Saturday, 22 April 2017

My 2017 general election predictions: Con vs. Lib Dem seats

There has been much speculation over a Liberal Democrat revival for the 2017 general election, on the basis of Remain voters turning against the Conservatives, particularly when few pro-European Conservative MPs resisting Article 50 triggering or protecting the rights of EU nationals. However, it is clear that many former Liberal Democrat voters are still unwilling to trust the party again, especially those who voted Green in 2015.

Of the 27 seats the Liberal Democrats lost to the Conservatives in 2015, will they be able to recapture any of them?

1. Eastbourne. What is most notable about this seat is that when the Conservatives won it back, the Conservative vote share actually decreased by 1.1%, even accounting for Nigel Waterson's defeat in 2010. The Liberal Democrats also retained control of Eastbourne council the very same day, and Stephen Lloyd is running once again. However, Eastbourne, due to its older and mostly British demographics, recorded a higher than average Leave vote in spite of the Lib Dems' organisation, and this factor could work against the Liberal Democrats. Likely Liberal Democrat gain.

2. Thornbury & Yate. The Lib Dems were wiped out in their heartland, South West England, back in 2015, going from 15 seats straight down to zero. This is the easiest South West seat for them to recapture, given that they only lost it by 1,495 votes (3.1%). Even without Professor Sir Steve Webb, the Liberal Democrats can gain this seat, although their chances will be tied into their performance in the West of England Mayoral election this May. Probable Liberal Democrat gain.

3. Lewes. Theresa May's hard Brexit strategy, along with her lack of respect for civil liberties and human rights, will backfire in constituencies like this one, especially when the Liberal Democrats only narrowly lost it. The new Lib Dem candidate, Kelly-Marie Blundell, has raised her profile considerably, although with incumbency a considerable advantage in this snap election, success is by no means certain and it will be a hard contest. Likely Liberal Democrat gain.

4. Twickenham. Sir Vincent Cable is running again but with a pro-European Conservative MP, Tania Mathis, who stayed true to her views amidst the Article 50 trigger vote, this seat will not be handed to him on a plate and the Liberal Democrats in Richmond-upon-Thames will also be stretched trying to retain their by-election gain of Richmond Park at the same time. The heavy swing (11.5%) Sir Vincent experienced when defeated also means considerable effort will be required to recapture Twickenham. Likely Liberal Democrat gain.

5. Kingston & Surbiton. Another case a former cabinet minister from the Coalition years wanting to return-this time, Sir Ed Davey. Kingston-upon-Thames was not as pro-Remain as Richmond-upon-Thames and demographically it is not quite as liberal and well-educated (but still very much so). However, James Berry, unlike Tania Mathias nearby, has not particularly stood out among new Conservative MPs and the Liberal Democrats are in a good position to squeeze votes as they are in Twickenham. Likely Liberal Democrat gain.

6. St Ives. Like Eastbourne, the Conservative vote share decreased rather than increased when they gained this seat from Andrew George, who has a strong personal vote; this is key to winning in Cornish politics locally and nationally. The Liberal Democrats are also re-organising relatively well back in their heartland. However, Conservative MP Derek Thomas, having been born and raised in the St Ives area, has the same 'personal and local vote' advantage meaning that Andrew George has in fact an uphill battle to get his seat back. 50/50 Conservative hold/Liberal Democrat gain.

7. Sutton & Cheam. Of the three London seats the Liberal Democrats lost to the Conservatives, this is the hardest to gain, and not just because of the larger Conservative majority. Paul Burstow is not re-running and Sutton & Cheam's 'natural' Liberal strength is not as strong as that of Twickenham's or Richmond's; it is mainly because of groundwork that the Liberal Democrats have been holding control of Sutton council for so long. Amna Ahmad nevertheless stands a good chance as local support has remained rather solid. Probable Liberal Democrat gain.

8. Bath. Ben Howlett has been one of the most socially liberal Conservative MPs by any standards (which fits in well with the city of Bath), although both the Liberal Democrats and the Green Party have high potential nonetheless (it is worth noting that Lib Dem PPC for Bath Jay Risbridger once stood for the Greens back in 1992 in Yeovil). It has been claimed by some that this should be an easy Liberal Democrat gain, particularly with the Brexit issue, but the reality is rather different. With the Greens on the rise in Bath in the long-term, Liberal Democrat success is in fact not too likely. Probable Conservative hold-some chance of Liberal Democrat gain; outside chance of Green gain.

