Wednesday, 1 July 2015

By-election Previews: 2 July 2015

Note from the editor: Apologies for the lack of updates recently.  I've been severely unwell, eventually having to go into hospital for some urgent treatment for a bad infection.  On the mend now though, and hopefully things will start to get updated soon!

Two by-elections on Thursday 2nd July:

HAMPTON WICK
Richmond upon Thames London borough council
Caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Tania Mathias, who defeated the Business secretary Vince Cable in May to become MP for Twickenham.  She had served as a Richmond councillor since 2010.

St John the Baptist, Hampton Wick
This ward is on the Middlesex side of Richmond borough, directly opposite Kingston upon Thames and running north-west along the Kingston Road and Broom Road from Kingston Bridge and Hampton Wick railway station (on the Kingston Loop line from Waterloo).  It is probably still best known as the location for the 1970s ITV sitcom George and Mildred.

Although Richmond council is closely fought between the Tories and Lib Dems, this is a safe Tory ward.  In 2014 the Tory slate had 50%, with the Lib Dem slate narrowly falling into third place behind the single Green candidate; both those parties polled 18%.  At the top of the Tory slate with a clear personal vote is Tony Arbour, who has been a Richmond councillor since 1968 and represents the borough on the London Assembly.  At the most elections to that Assembly, in 2012, Boris beat Ken 61-20 here in the Mayoral ballot, while the Tories topped the list ballot with 45% to 19% for Labour, 16% for the Lib Dems and 12% for the Greens.

Defending for the Conservatives is Jon Hollis, chairman of the Twickenham Conservative association, who describes himself on Twitter as "husband to a wife, father to a son, slave to 3 cats".  He lost his council seat in his home Teddington ward last year.  Standing for the Greens is construction entrepreneur Anthony Breslin, who appears to be the only candidate to live in the ward.  The Lib Dems have selected school governor Geraldine Locke, who only joined the party last month.  Also standing are Dr Paul Tanto for Labour, independent candidate Michael Lloyd and the ward's first UKIP candidate, Sam Naz.

Parliamentary constituency: Twickenham
ONS Travel to Work Area: London

May 2014 result C 1870/1708/1586 Grn 696 LD 676/647/593 Lab 522/520/474
May 2010 result C 2670/2321/2297 LD 1956/1908/1672 Grn 831 Lab 590/498/460
May 2006 result C 1949/1726/1721 LD 1061/804/721 Grn 577 Lab 248/242
May 2002 result C 1621/1484/1476 LD 741/693/636 Grn 370 Lab 297/278/275

May 2012 London Assembly results (excludes postal voters)
Mayor: Boris 1553 Ken 514 LD 152 Grn 150 Ind 119 UKIP 43 BNP 14
Assembly list: C 1153 Lab 480 LD 413 Grn 304 UKIP 105 BNP 31 EDP 22 CPA 21 TUSC 11 House Party 8 Alagaratnam 2 NF 1 Hayat 1


GRANTHAM BARROWBY
Lincolnshire county council
Caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Jo Churchill, who is now the MP for Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk.

Barrowby Village Sign
This county division combines the south-west corner of the town of Grantham with the village of Barrowby just to the west.  The Grantham half of the division, based on the old Earlesfield district ward (the district wards were redrawn this year, but the county divisions here haven't yet caught up) has some light industry and distribution, notably the book distribution company Grantham Book Services.

The division was narrowly won by Labour at the 2005 election, but they fell to a poor third place in 2009 with the Tories gaining.  Jo Churchill was first elected here in 2013 in a three-way marginal result, polling 38% to 32% for an independent candidate and 30% for Labour.  District council results make it clear that the Labour vote comes out of the town rather than Barrowby, but in May's district council election the redrawn Grantham Earlesfield ward saw the Labour slate lose a seat to the single UKIP candidate, who was not opposed by the Tories and topped the poll.

Mark Whittington defends for the Tories: he is a self-employed accountant and Barrowby parish councillor.  The independent candidate from 2013, Mike Williams, tries again as candidate of the Lincolnshire Independents, a well-organised county council group.  Labour have selected Rob Shorrock, who lost his district council seat in Grantham Earlesfield in May.  Also on the ballot is UKIP's Maureen Simon.

Parliamentary constituency: Grantham and Stamford (Grantham part), Sleaford and North Hykeham (Barrowby part)
ONS Travel to Work Area: Grantham

May 2013 result C 558 Ind 476 Lab 442
June 2009 result C 761 Lincs Ind 511 Lab 324 LD 253

May 2005 result Lab 1646 C 1486

By-election Previews: 25 June 2015

MARKET AND WEST DEEPING
South Kesteven district council, Lincolnshire
Postponed from 7th May due to the death of outgoing independent councillor Reg Howard, who was standing for re-election.

Welcome to Market Deeping, the western half of the settlement known as The Deepings: a small town on the north bank of the River Welland which here forms the Lincolnshire/Cambridgeshire boundary.  The market of the name has been held here for eight centuries, but the town's economy is now underpinned by being a service centre for the fenland to the north, some light industry, and commuting to Peterborough.  Possibly the town's best-known resident is Martin Adams, a three-time winner of one flavour of the darts world championships.  The ward also includes the parish of West Deeping, a tiny village to the west of the town.

The town's local election results are weird.  In 2003 there were only three candidates for the three seats who were therefore elected unopposed: Reg Howard and one candidate each from Labour and the Tories.  The Labour councillor lost his seat for non-attendance in 2006 and the Tories won the by-election, again unopposed.  In 2007 there was finally a contested election, which saw the Tories lose their second seat to an independent candidate, Bob Broughton.  There was no change in partisan balance in 2011, but the previous Conservative councillor Michael Exton lost his seat to his running-mate, Paul Cosham; that year the Tory slate topped the poll with 40% to 35% for the independents and 26% for the Green Party.  At county level the Market and West Deeping county division (which is slightly larger than this ward) is normally safe Conservative but in 2013 the Tories finished only seventeen votes ahead of the Lincolnshire Independents candidate.

The Conservatives this time stand only one candidate.  Paul Cosham has stood down and is replaced by Nick Neilson.  On the independent side, Bob Broughton is standing for re-election and is joined by Ashley Baxter, who fought this ward for the Green Party in 2007 and 2011 and was runner-up in the 2013 county election here, and David Shelton.  There is a full UKIP slate of William Learoyd, Robert O'Farrell and Roger Woodbridge (two of whom give addresses in Bourne, Lincolnshire) and the ballot paper is completed by a single Lib Dem candidate, Adam Brookes.

Parliamentary constituency: South Holland and the Deepings
Lincolnshire county council division: Market and West Deeping
ONS Travel to Work Area: Peterborough

May 2011 result C 959/766 Ind 847/844/533 Grn 622/330/302
May 2007 result Ind 903/806 C 827 Grn 667 Lab 360
March 2006 by-election C unopposed
May 2003 result Lab/Ind/C unopposed



ROMSEY
Cambridgeshire county council
Caused by the resignation of Liberal Democrat councillor Killian Bourke, who has a new job in London.  He had been a Cambridgeshire county councillor since winning a by-election in May 2008.

Romsey is a division of eastern Cambridge, to the east of the railway line.  Developed either side of Mill Road during the Victorian era, it was predominantly settled by railway workers and is thus very much on the "town" side of Cambridge's traditional town/gown divide.  Romsey Town, as the area is known, is traditionally a working-class area and its local politics had a socialist tradition.

That socialist tradition can be seen in Colin Rosenstiel's excellent archive of Cambridge's election results, and comparison is eased by the fact that this county division has the same boundaries as the Romsey ward of Cambridge city council.  There has been a Romsey ward since before the Second World War, and from 1935 until 1998 the ward voted Labour at both county and city level at every opportunity, with the exception of a by-election in November 1981 which was won by the SDP.  In 1998 the Lib Dems broke through to the city council; they gained a second city council seat from Labour in 2003, completed the set in 2004 and finished off by gaining the county council seat from Labour in 2005.  By 2010 Romsey had become safe Lib Dem, but the changed political environment after the formation of the Coalition turned the ward back into a Labour/Lib Dem marginal during the Parliament just gone.  Labour gained city council seats in 2011 and 2014, but the Lib Dems held the other city council seat in 2012 and the county seat in 2013. Killian Bourke did well in his last re-election in 2013 to beat Labour 48-32, the Greens' 6% winning a close four-way race for third.  Romsey went to the polls in May to elect a Cambridge city councillor: Labour held the seat with 38%, the Lib Dems were second on 30% and the Greens had a strong performance to finish third on 22%.

Defending for the Lib Dems is Nichola Martin.  Zoe Moghadas, who retired as a city councillor here in May, is the Labour candidate.  The Green Party have selected Debbie Aitchison.  Also standing are Rahatul Raja for the Tories (who is straight back on the campaign trail after standing for the city council in May) and UKIP's Richard Jeffs.

Parliamentary constituency: Cambridge
Cambridgeshire county council division: Romsey
ONS Travel to Work Area: Peterborough

May 2015 city council result Lab 1636 LD 1314 Grn 951 C 436
May 2014 city council result Lab 1205 LD 1093 Grn 394 C 206
May 2013 result LD 1118 Lab 741 Grn 138 UKIP 118 Cambridge Socialists 118 C 103
May 2012 city council result LD 1020 Lab 813 Cambridge Socialists 457 C 175
May 2011 city council result Lab 996 LD 870 Grn 411 C 360 Cambridge Socialists 356
May 2010 city council result LD 1615 Lab 928 Grn 697 C 600 Cambridge Socialists 404
June 2009 result LD 829 Lab 493 Ind 425 Grn 297 C 270 UKIP 96
May 2008 by-election LD 781 Lab 597 C 289 Grn 237 Left List 207
May 2008 city council result LD 791 Lab 535 Left List 328 C 285 Grn 189
May 2007 city council result LD 774 Lab 496 Respect 358 Grn 271 C 238
May 2006 by-election LD 955 Lab 656 Grn 265 C 258 Respect 240
May 2006 city council double vacancy LD 1065/815 Lab 623/491 Grn 358/216 Respect 294/268 C 235/216
May 2005 result LD 1668 Lab 1235 Grn 402 C 359 UKIP 45
June 2004 city council result LD 1192/1184/1125 Lab 746/658/577 Grn 394/360 C 206/186/172 UKIP 119

By-election Previews: 18 June 2015

Two postponed polls on 18th May, both in southern England:

HOLMWOODS
Mole Valley district council, Surrey
A double-vacancy election, caused by the resignation of the council's only UKIP member Stephen Musgrove, which was postponed from 7th May due to the death of Liberal Democrat councillor Mick Longhurst, who had been nominated for re-election.  Longhurst, who died at the age of 82, had been a Mole Valley District councillor for fifteen years following a 30-year career at Johnston Engineering in Dorking; a keen Chelsea fan, he had formerly been vice-president of Dorking FC.  Musgrove, who had been a councillor for less than a year, has moved away from the district and now lives in East Sussex.

The Holmwoods ward lies immediately south of Dorking and covers various localities called Holmwood.  Much the larger is North Holmwood, effectively a Dorking suburb much of which is built on the site of the former Dorking Brickworks, which closed in 1983 after exhausting the local clay supply.  Further south along the A24 Dorking-Horsham road is South Holmwood, centre of the Holmwood civil parish and birthplace of the 1930s novelist E Arnot Robertson.

During the last Labour government Holmwoods was a safe Liberal Democrat ward, with the Tories in a fairly distant second.  The general election turnout enabled the Conservatives to get within nine points of the Lib Dems in 2010, and after a further pro-Tory swing in 2011 the Lib Dem lead was down to six points, but the Lib Dems pulled away in 2012 as the Tories bled votes to UKIP.  The Lib Dems also easily won the local county division (Dorking South and The Holmwoods) in 2013.  So is the ward safe Lib Dem now?  Not a bit of it: a close three-way result in 2014 saw a UKIP gain with 32% of the vote, to 29% for the Tories and 26% for the Lib Dems, with Labour's 7% just beating the Greens for fourth place.  The Lib Dems are very much on the defensive here, having lost four seats to the Conservatives in May in the rest of Mole Valley district, while UKIP's local machine does not appear to be in good shape; Musgrove was due to be the UKIP parliamentary candidate for Mole Valley in May, but he was actually the second choice after the previous candidate, UKIP general secretary Roger Bird, stood down over accusations of - what else with a name like that? - sexual harassment.

UKIP and the Lib Dems are defending one seat each.  On the UKIP slate are Michael Foulston, who fought this ward in 2012 for UKIP and in 2002 and 2003 for the Tories, and Stephen Morgan.  The Lib Dems have selected Claire Malcomson, who appears to be an actress who once appeared on Jonathan Creek, and Clayton Wellman.  The Tory slate consists of James Baird, a former Horley town councillor who was runner-up here in 2014, and his fiancée Emma Whittinger.  Labour appear to have given up, so the ballot paper is completed by the Green Party slate, Jeff Zie (who fought the ward in 2014) being joined by second choice candidate Eugene Suggett.

