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...


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%

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

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

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

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

A Lib Dem seat since 1997.  Annette Brooke is standing down and this should be a C GAIN FROM LD.

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

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

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

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%

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

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


Easy LAB HOLD for the long-serving David Winnick.

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

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

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

Unusually, the Sutton Tories are going backwards at council level.  LD HOLD

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

Easy LAB HOLD; UKIP are a factor here but their vote peaked some time ago.

Easy LAB HOLD for Tom Blenkinsopp who will have first-time incumbency.

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

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


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.


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%

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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

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

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%

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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

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

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%

Labour have done well in Hastings at local level.  LAB GAIN FROM C

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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%

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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%

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

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

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

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.

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

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

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.

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

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

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

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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%

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

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

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Held by the Tories in the Assembly fairly easily.  C HOLD

Brigg and the areas around it are strongly Tory and will outvote Goole.  C HOLD

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%

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

The Medway council results in 2011 weren't promising for Labour.  C HOLD

Swing required: 7% to 8%

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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%

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Covered above at Tory target 1.  LAB HOLD

Swing required: 1% to 2%

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

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

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

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%

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

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

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

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

Covered above at Conservative target 7.  LAB HOLD

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

Covered above at Labour target 40.  LAB GAIN FROM C


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%

Conservative target 3: C GAIN FROM LD

Conservative taget 5: C GAIN FROM LD

Labour target 6: LAB GAIN FROM LD

Labour target 10: LAB GAIN FROM LD

Conservative target 8: C GAIN FROM LD

Swing required: 1% to 2%

Conservative target 14: C GAIN FROM LD

Labour target 23: LAB GAIN FROM LD

Conservative target 15: C GAIN FROM LD

Conservative target 17: LD HOLD

Conservative target 22: LD HOLD

Swing required: 2% to 3%

Labour target 32: LAB GAIN FROM LD

Labour target 33: LAB GAIN FROM LD

Labour target 36: SNP GAIN FROM LD

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%

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

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

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

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

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

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

Covered above at Labour target 55.  LD HOLD

Covered above at Labour target 65.  SNP GAIN FROM LD

Swing required: 4% to 5%

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

Covered above at Labour target 61.  SNP GAIN FROM LD

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

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

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

Swing required: 5% to 6%

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

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

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%

Covered above at Labour target 92.  LAB GAIN FROM LD

Covered above at Labour target 94.  LAB GAIN FROM LD

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

Covered above at Labour target 98.  LAB GAIN FROM LD

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

Covered above at Labour target 109.  LD HOLD

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

Covered above at Labour target 112.  SNP GAIN FROM LD

Swing required: 7% to 8%

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

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

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

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

Swing required: 8% to 9%

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%

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

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%

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It looks like the SNP surge is about to carry away Charles Kennedy.  SNP GAIN FROM LD

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


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.


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


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.


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.

Monday, 20 April 2015

By-election Preview: 16 April 2015

One by-election on 16th April 2015:

Cumbria county council
Caused by the resignation of Labour councillor Mandy Telford.  Your columnist vaguely remembers that Telford was Labour head of the NUS at the time he was trying to study; since then she has married John Woodcock, the Labour MP for Barrow and Furness, and had two daughters by him.  Telford's resignation comes as her marriage has broken down and she is returning to her native Scotland.

Delhi Street, Vickerstown
Lancashire over the water here; and very much over the water, as we are on the low-lying Walney Island, the largest English island in the Irish Sea and the eighth largest island in the UK.  The Walney South ward covers everything on the island to the south of the Jubilee Bridge and Central Drive: it includes the settlements of Vickerstown and Tummer Hill, which are essentially extensions of urban Barrow-in-Furness, together with the small farming village of Biggar, while the southern end of the island is a nature reserve used as a stop by a large number of migrating seabirds.  Off the wide sandy beaches on the west coast can be seen a number of offshore windfarms, all built in the last ten years, while across the muddy east coast is Barrow Island, still dominated by Barrow's shipyards.  Although Walney is in much the same place as the fictional Island of Sodor, Thomas and his friends don't come here in real life; the island has never had a railway connection.

