Reading West

2015 Result:
Conservative: 23082 (47.7%)
Labour: 16432 (33.9%)
Lib Dem: 2355 (4.9%)
Green: 1406 (2.9%)
UKIP: 4826 (10%)
TUSC: 83 (0.2%)
Independent: 156 (0.3%)
Others: 64 (0.1%)
MAJORITY: 6650 (13.7%)

Category: Semi-marginal Conservative seat

Geography: South East, Berkshire. The western part of the Borough of Reading.

Main population centres: Reading, Theale, Pangbourne, Tidmarsh.

Profile: Reading is a commerical centre and commuter town in the Thames Valley in Berkshire. It is an affluent town, home to light, hi tech and service industry. It houses many corporate headquarters, including Microsoft, Oracle, British Gas and Prudential. Reading West is the less urban of the two Reading seats - while it includes several council estates such as those at Southcote and Whitley, it also stretches out to the West of Reading itself to take in more rural areas including Theale, Tidmarsh and Pangbourne, the site of Pangbourne College, formerly a Royal Naval College. The annual Reading Music Festival is held at Little John`s Farm at the North of the constituency. The seat also includes Reading FC`s Madejski Stadium. John Madejski, the Reading FC Chairman, is a notable donor to the Conservative party.

Politics: Reading West is a classic marginal, held by the Conservatives from its creation in 1983 until the Labour landslide of 1997, after which it remained Labour until the Conservative victory of 2010.

Current MP
ALOK SHARMA (Conservative) Born 1967, India. Educated at Reading Blue Coat School and Salford University. Former chartered accountant. First elected as MP for Reading West in 2010.
Past Results
Con: 20523 (43%)
Lab: 14519 (31%)
LDem: 9546 (20%)
UKIP: 1508 (3%)
Oth: 1434 (3%)
MAJ: 6004 (13%)
Con: 14258 (34%)
Lab: 18940 (45%)
LDem: 6663 (16%)
UKIP: 1180 (3%)
Oth: 1062 (3%)
MAJ: 4682 (11%)
Con: 13451 (32%)
Lab: 22300 (53%)
LDem: 5387 (13%)
UKIP: 848 (2%)
MAJ: 8849 (21%)
Con: 18844 (39%)
Lab: 21841 (45%)
LDem: 6153 (13%)
Oth: 575 (1%)
MAJ: 2997 (6%)

*There were boundary changes after 2005

2015 Candidates
ALOK SHARMA (Conservative) See above.
VICTORIA GROULEF (Labour) Educated at Nottingham University. Businesswoman. Former Wycombe councillor.
MERI O`CONNELL (Liberal Democrat) Youth justice worker. Reading councillor since 2012.
MALIK AZAM (UKIP) Born Sheffield.
MIRIAM KENNET (Green) Economist and academic. Contested South East region 2014 European election.
SUZIE FERGUSON (Independent) Born Salisbury. Educated at The Romsey School and Surrey University. Chartered Chemical Engineer.
PHILIP WEST (Roman Party Ave!)
Comments - 104 Responses on “Reading West”
  1. Disclaimer: I’m a Labour activist in Reading. Albeit in Reading East, but still.

    An update on the candidates standing:

    Labour – Cllr Victoria Groulef, Labour leader on Wycombe District Council, was selected. She has since stood down from the council to concentrate on the campaign.

    Conservative – Haven’t actually heard that Alok Sharma MP has been re-selected yet, but I’m guessing so as he’s certainly standing and his counterpart in Reading East has been re-selected.

    Numerous things going for us here in this seat. In the 2012 local elections, Labour won in every ward in this constituency bar one, and that one was by a Lib Dem. Yes, I know not to overestimate the importance of council victories, but a victory in every ward bar one is not exactly bad news for our parliamentary chances, and it means we now have a councillor base in nearly every area of the seat. In addition, it’s been declared a target seat for Labour, meaning lots of extra resources. And we have a very good candidate, but call me biased.

    But, it’s hardly a foregone conclusion. Unless someone wants to correct me, Reading West experience the 2nd biggest swing against Labour in all of the country. That isn’t an easy thing to recover from. Furthermore, in Alok Sharma the Tories have a very good candidate. He’s likable, media-friendly, and is probably benefiting from some Reading East activists helping him, rather than the more divisive Rob Wilson MP. Plus, Sharma will also get national resources to aid his defence.

    My guess though right now is that, so long as Labour run a good campaign, they should just get over the top with a little to spare.