Parliamentary constituency: Mole Valley
Surrey county council division: Dorking South and the Holmwoods
ONS Travel to Work Area: Crawley

May 2014 result UKIP 608 C 551 LD 504 Lab 133 Grn 127
May 2012 result LD 727 C 447 UKIP 287 Lab 154
May 2011 result LD 863 C 743 UKIP 238 Lab 226
May 2010 result LD 1507 C 1208 UKIP 319 Lab 297
May 2008 result LD 870 C 563 UKIP 269
May 2007 result LD 894 C 556 UKIP 107 Lab 100 Grn 85
May 2006 result LD 1062 C 532 Lab 130
June 2004 result LD 996 C 694 Lab 160
May 2003 result LD 848 C 441 Lab 135
May 2002 result LD 965 C 430 Lab 207


NORTH HIGHCLIFFE AND WALKFORD
Christchurch district council, Dorset
Postponed from 7th May due to the death of Labour candidate Richard Walls.

Dorset's most easterly electoral ward, this covers the northern half of the town of Highcliffe, now part of the Bournemouth/Poole conurbation but in Victorian and Edwardian times a popular health and leisure resort: Wilhelm II stayed in Highcliffe in 1907 to recover from the strain of political scandals in Germany.  At the north-west corner of the ward is Highcliffe's railway station, curiously named Hinton Admiral.  The census bears out the fact that this is a retirement area: 25% of the population is retired and 32% are aged 65 or over; owner-occupation rates are also notably high.

Christchurch was the site of a famous Lib Dem by-election win during the Major government, but Liberalism is essentially extinct here now.  The most recent district election here saw the Tory slate poll 75% against opposition from a single Labour candidate.  However, the 2013 Dorset county council elections suggest that UKIP could be stiffer competition: the Kippers had 39% across the larger Highcliffe and Walkford county division, although it wasn't enough to beat the Tories who had 50%.

The two previous Tory councillors for the ward, Sally Derham Wilkes and Nick Geary, are both standing for re-election.  On the Labour slate Donald Barr, the only opposition candidate in 2011, is joined by Richard Walls' son Gareth.  The ballot paper is completed by the UKIP slate of Robin Grey and Janet Hatton.

Parliamentary constituency: Christchurch
Dorset county council division: Highcliffe and Walkford
ONS Travel to Work Area: Bournemouth

May 2011 result C 1136/1001 Lab 381
May 2007 result C 1117/1004 LD 415 Lab 179
May 2003 result C 651/627 LD 503/470 UKIP 129 Lab 65

Monday, 8 June 2015

By-election Previews: 9 and 11 June 2015

The second week of June 2015 sees four by-elections.  One, an unusual Tuesday poll in Worcestershire, is a piece of unfinished business from May's ordinary election. The three Thursday polls are all in London, and two are controversial.  Read on...

One by-election on Tuesday 9th June 2015:

ARELEY KINGS AND RIVERSIDE
Wyre Forest district council, Worcestershire
Postponed from 7th May due to the death of Independent Community and Health Concern candidate Nigel Thomas at the age of 70.  Thomas had been a district councillor for the former Areley Kings wards from 2006 to 2014, and had been a former leader of the Health Concern group on Wyre Forest council.

Stourport Bridge
This newly-drawn ward covers part of the town of Stourport-on-Severn, around the canal basin and the Lickhill Road, together with the village of Areley Kings on the opposite side of the River Severn.  Areley Kings has connections with the late 12th/early 13th century Arthurian poet Layamon, who was priest here, while Stourport is an unusual example of a town brought into existence by a canal, being located at the junction of the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal with the Severn.

Wyre Forest's politics underwent a revolution in 1999 with the foundation of Health Concern, which started off as a single-issue party campaigning for the restoration of Kidderminster Hospital's casualty unit.  At the height of Health Concern's powers it controlled the district council and had the local MP (Dr Richard Taylor); although the party's fortunes have declined a bit since then it is still a major political force in Wyre Forest.  The district introduced new ward boundaries this year: Areley Kings and Riverside is a new ward, consisting of the whole of the old Areley Kings ward together with parts of the old Lickhill and Mitton wards.  On the outgoing council Areley Kings had three Labour councillors prior to this election, while Lickhill was Health Concern's strongest ward and Mitton was a normally Tory ward won by Health Concern in 2012 and UKIP (standing a former Tory councillor) in 2014.

Three seats are up for election, which means that at least two councillors will lose their seats.  For Labour, all three outgoing Areley Kings ward councillors are standing for re-election: they are Vi Higgs, Rob Lloyd and Jamie Shaw.  Health Concern have two councillors standing for re-election, Dixon Sheppard (Lickhill ward since 2006) and Cliff Brewer (Mitton ward since 2012); they are joined on the Health Concern slate by John Thomas, a county councillor for Stourbridge-on-Severn and district councillor for Areley Kings ward from 2007 to 2011.  There is a full UKIP slate of Martin Clapton, Ian Jones and Trevor Newman, and the Tory slate is Malcolm Gough and Ken and Lin Henderson.  Completing the ballot paper is John Davis for the Green Party.

Parliamentary constituency: Wyre Forest
Worcestershire county council division: Stourport-on-Severn
ONS Travel to Work Area: Kidderminster

No previous results on these boundaries



Three by-elections on Thursday 11th June 2015:

MAYOR OF TOWER HAMLETS and STEPNEY GREEN
London Borough of Tower Hamlets
Caused by the disqualifications of Lutfur Rahman and Alibor Choudhury respectively, for reasons which will be discussed below in great detail.

"Welcome to Tower Hamlets"
About once a year this column has to write about the Byzantine politics of Tower Hamlets, and for someone who is looking at the borough from two hundred miles away it all gets a bit confusing and repetitive.  No doubt my readers (hello Sid, hello Doris) think the same thing.  However, in the circumstances of this particular by-election I make no apology for the length of this preview, nor for rehashing and expanding on material that has appeared here several times before.  Let's start by rewinding ten years and looking at a couple of quotes from April and May 2005:

"...evidence of electoral fraud that would disgrace a banana republic..."
- Richard Mawrey QC, 4th April 2005

"A shambles of an election which would disgrace a banana republic"
- George Galloway, 6th May 2005

The second quote was newly-elected Respect MP for Bethnal Green and Bow, George Galloway, castigating the Returning Officer for Tower Hamlets for her conduct of the 2005 general election.  It clearly echoes the first quote, taken from a judgment made by election commissioner Richard Mawrey that six Labour seats in two heavily-Asian wards of Birmingham city council were won in 2004 by widespread postal vote fraud.  At the time, observers of politics thought this was shocking.  We could not have predicted what was to come ten years later.

The East End of London has always been an industrial area, cut through with docks off the River Thames and criss-crossed by railways serving London and the docklands.  It's been a focus for left-wing politics for generations: Labour Party leaders George Lansbury and Clement Attlee both cut their teeth in local government here and represented constituencies within the area, and the last Communist MP returned to Parliament was elected here in 1945.  It's been a focus for immigration for centuries, with successive waves of Flemish weavers, French Huguenots, Irish weavers, European Jews, sailors from South Asia and China, and most recently a huge influx of people from Sylhet in Bangladesh, most of that settlement coming in the 1960s and 1970s.  It's always been a poor area, with the main employment traditionally coming from cloth and the docks: the high crime levels that level of poverty implies are most famously exemplified by the unsolved "Jack the Ripper" murders in 1888 Whitechapel.

The East End was heavily bombed and depopulated in the Second World War, and within decades afterwards the docks in the area were closed.  The Tory government of the 1980s started a massive regeneration project for the Docklands, which has been fantastically successful with the Canary Wharf area turning into one of the main financial centres of the world.  However, despite some gentrification since 2000 little of that wealth has trickled down into the local area, which remains generally poor and heavily multi-racial.  The 2011 census figures are stark and show the extent of the centuries of immigration into what is now Tower Hamlets: Islam is now the predominant religion with 35% of the population, compared to 27% who said they were Christian, while 55% of the population are from ethnic minorities: 32% being Bangladeshi, compared to a White British figure of 31%.  The Bangladeshi community in the borough is generally close-knit and a large proportion do not speak English as a first language.

This sort of population leads to problems with racism.  Stepney was the site of the Battle of Cable Street in 1936, and the British National Party won a by-election in Millwall ward - which was then a white working-class area - in 1993, coming through the middle of an even split between Labour and the Lib Dems to beat Labour by just seven votes.  It was the BNP's first ever electoral success, and they have never come close to repeating it since: Labour had no problem taking the seat back in the 1994 council election in which they defeated a two-term Lib Dem administration.  Unfortunately the Tower Hamlets Labour party has suffered from serious infighting virtually from that day to this: a row from early in the 1994-98 term, ostensibly over staff reorganisation, played its part in the 2014 election as will be discussed later.  In 2000 the Labour leader from that term, John Biggs, was elected to the London Assembly to represent Tower Hamlets, the City and two other East End boroughs; he still holds that seat today.

The council got new ward boundaries in 2002 which gave a nod to the huge Bangladeshi immigrant community by naming a ward as "Spitalfields and Banglatown".  Two of the Labour councillors elected from that ward that year were called Helal Abbas and Lutfur Rahman, and they formed part of a strong Labour majority on the council with 35 seats to 16 for the rump of the Lib Dem group, who by now were confined to the northern wards with Labour having a lock on the wards down by the riverside.  However, it was around this time that demographic change and the Iraq war led to the wheels starting to come off for Labour in Tower Hamlets.  In 2004 Labour lost a by-election to Respect in St Dunstan's and Stepney Green ward - the first council seat ever won by Respect - then lost a by-election in now-rapidly-gentrifying Millwall ward to the Tories - the first council seat won by the Tories on Tower Hamlets council - then lost the Bethnal Green and Bow parliamentary seat to George Galloway the following year.  In 2006 Respect made a strong assault on Tower Hamlets council and came up just short: Labour emerged with a majority of one, with Respect now the official opposition and the Tories sweeping the Isle of Dogs.

The Respect breakthrough didn't last long - a pattern that has since been seen in Bradford - and their council group quickly fell apart with a number of councillors defecting to Labour - again, a pattern that his since been seen in Bradford.  This changed the balance of power within the factions of the Labour group, which at the time was led by Helal Abbas with Rahman as his main challenger.  At the time most of the Rahmanite councillors within Labour were Bangladeshi, and most of the non-Rahmanite Bangladeshi Labour councillors were on the other side of the main division in Bangladesh's politics, between Jawaat-e-Islami and the Awami League - a demonstration of the strong links between the Bangladeshi community and their relatives back in Bangladesh.  Rahman was able to oust Abbas as leader in 2008, and embarked on an administration that attracted a lot of bad press - not just in Private Eye's "Rotten Boroughs" column - and proved very controversial, with the effective sacking of the (white) Chief Executive combined with more outlandish (and unproven) accusations that Rahman had links with extremist Islamists.  During this administration a petition was organised to establish an elected mayoralty for Tower Hamlets, a proposal which was confirmed by a referendum held simultaneously with the 2010 general and borough elections.

Those elections went well for Labour, which recovered the Bethnal Green and Bow parliamentary seat and greatly increased its majority on the council.  This changed the balance of power within Labour again, and Rahman lost the council leadership back to Helal Abbas.  However, in short order Labour needed to select a candidate for the first Tower Hamlets mayoral election in October 2010.

That selection turned into a farce.  The initial shortlist - drawn up by the regional Labour party - consisted of John Biggs and two little-known Bangladeshi candidates.  Rahman appealed, and the selection was re-run; he was again left off the shortlist and only put onto it after a second appeal.  In the ballot of Labour party members Rahman won, with Biggs second and council leader Helal Abbas third.  However, Abbas then presented a series of serious allegations against Rahman to Labour's National Executive Committee, which unilaterially removed Rahman as Labour candidate and imposed Abbas in his place.  But Lutfur Rahman had the last laugh: he stood for election for Mayor as an independent, and won in the first round.

During Rahman's term as Mayor he quickly attracted a number of councillors to his cause - most of them defections from Labour, all of them Bangladeshi - and registered a political party called Tower Hamlets First to support his re-election.  In this column in July last year, I was slightly reticent to expand on the details of Rahman's 2010-2014 mayoral term beyond those facts, mainly because there were many claims and counter-claims and I hadn't a clue what was going on.  It seems that central government shared my confusion, and following a Panorama exposé in March 2014 they sent in the auditors PricewaterhouseCoopers to take a look.

