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 59 parliamentary constituencies here. At the last election the Conservatives captured 35 and Labour 24.
- As in the East Midlands, this appears to be a two-party contest between the Tories and Labour, with minimal involvement by the smaller parties.
- This region is being singled out as a key battleground for the Conservatives, with Tom Newton Dunn of the Sun suggesting the Party is targeting up to 20 constituencies – including that of Tom Watson. Several Labour seats have only razor-thin majorities.
- Labour’s avenue of attack is somewhat smaller, comprising a mix of some of Theresa May’s surprise gains from two years ago with bellweathers such as Nuneaton. Beyond that they start running up against larger majorities, often in the five-figure range. This, plus present polling, produces a skewed field when it comes to possible targets.
- The Liberal Democrats lost their last toeholds here in 2015, and neither Solihull nor Birmingham Yardley looks likely to return to the fold. Nor are the Brexit Party projected to be competitive.
- That said, there are a number of seats where the UKIP high tide in 2015 clearly depressed the Conservative vote, suggesting that a revived Brexit Party could pose a real threat to Tory hopes in the region.
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.)
Birmingham Edgbaston: This seat will be wearisomely familiar to those studying Tory prospects in the West Midlands. The Party came within 1,300 votes of it in 2010, slipped back to just over 2,700 behind in 2015… and then back to almost 7,000 behind in 2017. This seat also voted Remain in 2016, albeit not by a huge margin, which might explain the slippage. However, that doesn’t stop Electoral Calculus narrowly predicting a Conservative gain in this once-comfortable Tory seat – although the local party’s website makes no mention of having a candidate yet.
Birmingham Erdington: Another of the four Birmingham seats which seemed within CCHQ’s reach after 2010 (Selly Oak has since faded again), Labour’s Jack Dromey has been comfortably expanding his majority and, like Edgbaston, it now sits at over 7,000. He is currently favoured to retain the seat, but Electoral Calculus gives the Tories a 44 per cent chance of an upset and that can’t be discounted in a close-fought and chaotic election. One factor which may work in their favour is that Hanretty’s data indicates that this seat is fairly Leave-y, with a share of about 60 per cent.
Birmingham Northfield: The last of the titular Birmingham seats, and the only one known to be an official Conservative target – it has even got so far as selecting a candidate, city councillor Gary Sambrook. Although it was previously only held by the Tories during the Thatcher era from 1989 to 1992 (barring a by-election loss in 1982), Electoral Calculus has the Party odds-on to win. Like Erdington, and unlike Edgbaston, this seat voted Leave.
Coventry North West: Geoffrey Robinson, the Labour incumbent who is standing down at this election, has held this seat continuously since first holding it for Labour at a by-election in 1976. It would therefore be a significant achievement for the Conservatives to capture this seat, given that it held out against the high-water mark of Thatcherism – and indeed, UK Polling Report classifies it as a “Safe Labour Seat“. Despite this, Electoral Calculus has the Tories as the favourites. The seat’s relatively high Leave share (just under 60 per cent) may help them here.
Coventry South: This seat’s history isn’t quite as staunchly Labour as its counterpart (the Tories held it from 1959 to 1964) but on paper it is still an extremely long shot. Long-term incumbent Jim Cunningham is standing down, which will help, but the seat is split evenly on Brexit so there seems little reason to anticipate a Leave bounce. Nonetheless, Electoral Calculus has the Conservatives ahead by an extremely thin margin, and even if the headline call is disputable on those numbers it nonetheless suggests that this could be a close-fought race.
Dudley North: Perhaps the ur-example of a ‘Labour Leave’ constituency. This was almost one of Theresa May’s small clutch of gains, with Ian Austin clinging on by just 22 votes in 2017, and according to Hanretty’s figures it broke almost seven-in-ten in favour of Leave in the 2016 referendum. Austin has since left the Labour Party, and when the margin is this close the loss of that personal vote could really tell. He may also contest the seat as an Independent, as he is not (yet) listed amongst those MPs standing down. Electoral Calculus give the Conservatives an almost 70 per cent chance here.