We are, of course, only three weeks away from polling in a general election which looks likely to result in a change of government.  Thanks to the action (or inaction, depending on how you view it) of the Lib Dems in the current government, the next government will have to make a decision about the renewal of the UK's Trident nuclear deterrent.  The current Forces plans are to build a new class of nuclear-equipped submarines in Barrow, starting in late 2016; and BAE Systems, current owner of the shipyard, has major expansion plans based on that programme.  However, this could yet be derailed by politics: the collapse of Labour support in Scotland means that after the election Labour may have to form a government relying on the support of the Scottish National Party, who are implacably opposed to Trident renewal.  It's hard to see how a positive decision for Barrow could come out of such a government.  The importance of the shipyards to Walney's economy is encoded in the name of one of the main settlements in the Walney South ward: Vickerstown, a planned village built at the turn of the twentieth century for workers at what was then the Vickers shipyard.  Barrow is already a seriously deprived working-class town; take the shipbuilding out and you're left with half-baked plans to build a cruise ship terminal (for liners to call at the Lake District) or a bridge or causeway across Morecambe Bay to improve connections with the town, which thanks to its location on the end of a peninsula is a very long journey from anywhere.

So much for the politics: now, what about the elections?  Both Cumbria county council and Barrow-in-Furness borough council have been redistricted in the last seven years, but in both cases the boundaries on Walney Island were left unchanged; since the Walney South county division has the same boundaries as the Walney South borough council ward, this means we have a good record of the area's electoral twists (at least up to 2011 when Barrow moved away from election by thirds).  Walney South was safe Labour until 2002, but turned into a a Labour/Tory marginal in 2003.  In 2006 the Tories got ahead of Labour for the first time, and by the end of that electoral cycle in 2009 they held all four of Walney South's elected offices and Labour were in some disarray.  The general election in 2010 and the formation of the Coalition changed all that, and this is now a very safe Labour area.  Telford completed the Tory rout by gaining the county council seat from the Conservatives in 2013: she polled 61% to 21% for the outgoing Tory county councillor and 18% for UKIP.

Those same three parties are contesting this final by-election before the general and local elections on 7th May.  The defending Labour candidate is Frank Cassidy, a Barrow borough councillor for the division; he is opposed by the Tories' Greg Peers and UKIP's Graham Pritchard, who appears to be the only candidate to live on the island.

Parliamentary constituency: Barrow and Furness
Barrow-in-Furness borough council ward: Walney South
ONS Travel to Work Area: Barrow-in-Furness

Frank Cassidy (Lab)
Greg Peers (C)
Graham Pritchard (UKIP)

May 2013 result Lab 705 C 242 UKIP 201
May 2011 borough council result Lab 966/914/856 C 583/422/411
May 2010 borough council result Lab 1819 C 959
June 2009 result C 598 Lab 363 People's Party (Furness) 210 LD 143
May 2008 borough council result C 637/594/592 Lab 528/525/506
May 2007 borough council result C 599 Lab 525
May 2006 borough council double vacancy C 641/565 Lab 394/389 Ind 223
May 2005 result Lab 1211 C 786 Ind 315 Ind 103
June 2004 borough council result Lab 810 C 658 Ind 295
May 2003 borough council result Lab 523 C 478
May 2002 borough council result Lab 746 C 466

Thursday, 2 April 2015

By-election Preview: 1 April 2015

The General Election is imminent: Parliament is dissolved, the televised debates are under way, and for most of the country the political parties have bigger fish to fry this April than local by-elections.  Nonetheless, three contests have been scheduled for April, the first two of which are this week: both slightly unusual in that one is a Wednesday poll, while the other falls on Maundy Thursday - it's only a few years since electoral law prohibited polling on the Thursday before Easter.  The Thursday poll is in Gwynedd and will be covered on Welsh Elections, while on Wednesday a trip to the very southern edge of London awaits us.

As there aren't many by-elections this month, your columnist intends to fill the gap by turning his gaze to the national picture, and putting together a prediction for the general election which you can all laugh at.  Stay tuned.