  2. Correction: Whoops, I’m in Reading-only mode it seems right now. I forgot for a sec that there are areas outside of Reading that are in this constituency; areas you certainly couldn’t call Labour strongholds. So it’s wrong to say that we have a councillor in nearly all areas. As far as the west of Reading proper goes, yes, but those areas outside Reading will provide some relief for Sharma.

  3. The large swing to the Tories is unsurprising given the retirement of Martin Salter, who must have had in 2001 & 2005 one of the largest personal votes of any English Labour MP. In fact, given the Labour weakness in Pangbourne Tidmarsh & Purley-on-Thames, and even the odd village, one could even say Labour did OK even to stay in touch as well as they did. It’s a decent chance for Labour though & in the event of the party enjoying a national lead of just under 6% over the Tories, which is certainly not impossible, the seat would be gained on that elusive event, an even swing.

  4. Presumably Alok Sharma will build up a similar personal vote given that he is considered a very good MP. I suspect this will be very close one way or another. Certainly doubt there will be room to spare for labour.

  5. I agree Salter not standing had something to do with it being such a large swing. I would start talking with voters on the doorstep who were leaning Labour, but once told that Salter was not standing I could tell I’d lost them completely. But however large his personal vote was, and it was large, I expect more was at work than that considering just how large the swing was.

    Sharma will build up a personal vote Joe, but nothing like what Salter did. For one thing, however good Sharma is – and he is good (as far as Tory MPs go :P) – he doesn’t seem up to the same standard as Salter, but then again few in any party met that standard. More importantly though, Salter had three terms to build up the personal vote, whereas this will be Sharma’s first run at re-election. Basically, Sharma will have a personal vote, but it’ll be nowhere near the extent Salter’s was, and thus it’ll have less of an impact come 2015.

  6. But any additional swing required is already coming on top of 6%, which is at the outside of most peoples predictions. I am not terribly optimistic nationally, but I would have put the tories chances here at 75-80%.

  7. I get what you mean, but crunching the numbers I still stand by the view that the Tories probably have a 40-45% chance here. But then again, I am looking at this from the inside so, might have a skewed perspective.

  8. Van Fleet – I was surprised a local councillor like Rachel Eden or even the council leader Jo Lovelock didn’t get on the shortlist.

  9. Matt, neither applied.

  10. Looking at the two Reading seats, Labour appear to have made some progress here overall in the past 20 years – comparing the 1992 and 2010 results.

    2010 GE saw Labour finish 13 points behind the Tories in Reading West and 17 in Reading East. The comparative margins in 1992 were 25 points in West and 27 in East.

  11. I think this may be part of the wider trend where the cities and larger towns are moving towards Labour.

    This has been more widely noticed in northern towns where Labour unexpectedly held some city seats in 2010 which they might have been expected to lose .However, even in the South-East, and against the general Conservative trend in the region, Labour have performed noticably better (using the 1992-2010 comparison) in the most urban seats, even in defeat. Brighton & Hove is the most obvious example, but this is also true here in Reading, the Southampton seats, plus a few others such as Portsmouth North or Gillingham & Rainham.

    This looks like a separate phenomenon to the Labour trend in southern towns with a substantial Asian polulation (such as Luton or Slough).

  12. Although Labour’s performances in Gillingham & Portmouth N were less disastrous than those in, say, Basingstoke, Hemel Hempstead or Anthony’s Dartford, they were still considerably worse than the national average in terms of swing to the Conservatives. Even Southampton Itchen was closer than it should have been according to the national average – Labour was only a few score votes away from losing a seat which had previously been lost only in the 1980s. Luton & Slough (especially Luton N) were better performances.

  13. The comparison I’ve made is a longer- term one: 2010 compared to 1992, given that both these Elections saw a 7% national lead for the Conservatives.

    White working class constituencies produced the largest swings from Labour to the Conservatives in 2010, and the towns I have mention are mostly WWC. What I’ve noticed is that even after these large swings against Labour in 2010 (and the loss of most of these seats) , the larger southern towns remain more promising for Labour than they were 20 or so years ago.

  14. @James E

    You can also add Hastings and Exeter as two other urban areas in the South where Labour did better in 2010 than 1992. Not sure where else can be included. Stroud perhaps?

  15. Stroud is not an urban constituency really. It’s small-town plus a bit of rural. It’s unique as a southern English seat which is not mainly urban but where Labour is very close behind the Conservatives, though NE Somerset almost qualifies too.