Newcastle-under-Lyme: Another seat where the Tories have been closing in over multiple elections: they cut Labour’s majority to 1,552 in 2010, 650 in 2015, and just 30 in 2017. It broke for Leave by a ratio of six to four, according to the Hanretty data, and is another official Conservative target which has got so far as selecting a candidate in Aaron Bell, a software developer. Electoral Calculus quite understandably have the Party taking this seat at a canter, and it would likely auger extremely ill for Boris Johnson were Bell to miss the mark here.
Stoke-on-Trent Central: Another archetypical ‘Labour Leave’ seat, UKIP placed second here in the 2017 by-election won by Gareth Snell, the Labour Co-operative incumbent. That vote unwound at the general election, with the Conservatives taking a comfortable second place and shaving Labour’s majority to under 4,000. That UKIP history might suggest this as a potential Brexit Party target, but with most informed observers deeply sceptical about their prospects on that front it may come down to whether, and to what extent, they split the Leave vote in a seat Electoral Calculus tips the Tories to win.
Stoke-on-Trent North: This is a better seat for the Conservatives than neighbouring Central: a higher Leave vote at over 70 per cent, and a much smaller Labour majority of just 2,359. UKIP used to be strong here – they almost took second place in the 2015 election – but again that vote has since unwound and the question is whether, and to what effect, Nigel Farage can revive it. Electoral Calculus puts the Tories’ odds of unseating Ruth Smeeth at over 60 per cent, even allowing for the Brexit Party getting a projected 14.6 per cent of the vote. A clean sweep in Stoke would certainly be a totemic moment.
Warwick and Leamington: Unlike most Conservative targets, this is a Remain constituency with an estimated Leave share of just 40 per cent. Also atypically – and are these two facts connected – it has a recent history with the Party, having returned a Tory MP at both the 2010 and 2015 general elections. Labour won it last time by just 1,206 votes, so on paper it ought to be well within reach and Electoral Calculus is confident of a Tory gain. However in the context of a ‘Brexit election’, its Remain lean, and 2017’s result there are grounds to suspect that might not materialise.
Walsall South: Valerie Vaz (sister to the infamous Keith) sits on a comfortable majority of almost 9,000 in a seat which hasn’t returned a Conservative MP since the splendidly-named Henry d’Avigdor-Goldsmid, who represented it until 1974. Yet it is almost two-thirds Leave, and neighbouring Walsall North – picked up for the Tories by Eddie Hughes in 2017 – had a longer history of Labour representation prior to the last election. Electoral Calculus has Vaz as the favourite but gives the Conservatives a 41 per cent chance of winning.
West Bromwich East: A Conservative win here would be the scalp of scalps: perhaps only unseating Ed Balls in 2015 could match the satisfaction for Tories of all ranks of ejecting Tom Watson from the House of Commons. This seat as always been Labour but it is very leave (almost 70 per cent) and Watson’s majority of 7,713 is solid but not insurmountable on a good night. Electoral Calculus has the Conservatives ahead by a nose in an extraordinarily close race – their projected margin of victory is fewer than 300 votes. Both George Galloway and Harvey Proctor, the ex-Tory MP caught in Watson’s child-abuse scare, are standing as Independents.
West Bromwich West: A less spectacular target, but the easier target. This too has been Labour for decades, and was previously the seat of Betty Boothroyd, the former Speaker. But the Tories are on the right trajectory – in fact, it is unusual in that the Party went backwards in 2015 (when UKIP took second place) before advancing again in 2017, cutting the Labour majority to 4,460. That strong UKIP score might be worrying CCHQ if Nigel Farage does run an aggressive Brexit Party campaign, but Electoral Calculus currently has the Conservatives as strong favourites here.
Wolverhampton North East: This seat has only gone Tory once since 1950, at the 1987 election. David Cameron cut the Labour majority to under 2,500 in 2010, but it now stands at just under 4,600. Yet the Party did make progress in 2016, and in a strongly Leave seat CCHQ may have grounds for confidence provided they can keep the Brexit Party vote share under control (this is another seat where UKIP hurt the Tories in 2015). Electoral Calculus is bullish about their chances, pegging the chances of a Tory gain at 55 per cent.