By-election on 1st April 2015:

Tandridge council, Surrey
Caused by the disqualification of Conservative councillor Tom Dempsey, who failed to attend any meetings of the council in six months.

Godstone Road, Whyteleafe
Nestled in a dry valley in the North Downs, Whyteleafe is named after the aspen trees that used to grow in White Leaf Field here: the olde-worlde spelling is a gimmick seized on by property developers following the coming of the railway in the second half of the nineteenth century.  Development of housing here proved to be so lucrative that there are now three railway stations in the ward on two separate lines (Whyteleafe and Whyteleafe South on the Caterham branch, and Upper Warlingham on the Oxted branch).  Despite the presence of Upper Warlingham in Travelcard Zone 6, Whyteleafe lies just outside the Greater London boundary; another slightly unexpected feature of the village is that the main employer here is the head office of Ann Summers.  Ahem.

Over the last five years the ward's political representation has turned fifty shades of blue, as the Conservatives gained what was before May 2010 a safe Lib Dem ward - the May 2010 Tory gain came just three months after the Lib Dems had easily held the ward in a by-election.  At the most recent election the Tories (43%) made the ward safe, with the Lib Dem vote falling away to 27% and UKIP polling 20%.  The Tories also hold the local county council seat (Caterham Valley) which at the most recent county election in 2013 had very similar shares of the vote.

Defending for the Conservatives is Peter Sweeney.  He is opposed by David Lee, the winner of the February 2010 by-election, who lost his seat to the Tories in 2012 and has been trying to get it back ever since.  UKIP have selected Martin Ferguson, a bus driver.  Labour aren't bothering this time, so these are your three candidates.

Parliamentary constituency: East Surrey
Surrey county council division: Caterham Valley
ONS Travel to Work Area: London

Martin Ferugson (UKIP)
David Lee (LD)
Peter Sweeney (C)

May 2014 result C 470 LD 300 UKIP 216 Lab 116
May 2012 result C 457 LD 376 UKIP 115
May 2010 result C 922 LD 771 Lab 136
Feb 2010 by-election LD 444 C 236 UKIP 99
May 2008 result LD 526 C 407 Lab 45
May 2006 result LD 547 C 364
June 2004 result LD 627 C 343
May 2002 result LD 531 C 354 Lab 55

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

By-election Previews: 5 March 2015

Four by-elections will take place on 5th March, including the first three London local by-elections of the new year.  However, before reaching the Smoke we start in a Essex with a fascinating three-way marginal.

Essex county council
Caused by the death of UKIP councillor Gordon Helm at the age of 75.  A county councillor since 2013, Helm was also UKIP's PPC for Braintree in the forthcoming general election.

"If the curious enquirer will take pick and shovel he will find at any rate one corresponding dualism below the surface. He will find a Bocking water main supplying the houses on the north side and a Braintree water main supplying the south. I rather suspect that the drains are also in duplicate. The total population of Bocking and Braintree is probably little more than thirteen thousand souls altogether, but for that there are two water supplies, two sets of schools, two administrations. To the passing observer the rurality of the Bocking side is indistinguishable from the urbanity of the Braintree side; it is just a little muddier."

That was H G Wells, writing ninety-nine years ago at the height of the Great War about the differences between Braintree and Bocking, and using them to illustrate the difficulty in establishing world peace through a single world state.  Much of Wells' complaints are now dated: Bocking is now an urban suburb of Braintree; Braintree and Bocking were combined under a single council in 1974; the population of the combined town has more than trebled in the intervening century; and the establishment of the European Union, while not going as far as the World State of Wells' imagination, has done much to ensure seventy years of peace in western Europe.  Seen in that context, it becomes ironic that Bocking - that northern suburb divided from Braintree by a Roman road - elected a UKIP county councillor in 2013.

One of the joys of writing this column is finding unintended ironies like that, but of course what may seem ironic in one context could make perfect sense when viewed from another angle.  Like Braintree, Bocking's traditional industry is textiles, specifically silk: the major local employer was Courtaulds, whose founding family were from the area and made many donations to the town, such as Braintree town hall.

