Seats to Watch
There is no such thing as a seat that a party needs to capture to win an election, one MP’s bum on a seat is as good as another. Here, therefore, are seats that will be interesting at the next election for a variety of different reasons.
Typical battleground seats: Types of seats that will decide the election will be the Kent supermarginals – a string of commuter seats in North Kent, mostly a mix of urban and semi-rural villages that stayed Labour in 2005 by tiny margins, examples include Sittingbourne and Sheppey and Rochester and Strood; newtowns – they swung heavily towards the Conservatives at the last election, and many of them are now supermarginal, examples include Crawley and Harlow; London gentrification – inner city seats that have undergone partial gentrification and have become a key Labour-Tory battleground – examples include Battersea and Hammersmith; North-London suburbs and commuter belt – plenty here to be fought over, London suburban seats like Enfield North and commuter towns like Watford and St Albans; Lib Dem/Conservative battlegrounds in the South-West with Labour largely out of the picture, the key battle in the rural seats of the South-West is between the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, classic examples are Taunton Deane and Somerton and Frome; seaside towns – once the genteel preserve of retired Conservatives, plenty of them fell to Labour or the Liberal Democrats in 1997 and have remained there, to win the Conservatives would need to regain seats like Hove, Torbay and Blackpool North and Cleveleys; Lib Dem inner city challenges – inner city seats that the Lib Dems have captured from Labour like Manchester Withington and Birmingham Yardley or have them in their sites, such as Liverpool Wavertree and Islington South and Finsbury; West Yorkshire marginals – they won’t decide if Labour will get a majority or not, but if the Conservatives wanted to form a majority they’ll need to start eating into the northern marginals as well, typified by seats like Halifax and Pudsey.
Treshholds: On a uniform swing between Labour and the Conservatives, if Labour gain Dumfriesshire Clydesdale and Tweeddale they will have a majority of 100, if Labour lose Stourbridge, they will lose their overall majority. If the Conservatives take Dudley South, they will be the largest party; winning Derby North would give the Conservatives an overall majority, Luton North would give them a majority of 50.
Bellwether seats: these are the seats that, historically, have always been won by the party that went on to form the government. Gravesham (and its predecessor Gravesend) always used to be the classic example, but it was won by the Conservatives in 2005 despite Labour winning the election, so losing its crown. The best bellwether seats in the country now are Dartford and Chorley which have both been won by the party that won the general election since 1964. Dartford is now an ultra-marginal that could fall to the Conservatives even if Labour retain a majority, while Chorley is an increasingly safe Labour seat, so either could well lose their record next time round. If you include its predecessors Luton East and Luton, Luton South is an even more reliable bellwether, having been won by the victorious party nationwide since 1951.
Decapitations: In 1997 around a third of the Conservative cabinet lost their seats – even if Labour go down to a landslide defeat there should be no similar slaughter in their cabinet ranks. The two most vulnerable cabinet ministers are Jim Murphy in East Renfrewshire with a majority of 14% and Alistair Darling in Edinburgh South West, while these could fall on a uniform swing big enough to give the Conservatives a decent majority, in practice the Conservatives look unlikely to to that well in Scotland. The next most vulnerable cabinet minister is Ben Bradshaw in Exeter, who would lose his seat on a 9.4% swing. While it would require a hefty 12.3% swing, the Conservatives are also believed to be seriously targetting Ed Balls in Morley and Outwood – if it falls, it would likely provide 2010’s “Portillo moment”.
While there are few vulnerable cabinet minister, there are some high profile MPs with seats at risk. Former Home Secretary Charles Clarke has a majority of but 7.7% in Norwich South and former Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Andrew Smith has notionally already lost his Oxford East seat, and will need to overturn a 0.5% Lib Dem majority to cling on.
For the Conservatives Oliver Letwin, perennially perched on a tiny marjority in Dorset West, is defending a majority of 4.6% and Shadow Scottish Secretary (and lone Tory MP in Scotland) David Mundell has only a 3.9% majority in Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale. The highest profile Liberal Democrat with a vulnerable majority is former leadership contender Chris Huhne, sitting on just a 1.1% majority in Eastleigh.
