unite to Remain’ effort, whilst Guildford has a stronger Remain lean and weaker Tory position. Either incumbent would be doing very well to hold on.
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.)
Canterbury: Prior to 2017, this seat had returned a Conservative (or allied) MP at every election since 1874. Labour only previously came really close to taking it in 2001, at the height of New Labour, but apparently overspill from London is shifting the demographics in seats like this away from the Tories. Nonetheless Labour’s majority here is just 187, and absent a particularly strong Remain lean or an anti-Conservative pact the Party ought to retake this comfortably next month.
Eastbourne: This seat has an interesting history: picked up by the Liberal Democrats in a 1990 by-election; lost back to the Tories in 1992; regained in 2010; lost in 2015; and then regained in 2017 by Stephen Lloyd, who then resigned from the Lib Dems to honour a pledge to his constituents to back a Brexit deal. He’s now freed from that promise and is standing again on Jo Swinson’s full-blooded FBPE agenda, which could hurt him in a seat which went almost 58 per cent for Leave. Electoral Calculus tip him to hold on, thanks to the Brexit Party splitting the vote.
Portsmouth South: Lib Dem from 1997 until 2015, then Conservative until 2017, and now Labour. The incumbent is sitting on a majority of only 1,554 so unless he can buck Labour’s national trend the Conservatives ought to be strongly placed to regain this seat. It is pretty evenly split on Brexit (unlike its pro-Leave counterpart) but if it is close the smaller parties could make an impact, with the Brexit Party chipping away at Tory support and the Lib Dems eating into the Labour vote.
Reading East: Before 2017 this seat had been Conservative since 2005, and in both 2010 and 2015 the Party secured comfortable majorities north of 6,000 votes. Labour put on a very impressive 16 points to win it last time, and their majority now stands at a respectable but not-insurmountable 3,749. One thing which might hurt the Tories here is that it is a quite strongly Remain constituency, but that could yet be a boon if a Lib Dem revival erodes the Labour lead. Electoral Calculus have the Opposition ahead in a close fight.
Crawley: The Conservatives have held this seat since 2010 and came within a whisker of picking it up in 2005, but last election saw Henry Smith’s majority cut by over 4,000 to just 2,459. Were Labour in a position to make advances this would need to be close to the top of their list. However, it is Leave-y seat and the Brexit Party standing aside will be a boon to the Tories, given that UKIP took almost 7,000 votes here in 2015.
Hastings & Rye: One of the most marginal seats in the country, and prior to Amber Rudd’s departure from front-line politics one of their best hopes for a major scalp. Even in the absence of a cabinet minister this remains a top Labour target, and with a Tory majority of just 346 the switch to a new candidate could make a difference in a close race. Close enough that with sufficient resources Labour could possibly buck even a poor national trend here, but right now it seems unlikely.
Milton Keynes North: Here the key question is whether 2017 was a blip or not. Mark Lancaster won this by comfortable majorities of almost or over 9,000 votes in both 2010 and 2015 before seeing his majority slashed to under 2,000 last time out. The Conservatives also lost ground here at the local elections earlier this year, dropping five seats whilst Labour picked up three. But again, with Labour’s national position so dire they seem more likely to go backwards here.
Milton Keynes South: A similar story to its northern counterpart: comfortable Tory majorities in 2010 and 2015 (although not quite as comfy in this more urban seat), then a dramatic narrowing of the race in 2017. Both Milton Keynes seats were evenly split in the referendum but the withdrawal of the Brexit Party will probably help, as UKIP too over 7,800 votes here in 2015. Seems likely to share a fate with its northern neighbour, which in this election will probably see a solid Conservative hold.
Reading West: Alok Sharma won this seat with majorities of over 6,000 in both 2010 and 2015. In 2017 it fell below 3,000. This seat does have a Labour history – it backed Tony Blair three times – and would certainly be in contention in a good year. But this is more Leave-y than its eastern neighbour, the Brexit Party is standing aside, and Labour’s national position is dire. Absent a Tory collapse, Sharma is probably fine.