9. Torbay. Torbay is the poorest constituency in Devon and this will work against the Conservatives, who under Theresa May have continued to push the austerity agenda to even worse heights overall. The Liberal Democrats look set to do well on the coasts and they are gaining ground in the Torbay area (note that part of it is in the Totnes constituency), so with or without Adrian Sanders they have good chances. Likely Liberal Democrat gain.

10. Yeovil. Apart from the general Lib Dem collapse, the main reason that the Liberal Democrats lost Yeovil in 2015 is down to David Laws and the scandals he was involved in. The fact they are running a new candidate this time will certainly help the Liberal Democrats here, although that also depends on their county council performance in Somerset in May; the relatively high Leave vote must also be taken into consideration. Probable Liberal Democrat gain.

11. Colchester. Sir Bob Russell, contrary to previous rumours, is standing again-but the Liberal Democrats have actually fallen further in Colchester since he lost his seat, as demonstrated by their inability to run a full slate of candidates when Colchester had all-out elections last year; in fact there were more Green Party candidates! The only strike in Sir Bob's favour is how Colchester stands out from Essex in its general character, and high potential for tactical voting-and even that, on balance, is not a particularly useful factor. Likely Conservative hold.

12. Cheltenham. The Liberal Democrats performed well in Cheltenham locally last year and this is one of the seats where the Conservative MP (in this case Alex Chalk) is being investigated for possible election expenses fraud. It will be a tight contest but in practice the Liberal Democrats generally win out locally in Cheltenham, especially with a low UKIP vote and a considerable Green vote. Likely Liberal Democrat gain.

13. Cheadle. The northern equivalent of Sutton & Cheam in many ways (since it is in the south of the Greater Manchester conurbation and it is also strictly a Con v. Lib Dem contest in practice), but it will be a more difficult task for the Liberal Democrats than Sutton & Cheam as they have not been recapturing local support they have lost in the borough of Stockport. Also, in prosperous seats like Cheadle, the UKIP vote is more likely to switch to the Conservatives than in poorer seats. Likely Conservative hold.

14. Portsmouth South. This is certainly very interesting electorally-in spite of all the bad publicity that the Lib Dems received over Mike Hancock and his misdeeds, and in spite of the fact that Portsmouth South would be a safe Conservative seat had it not been for Mike Hancock himself, this remains a marginal seat and the Liberal Democrats held onto much of their vote in the circumstances they were placed in. Flick Drummond is also a rather poor MP and Portsmouth South is rather fluid electorally (both the Labour vote and Green vote are high by the standards of seats the Lib Dems recently held), meaning this is in fact one of their best chances for a comeback. Likely Liberal Democrat gain.

15. Berwick-upon-Tweed. In more rural areas which traditionally have had a Liberal Democrat presence outside the South West, the Lib Dems will find it much harder because personal incumbency, a strong factor in this snap election, matters more in rural seats. The considerable swings Anne-Marie Trevelyan achieved when Sir Alan Beith retired (and also in his last outing in 2010) are testament to this, although as it is the Lib Dems' only realistic chance of a gain in the North East of England a narrow gain is possible, depending on local election performance this May in Northumberland. Likely Conservative hold.

16. Brecon & Radnorshire. Kirsty Williams (now the sole Liberal Democrat AM in Wales) actually managed a swing in her favour in last year's Welsh Assembly election in the exact same seat. However, turnout at Welsh Assembly elections is considerably lower than at general elections and whether there will be a true Lib Dem revival in Powys at Westminster level is still debatable, and the Conservatives are performing well in Wales at all levels (even though it is Clwyd where they will reap the most reward at this election in all likelihood). Likely Conservative hold.

17. North Devon. The best chance of a Liberal Democrat gain in Devon by far, but they will find it difficult to recover straight away, especially since North Devon's Conservative MP, Peter Heaton-Jones, is not being investigated by the CPS over mis-declaration of election expenses. The county council election results are crucial to whether there is any chance of a return-and it likely will not happen at this election. Likely Conservative hold.

