Wednesday, 26 April 2017

My 2017 general election analyses: Lab vs. Lib Dem seats

In 2015, at the height of the Liberal Democrats' meltdown, 12 of the Liberal Democrats' 57 seats were lost to Labour (as I mentioned earlier, 27 were lost to the Conservatives. 10 were also lost to the SNP and this will feature in tomorrow's analysis.)

Given that Labour will suffer the most damage overall in this election (as it has many seats to lose; UKIP has little left to lose apart from votes as it now has no MPs and will lose its MEPs just like all other parties), will the Liberal Democrats be able to recover any of the 12?

Cambridge. Julian Huppert's expertise, particularly in science, has been missed by many in this last Parliament, and he only lost Cambridge by 599 votes in 2015 with his vote share also having the 2nd lowest decrease amongst English Lib Dem MPs (it only dropped by 4.3%; David Ward's vote share dropped the lowest amongst Lib Dem incumbents in England with it dropping by only 4.2%). Although the Liberal Democrats have not made any more headway against Labour in the last two years locally, combined with a limited amount of Conservative votes left to squeeze, Labour's loss of moderate voters combined with further tactical voting (since the Greens do not have enough support to break through the very tight squeeze) and Julian's strong personal vote will easily see him through. Dead cert Liberal Democrat gain.

Burnley. This suffered one of the lowest Lib Dem to Labour swings of seats the Lib Dems lost (6.3%) but the incumbency of Gordon Birtwhistle was key to this. It has not yet been confirmed at this time whether Gordon will try and regain his old seat, but the Liberal Democrats' local strength in Burnley will mitigate any loss of incumbency if Gordon does not stand again. Labour will also lose more heavily in constituencies like Burnley where their traditional working class vote is most likely to desert them, as it did to some extent in 2015. However, UKIP polled well and the Brexit factor may work against the Lib Dems in the end since Burnley voted Leave by a wide margin. Likely Liberal Democrat gain.

Bermondsey & Old Southwark. Simon Hughes has been reselected for his former seat (and without him having represented it and its very similar predecessors), it would be a rock-solid Labour seat just like its neighbours) and a Remain backlash against Labour, most of whose MPs supported the triggering of Article 50, is likely. This race is overall only between him and Labour MP Neil Coyle, and Southwark's high remain vote and increasing gentrification in the exact area he used to represent should easily see him through. Dead cert Liberal Democrat gain.

Cardiff Central. Cardiff Central has a high student population and memories of the Lib Dems' broken promises on tuition fees will come back to haunt them again. Also, Plaid Cymru is very weak in this seat having never even saved its deposit at any time (or in the 1974-83 version of Cardiff North, this seat's predecessor), meaning they will not cause any trouble for Labour here as they will in neighbouring Cardiff West. Even though former AM Eluned Parrott is the Lib Dems' candidate, this will likely not be enough despite the high Remain vote and generally liberal electorate. Likely Labour hold.

Birmingham Yardley. Of the strictly Lab vs. Lib Dem contests, this is the most interesting. Both John Hemming, the former MP, and Jess Phillips, the current Labour MP, can be considered maverick and sometimes controversial figures who appeal well to middling swing voters who would otherwise switch back and forth between Labour and Conservative. The odds however are overall strongly in Jess' favour as she is one of the few Labour MPs whose politics can appeal well to enough UKIP voters to make a difference and it is also harder for an MP who lost their seat at the last election to regain it; relatively few MPs manage it. Likely Labour hold.

Bradford East. Earlier this week, David Ward, the Liberal Democrat responsible for making this a Lib Dem seat at all in 2010, was suspended as a candidate for making anti-Semitic remarks, just shortly after he was reselected. Without him, the Liberal Democrats could now even fall to third place, since it was his own work that allowed him to win it from Labour in 2010 (he also managed to minimise his loss of the seat quite well in 2015, retaining most of his vote share when he only had a majority of 365 to defend) and Labour is now assured to hold on here. Dead cert Labour hold.

Hornsey & Wood Green. An important factor is that Lynne Featherstone, whose campaigning was responsible for the Lib Dems' capture of this seat in 2005, cannot stand again as she is now Baroness Featherstone. This seat voted Remain by an 81-19 margin but with Catherine West firmly on the pro-European side, this will be an easy hold for her in spite of the Lib Dems still being the only remotely viable competitors in Hornsey & Wood Green to Labour. The Liberal Democrat vote could actually fall (possibly even to the point where the Greens claim third place instead of the Conservatives!) even though the Lib Dems' candidate was selected some time ago in anticipation of this early general election. Dead cert Labour hold.

Redcar. The Labour majority at first seems too high for the Liberal Democrats to recapture it-but Labour is under threat in next-door Middlesbrough South & East Cleveland (especially since Tom Blenkinsop is retiring this year) and has been performing under par at best in the North East recently. Even when Ian Swales retired, the Lib Dems still retained second place as well, which is better than a few of their incumbent MPs did in 2015, and like Burnley, Redcar is likely to experience the desertion of many traditional Labour voters, which gives the Lib Dems at least an outside chance, although it will be very difficult overall. Likely Labour hold.

Bristol West. This will be one of the most tightly contested seats this year, and Green MEP Molly Scott-Cato is now favourite to win the seat from Thangam Debonnaire, who has been one of the least useful new Labour MPs. The former Lib Dem MP, Stephen Williams, is also trying to gain the seat but in practice he will find himself shut out of the race as most of the Lib Dem support in Bristol West has switched over to the Greens (in the wards making up Bristol West, there are 9 Green councillors, 9 Labour councillors, only 2 Liberal Democrat councillors, and zero Conservative councillors) so only they and Labour are now in contention here. Likely Green gain  (no realistic chance of a Liberal Democrat gain at present).

Manchester Withington. Like Hornsey & Wood Green (demographically similar to Manchester Withington, and like it once a reliable Conservative seat) the Lib Dems are the only credible challengers to Labour. However, they are too far behind even with Labour polling so badly (but also closing the gap somewhat) and only John Leech himself made any gains for the Lib Dems in Manchester in their last set of city council elections. Combined with Jeff Smith's incumbency factor, this is an easy win for Labour-in fact the Greens overtaking the Conservatives in a heavily pro-Remain seat is likely to be the only interesting thing that happens in this seat in 2017. Dead cert Labour hold.

Norwich South. Simon Wright, this seat's only ever Lib Dem MP, is not standing again and in any case he finished fourth in 2015, having achieved only 29.4% of the vote even when he won it from former Home Secretary Charles Clarke in 2010. Labour's administration in Norwich is not particularly popular but the Green Party has been losing ground in Norwich recently, with losses of county council seats almost certain; they also lost 4 of the 5 city council seats they were defending in 2016 (and had lost a councillor in Wensum in 2015 at the same time they targeted Norwich South, where their vote share actually decreased), which is an important fact to note since every Green council seat in Norwich lies in the boundaries of Norwich South. This seat's Labour MP, Clive Lewis, has achieved a reasonably high profile and he will likely hold on well since Jeremy Corbyn can appeal well to those types of Labour voters. Dead cert Labour hold.

Brent Central. Without Sarah Teather, this would never have been a Liberal Democrat seat at all, or even a viable Liberal Democrat target, and when she stood down the Lib Dem vote in Brent Central collapsed, dropping by 35.8% (a record that is unlikely ever to be beaten in British elections) and causing Brent Central to revert to type as a very safe Labour seat. And so shall it remain at least for now. Dead cert Labour hold.

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