PwC noted that Rahman's ruling style was autocratic, with essentially no power being delegated to the Mayor's cabinet, unlike what happens in other councils with elected mayors.  In particular, the Mayor made a high proportion of decisions on council grants himself.  PwC also determined that large grants of public money were paid to organisations that weren't deemed eligible for grants by Council officers; that nearly £100,000 was paid in grants to Bangladeshi or other Muslim organisations for lunch clubs when none of them had applied for a grant; that wards which voted for Tower Hamlets First had their grant allocation increased and wards which voted for Labour had their grant allocation reduced.  Following those findings central government sent in Commissioners to take over the council's functions relating to grant allocation.

Rahman's autocratic nature extended to his political party, Tower Hamlets First, which was never run in accordance with the law on political parties.  Most notably, the party never had a bank account: while it does appear to have paid its bills, its financial arrangements are a mystery.

Rahman was due for re-election in 2014, and was up against Labour's new candidate John Biggs.  Rahman and Alibor Choudhury, his election agent, decided to play the race card.  Biggs had been interviewed by the BBC's Sunday Politics programme in September 2013 in which he said
"All [Rahman's] councillors are from the Bangladeshi community and the primary focus of his policy making has been on the Bangladeshi community. A very important community in Tower Hamlets but not the only community in Tower Hamlets."  Biggs went on to talk about his vision of the borough's different communities working together.

Choudhury reported the first sentence of that quote to the Equality and Human Rights Commission, who initially sent an ill-advised response suggesting that it might amount to a hate crime and should be reported to the police, then sent a second letter retracting that opinion.  Knowing about this retraction, Choudhury then issued a press release to the effect that the EHRC had substantiated the complaint against Biggs.

Choudhury then found a 1995 document written by then Labour councillor Michael Keith, who would later become Leader of the Council and is now an Oxford professor, as part of the staff reorganisation row.  The document was written in support of a fellow Labour councillor who was facing disciplinary action for sending a bogus fax.  In comparing an allegedly-racist election leaflet distributed by the Liberal Democrats featuring a picture of the boxer Mike Tyson with allegations by John Biggs that his opponents were "loony left", Keith's document said
"In this context it is proper to see John Biggs’ use of the loony leftism accusations in the same light, they cannot be freed from their bigoted connotations, as the East London Advertiser made clear when they subsequently went to town in their usual poisonous way when John Biggs’ assimilation memo was ‘leaked’ to them. In short I would also accuse John Biggs of racism, no more and no less than those who put together the Mike Tyson leaflet..."
Lifting the words "In short I would also accuse John Biggs of racism" completely out of their context, Choudhury issued a further press release clearly implying that Biggs is a racist and the Labour Party have known this for two decades.

On election day, Rahman had a big lead on first preferences but won re-election quite narrowly over Biggs, who picked up nearly all of the second preferences from other parties.  Rahman's re-election was challenged in the election court by four electors from Tower Hamlets, led by Andy Erlam who had unsuccessfully stood for the council on a left-wing anti-corruption ticket.

The case was heard by election commissioner Richard Mawrey.  Mawrey made his reputation as a hanging judge with the Aston and Bordesley Green cases in Birmingham in 2004, and had disqualified councillors in similar circumstances to Birmingham in Slough (2007) and Woking (2012).  In a long and complicated trial he had to hear a catalogue of allegations against Rahman.  On some counts Rahman was exonerated:


  • The Scrutiny did not find sufficient evidence to support allegations that votes already cast were illegally altered.
  • A dinner held at Canary Wharf for the great and good of Tower Hamlets four months before the 2014 election, which the Rahman campaign declared as election expenses, did not amount to the electoral offence of treating.
  • In possibly the most disturbing part of the judgment, a large number of allegations of intimidation at polling stations by Tower Hamlets First supporters were found not to constitute the electoral offence of undue influence.


But the rest of the judgment was damning, finding Rahman or his campaign team had committed no fewer than seven different electoral offences:


  • Three Tower Hamlets First candidates were falsely registered as electors and cast votes unlawfully.
  • A fourth Tower Hamlets First candidate may have been falsely registered as an elector and two votes were cast in his name.
  • There was evidence of postal vote fraud having been committed: voters had handed their votes in to Tower Hamlets First campaigners, and a handwriting expert found that large numbers of postal vote documents and associated ballot papers had been completed in the same hand and the same ink.
  • The press releases by Choudhury implying that Biggs is a racist, on the grounds of the retracted EHRC letter and the 1995 Keith memo, were false statements impugning Biggs' character or conduct, and Choudhury knew that they were false.
  • The Rahman campaign had illegally paid canvassers.
  • The misuse of grants uncovered by PricewaterhouseCoopers amounted to the electoral offence of bribery.
  • The Council had paid the borough's Bengali-language media to portray Rahman in a favourable light, even after five Bengali TV channels had been censured by Ofcom for making such broadcasts.  Again, this amounted to the electoral offence of bribery.
  • In the most sensational part of the judgment, Rahman played the religious card by soliciting and obtaining the support of the borough's Muslim clerics: the leader of the local Council of Mosques, Hafiz Moulana Shamsul Hoque, gave speeches in support of Rahman, and 101 local imams wrote a letter in Bengali to a local newspaper saying that it was the religious duty of Muslims in the borough to vote for Rahman.  This amounted to the electoral offence of undue spiritual influence, an offence which had not been invoked since the nineteenth century.
  • The 2014 election in Tower Hamlets generally was corrupt.


As a direct consequence of the court's decision, Mayor Lutfur Rahman and his election agent, Councillor Alibor Choudhury, were disqualified from public office and struck off the electoral register for five years.  The Court has also reported Mr Rahman, who is a solicitor, to the Solicitors' Regulation Authority.  There were some other knock-on effects.  The then Communities secretary Eric Pickles (as he was then) sent in more Commissioners to take over more of the council's functions; the Deputy Mayor, another Rahmanite councillor, resigned that post due to a conflict with his job in the civil service; and the Electoral Commission realised it hadn't been paying attention and struck Tower Hamlets First off the register of political parties.

The Mayoral by-election will have ten candidates.  The defending Rahmanite candidate, standing as an independent, is Rabina Khan, a councillor for Shadwell ward and formerly Rahman's cabinet member for housing.  Labour have reselected John Biggs, London Assembly member for the borough since 2000 and Labour's budget spokesman in the Assembly.  The Conservatives have selected Peter Golds, councillor for Island Gardens ward and leader of the Tory group on the council.  UKIP have reselected Nicholas McQueen, who came fourth in the 2014 Mayoral election and third in the general election in Bethnal Green and Bow last month; John Foster is the Green Party candidate; standing for the Lib Dems is Elaine Bagshaw, who also fought Bethnal Green and Bow last month.  Two new parties have entered the fray: Andy Erlam, mastermind of the petition which removed Rahman from office, stands on his own "Red Flag - Anti-Corruption" ticket, while Vanessa Hudson is the candidate of the Animal Welfare Party.  Completing the ballot paper are two independent candidates: Hafiz Kadir (who came last in the 2014 mayoral election) and Mohammed Motiur Rahman Nanu.

An official booklet with publicity for all ten candidates is available here from the Tower Hamlets website.

Turning to the lower-profile by-election in Stepney Green ward, a generally residential area between the Mile End Road and the Commercial Road, and centred on Stepney Way and the Green itself.  In 2014 - the only previous result on the present ward boundaries - Tower Hamlets First polled 43% to Labour's 33%, the Green Party's 9% being best of the rest.  The defending Rahmanite candidate is Abu Talha Chowdhury, a youth leader and social worker standing as an independent.  Labour have reselected Sabina Akhtar, who greatly outpolled her non-Bangladeshi running-mate in the 2014 election.  The Green candidate is Kirsty Chestnutt, who is originally from Australia and has lived in Stepney Green for fifteen years.  Also standing are Paul Shea for UKIP, Safiul Azam for the Tories, Will Dyer for the Lib Dems and Jessie MacNeil-Brown under the description "Something New".

Although allegations in the election petition against the returning officer were not pursued, it must be remembered that the 2014 count for the Mayoral, borough and European elections was an epic fiasco as this column has previously covered.  With a bit of luck, we may get a result for these by-elections within 118 hours of the polls closing.  And reports over the weekend of more breaches of electoral law during these by-elections only demonstrate that while Lutfur Rahman may have gone, the electoral culture he fomented in this 21st-century rotten borough lives on.

Mayor of Tower Hamlets
Parliamentary constituencies: Bethnal Green and Bow, Poplar and Limehouse
London Assembly constituency: City and East
ONS Travel to Work Area: London

May 2014 result THF 36539 Lab 27643 C 7173 UKIP 4819 Grn 4699 LD 1959 TUSC 871 Ind 205 Ind 164 Ind 162; runoff THF 37935 Lab 34143
Oct 2010 result Ind 23283 Lab 11254 C 5348 LD 2800 Grn 2300

Stepney Green
Parliamentary constituency: Bethnal Green and Bow
London Assembly constituency: City and East
ONS Travel to Work Area: London

May 2014 result THF 2023/1965 Lab 1568/954 Grn 411 UKIP 387 C 209/166 LD 151


WALLINGTON SOUTH
London Borough of Sutton
Caused by the death of Liberal Democrat councillor Colin Hall at the age of 54, from cancer.  Hall was a constituency organiser for the Lib Dem MP Tom Brake, and had served on Sutton council since 1998; at the time of his death he was deputy leader of the council.

Beddington Gardens, Wallington
Now here's a rare thing: a council by-election in a Lib Dem-held parliamentary seat.  Following the general election meltdown, Carshalton and Wallington is now the only Lib Dem constituency in London, and Tom Brake is the party's longest-serving MP having been here since 1997.

The Wallington South ward runs south from Wallington railway station.  As in many London suburban areas, the railway was the spur for development here: Wallington station (then known as Carshalton station) opened in 1847 on the Victoria-West Croydon-Sutton line, and a number of imposing Victorian and Edwardian villas were built around it.  Before suburbanisation - which was complete by the time of the First World War - the main local industry was agriculture, particularly lavender.

Wallington South has been a safe Liberal Democrat ward for many years.  At the most recent election in 2014 the Lib Dem vote fell to 37% but their majority increased; the Conservatives had 19%, UKIP 16% and a candidate standing to save the local St Helier Hospital polled 9%.  In the 2012 London Assembly elections Boris polled 55% here, to 25% for Ken Livingstone and a relatively impressive 7% for the Lib Dems' Brian Paddick, while the Tories topped the list vote with 36% to 22% for Labour, 17% for the Lib Dems and 9% for UKIP.

Defending for the Lib Dems, in their first major test since the general election meltdown, is Steve Cook who has lived in Wallington for 35 years and formerly worked in the film industry, running a business specialising in sound and post-production.  The Conservatives have selected Jim Simms who has recently retired as a mechanical engineer and chairs Woodcote Green Residents Association.  UKIP's candidate is Andy Beadle, a Carshalton resident who fought Bermondsey and Old Southwark in the general election.  Completing the ballot paper are Sarah Gwynn of Labour, Rosa Rajendran of the Green Party (who stood in the ward last year) and independent candidate Duncan Mattey.

May 2014 result LD 1593/1558/1221 C 825/649/571 UKIP 694 Keep Our St Helier Hospital Party 377 Lab 374/358/283 Grn 301/274 EDP 110
May 2010 result LD 2674/2633/2439 C 1891/1839/1684 Lab 559/542/455 Grn 544
May 2006 result LD 1575/1550/1490 C 1305/1247/1224 Grn 339/210 Lab 221/215/189
May 2002 result LD 1465/1427/1411 C 1074/1065/1004 Lab 232/211/183 Grn 207/185 Loony 89

May 2012 GLA results (excludes postal voters)
Mayor: Boris 1286 Ken 591 LD 166 Grn 98 Ind 94 UKIP 85 BNP 31
List: C 838 Lab 519 LD 403 UKIP 209 Grn 190 CPA 59 BNP 54 EDP 40 TUSC 20 NF 11 Alagaratnam 9 Hayat 4 House Party 3

Wednesday, 3 June 2015

By-election Previews: 4 June 2015

Welcome back everyone.  Did you see that general election result coming on 7th May?  No, neither did I, and neither did the pollsters.  For some strange reason, which may possibly be related, there has a noticeable dearth of political polling over the last four weeks, giving us little opportunity to test out opinion on our new majority Conservative government.  That all changes on 4th June, with the first two local polls since the General Election.  One is a proper by-election in Cambridgeshire, but we start in Northamptonshire with the first of five pieces of unfinished business from May's ordinary local elections.
ROTHWELL

Kettering borough council 
Postponed from 7th May due to the death of UKIP candidate Alan Pote.  A former county and district councillor for the Conservatives, Pote was Mayor of Kettering in 2003/4 and thrice chairman of Rothwell town council.
The Market House, Rothwell
Not to be confused with the town of the same name just outside Leeds, Rothwell is a market town immediately to the north-west of Kettering, on the old A6 London-Leicester road.  Thanks to its market, which received its first charter from King John, Rothwell became one of the largest towns in Northamptonshire in medieval times, and the town centre has many old and unusual buildings, including the county's longest church, dedicated to the Holy Trinity and one of only two churches in England with an ossuary; and the Elizabethan Market House, designed by the eccentric Thomas Tresham who was lord of the manor of Rothwell and left the town a very strange building full of heraldic and Catholic symbolism.  Opposite the Market House is Rothwell Conservative Club, which hosted the British Quiz Championships last year.  The Industrial Revolution passed the town by, leaving a picture-postcard place which is now functionally a Kettering satellite.