Bocking's industrial legacy has left a large Labour vote: Labour had a majority of the division's district councillors until 2003 and still hold three seats out of seven.  At the last district council elections in 2011, of the three wards covering the division Bocking Blackwater was safe Tory, Bocking North (despite a small rural area) was safe Labour and Bocking South was a key marginal: with Blackwater ward being larger than the other two that would normally translate to the county division being a Tory-inclined key marginal.  It hasn't quite worked out like that: Labour narrowly held the division in 2005 thanks to the simultaneous general election; the Tories turned Bocking into a safe division for them in 2009 as the Labour vote reached its nadir; and in 2013 UKIP executed a perfect come-through-the-middle move to beat the Tories by 20 votes and Labour by 114; the shares of the vote (UKIP 33% C 32% Lab 30%) show what a close three-way marginal result this was.  With the local Tory MP having got himself into a sex scandal and speculation that UKIP could have a serious tilt at the Braintree constituency, this will definitely be one to watch ahead of the forthcoming general election.

This is the second local by-election in Essex this year, and the first one saw UKIP lose a seat to Labour in a working-class part of Harlow.  Hoping that doesn't happen this time is UKIP's Michael Ford, who fought Braintree at the last general election.  The Tory candidate is Stephen Canning; in his early twenties, he is a district councillor for Bocking Blackwater ward and a deputy chairman of Conservative Future, and had a cameo role in Made in Chelsea shortly after his election.  Lynn Watson, the last Labour county councillor for Bocking who lost her seat to the Conservatives in 2009, will make a second attempt to get back onto the county council.  Also standing are John Malam of the Green Party and independent candidate Peter Sale.

Parliamentary constituency: Braintree
Braintree council wards: Bocking Blackwater, Bocking North, Bocking South
ONS Travel to Work Area: Chelmsford and Braintree
Postcode district: CM7

Stephen Canning (C)
Michael Ford (UKIP)
John Malam (Grn)
Peter Sale (Ind)
Lynn Watson (Lab)

May 2013 result UKIP 1340 C 1320 Lab 1226 Grn 126 LD 91
June 2009 result C 1814 Lab 997 UKIP 859 LD 572 BNP 318 Grn 299
May 2005 result Lab 3231 C 3010 LD 1362 Grn 449

London borough of Brent
Caused by the death of Conservative councillor Bhiku Patel at the age of 70, while on holiday in India.  He had served Kenton ward since 2010

Northwick Avenue, Kenton
For the first of this week's three London by-elections we travel to Metroland, that quadrant of north-west London which filled up with housing between the wars at the instigation of the Metropolitan Railway.  Over the last few decades this area has seen enormous demographic change, with 44% of the population at the last census having been born outside the UK.  This influx is overwhelmingly from India: 58% of the population is of Asian ethnicity and 36% are Hindu, which makes Kenton one of the top ten Hindu wards in England.  The ward forms a roughly triangular shape to the south of the Kenton Road, with Kenton underground station (Bakerloo and London Overground) at the western corner, Kingsbury station (Jubilee) at the eastern corner and Preston Road (Metropolitan) just off the southern corner.  This is generally a well-off, upwardly-mobile area.

The ward is normally safe Tory at council level, but forms part of the safe Labour constituency of Brent North; Labour came close here in the 2010 borough elections, which coincided with the last general election, and in a February 2011 by-election.  In the 2014 borough elections the Tories polled 51%, to 32% for Labour and 10% for the Green Party; it would seem that the Tories have benefited from the collapse of the Lib Dem vote here.  In 2012 Boris beat Ken here 57-33 but the GLA London member ballot was closer, with 45% for the Conservatives and 38% for Labour.

The Tories have suffered a split on Brent council since the 2014 election, with their Brondesbury Park ward councillors walking off to form a separate group.  However, there is a single Tory candidate for the by-election: Michael Maurice, chairman of the Brent North branch of the party.  The Labour candidate is Vincent Lo, who has worked for a variety of City financial firms and recently went for the Labour parliamentary selection in Holborn and St Pancras; during the campaign he has had to apologise for defamatory leaflets about the Tory candidate.  Also on the ballot paper are Michaela Lichten of the Green Party, who appears to be the only candidate to live in the ward, and former Brent borough councillor Bob Wharton for the Lib Dems.