Surprises: few but the most avid watcher of local election results or the most optimistic Liberal Democrat would have predicted Conservative banker Solihull falling to the Lib Dems in 2005. What else could spring a surprise? Poplar and Limehouse, deep in London’s East End, holds Canary Wharf and the rapid redevelopment of the docklands has made it a surprising Conservative target. Sunderland Central, in the Conservative blackspot of the North-East couldn’t have better boundaries for the Tories if David Cameron had sketched them personally – it’s not on their target list and will no doubt remain safely Labour, but it might show a bigger swing than expected and get some attention, especially since if counted on Thursday night it stands a good chance of being the first seat announced. Worcestershire West is Tory countryside through and through, but could retirement of Michael Spicer give the Lib Dems their chance? Sheffield Central is a distant hope for the Liberals, but they are once again facing a new Labour candidate following the sitting MPs retirement and it may be a better hope for them.
By-elections: Willie Rennie overturned a 27% majority to win Dunfermline and West Fife from Labour, will he be able to hold it at a general election? Bromley and Chislehurst has a healthy notional majority, but the Liberal Democrats came within a few hundred votes of winning in the 2006 by-election, can they build upon it? Crewe and Nantwich and Norwich North provided the first Conservative by-election gains for a generation, and if they have a successful night they seem likely to cling onto them. A harder challenge will be for the SNP to retain their stunning gain in Glasgow East.
Boundary change victims: Sarah Teather’s Brent East seat has been abolished, and she will instead be challenging Labour’s Dawn Butler in Brent Central.
Re-matches: MPs who were defeated in 2005 who are sticking round to fight the same seat again. Sue Doughty will be trying to regain Guildford, David Rendell tries to win back his Newbury seat and Peter Duncan attempts to regain Dumfries and Galloway. Ivan Henderson will be standing for Clacton, the successor to the Harwich seat he lost in 2005 while Andy King, the former MP for Rugby and Kenilworth, will attempt to re-enter Parliament as MP for Rugby.
Scandal: Humiliated for activities that even the News of the World thought unfit for a so-called family newspaper, Mark Oaten stands down in Winchester – will it have an effect on the Liberal Democrat vote there? Andrew Pelling is standing down in Croydon Central having had the Conservative whip briefly suspended after being arrested over allegations he assaulted his wife and released without charge – boundary changes mean it is already a notional Labour seat, this can’t help the Conservatives. Derek Conway, the MP for Old Bexley and Sidcup will also be prevented for standing for the Conservatives having been accused of “employing” his son at the taxpayers expense when he was actually away at university.
The biggest scandal in the Parliament though was the expenses scandal. Almost all of the MPs accused of the worst excesses have chosen to stand down from Parliament, but a few have attempted to brave it out. Perhaps the most high profile is former Home Secretary Jacqui Smith, who has only a 4.6% majority in Redditch
Leaders: The constituencies of the party leaders always attract attention – there is rarely any chance of them losing, the publicity of being party leader normally gives them a boost in their vote, but it’s a good chance for upcoming young candidates to cut their teeth and the publicity normally attracts a wide variety of fringe candidates. Gordon Brown sits for Kirkaldy and Cowdenbeath, David Cameron for Witney and Nick Clegg for Sheffield Hallam.
The new boundaries in Barking give the BNP their best chance, where their party Nick Griffin is now expected to stand.
UKIP’s efforts will no doubt be concentrated upon winning Buckingham where their former leader Nigel Farage is taking the opportunity of challanging the sitting Speaker John Bercow.
Dr Richard Taylor will try to secure a third term in Wyre Forest, Peter Law’s successor Dai Davies will be trying to hold on in Blanaeu Gwent. De-selected left winger Bob Wareing will be fighting as an independent in Liverpool West Derby, former Labour MP Tony Clarke has indicated that he may stand as an Independent candidate in Northampton South. The expenses scandal seems likely to bring out an unusually high number of independents, the most high profile so far is television presenter Esther Rantzen, who initially announced her intention to stand in Luton South to oust Margaret Moran but, in the wake of Moran’s resignation, said she would stand anyway.