Interestingly, the town is very closely fought between the Conservatives and Labour at district council level.  In 2003 it formed two wards: Tresham ward, forming the town's eastern half, split its two seats between the Tories and Labour, while Trinity ward elected two Tories; in both wards the Tories had 52% and Labour 48%.  The Conservative councillor in Tresham ward was Alan Pote, who following boundary changes was re-elected at the top of the poll in 2007 in a united Rothwell ward, the Tories beating Labour 56-44 across the town.  Pote had also been elected to Northamptonshire county council in 2005 for the then Rothwell division (which had the same boundaries as this ward), beating Labour 52-48 in the 2005 election and 50-29 four years later.

In early 2011 Pote fell out with the Tories and stood for re-election to Kettering council that year as an independent.  He polled 20% in the 2011 election, some way off holding his seat which was picked up by Labour: the Conservatives topped the poll with 37% and won two seats to Labour's 36% and one seat.  Pote then joined UKIP and sought re-election to the county council in 2013, losing the redrawn Rothwell and Mawsley division to the Conservatives, who polled 38% to 31% for UKIP and 27% for Labour.

Three councillors are to be elected here.  The Conservatives retained their strong majority on Kettering council in the May elections and stand just one seat short of the 26 seats they won in 2011.  They are defending two seats here, outgoing councillors Ian Jelley and Margaret Talbot being joined on the Tory slate by Rothwell town councillor Karl Sumpter.  Labour's defending councillor Alan Mills, a master stonemason, is joined by Margaret Harris, who under her former name of Margaret Draper is a former Mayor of High Wycombe, and retired firefighter Malcolm Jones.  The replacement UKIP candidate is Sally Hogston, who fought a safe Labour division in Corby for the Conservatives in the 2005 Northamptonshire county council election; and the ballot paper is completed by the Green Party slate of Alan Heath, Stevie Jones and Rob Reeves.

Parliamentary constituency: Kettering
Northamptonshire county council division: Rothwell and Mawsley
ONS Travel to Work Area: Kettering and Corby
Postcode districts: NN14, NN16

Margaret Harris (Lab)
Alan Heath (Grn)
Sally Hogston (UKIP)
Ian Jelley (C)
Malcolm Jones (Lab)
Stevie Jones (Grn)
Alan Mills (Lab)
Rob Reeves (Grn)
Karl Sumpter (C)
Margaret Talbot (C)

May 2011 result C 1103/1079/1052 Lab 1077/847/778 Ind 616 LD 230
June 2009 county council election C 1130 Lab 649 Ind 259 LD 231
May 2007 result C 1293/1257/1173 Lab 1010/950/886
May 2005 county council election C 1944 Lab 1825


WISBECH SOUTH

Cambridgeshire county council
Caused by the resignation of ex-UKIP councillor Peter Lagoda.
The Crescent, Wisbech
Welcome to Cambridgeshire's largest town (as opposed to city), Wisbech.  Like Rothwell, its centre is a picture-postcard place, with many fine Georgian buildings which makes the town a popular location for costume dramas: these date from the town's heyday as a port on the River Nene exporting agricultural produce from the Fens, and were mainly laid out by Joseph Medworth who is commemorated in the name of one of the three Fenland district council wards which make up the Wisbech South county division.  Another ward name commemorates one of Wisbech's famous daughters: Octavia Hill, social reformer and founder of the National Trust, was born here in 1838.

Wisbech's location as an agricultural centre has led to large levels of immigration from Eastern Europe over the last decade, and that has been reflected in a large UKIP vote in what is not a well-off town.  UKIP polled 38% here in 2013 to defeat the Tory county councillor Simon King who got 31%; there were also significant votes for Labour (16%) and the Lib Dems (14%).  Peter Lagoda has had a turbulent two years as a county councillor: he was prosecuted for benefit fraud and given a 12-month community order; was investigated by the county council after using racist language on a visit to Wisbech fire station; and quit UKIP after they suspended him and "badly let him down" over those two incidents.  Last month the Conservatives easily held all four district council seats in the division, suggesting that UKIP may have peaked in Wisbech.

Defending the seat for UKIP is Susan Carson, the wife of Wisbech North county councillor Paul Clapp; she is a carer for her disabled son, and fought Roman Bank ward (a rural area north-west of Wisbech) in May's district council elections.  The Tory candidate is Samantha Hoy, who topped in the poll in Octavia Hill ward in May.  The Lib Dem candidate is Chatteris-based Josephine Ratcliffe, while Labour have selected Dean Reeves who was bottom of the poll in Octavia Hill this year.

Parliamentary constituency: North East Cambridgeshie
Fenland district council wards: Medworth, Octavia Hill, Staithe
ONS Travel to Work Area: Wisbech

Susan Carson (UKIP)
Samantha Hoy (C)
Josephine Ratcliffe (LD)
Dean Reeves (Lab)

May 2013 result UKIP 774 C 636 Lab 333 LD 281
June 2009 result C 930 UKIP 532 Lab 212 LD 191 Libertarian 140
May 2005 result C 1941 LD 1084 UKIP 592


Thursday, 30 April 2015

General Election Preview 2015

The Electoral Reform Society complained this week that they can immediately call the winner on 7th May in 364 of the UK's 650 constituencies.  While I share their opinion that this is a deplorable state of affairs, 364 is in fact a very low figure compared with the other three general elections which have taken place in the twenty-first century.
That fact is one of the contributing factors which have made this twice as long as the preview I put together in advance of the 2010 general election.  That turned out to be not too bad: I had the Tories 24 seats too low, Labour 7 seats too high and the Lib Dems 10 seats too high, and on the basis of that predicted "either a Cameron minority government or a C/LD coalition, and another general election in spring 2012 when the Lib Dems walk out on the government".  My Facebook friends can find it in my Notes if you want to have a laugh at the other things I got wrong.

The other factor which has contributed to the length of this article is Lord Ashcroft, who has revolutionised the art of polling specific constituencies in this country.  Constituency-specific polling is something that the traditional opinion pollsters aren't interested in because it's expensive and difficult to get right; but Ashcroft has the budget and inspiration to turn that theory onto its head, and the result is a huge archive of constituency opinion polls the likes of which were only dreamt of at the last general election.  It remains to be seen if Ashcroft's polling is any good, but for the most part it doesn't look that inconsistent with the numbers the other firms are coming out with.

In terms of vote shares, I'm predicting very little change in the rest of the campaign, with final shares something in the region of Lab 35% C 33% UKIP 13% LD 7%, representing a swing of around 4.5% from the Tories to Labour.  But while old-fashioned uniform national swing is a good guide to the overall picture, it's not always adequate for predicting individual seats.  There will be some seats that produce surprise gains for the governing parties; some seats with a required swing of less than 4.5% which Labour fail to gain; some seats with a required swing of more than 4.5% which Labour gain; and this time round we have the added dimensions of the Lib Dem collapse, the SNP landslide and the rise of UKIP.  Confused?  Hopefully the rest of this article will serve to further confuse you...

CONSERVATIVE TARGETS

Before getting to the main course of the Labour target list, we serve up the usual slightly irrelevant starter in the form of seats the Tories hope to gain.  In Labour-held seats this is probably a forlorn hope, but there are some seats on this list held by the Lib Dems that deserve further consideration.

Swing required: less than 1%

1. HAMPSTEAD AND KILBURN
This was one of the tightest three-way races you will ever see in 2010.  The Labour MP Glenda Jackson is stepping down, but Labour should benefit from the collapse of the Lib Dem vote in the Brent half of the seat, which before the 2010 election was part of Sarah Teather's constituency.  The Tory candidate is so confident of victory he has resigned his seat on Camden council.  This seems foolhardy.  The independent candidate Ronnie Carroll has died; the poll will go ahead as normal but a vote for Ronnie is now effectively a vote for RON (Re-Open Nominations).  LAB HOLD

2. BOLTON WEST
Labour were saved here in 2010 by the boundary changes which brought Atherton into the constituency: their MP defends a majority of 92 votes, and one of those 92 votes in 2010 was cast by me.  Although I no longer live in the constituency, Labour have done well here at local level and will hold on easily with Julie Hilling having first-time incumbency.  LAB HOLD

3. SOLIHULL
This has been a Lib Dem seat for ten years following a knife-edge gain in 2005 and an equally knife-edge hold in 2010.  The Lib Dems have started losing council seats in the constituency right, left and centre, which bodes ill for them.  C GAIN FROM LD

4. SOUTHAMPTON ITCHEN
The popular Labour MP John Denham only had a majority of 192 last time, and he is standing down.  The Hampshire Tories scent a gain here, but with Labour now firmly in control of Southampton council the Tory vote probably peaked in 2010.  LAB HOLD

5. MID DORSET AND NORTH POOLE
A Lib Dem seat since 1997.  Annette Brooke is standing down and this should be a C GAIN FROM LD.

6. WIRRAL SOUTH
The Wirral Tories' biggest priority is trying to hold Wirral West.  The Labour MP Alison McGovern will benefit from first-time incumbency.  LAB HOLD

7. DERBY NORTH
A three-way marginal in 2010 and Labour should be able to squeeze the Lib Dem vote into a big Labour majority.  Chris Williamson has first-time incumbency.  LAB HOLD

8. WELLS
A Lib Dem gain in 2010 after a series of near-misses.  Tessa Munt has first-time incumbency, but this will probably not be enough to withstand the Tory tide.  C GAIN FROM LD

9. DUDLEY NORTH
Surprisingly held by Labour in 2010, and the Tory challenge here will not be helped by having to dump their candidate at the last minute for trying to manufacture a race row.  Labour are under more threat from UKIP who have a large group on Dudley council.  LAB HOLD

Swing required: 1% to 2%

10. GREAT GRIMSBY
Now this could be fun.  Austin Mitchell is standing down after nearly four decades as the MP for Grimsby.  The Tory candidate who nearly beat him in 2010 is now the UKIP candidate, and UKIP did very well in the town last year.  Recent Ashcroft polls have this as a close Labour-UKIP race.  It will stay close, but... LAB HOLD

11. MORLEY AND OUTWOOD
The Tories threw the kitchen sink at Ed Balls last time and came up short.  Balls will greatly increase his majority.  LAB HOLD

12. TELFORD
Easy LAB HOLD.

13. WALSALL NORTH
Easy LAB HOLD for the long-serving David Winnick.

14. ST AUSTELL AND NEWQUAY
Held by Stephen Gilbert of the Lib Dems, who has first-time incumbency.  Local results here are difficult to interpret but seem to point to a close race, while Ashcroft has the Tories well ahead and a strong UKIP vote.  C GAIN FROM LD

15. SOMERTON AND FROME
David Heath has survived four knife-edge results, but is retiring.  The Tories are on the offensive here.  C GAIN FROM LD

16. BIRMINGHAM EDGBASTON
Labour did very well to hold this seat in 2010 and Gisela Stuart clearly has a large personal vote.  LAB HOLD

17. SUTTON AND CHEAM
Unusually, the Sutton Tories are going backwards at council level.  LD HOLD

18. HALIFAX
This one could be interesting.  The Labour MP Linda Riordan announced her retiredment at the last moment, and the Labour lead among Halifax's large Muslim population could be eroded by Respect - this seat is close to George Galloway's constituency - and by the Lib Dems, who have selected a Pakistani candidate.  There is also a large latent UKIP vote in the town, although it's not enough to win, and the Greens seem to have become active in Calderdale lately.  We have all the ingredients of a freak vote split here: there's always one result somewhere which comes as a complete surprise, and I'm calling this as the shock constituency result of 2015.  C GAIN FROM LAB

19. NEWCASTLE-UNDER-LYME
Easy LAB HOLD; UKIP are a factor here but their vote peaked some time ago.

20. MIDDLESBROUGH SOUTH AND EAST CLEVELAND
Easy LAB HOLD for Tom Blenkinsopp who will have first-time incumbency.

21. WAKEFIELD
The Tories have gone a long way backwards on Wakefield council, and Mary Creagh could have a minor Cabinet position if Labour form the next governemnt.  LAB HOLD

22. ST IVES
Andrew George has been here since 1997 and clearly has a personal vote.  It'll be close, but he should hold on.  LD HOLD

23. PLYMOUTH MOOR VIEW
Easy LAB HOLD.

24. GEDLING
It was when Gedling flashed up as a Labour hold on election night in 2010 that your columnist knew a hung parliament was inevitable.  Vernon Coaker clearly has a personal vote.  Easy LAB HOLD.


