There are safe seats and there are marginal seats. And it's not always obvious which are which. We look at some of the key ones to watch for an early indication of which way the election will go.
This election has been one where the main parties have made few forays out of their comfort zone, preferring instead to campaign on issues they know they are strong on. Labour have been attacked for allegedly having a ‘35% strategy’ to focus in on their base support, but the Conservatives have undertaken a very similar ‘steady as she goes’ strategy. Consequently other minor parties have started to break through, filling the void where neither Labour or the Tories dare to tread.
This limited campaign has all the hallmarks of the precision strikes seen in American elections. Focus in on a few areas where you know there are swing voters, identify what matters to them through focus groups, and barrage them with what you hope will be winning messages. Consequently, for many people across the UK, this election has simply passed them by.
But Britain is not America, and where the main parties have taken their eye off the ball, there is a good chance another party may slip through the net. Labour look set to lose a substantial number of seats in their heartlands in Scotland, and the Tories have seen a good deal of their right wing siphoned off to UKIP making some seats less winnable than otherwise would’ve been. There are so many variables in this election that it’s difficult to predict who will end up on top, but that hasn’t stopped some trying to predict what will happen.
WHAT DOES A MARGINAL CONSTITUENCY LOOK LIKE?
The Economist has identified four categories of swing seats that could go either Labour or Conservative. Prosperous Northern and Wales seats should by rights be Conservative but there is an anti-Tory streak that runs through these regions meaning that Labour’s messages about the ‘uncaring Tories’ do well here. Post-industrial South seats are areas where the surrounding prosperity has to some extent passed them by, meaning the Tories’ national messages about a strong economy don’t resonate here. Urban liberal seats have a tendency towards anti-Conservative positions, as they see themselves as socially progressive, but are probably more open to the economic messages of the Conservatives than they like to admit. Finally Midlands Suburbia, the true swing seats, are like Britain’s Ohio. Where they go, the country follows and the parties pour a substantial amount of cash in here to try to win.
Normally, the word bellwether refers to marginal seats that tend to vote for the winning side in each election. But with so many local battles going on, we are in for a confused multi-polar picture on election night. Below we have analysed a few different types of bellwether seat, that should give us an early indication of how each of the parties is likely to do.
ONES TO WATCH
Unlike its leafier cousin Croydon South (safe Con) or more urban neighbour Croydon North (safe Labour), this is a bellwether seat in South London with Conservative Gavin Barwell defending a majority of 2,969. At number 46 of Labour’s target list, it’s the sort of seat Ed Miliband has to win if he is to form the next Government. With polls showing Labour could lose nearly all of its 41 seats in Scotland, to fail here would signal Labour isn’t doing well enough to form the next Government.
In the South West there is a strong Liberal Democrat presence, but their time in Government has weakened their support base right across the country, with the party now regularly polling less than 10%. The Lib Dems are confident that where they have sitting MPs the incumbency effect will be a big factor in offsetting their losses in the polls. The Lib Dems were 5,821 votes ahead of the Conservatives here in 2010, but with relatively few votes going to other parties, there isn’t much scope for tactical voting to keep the Tories out. If the Lib Dems do lose here, expect this to be replicated across much of the South West and for this to be a pretty bad election for the third party.
Paisley and Renfrewshire South
On paper, this Scottish seat is solidly Labour with Shadow Foreign Secretary Douglas Alexander boasting a majority of 16,614 at the 2010 election. But the Scottish independence referendum has produced a revolution in voting intentions across Scotland, with the SNP polling around 50% in this seat according to Lord Ashcroft’s poll. Many have suggested the polls won’t be as bad as this, as Labour try to get their message across that voting SNP will result in a Conservative government, but if the Labour Party lose here, they’re in for a bad night across Scotland with the SNP cleaning up.
A prosperous Northern seat, this Yorkshire constituency typifies the Conservatives’ problems in the North. Whilst George Osborne has made much of his ‘Northern Powerhouse’ policies, the fact that the local Tory MP only won by 1,659 and is struggling this time round demonstrates just how ingrained the anti-Tory vote is in the north. This is number 26 on Labour’s target list so will be a good test of how well the Tories’ messaging about the economy is going down. Losing here will show Labour are doing quite well in England’s marginals.
This seat has been both Labour and Tory in the recent past, but with UKIP leader Nigel Farage standing here, it has become a three way contest between UKIP, the Tories and Labour. UKIP have seen their star wane slightly as their national polling figures have come down from around 20% to the low teens, but this is still enough to cause an upset in some seats, and UKIP will be hoping to defend their two seats and add one or two more around the eastern coasts of England. Thanet South is seen as a key test of UKIP’s strength, and Farage has already claimed he will step down as leader if he loses here.