Gill Morris Communication
Gill Morris Communication

Eight key seats to watch across the North

by Jack Hutchison on November 8, 2019, posted in Elections, General Election 2019 categories

The General Election has started. What was once a grand occasion five years in the making is now arguably too-regular an occurrence. This is our fifth nationwide poll in just four years and probably the most unpredictable General Election since 1945.


It’s been a rough start for the Conservatives, with gaffes by Jacob Rees-Mogg and Andrew Bridgen on Grenfell and prospective candidate Nick Conrad’s comments about victims of rape forcing him to stand down. But Labour, despite rising in the polls, have had their own difficulties. Their candidate for the West Yorkshire seat of Pudsey appeared to compare celebrating the death of Tony Blair to cheering Adolf Hitler’s demise…

The above would suggest that there’s too much to take in, but fear not. Over the past week we’ve been creating a DevoConnect General Election data analysis tool. From now to polling day we’ll be delving into some of the most interesting outputs from that in terms of seats at risk and who our next MPs might be, and closer to the election we may even make some predictions of our own.

For now, we’ve assembled a list of the eight ‘ones to watch’ in the North: the seats that will have the most interesting election battles. They aren’t necessarily the most marginal seats, or even soon to be the most visited by political journalists, but we consider each of these seats to tell a fascinating story about what’s happened to our politics over the past four years and what might happen on December 12th and after.

Blyth Valley
Current holder: Ronnie Campbell, Labour (stepping down), Susan Dungworth is new Labour PPC
Main challenger: Ian Levy, Conservative | TBC, Brexit Party
2017 Result: Labour 23,770, Conservative 15,855
Majority: 7,915 (-2.8%)
Remain or Leave: Leave, 60.49%

Blyth Valley is a seat that the Conservatives would hope to secure, but it is also on Farage’s list of key Brexit Party targets. A majority of nearly 8,000 might seem like a lot but that depends entirely on whether constituents vote along party or EU referendum lines. The North East has never been as strongly Labour as the North West. There’s a strong working-class Conservative tradition here that declined during the Thatcher years but is still nevertheless palpable. Conservative clubs, filled with mainly older and white voters, still do a trade in former pit towns.
In 2016 the Tees Valley region voted in Conservative Mayor Ben Houchen who has since embarked on a localist mission to prioritise local business. This is the type of area where a resurgence of the Brexit Party vote could damage the Conservatives’ chances. It is usually, however, one of the very last seats to declare so by the time we know the result it will all be over.

Bury South
Current holder: Ivan Lewis, Independent (resigned from Labour Party)
Main Challenger: Lucy Burke, Labour | Christian Wakeford, Conservative
2017 Result: Labour 27,165, Conservative 21,200
Majority: 5,965 (+0.7)
Remain or Leave: Leave, 54.51%

This was always going to be a key fight in the next election. Ivan Lewis was suspended from the Labour Party in November 2017 following allegations of sexual harassment. He resigned from the Party in December 2018 citing the party’s record on antisemitism and a lack of progress in his disciplinary case.
Lewis, who is Jewish, is taking a stand in the constituency against antisemitism within the Labour Party. In this heavily Jewish area of Manchester, this could now be a truly three-way marginal. Usually ‘personal votes’ for individual MPs only account for around 10% of an MP’s total vote, but that might be different in a seat where the vicious storm that’s enveloped Labour over the past few years is more concentrated than ever.

Crewe and Nantwich
Current holder: Laura Smith, Labour
Main challenger: Dr Kieran Mullan, Conservative
2017 Result: Labour 25,928 | Conservative 25,880
Majority: 48 (+3.7%)
Remain or Leave: Leave 60.29%

A hyper-marginal seat in south Cheshire, it would be quite surprising if Crewe and Nantwich didn’t go to the Conservatives. But this is one where the Brexit Party could throw a spanner in the works. The incumbent MP, Laura Smith, voted for Johnson’s Brexit deal and is seen by many as a Eurosceptic on the Party’s left. We’ll have to see whether that is enough to win over enough voters in her heavily Leave constituency.