LABOUR TARGETS

Now we come to the main course: the Labour target list.  This is the list of seats in which the general election will be won and lost.

Swing required: less than 1%

1. NORTH WARWICKSHIRE
The Tories are defending a majority of just 54 votes.  Dan Byles has seen the writing on the wall and has retired after one term.  LAB GAIN FROM C

2. THURROCK
This will be fun.  The Tories seem destined to lose, but whether it's to Labour or UKIP is as yet unclear.  An Ashcroft poll in July gave UKIP a six-point lead over Labour, and since then their candidate has won a by-election to Thurrock council.  UKIP GAIN FROM C

3. HENDON
Labour's Andrew Dismore was unlucky to lose this seat in 2010, and this year will be a rematch between Dismore and the Tory MP Matthew Offord who has first-time incumbency.  Dismore was very convincingly elected to the London Assembly in 2012, although his performance should be weighed against the fact that the Tory candidate he was up against was the controversial Brian Coleman.  LAB GAIN FROM C

4. CARDIFF NORTH
Jonathan Evans is standing down after just one term here, and Labour hold this seat in the Welsh Assembly.  LAB GAIN FROM C

5. SHERWOOD
Britain's last remaining deep coal mines here are starting to wind up, but that may come too soon for Mark Spencer although he does have first-time incumbency.  LAB GAIN FROM C

6. NORWICH SOUTH
A freak vote split saw Simon Wright end Charles Clarke's parliamentary career with just 29% of the vote in 2010, and the Lib Dems haven't done anything in Norwich since then to suggest he has any chance of re-election.  Outside chance for the Greens, but they appear to have gone backwards a little here since 2010.  LAB GAIN FROM LD

7. STOCKTON SOUTH
Held by the Tories' youngest MP James Wharton who has first-time incumbency.  Local results don't tell us much because of the large Resident vote in Thornaby and Ingleby Barwick, but an Ashcroft poll gave Labour a solid lead.  LAB GAIN FROM C

8. BROXTOWE
This suburban seat west of Nottingham will be a rematch between the Tories' Anna Soubry, who has first-time incumbency, and the 1997-2010 Labour MP Nick Palmer.  Local results here are close with Labour just ahead, and Labour are doing well in Ashcroft polling.  LAB GAIN FROM C

9. LANCASTER AND FLEETWOOD
A badly-drawn seat divided between the Labour-leaning towns in the title and Tory-voting countryside.  The Green Party are a factor in Lancaster and Eric Ollerenshaw has first-time incumbency, but that's unlikely to stop Labour here.  LAB GAIN FROM C

10. BRADFORD EAST
I still can't believe that the Lib Dems ever won this seat in the first place; I still can't believe that David Ward has not been kicked out of the party given his propensity for anti-Semitism; I'm unlikely to be able to believe anything here other than a very strong LAB GAIN FROM LD.

11. AMBER VALLEY
The classic marginal to some extent, a series of small towns in eastern Derbyshire.  UKIP are a factor here and will take some votes off the Tories.  LAB GAIN FROM C

12. WAVENEY
The north-eastern corner of Suffolk, based on Lowestoft.  The district council is finely balanced, and there are Green district councillors in Beccles and UKIP county councillors in Lowestoft.  Lowestoft is a strong UKIP area and that should sink the Tories.  LAB GAIN FROM C

13. WOLVERHAMPTON SOUTH WEST
This seat will forever be associated with Enoch Powell, but times move on: his seat is now represented by an ethnic minority MP, Paul Uppal.  Although Uppal has first-time incumbency, the Tory collapse on Wolverhampton council is not grounds for optimism.  LAB GAIN FROM C

Swing required: 1% to 2%

14. MORECAMBE AND LUNESDALE
Similar to its neighbouring seat Lancaster and Fleetwood except that the Greens aren't a factor.  Labour were unlucky to lose this in 2010 and should take it back.  LAB GAIN FROM C

15. CARLISLE
The 2010 boundary changes helped the Tories here, but Labour should squeeze down the Lib Dem vote to take the seat back.  LAB GAIN FROM C

16. STROUD
Seconds out for a rematch between the Tories' Neil Carmichael and Labour's David Drew, who clearly has a large personal vote.  Drew should win this round.  LAB GAIN FROM C

17. WEAVER VALE
This seat in Cheshire is a bit of everything, being based on Northwich and also including part of Runcorn and some smaller towns.  Northwich and part of Runcorn should outvote the rural areas this time.  LAB GAIN FROM C

18. LINCOLN
The Tories have collapsed in Lincoln city itself which is now strongly Labour.  LAB GAIN FROM C

19. BRIGHTON PAVILION
This is the Green Party's only seat and likely to retain that status.  The Green administration on Brighton and Hove council has been an entertaining car crash over the last four years, but Caroline Lucas is personally popular.  GREEN HOLD

20. PLYMOUTH SUTTON AND DEVONPORT
Labour have a strong position on Plymouth city council and will take this one easily.  LAB GAIN FROM C

21. DEWSBURY
Shahid Malik underperformed here in 2010, although the boundary changes didn't help.  Labour should take this one back.  LAB GAIN FROM C

22. WARRINGTON SOUTH
Three-way marginal in 2010 and the Lib Dems have actually held up well at local level.  The Tories didn't win any of the wards in this constituency last year, which won't help them hold.  LAB GAIN FROM C

23. BRENT CENTRAL
With Sarah Teather standing down and the Lib Dems having had replacement candidate issues, this is a certain LAB GAIN FROM LD.

24. BEDFORD
This is a rematch between the Tories' Richard Fuller and the Labour MP he defeated in 2010, Patrick Hall.  The Tories did badly here in 2011 and the Lib Dems are defending the elected mayoralty.  LAB GAIN FROM C

25. BRIGHTON KEMPTON
Not all Brighton: the retirement resort of Peacehaven is in this seat and probably provided the Tory majority in 2010.  The Tories can ill-afford to lose votes here.  Although Labour face vote leakage towards the Greens they can squeeze the Lib Dem vote to win.  LAB GAIN FROM C

26. PUDSEY
Something unusual is going on here: while nearly all of the seats in the 1%-2% swing bracket have shown solid Labour leads in Ashcroft polling, two polls of Pudsey - the most recent being earlier this month - have both shown ties between the Tories and Labour.  The Conservatives also held up well here in the 2014 locals.  On the basis of that, I'll toss a coin and predict C HOLD.

27. CORBY
This has already gone to Labour in a by-election after Louise Mensch decided that being an MP might actually have been a bad idea.  Labour will hold this one easily.  LAB CONFIRM BY-ELECTION GAIN FROM C

28. BRENTFORD AND ISLEWORTH
Polling and the 2014 London borough elections suggest that Labour will outperform in London.  Labour did very well in Hounslow last year and in the neighbouring Feltham and Heston by-election.  LAB GAIN FROM C

29. HOVE
In 2010 Labour topped the poll across all three Brighton constituencies but failed to win any.  The Tory MP Mike Weatherley is standing down after one term.  LAB GAIN FROM C

30. ENFIELD NORTH
Will be a rematch between the Tory MP Nick de Bois and the former Labour MP Joan Ryan.  Labour did well in the Enfield borough elections last year and I fancy them for the gain.  LAB GAIN FROM C

Swing required: 2% to 3%

31. HASTINGS AND RYE
Labour have done well in Hastings at local level.  LAB GAIN FROM C

32. MANCHESTER WITHINGTON
It's now five years since anybody other than Labour won any election within the Manchester city limits.  Put your mortgage on a LAB GAIN FROM LD.

33. BURNLEY
This is historically a Labour seat, but Labour were damaged here in 2010 by the expenses scandal.  An Ashcroft poll had the Lib Dems in third place behind Labour and UKIP; while Burnley did vote 31% BNP in the 2003 local elections, I find it hard to believe that the UKIP vote will be quite as high as that.  LAB GAIN FROM LD

34. IPSWICH
Labour are in control of Ipswich council and should pick this one up easily.  LAB GAIN FROM C

35. DUNDEE EAST
Fifty-nine seats into this preview and the first mention of Scotland.  Even the most myopic English observer can't have failed to notice the huge swing from Labour to the SNP in Scottish opinion, and Dundee was the council that had the highest Yes vote for independence.  Cast-iron SNP HOLD

36. EAST DUNBARTONSHIRE
One of the very few marginal seats which has not had an Ashcroft poll at the time of writing.  The seat at risk here is that of the Lib Dems' Jo Swinson.  Had the election been held a year ago Swinson would have been a certain goner; however, the SNP surge has, paradoxically, put a Lib Dem hold back into play here.  The SNP hold the Holyrood seats covering this area, while Labour carried the local elections in 2012.  In order to survive Swinson will need all of her personal vote and will need to squeeze the Tories.  It'll be close, but I don't think it'll be enough.  SNP GAIN FROM LD

37. HALESOWEN AND ROWLEY REGIS
The Tories are under pressure here from UKIP, who have a council group in the constituency.  LAB GAIN FROM C

38. NUNEATON
Nuneaton is likely to be one of the first marginal seats to declare, as it's one of the few areas of England outside London where there are no local elections.  Labour did well here last year.  LAB GAIN FROM C

39. GLOUCESTER
The Tories have performed well here in local elections, and an Ashcroft poll this month showed almost no swing.  C HOLD

40. NORTHAMPTON NORTH
Three-way marginal in 2010 but we can rule out the Lib Dems after they epically crashed in the 2011 Northampton borough elections following a controversial four years in power.  This will be a rematch between the Tory MP Michael Ellis and the former Labour MP Sally Keeble.  LAB GAIN FROM C

41. BURY NORTH
Labour were very badly damaged here in 2010 by the expenses scandal, which eventually landed the former MP David Chaytor in prison.  Local results here have been epically bad for the Tories - partly due to a scandal of their own - and this time Labour have selected a local candidate rather than someone from Manchester.  The Tories' David Nuttall is very much on the I-can't-believe-it's-not-UKIP wing of the party, and the Whips Office would probably be glad to be rid of him.  LAB GAIN FROM C

42. KINGSWOOD
The Tories held up here well in 2011, and a recent Ashcroft poll showed an increased Tory majority.  C HOLD

43. EREWASH
Suburban seat between Derby and Nottingham.  Local election results here have been close; Ashcroft polls have not.  LAB GAIN FROM C

44. BLACKPOOL NORTH AND CLEVELEYS
This seat has had decent local results for the Tories, and Paul Maynard has first-time incumbency.  C HOLD

45. CITY OF CHESTER
However, the Tories did fairly poorly here in 2011, and Labour seem to be putting the squeeze on the Lib Dem vote.  LAB GAIN FROM C

46. ARFON
The first Plaid Cymru seat on the list, based on Bangor and Caernarfon.  While this is likely to be a disappointing election for Plaid, they should hold what they have.  PC HOLD

47. CROYDON CENTRAL
This may be a harder target for Labour than it looks on paper, as the Tory vote in 2010 was depressed by the disgraced former Tory MP standing as an independent and saving his deposit.  Said disgraced former Tory MP is now a Labour councillor in Croydon, and Labour gained the borough in 2014 and performed very well in the neighbouring Croydon North by-election in 2013.  LAB GAIN FROM C

Swing required: 3% to 4%

48. WORCESTER
Labour's local election performances in Worcester haven't been impressive: the Tories have control of the council and Ashcroft last month showed a strong Conservative lead.  C HOLD

49. KEIGHLEY
Labour's solid lead in Keighley town should see them gain this seat, although UKIP are a factor.  LAB GAIN FROM C

50. WIRRAL WEST
Held by the high-profile employment minister and former TV presenter Esther McVey.  This is the only Tory seat in Merseyside, and the Tories have had some good performances here in local elections; but given that this is Merseyside, that's not good enough.  LAB GAIN FROM C

51. CANNOCK CHASE
Now here comes fun.  The Tory MP Aidan Burley is standing down following a scandal over a Nazi-themed stag party.  The last local elections were a close race between Labour (6 seats) and UKIP (4), and Ashcroft has this as a three-way marginal.  If UKIP had been polling a little better I might have tipped them for the gain, but this has probably slipped out of their grasp now.  LAB GAIN FROM C

