In focus: The North West
The Labour Party has a strong foothold in the North West, holding 48 of the region’s 75 seats. However, the region is home to 27 marginals, meaning there could be significant changes for both Labour and the Tories come June 8th. With two significant factors leading to a realignment of party preference among many voters – namely Brexit and the popularity of Theresa May compared to Jeremy Corbyn – Labour faces a serious threat from the Conservatives in many of its traditional heartland seats. Recent YouGov polling has even put the Tories neck and neck with Labour in the region, which would put nearly all of these marginal seats at risk on June 8th.
While mayoral elections in Liverpool City Region and Greater Manchester saw predictable Labour victories, those fancying a flutter on the forthcoming General Election should look to Lancashire County Council as a predictor of voting intention across the wider region.The Tories won 45% of the vote and 46 of the 84 Council seats in the red rose county. A trend we could see replicated at constituency level in June is Conservative gains from Labour by very narrow margins – in Lancashire 11 seats were won by under 200 votes, including Mid-Rossendale (won by only eight votes) and Clitheroe (five).
Lancashire local elections
North West in numbers
Theresa May showed her intent in the region by launching the Conservatives’ General Election campaign in the marginal seat of Bolton North East last month. A Labour seat since 1992, with a majority of 4,000, Bolton North East is a seat the Tories largely ignored in 2015, thinking it almost inconceivable that the Party could win here; but which is now very much a target seat.
With the polls against them, Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party faces the possibility of losing not only marginals in the North West, such as City of Chester, Wirral West and Lancaster & Fleetwood, but seats with larger majorities that have been red for many years, including Bury South and Blackpool South.
The Conservatives are acutely aware of the fact that the North West of England is not the Party’s natural territory and have adjusted their campaign strategy in the region accordingly. At campaign rallies in Bolton and Leeds, Theresa May has spoken in front of signs not displaying the Conservative Party logo, but her own name and the now omnipresent ‘Strong and Stable Leadership’ slogan.
With Mrs May’s personal ratings far outstripping those of her Labour opponent, the Party is clearly trying to frame the choice in the North West as Mrs May versus Mr Corbyn. Creating a ‘presidential’ style campaign narrative favours the Conservatives, regardless of Labour’s policies remaining popular (according to polls and focus groups). Against this background, Labour moderates have been forced to declare their hand in respect of the party leadership, with Labour MP for Barrow, John Woodcock, standing again but declaring that he does not support Corbyn and that the Labour Leader is not fit to be Prime Minister. Having just seen neighbouring Copeland fall to the Tories, Woodcock will be fighting hard to keep his seat in an area where nuclear defence is a crucial issue.
Brexit is also a crucial factor. Just 7 of the 39 voting areas in the North West voted to remain in the European Union, with many Labour areas voting to leave. For the Tories to pick up votes on this basis, they must appeal to core Labour voters, hence the focus on May’s leadership rather than traditional Conservative values. Set in the context of Brexit, with the election seen as a battle for the ‘national interest’, the Conservatives are banking on riding the crest of a wave created by Ms May’s popularity and the impression that she is a safe pair of hands during these turbulent times.
The Conservatives will also be looking to consolidate their vote in some areas where the Party already holds seats, but with only slim majorities, such as Bury North, Weaver Vale and Bolton West, as well as Copeland, which they took from Labour at a by-election earlier this year. While Labour will work hard in these constituencies – James Frith, the Labour candidate in Bury North in 2015 is already talking up his 2017 campaign as ‘unfinished business’ – in reality, these seats offer the Tories the chance to increase their majorities and punish Labour even further.
Finally, on the Liberal Democrats, Brexit has flipped the idea of traditional political allegiance on its head and the possibility of Lib Dem gains in liberal metropolitan and pro-remain areas, such as Manchester Withington, Cheadle and Hazel Grove, cannot be ruled out. The Party will also be looking to defend Southport, where veteran Liberal Democrat MP John Pugh will be standing down. Ultimately, however, the Lib Dems will be a sideshow in the North West, with the main event being the battle between Labour and the Conservatives.
Seats in focus
John Pugh, Lib Dem (standing down)
EU Referendum Result
The Liberal Democrats’ performance in this election is difficult to predict, with the Party historically relying on a strong ground campaign, political disillusion and personal votes to win constituencies. Member of Parliament for Southport since 2001, John Pugh has announced he will not contest this election, making way for new candidate Sue McGuire, Leader of the Liberal Democrat Group on Sefton Council. For the Conservatives, 2015 candidate and Deputy Leader of the Conservative Group on nearby Preston Council, Damien Moore, will contest the seat, making this one of the most interesting fights this election. If the Liberal Democrat so-called ‘fight back’ continues apace, the Party will hold this seat comfortably. However, if Theresa May’s ‘coalition of chaos’ message breaks through, the Liberal Democrats could be in trouble.
Gordon Marsden, Labour
EU Referendum Result
Labour has held the southern half of the seaside town since 1997, although the Conservatives have managed to whittle down Labour’s majority to just 2,585 since. Voting Brexit by over two thirds, UKIP’s almost 6,000 votes in Blackpool South in 2015 could add a significant boost to the Conservatives, should voters decide make the switch. Sitting MP Gordon Marsden’s decision to back the remain campaign could prove fatal come June 9th, with Conservative candidate, cabaret singer Peter Anthony, ready to waltz his way into Parliament.
What to Watch For
|Not traditionally a marginal, a Conservative gain in Worsley and Eccles South, located in the Labour heartland of Salford, would indicate that the Labour Party could lose an alarming number of seats across the region.||A Liberal Democrat victory in either of the 2015 Conservative gains, Hazel Grove or Cheadle, would suggest a healthy revival for the Party nationally.||The vote in Heywood & Middleton, which saw a relatively close second place UKIP candidate in 2015, will illustrate where the UKIP vote lies without a ‘star’ candidate following Brexit.|