Southampton Itchen: Even more marginal than Hastings, Royston Smith held on by just 31 votes last time – no surprise that he was one of the most vocally pleased when Nigel Farage withdrew his forces from Conservative-held seats. Combine that with a strong 2016 Leave share, Labour’s dire national position, and the absence of any sort of anti-Tory arrangement and Electoral Calculus is probably right to predict the Opposition going backwards here next month.
Eastleigh: This has been the subject of some controversy in Tory circles over the allegation that Mims Davies, the incumbent, is doing a ‘chicken run’ to safer seat. It was held by the Liberal Democrats from a 1994 by-election until 2015, but despite that it isn’t obvious on paper what she’s supposed to be scared of: Eastleigh voted Leave, albeit not by a huge margin; Davies increased her majority in 2017 to a very comfortable 14,000; there is no anti-Conservative pact; and the Brexit Party are standing aside. The Lib Dems do maintain a stranglehold on the local council, but that hasn’t carried the day before.
Lewes: Another seat the party held from 1997 until 2015, although here the Tories ran them close in 2010 and it wasn’t the shocking loss of some of the others. Maria Caulfield’s majority is a respectable but not impregnable 5,508, and the Lib Dems may take heart from the fact that the Conservatives lost control of the council here earlier this year. However Lewes is pretty evenly split on Brexit, there’s no sign of a Remain pact, and the Brexit Party standing aside will bolster the Tory defence. The Lib Dems would need to squeeze nearly all of Labour’s 2017 vote to get close.
Guildford: The Lib Dems only ever held this seat once, in 2001, but three things suggest that this could be the site of an upset. First, it is quite Remain-y (59 per cent on the Hanretty figures). Second, their vote might be split by Anne Milton, the incumbent, who is running as an independent. Third, the Conservatives absolutely haemorrhaged councillors here earlier this year, losing 25. But as we noted at the time, whilst the Lib Dems did pick up eight councillors here considerably more went to two localist outfits, R4GV and the Guildford Greenbelt Group. It certainly isn’t beyond the wit of the Lib Dems to play the nimby card and harness those voters, but if they can’t a fractured anti-Tory vote can’t do the damage in a winner-takes-all election that it can on the council.
Winchester: Flagged by the Daily Telegraph as a potential Tory loss due to its status as one of ‘the 17 Conservative-held seats with 2017 majorities of under 20 per cent, and 2016 Remain votes of over 60 per cent’. Mark Oaten did used to hold this for the Lib Dems from 1997 until 2010, the party overtook the Tories to take control of the council earlier this year, and the absence of a Green candidate suggests a pact. Yet it may be a long shot: Steve Brine’s majority is 9,999, he’ll benefit from the Brexit Party’s absence, and elsewhere the Lib Dems have struggled to convert local government strength into Westminster gains.
Brighton Pavilion: Perhaps a canary in the mine when it comes to the effect of London overspill on commuter-belt seats, this was once rock-solidly Conservative before falling to Blair in 1997. Caroline Lucas captured it in 2010 and whilst her party still seems no closer to picking up a second seat her hold here seems assured. The Greens picked up eight seats on the council earlier this year, including a clean sweep of three in a previously Tory ward in this constituency. With the Lib Dems having stood aside as part of the ‘Unite to Remain’ deal, expect a (very) comfortable retention.
Beaconsfield: Dominic Grieve’s bid to hold this seat for Remain seems forlorn. Unlike David Gauke he did manage to secure endorsement from the ‘Unite to Remain’ ticket, meaning that he has the backing of the local Lib Dems (although the Greens have chosen to run). Yet as discussed in our article on the rebels this is simply not an ardently pro-EU seat, and his successor as Conservative candidate inherits a notional majority over 24,500. A long shot.
Guildford: Actually considerably more Remainy than Beaconsfield, but Anne Milton has not secured any ‘Unite to Remain’ endorsement and faces the daunting task of overturning a Conservative majority of over 17,000. But… there could be one straw in the wind: at this year’s local elections the Tories lost a “shocking” 25 seats, ending up with just nine. Has Milton been endorsed by R4GV? The Lib Dems may be more likely to benefit, but you never know.