52. LOUGHBOROUGH
The most vulnerable Cabinet minister on the Tory list is Nicky Morgan, the Education Secretary.  She has the benefit of some good recent Ashcroft polling and decent local election results for the Tories.  Labour gained the bellwether town of Shepshed in a by-election in 2013, but they also performed well in a Shepshed by-election just before the 2010 election which prompted me to tip a Labour hold that time.  This one will be close, but: C HOLD

53. HARROW EAST
Labour had some severe problems on Harrow council in the 2010-2014 term, but seem to have put that behind them with a convincing victory in the 2014 borough elections.  On the other hand, the Tories had the most votes across Harrow in 2014 and this is a stronger part of the borough for them than the Harrow West seat.  Labour should benefit from the stronger swing in London to gain this one.  LAB GAIN FROM C

54. WARWICK AND LEAMINGTON
Despite the order of the names, Leam Spa is the bigger town and is strongly student-influenced (Warwick), as shown by the fact that the Green Party gained a seat in Leam in the 2013 county elections.  In fact, Labour did quite poorly in the Spa in 2013, failing to knock out any of the Lib Dem county councillors; they had better luck in Warwick, but Warwick is a more prosperous town with a strong Tory vote.  For some reason Warwick district council are not starting the count here until Friday morning, so this is likely to be the last marginal seat to declare.  C HOLD

55. BIRMINGHAM YARDLEY
The never-publicity-shy John Hemming is defending this seat for the second time and has effectively *been* the Lib Dems in Yardley for well over twenty years.  His personal vote should see him hold on.  LD HOLD

56. SOUTH SWINDON
An Ashcroft poll in March had this seat tied, and the Tories are under pressure to hold Swindon council.  LAB GAIN FROM C

57. EALING CENTRAL AND ACTON
A new seat in 2010 and a three-way marginal, although the Lib Dems have very little local government base here and their 28% vote in 2010 is ripe for squeezing.  LAB GAIN FROM C

Swing required: 4% to 5%

58. PENDLE
Godforsaken towns in east Lancashire, the largest of which are Nelson and Colne.  This seat usually has shares of the vote very close to the national totals.  While Labour led here in the 2014 local elections, the Tories have led in two Ashcroft polls.  This one could be a coin-toss...  LAB GAIN FROM C

59. STEVENAGE
Labour have resumed their stranglehold on Stevenage council.  LAB GAIN FROM C

60. ELMET AND ROTHWELL
Leeds' eastern hinterland, running from Wetherby down the A1 and M1 to Rothwell.  Very close in the 2014 local elections: who wins will depend on whether Labour can squeeze the Lib Dem vote in Rothwell and who UKIP damage more in this socially-divided seat.  Close, but C HOLD

61. EDINBURGH WEST
Freak vote split time here: this looks like being a very close four-way marginal.  Sticking a finger up in the air, and based on the fact that the SNP hold the equivalent Holyrood seat, I'll say SNP GAIN FROM LD.

62. WATFORD
Labour are starting in third place here.  If the Lib Dems gain only one seat, it'll be this one; in a way, it's surprising they failed to win Watford in 2010.  The Lib Dems have a lock on Watford borough council and their candidate is the wildly-popular elected Mayor of Watford, Dorothy Thornberry.  A series of Ashcroft polls have shown this as a three-way marginal.  LD GAIN FROM C

63. CARMARTHEN WEST AND SOUTH PEMBROKESHIRE
Little England beyond Wales.  Local elections in rural Wales don't tell you much, but the Tories hold this seat in the Assembly.  C HOLD

64. VALE OF GLAMORGAN
Staying in Wales, and this seat has conflicting signals.  The Tories had a good performance in a council by-election in Llantwit Major recently and had a solid lead in a February Ashcroft poll, but Labour hold this seat in the Assembly quite comfortably.  On the basis of recent momentum I'll go for a C HOLD.

65. ARGYLL AND BUTE
A geographically vast seat covering the southern end of the Highlands, and as such at least partially personality-driven which explains the relatively large (by Argyll standards) majority for the Lib Dems' Alan Reid over the Tories in 2010.  In reality this is a four-way marginal: while the SNP group on Argyll and Bute council is an entertaining mess they should take this one.  SNP GAIN FROM LD

66. DUMFRIESSHIRE, CLYDESDALE AND TWEEDDALE
The only Conservative seat in Scotland, and it was probably only the Coalition that stopped David Mundell being Scottish secretary in the last parliament.  Ashcroft polling has Mundell neck-and-neck with the SNP, but the Tories have a strong local government vote in Dumfriesshire and should hold on.  C HOLD

67. CARMARTHEN EAST AND DINEFWR
The second Plaid Cymru seat on the Labour target list; again should be a relatively easy hold for Plaid.  PC HOLD

68. NORWICH NORTH
A Tory by-election gain in 2009 and some of that would have fed into the large Tory lead in 2010.  This was close in the 2013 county elections.  I'll go LAB GAIN FROM C here.

69. HIGH PEAK
The Tories have it all to do here.  Labour polled well in the 2013 county elections and can squeeze the Lib Dem vote in New Mills and Whaley Bridge.  LAB GAIN FROM C

70. MILTON KEYNES SOUTH
Similarly here, Labour have put in good local election performances on Milton Keynes council where they are now the largest group.  LAB GAIN FROM C

71. ROSSENDALE AND DARWEN
Like Milton Keynes South above, the Labour candidate is a former NUS president: in this case it's Will Straw, son of Blackburn MP and former foreign secretary Jack Straw who is retiring.  In the Lancashire valleys seat he takes on the Tories' Jake Berry.  Labour have put in good local election results in Rozzendale recently, and Ashcroft polling has this seat tied.  This one will be close.  LAB GAIN FROM C

72. CLEETHORPES
The Tories have a decent lead, but whether they can hold this seat depends on the performance of UKIP who did very well in last year's local elections, although not quite as well as in Grimsby proper.  C HOLD

73. NORTH EAST SOMERSET
Won fairly convincingly in 2010 by young fogey Jacob Ress-Mogg, who has the benefit of first-time incumbency.  C HOLD

74. GREAT YARMOUTH
UKIP did extremely well in the local elections here last year and might have had a serious shout at winning but have had to dump their original candidate over electoral fraud allegations.  Still a three-way marginal, but the Tories are probably best placed.  C HOLD

Swing required: 5% to 6%

75. DUDLEY SOUTH
The Tory MP here is standing down after one term, but with UKIP being strong in this seat Labour will be hard pushed to collect the gain required to win.  C HOLD

76. DOVER
The Tories led here in the 2013 county elections and UKIP are a factor.  C HOLD

77. COLNE VALLEY
Labour start in third place here but had a big lead in the 2014 locals.  Although Ashcroft has the Tories just ahead, I'm going to plump for a LAB GAIN FROM C from third place.

78. SOUTH RIBBLE
In the 2013 county elections the Tories led here, but the Tory MP is standing down after one term and Ashcroft has the two parties neck-and-neck.  C HOLD

79. PETERBOROUGH
The Tories are the largest party on Peterborough council although they have lost their majority.  Stewart Jackson, one of the more right-wing Conservatives, should hold this.  C HOLD

80. STAFFORD
David Cameron's first parliamentary contest, Stafford is now fairly safe for the Conservatives although the issue of health (Stafford Hospital) could be a factor.  C HOLD

81. STOURBRIDGE
The safest of the four Tory marginals in the borough of Dudley.  A three-way marginal in the 2014 locals with the Tories just ahead of Labour and UKIP.  Margot James, the first openly lesbian Tory MP, has first-time incumbency.  C HOLD

82. HARLOW
Labour have benefitted from the Lib Dem collapse to gain control of Harlow council, but are now under some pressure from UKIP in the town while the rural areas of the seat, though small, are overwhelmingly Tory.  An Ashcroft poll in April showed almost no swing since 2010.  C HOLD

83. ABERCONWY
A North Wales coastal seat based on Llandudno and Conway.  The Tories gained this seat from Plaid in the 2011 Assembly election and appear to be on an upswing here.  C HOLD

84. ILFORD NORTH
This is in Redbridge borough, which Labour gained for the first time in 2014, and the Tories only just led here that year.  LAB GAIN FROM C

85. PRESELI PEMBROKESHIRE
Held by the Tories in the Assembly fairly easily.  C HOLD

86. BRIGG AND GOOLE
Brigg and the areas around it are strongly Tory and will outvote Goole.  C HOLD

87. CREWE AND NANTWICH
Easier for Labour than it looks on paper as the 2010 result was affected by the Tory by-election gain after Gwyneth Dunwoody died.  Labour have recovered impressively in Crewe and are on course to win here.  LAB GAIN FROM C

Swing required: 6% to 7%

88. BRISTOL NORTH WEST
The Tories led here in the 2014 city council election and should hold this.  C HOLD

89. BATTERSEA
Local election results here tell us little thanks to Wandsworth council's unbelievably-low-council-tax policies, but this seat is gentrifying fast and that trend is set to continue.  C HOLD

90. FINCHLEY AND GOLDERS GREEN
Barnet council, on the other hand, is trying to go down the same round as Wandsworth but is not popular; and the MP here is a former leader of that council.  The Tories were only just ahead here in the 2014 borough elections.  LAB GAIN FROM C

91. CALDER VALLEY
Labour may have underperformed here in 2010 as their candidate (Cherie Blair's sister-in-law) proved unpopular.  The Tories were ahead here in the 2014 locals, but that election had a relatively large Green vote which Labour can appeal to.  LAB GAIN FROM C

92. REDCAR
In a way this is a seat which Labour should never have lost, the closure of the local steelworks just before the 2010 election combining with an active local Liberal Democrat party to produce a shock gain.  Ian Swales is standing down after one term, and that will probably be decisive even though the Labour group on Redcar and Cleveland council has just fallen apart very publicly, putting the Lib Dems in control of the council.  LAB GAIN FROM LD

93. CRAWLEY
This was one of the closest results in 2005, and Labour's recovery here at local elections suggests another photo-finish.  LAB GAIN FROM C

94. HORNSEY AND WOOD GREEN
Labour did very well here in the 2014 Haringey local elections and have an excellent chance to knock out Lib Dem junior minister Lynne Featherstone.  LAB GAIN FROM LD

95. READING WEST
Much of the Labour majority here in the Blair years was a personal vote for then-MP Martin Salter, and with his retirement Labour have an uphill struggle to get this seat back.  C HOLD

96. RUGBY
A classic marginal seat in Warwickshire.  Labour went backwards here in the 2013 county elections and Mark Pawsey - the second generation of Pawseys to represent the town - has first-time incumbency.  C HOLD

97. BURTON
Another classic marginal, with Labour-voting Burton-on-Trent balanced out by a strong Tory vote in Uttoxeter and the rural areas.  Brewing and JCB are major employers.  The Tories led here in the 2011 district elections and the 2013 county elections; on the minus side, their district council group has split and put Labour in control of East Staffordshire council.  C HOLD

98. CARDFF CENTRAL
A photo-finish in the 2011 Welsh Assembly election with Labour gaining from the Lib Dems by 38 votes.  This seat has a large student population and Labour did well here in the 2012 city council election.  LAB GAIN FROM LD

99. NA H-EILEANAN AN IAR
The Western Isles vote strongly for independents at local level so there's little to be gained from that source, but this is not an election where the SNP are going to be losing seats.  SNP HOLD

100. SOUTH BASILDON AND EAST THURROCK
The seat with all the leftover bits of Essex after the 2010 boundary changes.  UKIP are a major factor here, but the recent slide in the UKIP national vote puts this out of reach for them.  The Tories led here in an Ashcroft poll in February.  C HOLD

101. TAMWORTH
Tamworth isn't a New Town but does have the feel of one.  It's also a very homogeneous town, so whichever party leads tends to win almost all the seats on Tamworth council.  In 2014 that was the Conservatives.  C HOLD

102. REDDITCH
Redditch is a New Town and therefore has fairly volatile voting patterns: the huge swing against Labour's Jacqui Smith, who had been Home Secretary, in 2010 is testament to that.  Labour have put in some very good performances in the town over the last Parliament, but so have UKIP recently.  Despite that, LAB GAIN FROM C.