  16. The two Reading seats have behaved very interestingly. Labour did incredibly well in 1997 and 2001, with the Tories rebounding strongly in 2005 and 2010, albeit not strongly enough to return the seats to their 1992 positions. Given that the Tory recovery here since 2001 has been better than in other southern urban seats, I wonder how strong the trend is to Labour. I am not denying that there is one but I will be interested to see how the seats behave in 2015. I think the picture will become clearer then.

  17. James E: ‘I think this may be part of the wider trend where the cities and larger towns are moving towards Labour.’

    Yes, I think you’re probably right.

  18. Well such a trend certainly doesn’t include southern urban new town seats like Hemel Hempstead, Harlow, Stevenage, Welwyn Hatfield or Crawley.

    Reading in particular will largely be down to a substantially higher ethnic minority population. The fact that the town is split in half for parliamentary purposes and includes surrounding rural/suburban areas in both seats dilutes this effect and still enables the Tories to win. However, were a single Reading seat to be formed of just the town itself you would see a much more pronounced pro-Labour trend with the Tories unlikely to ever win the seat.

  19. H Hemmelig- that makes sense. Presumably, the reasonably good Tory recovery since ’01 will be down to the rural/suburban areas (of which there are more in Reading East than Reading West, which figures) with Labour clawing on to the ground they have gained in the more urban parts of the seat.

  20. Correction- Reading East is actually the more urban of the two seats.

  21. I would guess so yes.

    Colchester is a good example of what can happen when a similar-sized town is re-united, having previously been split between two Tory seats.

  22. Reading today is perhaps like Slough 20 or 25 years ago – still majority white but with a very large minority population (mostly Asian).

    It will be interesting to see whether Reading eventually becomes like Slough or Luton are today.

  23. Tory’s thesis on the Tory recovery is broadly correct. I’m really only fully familiar with Reading East, but the principle is the same with West: in East, I like to think of the constituency as three types. The more inner-constituency areas, where in alot of places the Labour vote held up well; Caversham, a traditionally marginal area which moved decisively towards the Conservatives by 2010; and the out-of Reading areas (really, Woodley in effect) which has been a Tory-Liberal fighting ground where all we could do was identify what voters we had. The fact that we lost what voters we had in Woodley, and the swing against us in Caversham was pretty marked in 2005 and 2010, undone us in East, and the principle is broadly the same with West. The other thing that did us was the Lib Dem rise in parts of those inner-constituency areas. It manifested less in West than in East (the Lib Dems took a couple of wards in East from Labour) but nevertheless it did undermine our hold there. That factor at least won’t be at play in 2015.

  24. That is quite a good insight Van Fleet

  25. Excellent post, Van Fleet. Thanks for that. Yes, I have noticed that some of Reading East’s inner urban wards were effectively three-way marginals in 2010 i.e. Abbey, Katesgrove, and Redlands. As you say the strong Lib Dem performance in those places will not have helped Labour one bit.

  26. I always though Reading East was the more urban of the two seats, it’s certainly the more gritty and Labour-looking of the two seats, and I was surprised to see it revert back to the Tories before Reading West – although I’m sure that had to do more with Martin Salter’s popularity, and Labour stupidly de-selecting the sitting MP in Reading East and replacing her with a candidate who had been convicted for cottaging

    For all Rob Wilson’s hyperactivity, I think Labour haveonly themselves for losing a seat they ought to have hung onto in 2005

    Like most working class towns in the South East the swing in 2010 in both seats was big – and I think Labour might really satruggle to win them back any time soon

  27. Errr……the sitting MP was deselected for very good reasons, according to the local party, and the councillor selected in her place has retained his council seat for many years despite past events.

    Its really difficult to deselect an MP but when relationships have entirely broken down with the whole local party, there is no option. You only need to read Ms. Griffiths’ blog to know that there had been this breakdown, whoever happened to be right.

  28. @ H Hemelig

    The new towns which you list such as Hemel Hempstead, Harlow, Stevenage and Crawley are all far smaller than Reading or the others I have mentioned. The size of town which I see as trending to Labour (even where there is not a large BAME population) is those over about 150,000-200,000.

    With regard to the Asian polulation in Reading: in the 2011 census it was 8% in Reading West and 13% in Reading East. This is broadly similar to that of a number of smaller southern towns where Labour have not progressed to the same extent . To give some examples of other southern constituencies with a higher Asian population that Reading West per the 2011 census:

    Aldershot 10%
    Woking 11%
    Gravesham 10%
    Crawley 13%
    Wycombe 17%

    (For the record, Slough’s Asian population is 40%).

