The South East in Focus
The South East of England has long been a stronghold for the Conservative Party. In the 2015 election, the Party took no fewer than 78 of the 84 seats up for election and 50.8 per cent of the vote – their highest share of the vote in any region of the UK – so come June 8th, there is little room for significant gains to be made by anyone.
The regions EU referendum result closely resembled the national vote with 51.8 per cent voting to leave. Brexit is therefore expected to be a significant factor influencing voting intentions in the South East.
Home to the constituencies of Eastleigh, Eastbourne, Lewes and Portsmouth South, the region is also a crucial battleground for the Lib Dems’ so-called ‘fight back’, as they campaign to turn the four seats they lost in 2015 yellow once again.
South East in Numbers
There has been relatively little focus on the South East in the election campaign, with all parties seemingly aware that the real battlegrounds are elsewhere as the Conservatives seek to win seats in Labour heartlands, not the other way around.
Consequently the Prime Minister has made very few visits to the region, outside her own constituency. Notably she has travelled to both Lewes and Eastbourne, and her choice of constituencies to visit reflects the Conservatives’ changing priorities in the region since the last election. The Tories now see the Liberal Democrats as the main threat to their control over the South East, with both seats being a prime example of a constituency the Lib Dems are looking to recover. This is a marked difference from 2015 when great resources were thrown into stopping seats such as Thurrock and South Thanet falling to UKIP.
The Conservatives will be emboldened by reported voting intentions in the region. YouGov polls show that UKIP support in the South East has collapsed from 2015 levels, and is now at just 6 per cent compared with the 15 per cent the Party enjoyed in the 2015 election. However, the same polling also found that the Liberal Democrat ‘fight back’ is strongest in the South East, with the Party riding 6 per cent higher than its 2015 vote share.
Local election results also reflect the polls, in particular the scale of UKIP’s collapse. The Party failed to retain a single councillor in the contested seats in the South East, even losing in previous strongholds such as South Thanet. However, the picture for the Liberal Democrats was more mixed, as they only achieved small gains in most counties – and never above double figures.
The picture is a clear one in the South East, where the Conservatives can expect to hold the vast majority of seats. Labour will simply be looking to hold onto the four seats they currently hold, however the chances of this seem slim, particularly in the Leave supporting city of Southampton where Alan Whitehead is defending a majority of less than 4,000 in Southampton Test. In reality, there are no seats in the region the Conservatives don’t have a chance of winning, with perhaps the Green enclave Brighton Pavilion being the only exception in what is otherwise a sea of blue.
UKIP to Conservative swing at the local elections
Seats in focus
Caroline Ansell (Con)
EU Referendum Result
A closely-fought marginal between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats since 1990, and with a majority of only 733, Eastbourne has the potential to be one of the Conservative Party’s most vulnerable seats in the region.
Local election results earlier this month suggest incumbent Caroline Ansell could face a strong challenge from Stephen Lloyd, the former Liberal Democrat MP for Eastbourne. A campaign visit by the Prime Minister to the seat where she was born failed to have an effect as the Lib Dems retained all six of their existing wards on the County Council with the Tories holding their three.
But Eastbourne’s substantial Leave vote in the European Referendum is likely to give Ansell hope. She’ll be looking to mop up the 6,139 votes for UKIP in 2015– while Lloyd could be hindered by the Greens’ decision to field a candidate in the constituency.
Peter Kyle (Lab)
EU Referendum Result
The Hove constituency has traditionally been a typical ‘bellwether’ seat, often changing hands to turn the same colour as the Government. However, this was not the case in 2015 when the seat was won by Labour candidate Peter Kyle, despite the surprise Conservative majority nationally. His victory owed much to the collapse of the Liberal Democrats, which in Hove benefited Labour more than it did the Conservatives. With Labour performing so poorly in national polls, and the party having such a slim majority in Hove, it would appear likely that this could be a straightforward Conservative gain.
The decision by UKIP to not stand in Hove will only strengthen this view; however there are some factors which may give Labour hope as they seek to buck the national trend in Hove a second time. Firstly, the UKIP vote has been relatively small in Hove and even without a candidate; this will only deliver a few thousand extra votes to the Conservatives. Similarly, the strong Remain vote in the referendum, which sets the area apart from much of the South East, may benefit Labour in the constituency.
However, the unknown in the constituency is the Liberal Democrats who spectacularly crashed to less than 2,000 votes in 2015, down from over 11,000 in 2010. If the strong Remain sentiment in Hove is translated into votes for the Lib Dems’ pro-EU message, this may yet allow the Conservatives to sneak through the middle and turn Hove blue again.
What to Watch For
|If the Conservatives are able to overturn Alan Whitehead’s majority of nearly 4,000 votes in Southampton Test then they will likely be on course for a strong majority nationally. More significantly, if Labour lose Slough where Fiona Mactaggart leaves a majority of over 7,000, they will be set for a truly disastrous result.||The Liberal Democrats will be looking to recover a number of seats in the South East. Top of their list will be Eastbourne which they lost by less than 1,000 votes in 2015. However, if they can win back Eastleigh and overturn Mims Davies’ 9,000 vote majority, the Lib Dem ‘fight back’ will truly be on.||The Conservatives will be looking to retain all their seats across the South East; however one to watch will be Brighton Kemptown where Simon Kirby is defending a majority of just 690 in the Remain supporting city.|