Parliamentary constituency: Brent North
GLA constituency: Brent and Harrow
ONS Travel to Work Area: London
Postcode districts: HA3, NW9

Michaela Lichten (Grn)
Vincent Lo (Lab)
Michael Maurice (C)
Bob Wharton (LD)

May 2014 result C 1798/1796/1669 Lab 1139/1040/946 Grn 348 LD 221/153/125
Feb 2011 by-election C 1063 Lab 907 Ind 185 LD 179 Grn 75
May 2010 result C 2805/2667/2333 Lab 2218/1832/1799 LD 1013/782/630 Grn 287/265/230
May 2006 result C 1944/1891/1828 Lab 1043/976/779 LD 526/483/369 Grn 276
May 2002 result C 1712/1668/1660 Lab 1042/946/850 LD 276/269/214

2012 GLA results (excludes postal voters)
Mayor: Boris 1636 Ken 946 Ind 92 LD 85 Grn 76 UKIP 27 BNP 12
London member: C 1288 Lab 1082 Grn 143 LD 120 UKIP 98 CPA 45 Alagaratnam 27 BNP 21 EDP 15 TUSC 12 Hayat 7 NF 6 House Party 6

London borough of Camden
Caused by the death of Labour councillor Peter Brayshaw at the age of 67.  Brayshaw had served several terms on Camden council, first being elected in Bloomsbury ward in 1990, then returning to the council by winning a by-election in 2000.  He lost his seat to the Tories in 2006 but returned for St Pancras and Somers Town ward in 2010.  Away from the council he was known as anti-apartheid campaigner and a member of the Local Authority Pension Fund forum.

"It went the half hour as I came through the Polygon"
- Charles Dickens, "The Pickwick Papers"

Entering St Pancras Station
Journey down to London by Overground train from Kenton, or by express train from the north or the Continent, and this is where you will end up: the marvellously-refurbished St Pancras and Kings Cross railway stations are here, while Euston station is just outside the ward boundary.  The census paints an interesting picture of the ward's population, with a diverse population (25% Asian, 14% Black, 31% born outside the EU, 25% Muslim), a large student population (around 19%) and, most tellingly, 61% of households are socially rented, which is one of the top 20 figures in the country.

Somers Town is one of the oldest parts of London, being named after its eighteenth-century landowner Charles Cocks, 1st Lord Somers.  There has been housing here since the 1780s - Mary Wollstonecraft died here in 1797 - but the area went into a social decline in the 1830s as it became a favoured location for labourers building the railway lines down to the Euston Road, and by the late Victorian era Somers Town was one of London's most notorious slums and a favourite subject of Dickens, who briefly lived here.  Many of the slum dwellings were cleared between the wars to be replaced with social housing by the St Pancras House Improvement Society and the London County Council.  The area was a popular location for hospitals: St Pancras hospital is here while 2015 will see the opening of the Francis Crick Institute, a new biomedical research centre opposite St Pancras station and located next door to the British Library.  On the opposite side of St Pancras Station, the former Kings Cross goods yard - once a notorious red-light district - is being developed into a new business area known as Kings Cross Central, which is important enough to have gained its own postcode district (N1C).

This is, obviously, a safe Labour ward and the main interest is usually who comes second.  This was the Lib Dems in 2002 and 2010, but Respect were runners-up in 2006 and the Green Party took over second place last year.  The lead Green candidate in 2010, greatly outpolling her running-mates, was none other than Natalie Bennett who now leads the party nationally, although if her performance in recent interviews is anything to go by she's probably forgotten about standing here five years ago.  In 2014 Labour polled 68% with the Greens, as stated, being best of the rest on 15%; two years earlier Ken beat Boris here 66-22 with Labour polling 62% in the London Member ballot to 13% for the Tories and 12% for the Greens.

Paul Tomlinson is the defending Labour candidate; he is described as having lived in the ward for many years and having links with his local tenants association.  He is opposed by Tina Swasey for the Green Party, Shahin Ahmed for the Tories and Zack Polanski for the Lib Dems.