  29. “With regard to the Asian polulation in Reading: in the 2011 census it was 8% in Reading West and 13% in Reading East. This is broadly similar to that of a number of smaller southern towns where Labour have not progressed to the same extent .”

    Yes but both constituencies contain a lot of suburban and rural bits outside of the town.

    The Asian population of Reading itself must be 20% I would have thought.

  30. James E: What about the student/lecturer population in Reading? Might that help Labour, compared with the other towns you list?

  31. ‘Yes but both constituencies contain a lot of suburban and rural bits outside of the town.The Asian population of Reading itself must be 20% I would have thought.’

    Good point, yes.

  32. The Asian population of the two Reading constituencies combined is only 10%-11%. Surely the town itself makes up most of these constituencies?

  33. The Asian population in the Aldershot constituency is mostly Nepalese. The statistics did not have a separate catagory to identify the difference between the Indian sub continent and the Chinese sub continent.

  34. @ Dalek re Aldershot

    Fair point re the Nepalese population of Aldershot, but the comparison to Woking, Wycombe and Crawley still stands up. It will be interesting to see if this has any demographic effect in future as it is a very recent influx.

    @Tory re the student population
    There does seem to be a trend in University towns towards Labour or away from the Conservatives. I doubt if this is actually undergraduate students as most vote in their ‘home’ constituencies. My guess is that it is more a matter of the type of middle class people who prefer to live in places such as Oxford or Exeter rather commuting in. Would this be a significant demographic in Reading? It certainly appears to be stronger in Oxford than in (for example) Loughborough.

    However, the wider point is that there are clearly some southern constituences which are bucking the general trend towards the Tories in the South -East. Probably the area here this has been strongest – despite Labour losing all three seats there in 2010 – is Brighton and Hove.

    Apologies for asking this under the ‘wrong’ thread but what do people think is the main demographic factor behind this? It clearly isn’t the BAME vote as the area is less than 5% Asian or Black. I doubt if it the gay vote, as this is probaly less than 20% of the total population and (so far as I’m aware) not monolithically Labour.

    The other possible reasons that I can think of are
    1. Seaside town
    2. University town
    3. Large conurbation

  35. # ….the area Where this has been stongest…

  36. Barnaby is correct that Stroud town (including Nailsworth) accounts for less than half the constituency, but the Cam/Dursley area is also urban, and like in many British constituencies more than half the electorate is urban. This is therefore one of a substantial number of seats which consist of an urban core plus a rural penumbra (like Reading West). While the rural penumbra helps the Conservatives, being full of NIMBYs, the elections are decided in the urban area.

  37. @James C, Aldershot

    The Nepalese vote turns out in very high numbers in local elections. It appears equally divided between Conservative and Labour…but will however, have stopped UKIP taking Aldershot West and Farnborough North earlier this month.

  38. The middle class areas of Oxford are pretty much all in Oxford West and Abingdon where labour have performed very poorly.

  39. Also you have to remember than despite a large labour block voting muslim minority, labour were still 3rd if you sum the two Oxford seats, so I think talk about Oxford being all that labour is off the mark.

    There is very significant tory and LD support among students, I wouldn’t be surprised if together that summed more than labour.

  40. ‘The other possible reasons that I can think of are
    1. Seaside town
    2. University town
    3. Large conurbation’

    Maybe but Brighton & Hove, in stark contrast to other seaside resorts on the South Coast and up and down the country, has gone considerably up-market since the days its seats used to send Tories to Parliament with secure majorities

    Brighton itself (as opposed to Hove) is virtually unrecognisable from the largely run-down and seedy town it was in the 1980s

    As someone who has lived there in both the 1980s and beyond, the town (or city as it’s now known) has more of a distinct Bohemian feel to it now and many of the trendy young professionals, who make up a large proportion of the three seats’ voters, aren’t the type of people that would almost universally vote Tory – as might have once been the case

  41. Joe’s analysis of Oxford isn’t all that accurate (though it often is). Only a very small part of Oxford W & Abingdon is within the city boundaries of Oxford, and although it does include some weak areas for Labour (Wolvercote & Summertown) even these areas include some wards which vote Labour in local elections, such as the Jericho & Osney areas. The city centre wards are no longer included. Some of those who voted LD in the constituency were purely tactical voters who would have voted Labour had they lived in Oxford E. It only takes a quick look at Oxford city local elections to see that Labour is pretty strong in the city at the moment – there is still a Green presence in the most collegiate wards, but no Tory councillors at all (which has now been the case for quite a few years) & a clear decline in the fortunes of the LDs who were quite close to winning even Oxford E in 2005. Aggregating the votes of the 2 constituencies doesn’t give an accurate picture of how Oxford city votes at all.

