General election 2017: six battlegrounds that could shape the vote

With the possibility of voters abandoning party loyalty in June’s snap election to vote along Brexit lines, typical marginal seats are being joined by traditional strongholds in the parties’ battleground lists

1 Traditional marginals

Theresa May
Theresa May will be hoping to make significant gains in the run up to the Brexit negotiations. Photograph: POOL/Reuters

With a sizeable swing to the Conservatives expected, much attention will be focused on the Labour-held marginal seats that are first in the firing line. In particular, the Conservatives will hope to deliver a blue wave in the traditional suburban and small-town seats dotted across England and Wales, the kind of seats where election results have been decided for decades and where Labour has struggled to connect under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership.

Current polling would suggest dozens of Labour losses in such seats. Labour may particularly struggle where the leave vote was high or the incumbent MP is retiring.

Typical seats

City of Chester; Halifax; Wirral West; Newcastle-under-Lyme; Barrow and Furness; Wolverhampton South West; Hove; Dewsbury; Lancaster and Fleetwood; North East Derbyshire; Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland; Walsall North; Wakefield; Coventry South; Darlington; Delyn; Blackpool South; Scunthorpe; Newport West; Chorley; Bishop Auckland; Coventry North West; Bolton North East; Hyndburn; Bury South; Wirral South; Gedling; Southampton Test; Exeter.

2 A metropolitan firewall for Labour?

Labour remain supporter
Labour has traditionally performed well in large cities, where there was also a strong remain vote. Photograph: Jack Taylor/Getty Images

Labour support in recent elections has held up much more strongly in England’s largest cities and university towns, where young, liberal, ethnically diverse voters are concentrated and there was a strong remain vote.

If this trend continues, it could help limit the scale of Labour losses, as a number of its marginal seats fit this profile. Corbyn’s lukewarm attitude to Europe and his party’s halfhearted embrace of Brexit may pose problems in these seats, particularly where retirements deprive the party of popular local incumbents.

Typical seats

Ealing Central and Acton; Brentford and Isleworth; Ilford North; Hampstead and Kilburn; Enfield North; Harrow West; Westminster North; Tooting; Bristol East; Birmingham Northfield; Birmingham Edgbaston; Luton South; Hammersmith; York Central; Birmingham Erdington; Leeds North East; Norwich South; Birmingham Selly Oak; Brent North.

3 A Brexit wave for the Conservatives?

Trudy Harrison after winning Copeland byelection
Conservative’s Trudy Harrison speaks after winning the Copeland byelection in February – a Labour seat since 1935. Photograph: Leon Neal/Getty Images

The Conservatives’ hopes for a truly historic landslide may rest on the choices made in heartland Labour seats with hefty majorities but with some combination of a large local swing from Ukip, an unpopular MP (or no MP at all), a strong and engaged leave vote and strong hostility to Corbyn and his policies on issues such as immigration and defence. Tory strategists will hope such factors will combine to deliver outsized swings and implausible victories in seats Labour has dominated for generations, as happened in the Copeland byelection this year. Local retirements and the loss of remain or anti-Corbyn votes to Liberal Democrats may improve Tory chances in some of these seats.

Typical seats

Dudley North; Dagenham and Rainham; Workington; Stoke-on-Trent North; Great Grimsby; Oldham East and Saddleworth; Rother Valley; Wolverhampton North East; Stoke-on-Trent Central; Sedgefield; Huddersfield; Don Valley; West Bromwich West.

4 A Lib Dem fightback in its English heartlands?

Tim Farron canvassing
Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron. The party will be hoping to make gains on the back of an anti-Brexit campaign. Photograph: Christopher Thomond/The Guardian

The Liberal Democrats will go into the campaign hoping for a shot at redemption in the many seats they lost in 2015, in particular those in their former “heartland” areas in the south and south-west of England with longstanding local traditions of liberal support.

Freed from the shackles of coalition and able to campaign in many of these seats as the only viable alternative to Conservative dominance, they will hope for a return to the old Liberal Democrat tradition of intense local campaigns and popular local candidates to deliver swings against the national tide. The short gap between elections will help in many areas, where they will be able to draw on recent support and positive memories of former Lib Dem MPs. The party’s chances may be further enhanced if more former Lib Dem MPs follow Vince Cable and Ed Davey’s example and seek to win back seats they lost two years ago, and if local Green or Labour candidates agree to limit their campaigning in Conservative seats where the Lib Dems are clear favourites.

Typical seats

Eastbourne; Lewes; Thornbury and Yate; Twickenham; Kingston and Surbiton; St Ives; Torbay; Sutton and Cheam; Bath; Yeovil; Colchester; Cheltenham; Cheadle; Brecon and Radnorshire; North Devon; Wells; North Cornwall; Hazel Grove; St Austell and Newquay.

5 Remain realignment?

UK and EU flags

The Liberal Democrats, like the Conservatives, will be hoping that a fundamental shift in political preferences following the Brexit vote will enable implausible victories on the back of outsized swings. Lib Dems will be focused on “metropolitan liberal” seats with large remain majorities, and big concentrations of socially liberal demographic groups such as graduates, students, ethnic minorities and middle-class professionals.

The party will hope that anger over Brexit will motivate defections from both main parties and mobilise support from traditionally low turnout groups such as students and the young. But the party starts from such a weak position in most of these seats, which saw some of the largest swings against it in 2015, that it will need all these trends to run strongly its way to stand any chance. In many cases the party will be happy if a healthy remain swing delivers it into a solid second place, providing a platform to build on in the next election cycle.

Typical seats

Hornsey and Wood Green; Cambridge; Manchester Withington; Bermondsey and Old Southwark; Oxford West and Abingdon; Winchester; Witney; South East Cambridgeshire; Brent Central; Cardiff Central; Birmingham Yardley; Manchester Gorton; Bristol South; Oxford East.

6 The wild cards

Douglas Carswell
Douglas Carswell’s resignation from Ukip means the party will have no sitting MPs when parliament dissolves. Photograph: Daniel Leal-Olivas/AFP/Getty Images

The Conservatives’ embrace of Brexit, coupled with Ukip’s post-referendum chaos, means the latter is unlikely to be in direct contention in many seats. Its only 2015 MP, Clacton incumbent Douglas Carswell, has both left the party and announced his retirement. There are rumours that prominent Eurosceptic campaigner and Ukip funder Arron Banks may stand there, but Ukip can’t be certain of holding on to its only seat even if he stands under its banner. There are a handful of other seats where the Ukip vote is strong enough to make it a credible local “Brexit opposition”, but with former leader Nigel Farage opting not to stand, it is quite possible that the Brexit party comes away from the Brexit election with no seats at all.

The Greens will also hope to benefit from remain anger in their strongest 2015 areas, including Bristol West – where they ran Labour a close second, and Sheffield Central – where the former party leader Natalie Bennett is standing against Labour’s Paul Blomfield. Their strength in Norwich means Labour leadership contender Clive Lewis’s seat may end up as a rare four-way marginal battle, with Labour, Conservatives, Greens and Liberal Democrats all in contention.

The strong Tory performance in the 2016 Scottish parliament elections could herald some gains from the SNP in Scotland, though Scottish Conservatives will be hampered both by May’s embrace of Brexit and by a very weak starting position; they begin second in only seven Scottish seats, only three of which are remotely close.

Typical seats

Ukip Clacton; Hartlepool; Thurrock; Heywood and Middleton; Rotherham.

Green Bristol West; Sheffield Central; Norwich South; Oxford East.

SNP Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk; Dumfries and Galloway; Aberdeenshire West and Kincardine.


Robert Ford

The GuardianTramp

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