103. CHATHAM AND AYLESFORD
The Medway council results in 2011 weren't promising for Labour.  C HOLD

Swing required: 7% to 8%

104. NORTH SWINDON
The stronger of the two Swindon seats for the Tories, and possibly out of Labour's reach this time.  C HOLD

105. SOUTH DERBYSHIRE
Voted Tory in the 2011 district and 2013 county elections, and the Tory MP has first-time incumbency.  C HOLD

106. FILTON AND BRADLEY STOKE
Created by the 2010 boundary changes, this seat was expected to be a three-way marginal but was easily won by the Conservatives in 2010.  The Tories also had a big lead here at the most recent local elections in 2011.  C HOLD

107. NORTH WEST LEICESTERSHIRE
Labour led here in the 2013 county elections, but that had a large UKIP vote and Andrew Budgen has a fairly high profile and large majority.  C HOLD

108. SOUTH DORSET
A rare Labour gain in 2001, but the Tories have done well at local level recently.  C HOLD

109. CAMBRIDGE
The Lib Dems are still polling well in Cambridge and Julian Huppert, one of the Commons' rare scientists, led easily in a recent Ashcroft poll.  LD HOLD

110. STAFFORDSHIRE MOORLANDS
Labour were screwed here by the 2010 boundary changes which took Kidsgrove out of the seat.  C HOLD

111. NORTHAMPTON SOUTH
The Tories now control Northampton council and are doing well here at local level.  C HOLD

112. GORDON
Aberdeen commuter area, held by the Lib Dems' Malcolm Bruce who is standing down.  Alex Salmond is trying to translate himself to the Commons from here and should do so easily unless the Lib Dems can somehow pick up Unionist tactical votes.  SNP GAIN FROM LD


LIB DEM TARGETS

While this is likely to be an election of contraction for the Lib Dems, there are always a few shock results and it's certainly not impossible that they'll make one or two gains.  Here's an assessment of the likely chances.

Swing required: less than 1%

1. CAMBORNE AND REDRUTH
On paper this is a three-way marginal, but the Lib Dem vote here has utterly collapsed at local level, mostly to the benefit of the Conservatives.  UKIP will be in the mix here, and the Labour vote has recovered somewhat from virtual wipeout during the Brown years.  In 2010 I tipped Julia Goldsworthy to lose because I felt she had gone too far down the Lembit Opik road of non-seriousness; while she is standing again, an Ashcroft poll in March had her in fourth place.  C HOLD

2. OLDHAM EAST AND SADDLEWORTH
Was the subject of a 2011 by-election after Phil Woolas was disqualified by the courts for telling lies about the then Lib Dem candidate.  The by-election proved that the electorate don't like a sore loser, and the Lib Dems have been going backwards on Oldham council since then.  LAB HOLD

3. OXFORD WEST AND ABINGDON
A surprising Lib Dem loss in 2010, although the warning signs were there following a poor Lib Dem performance in Abingdon in the 2009 county elections.  The Oxford West part of the seat covers Oxford city centre and therefore most of the university students; the Lib Dem collapse among students is likely to more than offset their recovery in Abingdon.  C HOLD

4. SHEFFIELD CENTRAL
Surprisingly close in 2010, but the Sheffield Lib Dems have effectively withdrawn from here to try and hold Nick Clegg's seat.  LAB HOLD

5. ASHFIELD
Held by the high-profile Labour MP and former TV presenter Gloria de Piero.  Although Labour badly underperformed here in 2010, partly due to the expenses scandal which hugely damaged the previous MP Geoff Hoon, the local Lib Dems were confident of a gain right up until the point in March where their prospective candidate Jason Zadrozny was arrested on historic child sex allegations.  Since the Lib Dem vote in Ashfield is almost entirely Zadrozny's personal vote, without him on the ballot Labour will massively increase their majority.  LAB HOLD

6. EDINBURGH SOUTH
After being on the wrong side of two photo-finishes, the Lib Dems have probably shot their bolt here and defending Edinburgh West will be a bigger priority.  The boundaries here are rather different to the Edinburgh Southern seat held by the SNP at Holyrood, and this is one of the few Scottish seats where the SNP start probably too far behind to win.  LAB HOLD

7. TRURO AND FALMOUTH
A close Tory gain in 2010, but an Ashcroft poll last year suggests that the Tories are well ahead with a close three-way fight for third.  C HOLD

8. NEWTON ABBOT
The Lib Dems led here in the 2013 county elections, but have shot themselves in the foot by selecting Richard Younger-Ross, the MP for Teignbridge from 2001 to 2010 who was badly damaged that year by the expenses scandal.  This year sees a rematch between Younger-Ross and the Tory MP Anne-Marie Morris, who will win again.  C HOLD

9. CHESTERFIELD
A Labour gain in 2010, and Labour have followed up by gaining Chesterfield borough council on a huge swing.  LAB HOLD

10. SWANSEA WEST
The 2011 Assembly election showed that the Lib Dems' chance has passed here.  Their 2010 candidate - who had a personal vote - is no longer in the party.  LAB HOLD

11. HAMPSTEAD AND KILBURN
Covered above at Tory target 1.  LAB HOLD

Swing required: 1% to 2%

12. HULL NORTH
Hull city council has been a competitive Labour/Lib Dem contest for some years now; after a couple of bad results the local Lib Dems got their act together in last year's local elections and performed well.  This won't be enough to win in the general election, though.  LAB HOLD

13. ROCHDALE
This was a surprising Lib Dem loss in 2010 especially since it immediately followed the Gillian "bigoted woman" Duffy incident, but the Labour MP Simon Danczuk has proven to be extremely populist.  The Lib Dem group on Rochdale council exploded in spectacular fashion after 2010, and they now have no local councillors in the constituency.  This seat is Danczuk's for as long as he wants it.  LAB HOLD

14. HARROGATE AND KNARESBOROUGH
A Tory gain in 2010 after the Lib Dem MP retired.  The Lib Dems have performed poorly in recent local elections.  C HOLD

15. WATFORD
Covered above at Labour target 62.  If the Lib Dems gain only one seat, it's this one.  LD GAIN FROM C

Swing required: 2% to 3%

16. MONTGOMERYSHIRE
Compare with Ceredigion for illustrations of how to win and lose in rural Wales.  The Lib Dems have now lost both the Parliamentary and Assembly seats here over stupid antics by their elected representatives, and Lembit Opik's legacy will make it hard for the Lib Dems to get this seat back.  C HOLD

17. EDINBURGH NORTH AND LEITH
Again, the Edinburgh Lib Dems have it all to do to hold Edinburgh West.  This seat has very different boundaries to the equivalent Holyrood seat, which was close between Labour and the SNP in 2011, as the Westminster seat includes the affluent New Town.  LAB HOLD

18. ST ALBANS
The Tories have moved into a convincing lead on St Albans council and Labour are eating into the Lib Dem vote here.  C HOLD

19. NEWPORT EAST
The Lib Dems lost their deposit here in the Assembly election.  LAB HOLD

20. DERBY NORTH
Covered above at Conservative target 7.  LAB HOLD

21. WESTON-SUPER-MARE
22. HEREFORD AND SOUTH HEREFORDSHIRE
23. WEST DEVON AND TORRIDGE
24. WINCHESTER
These four seats were all lost by the Lib Dems in 2005 or 2010 and show no sign of going away from the Tory fold.  FOUR C HOLDS

25. NORTHAMPTON NORTH
Covered above at Labour target 40.  LAB GAIN FROM C

LIB DEM DEFENCES

The Lib Dem crash in the polls makes their basic strategy for the campaign clear: fight to hold everything they have and don't care about anything else.  It'll cost them a small fortune in lost deposits, but if the Lib Dems come out on 8th May with about half of their party intact they'll probably be pleased with that result.  Here's a rundown of all 57 seats the Lib Dems are defending.

Swing required: less than 1%

1. SOLIHULL
Conservative target 3: C GAIN FROM LD

2. MID DORSET AND NORTH POOLE
Conservative taget 5: C GAIN FROM LD

3. NORWICH SOUTH
Labour target 6: LAB GAIN FROM LD

4. BRADFORD EAST
Labour target 10: LAB GAIN FROM LD

5. WELLS
Conservative target 8: C GAIN FROM LD

Swing required: 1% to 2%

6. ST AUSTELL AND NEWQUAY
Conservative target 14: C GAIN FROM LD

7. BRENT CENTRAL
Labour target 23: LAB GAIN FROM LD

8. SOMERTON AND FROME
Conservative target 15: C GAIN FROM LD

9. SUTTON AND CHEAM
Conservative target 17: LD HOLD

10. ST IVES
Conservative target 22: LD HOLD

Swing required: 2% to 3%

11. MANCHESTER WITHINGTON
Labour target 32: LAB GAIN FROM LD

12. BURNLEY
Labour target 33: LAB GAIN FROM LD

13. EAST DUNBARTONSHIRE
Labour target 36: SNP GAIN FROM LD

14. CHIPPENHAM
The Lib Dems led here in the 2013 local elections, although two Ashcroft polls had the Tories well ahead.  Duncan Hames has first-time incumbency.  C GAIN FROM LD

Swing required: 3% to 4%

15. CHEADLE
Two Ashcroft polls have shown the Lib Dems leading and the Lib Dems carried here in the last local elections.  LD HOLD

16. NORTH CORNWALL
This was very strongly Lib Dem in the 2013 Cornwall council elections, but three Ashcroft polls have shown close races, the last one with a two-point Lib Dem lead.  LD HOLD

17. EASTBOURNE
The Lib Dems seem to have dug in here and carried the seat in the 2013 county elections.  LD HOLD

18. TAUNTON DEANE
Jeremy Browne is retiring and the Conservatives are now the largest party on the local council.  C GAIN FROM LD

19. BERWICK-UPON-TWEED
The longest-serving Lib Dem MP Sir Alan Beith is retiring after forty-two years as MP for Berwick.  The Conservatives were three points ahead in an Ashcroft poll in September 2014, and Beith's personal vote will be difficult to replace.  On the other hand, this seat has a very long history of liberalism.  LD HOLD

20. EASTLEIGH
If the Lib Dems were going to lose this, they would have lost it in the by-election after Chris Huhne's disgrace.  LD HOLD

21. BIRMINGHAM YARDLEY
Covered above at Labour target 55.  LD HOLD

22. ARGYLL AND BUTE
Covered above at Labour target 65.  SNP GAIN FROM LD

Swing required: 4% to 5%

23. ABERDEENSHIRE WEST AND KINCARDINE
One of the more unpredictable marginals in this election.  This was a Lib Dem/Tory fight in 2010, but an Ashcroft poll in February showed a big lead for the SNP.  SNP GAIN FROM LD

24. EDINBURGH WEST
Covered above at Labour target 61.  SNP GAIN FROM LD

25. TORBAY
The Tories are defending the council and the elected mayoralty this year, and seem to have developed a knack for getting re-elected to both; however, Ashcroft had the Lib Dems four points ahead in March, and Adrian Sanders is standing again.  LD HOLD

26. CHELTENHAM
The Lib Dem vote has held up well in Cheltenham.  LD HOLD

27. BRECON AND RADNORSHIRE
Roger Williams is standing for a fourth term and Ashcroft shows him ahead.  LD HOLD

Swing required: 5% to 6%

28. NORTH DEVON
Strange things could happen here.  Sir Nick Harvey is standing for a sixth term in office, but he is trailing in Ashcroft polling and local election results are not promising.  C GAIN FROM LD

29. CARSHALTON AND WALLINGTON
The Lib Dems are doing well in Sutton and will hold this seat easily.  LD HOLD

30. BERWICKSHIRE, ROXBURGH AND SELKIRK
Polling has this seat as a three-way marginal between the Lib Dems, Tories and SNP.  The Lib Dems' Michael Moore has a high profile as a former Scottish secretary; the Tory candidate is the MSP for Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire who won that seat convincingly in 2011; Ashcroft polling shows the three parties all within two points of each other.  On the basis of the Holyrood result I predict C GAIN FROM LD.