Hartlepool
Current holder: Mike Hill, Labour
Main challenger: Richard Tice, Brexit Party | TBC, Conservative
2017 Result: Mike Hill, Labour, 21,969
Majority: 7,650 (+1.8%)
Remain or Leave: Leave, 69.57%

Now this is going to be an interesting race. Brexit Party Chairman Richard Tice has decided to stand in Hartlepool, the seat where the Party arguably has the highest chance of returning their first MP. Tice was notably lukewarm about the prospect of standing against the Conservatives before Farage’s decision to put up Brexit Party candidates in nearly every constituency, but has since changed his tune. With the Brexit Party currently tanking in the polls at between 8%-10%, Tice will have a hard fight on his hands. If Farage can increase his profile in the next few weeks (and who would doubt his ability to do that?) then this could return one of the first Brexit Party MPs in Britain. Hartlepool is usually one of the first seats to declare, at around 2:30am and, even if Tice doesn’t win here, expect lots of early hours analysis of how far the Brexit Party has cut into the Labour or Conservative vote.

Manchester Withington
Current holder: Jeff Smith, Labour
Main challenger: TBC, Lib Dem
2017 Result: Jeff Smith, 38,424
Majority: 28,875 (+13%)
Remain or Leave: Remain, 75.06%

Manchester Withington will return Jeff Smith as the MP, I want to make that clear. With a majority of 28,875 it would take a miraculous ‘Lib Dem surge’ to topple the Labour whip in this seat. But how much the Lib Dems can dent this majority, in a seat where Labour and the Lib Dems are pretty much the only two horses in the race, could be a sign of how well the urban metropolitan Labour vote will hold up in other parts of the country where they’re far more threatened in other urban marginals. Now that Labour are openly backing a second referendum, will Remainers vote tactically across the country or will a vote for the simpler ‘Revoke Article 50’ Lib Dem position be too persuasive?

Oldham East and Saddleworth
Current holder: Debbie Abrahams, Labour, Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions
Main challenger: TBC, Conservative | Paul Taylor, Brexit Party
2017 Result: Labour 25,629 | Conservative 17,447
Majority: 8,182 (+2.0%)
Remain or Leave: Leave 59.92%

Oldham East and Saddleworth is a Labour seat and has been since its creation in 1997. Previously the Lib Dems vied for second place but the Tories surged in 2015 and 2017 due to several local and national factors including the demise of Lib Dems support nationally after the coalition and a fraught by-election in 2011. On the current trajectory this could be a key marginal for the Conservatives. This will declare late in the morning of December 13th, but if the Tories can win here they should be set for a large majority.

Sheffield Hallam
Current holder: Independent, Jared O’Mara (originally Labour), Olivia Blake is new Labour PPC
Main challenger: Laura Gordon, Lib Dem | Ian Walker, Conservative
2017 Result: Labour 21,881, Lib Dem 19,756, Conservatives 13,561
Majority: 2,125 (+4.0%)
Remain or Leave: Remain 65.99%

Now this is going to be one of the most interesting seats to watch. Remember Nick Clegg’s shock defeat to Jared O’Mara in 2017? Don’t expect a repeat of that, not least because O’Mara, who has suffered from mental health problems throughout his tenure as MP, is now stepping down. But this will be a three-way battle between Labour, the Conservatives, and the Lib Dems. Sitting on the edge of the city centre with a high student population it is unlikely that this will go to the Tories. Instead we might start to see the shoots of new growth in student Lib Dem support with many young people ostensibly dissatisfied by Labour’s prevarications on a second referendum and support for Brexit.

Workington
Current holder: Sue Hayman, Labour, Shadow Environment Secretary
Main Challenger: Mark Jenkinson, Conservative | David Walker, Brexit Party
2017 Result: Labour 21,317, Tory 17,392
Majority: 3,925 (-1.4%)
Remain or Leave: Leave 61%

Workington. You’ll be hearing much more about this place over the next five weeks. That’s because ‘Workington Man’ is the new ‘Mondeo Man’ or ‘Worcester Woman’ that we’ve come to know and love in previous elections. What does ‘Workington Man’ represent? Older, white, male, probably a former Labour voter, maybe Conservative that voted Leave in 2016. This is the kind of voter that Boris Johnson will have to get on side by December 12th, whilst also ensuring the Brexit Party don’t snap up his vote.
On the ground in Workington the knives are already out. The Brexit Party have prevented their local candidate from standing and will find a replacement after he criticised Nigel Farage’s election strategy on social media. Farage, whose first trip of the campaign was to Workington, will nevertheless be hoping for a good result here. This will be one to watch on the night. If the Brexit Party can get over 10,000 votes in this seat, it could be an unpredictable night for Boris Johnson’s Conservatives.