Yorkshire and the Humber in Focus
The Labour Party holds the majority of seats in Yorkshire and the Humber, with 33 of the region’s 54 constituencies. Despite a strong north-south divide in the region, with the north typically being held by the Conservatives and the south traditionally staunchly Labour, in this election there are no no-go areas for the Tories.
The Conservatives are fighting this election as a presidential race. Pitting May against Corbyn has been their strategy nationally and is reflected in the election literature that has been hitting letterboxes across the region. Labour has been forced to fight on local issues like A&E closures and national issues like the NHS, which the party still polls well on. As with other regions, local Labour MPs are focusing on their record rather than the leadership in the hope of retaining their core vote.
Labour is pursuing an essentially defensive strategy in the region, seeking to preserve the seats it holds rather than looking to make any gains. A primary concern of the party at a local and regional level is to secure the position of potential future Labour leaders such as Yvette Cooper, Dan Jarvis and Rachel Reeves, who may challenge Corbyn after the election. More generally the Labour campaign is based on an appeal to tribal loyalty and the constituency record of its incumbent MPs, in the hope of hanging on even to those core voters who voted for Brexit in large numbers and who are turned off by the current leader.
Yorkshire and the Humber in Numbers
Although West and South Yorkshire have traditionally been considered Labour heartlands, the declining fortunes of both Labour and UKIP have created opportunities for the Conservatives to gain seats in parts of the region where it was previously unthinkable.
According to YouGov’s latest regional poll, Labour’s seven point lead over the Tories in the region has been wiped out, with the Conservatives now ahead by five points. Although the fieldwork was undertaken before the recent improvement in Labour’s polling, it suggests tribal politics will play little part in influencing voting intentions in this election. Instead, issues such as immigration and Brexit will sway the electorate in this Leave voting region.
As demonstrated by its poor performance in the local elections, UKIP is expected to lose out in areas where, prior to the EU referendum, it was expected to increase its vote share. Nationally, UKIP are shedding votes to the Conservatives, with 60% of 2015 UKIP voters now planning to vote Tory. In 2015, a large portion of white working class voters in Yorkshire switched from Labour to UKIP. The Conservatives believe that they can win this support, with voters attracted by the party’s framing of Theresa May as the only leader capable of overseeing a successful Brexit.
Labour is paying more attention to safe seats such as Dan Jarvis’s Barnsley Central & Normanton and Yvette Cooper’s Pontefract & Castleford. Although it expects to hold these seats, the regional party is taking no chances in protecting two MPs who have both been tipped as potential future leaders. This approach arguably suits the national leadership, which is intent to focusing on boosting vote share via increased majorities in safe seats, rather than winning new seats or protecting marginals.
Elsewhere in the region the Liberal Democrats will be looking to hold onto their two seats, although if recent polling is to be believed then Nick Clegg’s Sheffield Hallam and Greg Mullholland’s Leeds North West might be rare gains for Labour. Current national polling by YouGov suggests the Liberal Democrats are retaining just 59% of their 2015 vote, which would mean the loss of both seats. They will be hoping that their stance on Brexit saves them in these pro-Remain constituencies, but this is far from certain.
Seats in focus
Leeds North East
Fabian Hamilton (Lab)
EU Referendum Result
Once the constituency of Conservative grandee Sir Keith Joseph, Labour took this seat in the 1997 landslide. It has remained red ever since, bucking the national trend in 2015 with a 5% swing to Labour and an increased share of the vote and voting to remain in the EU by 67%. On the face of it, Leeds North East is a relatively safe bet for Labour this time around.
However, MP Fabian Hamilton’s 7,250 majority initially made this a Conservative target seat; Theresa May launched the party’s election drive in the city just metres away from the constituency’s boundaries. Crucially, with UKIP not standing, Conservative candidate Ryan Stephenson will be hoping to mop up its 3,000 plus votes, whilst Labour’s stance on Brexit may send some of its former voters towards the Lib Dems. The Tories will be hoping that the large Jewish community, disillusioned with Corbyn’s Labour, and the number of parties standing (there are seven, including the Yorkshire Party and Alliance for Green Socialism) will eat away at Hamilton’s majority.
But the national polls are tightening, and the incumbency factor is likely to be strong in the seat (Hamilton has been MP for 20 years). Labour will be hoping the seat will remain part of its ‘metropolitan firewall’, halting the Tories’ progress in a city that has remained largely Labour for the past 20 years.
Batley and Spen
Tracey Brabin (Lab)
2016 By-election Majority
16,537 (uncontested by major parties)
EU Referendum Result
Once considered a safe Labour seat, Batley & Spen is vulnerable to a Conservative victory. It is set to be a closely fought contest, with a mere 6% swing from Labour to the Conservatives required for Labour to lose Batley & Spen.
While Labour’s Tracy Brabin won the seat unopposed by the major parties in a by-election in 2016, her predecessor, the late Jo Cox, won the seat by a majority of just 6,057 votes in 2015. The seat was held by the Conservatives until 1997, and voted by over 60% in favour of Brexit in last year’s referendum. With UKIP’s vote share going to the Conservatives, the party will be hoping it can take this seat this time round.
However, the Conservative candidate Ann Myatt was recently criticised for her lack of local links to the constituency, and was roundly condemned for making an offensive joke about guns in a constituency hustings over the weekend. Meanwhile Brabin, seeking re-election, will be attempting to capitalise on her history with Batley & Spen, having been born in the area.
With Brexit likely to be the most prominent issue in this constituency, the Tories will be hoping to capitalise on the high Leave vote here. Conservative success in Batley and Spen will be an indicator of a pretty robust majority for Theresa May on June 8th.
What to Watch For
|Great Grimsby will be a good indicator of how well the Tories’ Brexit message has cut through, given the 70% leave vote in North East Lincolnshire. With a 4,540 majority, a Conservative win here would suggest the Tories are headed for a solid majority.||If Labour’s Nic Dakin can hold on in Scunthorpe, the Party may be avoiding the dramatic rout that many are expecting.||The Lib Dems will be hoping that Nick Clegg can protect his 2,353 majority in Sheffield Hallam. Although a Remain constituency, Labour is predicted to make this a rare gain based on uniform national swing.|