Swing required: 6% to 7%

31. REDCAR
Covered above at Labour target 92.  LAB GAIN FROM LD

32. HORNSEY AND WOOD GREEN
Covered above at Labour target 94.  LAB GAIN FROM LD

33. PORTSMOUTH SOUTH
The, ahem, colourful Mike Hancock is standing for re-election as an independent after being effectively deselected by the Lib Dems.  The Lib Dems carried this seat in the 2014 city council elections but polled just 27% of the vote; on the other hand, they didn't stand in Fratton ward to allow Hancock to seek re-election as an independent.  He lost, embarrassingly badly; but his presence on the ballot paper this time is likely to split the Lib Dem vote.  C GAIN FROM LD

34. CARDIFF CENTRAL
Covered above at Labour target 98.  LAB GAIN FROM LD

35. KINGSTON AND SURBITON
The seat of Ed Davey, the Energy secretary.  The Tories narrowly carried this seat in the 2014 local elections, but Davey's high profile should see him re-elected.  LD HOLD

36. CAMBRIDGE
Covered above at Labour target 109.  LD HOLD

37. SOUTHPORT
The Lib Dems carry this seat at local elections but their share of the vote is dropping.  On the other hand, the Sefton Tories are too busy fighting each other to fight the Lib Dems.  LD HOLD

38. GORDON
Covered above at Labour target 112.  SNP GAIN FROM LD

Swing required: 7% to 8%

39. THORNBURY AND YATE
The Lib Dems impressively led here in the 2011 local elections.  Steve Webb has been an impressive junior minister at the DWP and looks set to increase his majority.  LD HOLD

40. COLCHESTER
Bob Russell has increased his majority at every election since 1997 and will win again.  LD HOLD

41. HAZEL GROVE
This could be more difficult for the Lib Dems to hold as Sir Andrew Stunnell is retiring, but the party are still ahead in local and Ashcroft polling.  LD HOLD

42. LEWES
Norman Baker shouldn't have much trouble being re-elected.  LD HOLD

Swing required: 8% to 9%

43. CAITHNESS, SUTHERLAND AND EASTER ROSS
The Highlands are difficult to poll, difficult to canvass and even more difficult to predict.  The SNP won the corresponding Holyrood seat very convincingly in 2011; although Viscount Thurso is running for re-election, it seems a lost cause.  SNP GAIN FROM LD

Swing required: 9% to 10%

44. INVERNESS, NAIRN, BADENOCH AND STRATHSPEY
The seat of Danny Alexander, Chief Secretary to the Treasury and one of the Lib Dems' most high-profile Cabinet ministers.  Despite this, an Ashcroft poll in January had him twenty-nine points behind the SNP.  SNP GAIN FROM LD

45. BERMONDSEY AND OLD SOUTHWARK
For decades the conventional wisdom has been that Simon Hughes has this seat for as long as he wants; but Labour were six points ahead of the Lib Dems in the 2014 Southwark council elections.  Hughes may well hold on with his personal vote, but it'll be mighty close.  LD HOLD

Swing required: more than 10%

46. TWICKENHAM
Vince Cable is in a similar position to Hughes, the Lib Dems in Twickenham finding themselves six points behind the Tories in last year's Richmond borough elections.  Again, Cable is likely to surive on his personal vote.  LD HOLD

47. BRISTOL WEST
Stephen Williams (who your columnist once quizzed with) is under threat on two flanks: from Labour and the Green Party, who topped the poll in the borough elections last year.  This is likely to be decided on a freak vote split.  LD HOLD

48. LEEDS NORTH WEST
This is the seat which contains most of Leeds' university students.  The Lib Dems still carry this area in Leeds city council elections.  LD HOLD

49. CEREDIGION
The Lib Dems can win seats in rural Wales if they pick a candidate who doesn't act like an idiot.  LD HOLD

50. NORTH EAST FIFE
Sir Menzies Campbell is retiring, and the SNP hold this seat at Holyrood.  SNP GAIN FROM LD

51. YEOVIL
David Laws shouldn't have any trouble being re-elected on the basis of the most recent local elections.  LD HOLD

52. NORTH NORFOLK
Norman Lamb has this seat for as long as he wants it.  LD HOLD

53. WESTMORLAND AND LONSDALE
In 2000 Labour had the majority of councillors in Kendal.  In 2010 Labour lost their deposit here, badly.  Tim Farron has a safe seat and may become Lib Dem leader after the election.  LD HOLD

54. BATH
Don Foster is standing down, but his majority is large enough to pass the seat on.  LD HOLD

55. SHEFFIELD HALLAM
Nick Clegg, on the other hand, has an immense battle for re-election.  The Lib Dems had a big lead here in the last Sheffield city council election, but Clegg's personal vote has essentially evaporated and two Ashcroft polls have shown him behind Labour.  Bearing in mind that Labour have never won here and the seat really doesn't have enough "natural" Labour territory for the party to win, I'm calling this for Clegg: but it'll be close.  LD HOLD

56. ROSS, SKYE AND LOCHABER
It looks like the SNP surge is about to carry away Charles Kennedy.  SNP GAIN FROM LD

57. ORKNEY AND SHETLAND
The only two constituencies the Lib Dems carried in the 2011 Holyrood elections.  If the SNP win all but one of the seats in Scotland, this will be the one that got away.  LD HOLD

SCOTLAND

It's worth remembering that in the 2010 election not a single seat changed hands in Scotland: 59 seats, 59 holds.  Reasons given for this have basically boiled down to Labour outperforming, a combination of a favourite-son effect for Gordon Brown (remember him?) and concern within Scotland at the prospect of a Tory-led government.

That lack of change, when seen in the context of what was happening in Holyrood, was a surprise.  The ruling Labour/Lib Dem coalition had lost control of the Scottish Parliament in 2007, with Labour narrowly falling to second place behind Alex Salmond's SNP.  Salmond had become First Minister and led a minority government with Conservative support.  Without a majority at Holyrood, the SNP administration had to concentrate on running Scotland instead.

But it was really the 2011 election to Holyrood that really saw the wheels start to come off for Scottish Labour, whose campaign focused on the coalition in London rather than the administration in Holyrood.  The SNP gained 16 seats from Labour, including many of Scottish Labour's key figures who lost their seats; their then leader Iain Gray was only just re-elected in East Lothian.  The SNP rise was mirrored by a fall in the vote for the Liberal Democrats, who lost all their constituencies on the mainland.  Iain Gray resigned as leader of Scottish Labour, and the party have had trouble filling that role since.

With a secure majority at Holyrood, the SNP were able to have a shot at delivering their signature policy: independence for Scotland.  The Holyrood and Westminster governments agreed that a referendum would be held on 18th September 2014, and that the franchise for the referendum would be extended to 16-year-olds.

In terms of democracy, the referendum was a huge success: the turnout was 85%, enormous by British standards, with 44.7% voting in favour of independence and 55.3% against.  The 44.7% Yes vote was eerily similar to the 44.0% polled by the SNP in the 2011 Holyrood election.

Since the referendum, support for the SNP under their new leader Nicola Sturgeon has surged to what opinion polls suggest are landslide levels.  Compared with 2010, this seems like a shock: but when you consider that the SNP had an eighteen-point lead in the 2011 Holyrood election, it becomes clearer that Westminster voting intention is converging with that at Holyrood.  So, let's have a look at the 2011 Holyrood results and the detail of the referendum to see what this can tell us.

In the constituency ballot of the 2011 Holyrood poll (which is probably the better indicator for a Westminster election) the SNP won 53 out of 73 constituencies.  The Lib Dems won two: Orkney and Shetland.  The Tories won three: Ayr; Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire; and Galloway and Upper Nithsdale.  The other fifteen went to Labour: Coatbridge and Chryston; Cowdenbeath; Dumbarton; Dumfriesshire; East Lothian; Eastwood; Edinburgh Northern and Leith; Glasgow Maryhill and Springburn; Glasgow Pollok; Glasgow Provan; Greenock and Inverclyde; Motherwell and Wishaw; Renfrewshire South; Rutherglen; and Uddingston and Bellshill.  It should be noted that the Westminster and Holyrood constituency boundaries are different.  In by-elections since 2011 Labour have gained Dunfermline from the SNP and held Cowdenbeath.

However, the detail of the referendum results is rather more worrying for Labour considering that, firstly, the referendum is the most recent major electoral event to happen in Scotland; and, secondly, in Strathclyde (where most of Labour's Holyrood seats are) there is a positive correlation between the Catholic population and the Yes vote.  Since Labour did very well among Catholics in Strathclyde in 2010, that suggests even worse is in store for Labour.

For the purposes of this prediction, it would be easier to say which seats are not going SNP.  In the targets list above I have called the Lib Dems to hold Orkney and Shetland but nowhere else in Scotland; the Tories to hold Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale, and gain Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk; and Labour to hold Edinburgh South, and Edinburgh North and Leith.

I also predict the following other seats for Labour:
- Dunfermline and West Fife, because of the by-election win;
- Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath, because of Gordon Brown's large majority in 2010 and the Labour by-election hold in Cowdenbeath.

And that's it.  Four Labour seats in Scotland, 37 losses to the SNP.

NORTHERN IRELAND

From Holyrood to Holywood; from an election of extreme change to an election of very little change.  Northern Irish elections are essentially sectarian headcounts and there is no sign from the 2011 Stormont election or the 2014 council elections that this has changed.  Of the province's eighteen seats, two are worth considering here.

BELFAST EAST: The biggest shock result of 2010, as the First Minister of Northern Ireland, Peter Robinson, lost his seat over a scandal involving his wife sleeping with a younger man.  Not a good idea if you're called Mrs Robinson.  The beneficiary was the non-sectarian Alliance Party of Northern Ireland, which has since antagonised a lot of its Unionist support in a row over flying flags over Belfast city hall.  The DUP led easily here in 2011 and 2014 and their new candidate Gavin Robinson - no relation - should take this seat back with UUP support.  DUP GAIN FROM APNI

FERMANAGH AND SOUTH TYRONE: Mentioned here because it was the closest result of the 2010 general election, with the Sinn Féiner Michelle Gildernew defeating the unity Unionist candidate Rodney Connor by 21304 votes to 21300, a majority of four.  Connor challenged the result in the election court, alleging irregularities in the count, but lost there as well.  There is again a single Unionist candidate in the shape of Tom Elliott, former leader of the Ulster Unionist Party and MLA for the constituency, who fought this seat in 2005.  Another close finish can be expected, but Gildernew will probably come out ahead again.  SF HOLD

OTHER SEATS WORTH MENTIONING

BOLTON SOUTH EAST: Your columnist is voting here for the first time.  UKIP are leafleting my area hard.  The Tory candidate is a Bolton councillor from South Turton who was in trouble recently for failing to pay his council tax; I would expect UKIP to beat him for the runner-up spot.  Yasmin Qureshi is rather invisible in the seat, but shouldn't have any trouble holding on.  LAB HOLD

BRADFORD WEST: Gained from Labour by George Galloway in a sensational by-election in early 2012.  After that by-election five Respect supporters of Galloway were elected to Bradford city council in 2012; they quickly fell out with Galloway and left the party, but four of them have recently rejoined.  The notorious "biraderi" nature of Bradford politics means there's probably been a deal done somewhere, and the fact that Labour didn't select a candidate for this seat until March doesn't inspire confidence that they can get the seat back.  RESPECT CONFIRM BY-ELECTION GAIN FROM LAB

CLACTON: The size of Douglas Carswell's majority in last autumn's by-election brooks no argument.  UKIP CONFIRM BY-ELECTION GAIN FROM C

HOUGHTON AND SUNDERLAND SOUTH: Likely to be the first seat to declare.  While it's a safe Labour seat, UKIP poll well in Sunderland so this seat might be a good early indicator of how well the Kippers are performing.  LAB HOLD

ROCHESTER AND STROOD: Unlike Clacton, Reckless' majority in the by-election was not large enough to ensure his re-election.  C REGAIN FROM UKIP

THANET SOUTH: Let's save the best till last, shall we?  This is shaping up to be a very close three-way race between the defending Conservatives, Labour and UKIP's Nigel Farage.  The Tory MP Laura Sandys is standing down after one term.  Thanet council in the 2011-2015 term has been an entertaining mess: the Tories were (by one seat) the largest party after the 2011 election but a series of defections and by-election losses has given Labour minority control.  UKIP did well here in the 2013 Kent county election and Nigel Farage (who fought the seat in 2005) has had his eye on it for a while; however, recent noises coming out of the UKIP camp are not too encouraging, and the Tories will have annoyed Farage by selecting the former UKIP deputy leader Craig Mackinlay.  Ashcroft polling has consistently shown a very tight three-way race and there are all the ingredients here for a freak vote split.  This will be close, but: C HOLD.

CONSEQUENCES

Let's add all this together.  The above predictions give the following net changes on 2010: Conservatives down 44, Labour up 21, Lib Dems down 26, DUP up 1, SNP up 46, APNI down 1, UKIP up 2, Respect up 1, and the following House of Commons in the 2015 Parliament:

Labour 279
Conservative 263 (including the Speaker)
Scottish National Party 52
Liberal Democrat 31
Democratic Unionist Party 9
Sinn Féin 5
Plaid Cymru 3
Social Democratic and Labour Party 3
UK Independence Party 2
Green Party 1
Independent (Lady Hermon) 1
Respect 1

With Sinn Féin not taking their seats, 323 seats are needed for an effective majority.  The Conservative/Lib Dem coalition, with 294 seats, is defeated.  With no prospect of getting any other party on board to form a majority, Cameron will resign and Miliband will form a government.  This will have to involve the support of the Scottish National Party, and the cost for this will be the cancellation of Trident.  If you are unlucky enough to live in Barrow-in-Furness, get out now while you still can.

I hope and expect that my readers (hello Sid, hello Doris) will find something here that they can disagree with.  In the meantime, enjoy the rest of the campaign and the election night, aThe Electoral Reform Society complained this week that they can immediately call the winner on 7th May in 364 of the UK's 650 constituencies.  While I share their opinion that this is a deplorable state of affairs, 364 is in fact a very low figure compared with the other three general elections which have taken place in the twenty-first century.