  42. Following on from what I did for Reading East, I was going to work out the full council election results for 2012 across this constituency. However, 6 of the 13 wards here are in West Berkshire, which held an all-out election in 2011. I do sometimes estimate when a few amount of wards don’t have data for a particular year, but estimating near half a result is abit too much to swallow. So, below are the results for the 7 wards that are under Reading council. Take what you will from it.

    Labour 7,814 (53.7%)
    Conservatives 3,718 (25.5%)
    Liberal Democrats 1,583 (10.9%)
    Greens 880 (6%)
    Common Sense 225 (1.5%)
    UKIP 220 (1.5%)
    Independent 82 (negligible)
    The Roman Party Ave! 42 (negligible)

    Compared to the 2010 results for Reading council in this constituency:

    Labour: +18.2%
    Conservatives: -9.6%
    Liberal Democrats: -12.4%
    Greens: +2.4%
    Common Sense: 0%

    Swing from Con to Lab: 13.9%

  43. Perhaps the Common Sense party is in opposition to the OMLRP – in 2001 I believe that the Raving Loonies polled their highest share of the vote in Wokingham next door to here. However loony-right some of us think John Redwood is, there are clearly many people who think he is not loony enough. Seriously though, it would be interesting if you could aggregate the votes in the Reading wards this year with the W Berkshire ones in 2011, just for interest’s sake. I am very familiar with the Theale, Pangbourne & Tidmarsh areas since I deeply love a pub in the Newbury constituency which I try to visit every month.

  44. VAN FLEET:

    you can always check on the old webpages to see if anyone added up the results for the Reading constituencies in 2012.

  45. Andy, thanks for that. Thankfully, nothing. Would have been annoying if there had already been something.

    BM, I’ll get on with it. As insightful as those Reading figures are, they don’t really say a great deal about the trend here with half the result missing.

  46. If only election results (of every type) were made available at polling district level, as they are in most countries, we wouldn’t have to spend so much time doing these calculations.

    Hopefully if and when we move to a different voting system that will change.

    Ironically such a change in the voting system would probably mean that these sorts of calculations wouldn’t be so important so having the detailed data wouldn’t matter much.

  47. Here are the 2011 council results for the rest of the constituency, under West Berkshire:

    Conservatives 6218 (62%)
    Labour 2218 (20.1%)
    Liberal Democrats 1585 (15.8%)

    Now, to combine it with the 2012 Reading council results in Reading West. Don’t need me to say, it will underestimate Labour’s support.

    Labour 10,032 (40.8%)
    Conservatives 9,936 (40.4%)
    Liberal Democrats 3168 (12.9%)
    Greens 880 (3.6%)
    Common Sense 225 (negligible)
    UKIP 220 (negligible)
    Independent 82 (negligible)
    The Roman Party Ave! 42 (negligible)

    And the change since 2010 (results for W.B. wards based on parliamentary vote):

    Labour: +10.7%
    Conservatives: -3.8%
    Liberal Democrats: -7.4%

    Swing from Con to Lab: 7.3%

  48. Well, from my party’s perspective, we’re on track in Reading itself. Just a quarter of the vote at locals for the Tories is a good place to be. I expect that can be squeezed some more.

    But Labour needs to be gaining more in West Berkshire. With a gap like that, the Tories very well could push ahead and nullify the Reading gap. But, those were 2011 results, and I would expect the gap has closed abit since then.

  49. “But, those were 2011 results, and I would expect the gap has closed abit since then.”

    Perhaps you haven’t seen the latest polls, showing Labour’s lead down to 5%? (Bob obviously has, and happily for the site he appears to have buggered off)

    Labour aren’t going to win back Reading West in 2015 if they can’t even win it in mid term local elections.

  50. You know, that’s a fair point. Think I got abit wrapped up in 2011 vs 2012 mode. If I was estimating a 2012 result across the entire constituency, the gap would undoubtedly be alot greater. Has it narrowed since? Could well have, no way to properly tell here until 2014. But it probably has. All I know is, the west of Reading is looking very solid for Labour, and I see no evidence the Tories are clawing back alot of votes here. Even in 2010, Labour won in the west of Reading, albeit not by a great margin. Where this election will be won is in those West Berkshire wards, and right now – with two years left – I don’t think anyone can call how that’ll go. The Tories will win there, but the question is will it be by enough to nullify the gap in Reading.

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