Parliamentary constituency: Holborn and St Pancras
GLA constituency: Barnet and Camden
ONS Travel to Work Area: London
Postcode districts: N1C, NW1

Shahin Ahmed (C)
Zack Polanski (LD)
Tina Swasey (Grn)
Paul Tomlinson (Lab)

May 2014 result Lab 2511/2488/2423 Grn 562/526/440 C 368/351/295 LD 245/192/178
May 2010 result Lab 2744/2650/2614 LD 1024/1011/927 Grn 738/467/422 C 721/701/688
May 2006 result Lab 1399/1264/1212 Respect 781 Grn 517/369/213 C 440/429/422 LD 433/332/317 Ind 181
May 2002 result Lab 960/902/865 LD 379/353/349 C 263/259/249 Grn 219/124/116 Socialist Alliance 211

May 2012 GLA results (excludes postal voters)
Mayor: Ken 1791 Boris 605 Grn 172 Ind 84 LD 71 UKIP 55 BNP 46
London member: Lab 1770 C 362 Grn 336 LD 99 UKIP 98 BNP 63 TUSC 42 CPA 23 EDP 21 House Party 18 NF 9 Hayat 5 Alagaratnam 0

London borough of Croydon
Caused by the death of Labour councillor Gerry Ryan on his 57th birthday.  A Selhurst councillor since 1998, Ryan had been the Labour candidate for Croydon Central in the 2010 general election; by profession he was a telecommunications engineer and an official with the Communications Workers Union.  He had been fighting cancer for six years.  Recognising his work, the CWU are to establish an annual award in Ryan's name for the union's best recruiter and negotiator.

Holy Saviour Parish Church, Croydon
Another suburban area of South London, Selhurst is located to the north of Croydon.  Like much of London, this is an area which has seen much demographic change since the Second World War.  The largest ethnic group in the ward is now Black; with 35% this is in the top 20 Black wards in England, and the mixed-race population (9%) is in the top 10 wards in England.  The area is mostly residential and centred on Selhurst railway station on the Brighton line, which is adjacent to a large depot which is the main engineering and maintenance centre for Southern Trains.  At the northern corner of the ward is Selhurst Park, home of the Premier League side Crystal Palace FC.

Croydon's wards are almost all safe for one or other of the main parties, and Selhurst is on the Labour side.  At the most recent election in 2014 Labour polled 52% against a fragmented field, with the Tories second on 14% just ahead of a two-man UKIP slate, whose 13% was one of their better results in London.  In the 2012 GLA elections Ken beat Boris here 64-22, while Labour beat the Tories 64-14 in the London Member poll.

Defending for Labour is David Wood, a father-of-two, governor of a local primary school and son of a former Bishop of Croydon.  The Tories have selected Tirena Gunter, who is bidding to become the only Afro-Caribbean Tory councillor in Croydon.  The UKIP candidate is Annette Reid, and also on the ballot paper are Tracey Hague for the Green Party and the Lib Dems' Geoff Morley.

Parliamentary constituency: Croydon North
GLA constituency: Croydon and Sutton
ONS Travel to Work Area: London
Postcode districts: CR0, SE25

Tirena Gunter (C)
Tracey Hague (Grn)
Geoff Morley (LD)
Annette Reid (UKIP)
David Wood (Lab)

May 2014 result Lab 2086/2079/1996 C 546/515/471 UKIP 504/396 Grn 341/269/267 LD 240 Ind 128 TUSC 88 Comm 77
May 2010 result Lab 3355/3353/3324 C 1407/1286/1240 LD 1150 Grn 516/515/515 Comm 93
May 2006 result Lab 1652/1597/1452 C 906/893/861 Grn 588 LD 570
May 2002 result Lab 1685/1641/1535 C 597/558/540 LD 367/335/332

May 2012 GLA results (excludes postal voters)
Mayor: Ken 1826 Boris 632 Ind 108 LD 96 Grn 84 UKIP 68 BNP 45
London member: Lab 1834 C 411 Grn 164 UKIP 136 LD 92 CPA 88 BNP 50 TUSC 29 EDP 20 Hayat 20 Alagaratnam 18 NF 8 House Party 8