Wolverhampton South East: Definitely the longest shot of the three Wolverhampton seats. Pat McFadden’s majority stands at just over 8,500 in a seat which has never returned a Conservative MP. Even during UKIP’s high tide in 2015 their vote and the Tory vote combined did not equal the Labour total. Yet it is more than two-thirds Leave, and Electoral Calculus predicts a knife-edge contest with the Conservatives projected to win by fewer than 100 votes. Assuming that’s right, with margins that narrow it may come down (once again) to what the Brexit Party do.
Wolverhampton South West: Like Warwick & Leamington, this seat combines a lower-than-usual Leave share (although in this case it’s still 54 per cent) with a recent history of Conservative representation – Paul Uppal held it from 2010 to 2015. It has been moving slowly away from the Party but the Labour majority is just 2,185., and this election will be the first since 2010 in which Uppal is not the Tory candidate. Electoral Calculus predicts a comfortable win for his successor, Stuart Anderson, and it will likely be a very bad night for the Tories in the region (and indeed nationally) if they miss this.
Halesowen and Rowley Regis: If Labour were having a good night, a seat such as this would be in play. They held the seat up until 2010, and over the last few elections incumbent James Morris has built up a comfortable but not insurmountable majority of just over 5,000. However it is two-thirds Leave, according to the Hanretty data, and Electoral Calculus give the Tories an eight-in-ten chance of holding on.
Nuneaton: This seat carved itself onto the national consciousness as 2015’s Basildon – the bellweather which became a shorthand for a surprise election result. Marcus Jones didn’t see his majority slip in 2017, and it sits at a comfortable but not secure 4,739. Another factor which might hurt Labour is again that this is a Leave-leaning seat, and unlike some others the UKIP surge (such as it was) in 2015 didn’t dent Jones’ majority. Vulnerable on a good night, but no sign yet that the Opposition should expect one.
Stoke-on-Trent South: Jack Brereton squeaked home here in 2017 by just 663 votes, one of the handful of new MPs who fulfilled the May-era promise of breaking through in working-class, pro-Brexit constituencies. Were Labour to start winning back the West Midlands they would surely start somewhere like here – yet on the face of it Electoral Calculus is bullish about Brereton’s prospects. However, past results suggest that the Tories might have taken it in 2015 had it not been for UKIP, so they will need to be wary of a strong Brexit Party showing letting Labour back in.
Telford: Lucy Allan won this seat by 720 votes in 2015 and retained it by 730 votes in 2017, so Labour are definitely competitive. Like Brereton she will be eyeing up the potential of the Brexit Party to eat into her vote, as UKIP took more than 7,000 votes here at the 2015 election – enough to make all the difference in a seat this close. Current polling does not suggest she’s in trouble and Electoral Calculus projects a comfortable increase in her majority, but if the wind changes Allan will feel it.
Walsall North: Apart from a brief moment of excitement around 1976, when the Labour incumbent defected to the ‘English National Party’ before being ousted by a Conservative in a by-election that year, this seat had been Labour since 1955 before Eddie Hughes won it for the Tories in 2017 (although it doesn’t quite fit the narrative of post-Brexit, May-flavoured Toryism reaching new parts of the country as Cameron’s candidates came pretty close in 2010 and 2015). His majority of 2,601 is actually larger than Labour managed at either of the preceding elections, but is nonetheless slender should the Opposition pick up in the polls.
Worcester: This seat follows a different pattern to many others in this list where UKIP undermined the Conservatives in 2015. Instead that election was a high-watermark for incumbent Robin Walker, who raised his majority to over 5,600. In 2017 it was cut to under 2,500, and in a seat which is much more balanced on Brexit than many of its neighbours one can see how he might be vulnerable. Yet at present Electoral Calculus gives him an almost 70 per cent chance of holding on and projects a much more comfortable majority.