18. North Cornwall. North Cornwall gained media attention due to the investigation into possible election expenses mis-declarations by the Conservatives, and with this certain to come to light during the campaign (despite the Conservatives' best efforts to hide this scandal). Cornwall is also fickle politically and along with Somerset has overall the strongest Liberal Democrat base in England in county terms. The considerable local by-election swings they have been achieving there also point the way to a recapture-but a not inconsiderable Conservative majority stands in the way and they will have to directly win over many Conservative voters to win-a difficult ask given the Conservatives' current standings in the polls. 50/50 Conservative hold/Liberal Democrat gain.

19. Wells. A difficult one, even though Tessa Munt, who when she won in 2010 became the first non-Conservative MP for Wells in 86 years, is restanding. Tactical voting potential is limited as the Green vote is rather solid in Glastonbury in particular and there is little of the Labour vote left to squeeze. Likely Conservative hold.

20. Hazel Grove. The northern counterpart to Carshalton & Wallington demographically and politically. In trying to retain Hazel Grove when Sir Andrew Stunell retired, Lisa Smart did particularly badly although that has not stopped her from being reselected for 2017.However, Hazel Grove is more competitive than Cheadle and the Conservative vote is less solid, although its Leave vote was correspondingly higher. In spite of the incumbency factor, watch for a surprise. Probable Conservative hold

21. St Austell & Newquay. Stephen Gilbert lost considerably in 2015 but because Steve Double made no real increase in the Conservative vote at the same time (and the loss of important EU funding will hit Cornwall hard, which will work against the Conservatives with their current Brexit plans), this constituency remains marginal in practice. The South West is the only region where any notably large number of UKIP voters will switch to the Liberal Democrats now that UKIP is ceasing to be a viable party of protest at any level, although they will also switch to the Conservatives just like everywhere else depending on what transpires. In spite of the Conservative majority being as high as 8,173, this seat is worth watching. Probable Conservative hold.

22. Eastleigh. Despite the strong local organisation they have in Eastleigh, at constituency level recapturing this seat will be a very difficult task due to the size of the Conservative majority. However, this strong organisation, combined with a Remain backlash from well-educated urban voters, gives the Lib Dems at least an outside chance. Likely Conservative hold.

23. Chippenham. The Liberal Democrats lost this very badly and Michelle Donelan had achieved strong results for the Conservatives before she was elected Conservative MP for this seat. Wiltshire's Remain vote was not high either. The Liberal Democrats will likely close the gap, but there is no realistic chance of this seat returning to them this time around. Dead cert Conservative hold.

24. Mid Dorset & North Poole. The Liberal Democrats were lucky to have won this seat at all and always held onto it rather precariously. With a low tactical voting potential and the Conservatives having achieved as high as 50.8% when they gained it in 2015, there is little else to say here. Dead cert Conservative hold.

25. Solihull. It is only because of the ineptitude of a former MP for this seat, John Taylor, combined with pro-Lib Dem tactical voting in 2005, that the Conservatives ever lost Solihull in the first place. With the Green Party having won many former Lib Dem council seats and Lorely Burt not re-running, this seat will almost certainly revert to type. Dead cert Conservative hold.

26. Taunton Deane. So much ground was lost by the Liberal Democrats in this seat in 2015 and this requires a larger swing even than some constituencies which the Liberal Democrats have not won in recent memory or which were lost in 2010 (see below). Barring exceptional circumstances this seat will clearly stay Conservative. Dead cert Conservative hold.

27. Somerton & Frome. With David Heath no longer in the picture, the Conservative majority so high, the Conservatives still performing well in the polls, and with the Greens consolidating their support in Frome, there is basically no chance the Liberal Democrats will recapture this seat-in fact the Greens have better chances in the long run. Enough said. Dead cert Conservative hold.

There are also constituencies which the Liberal Democrats do not currently hold where they also have reasonable chances. The only realistic chances for them in the near future among this category are at present: Montgomeryshire, Oxford West & Abingdon, Bosworth, Maidstone & The Weald, St Albans, Watford, West Dorset, and Newton Abbot. Even then, they are unlikely to gain more than one or two of these this year, if that.


  1. Hi, there isn't a prediction for number 15.

    1. Fixed that for you re: Berwick-upon-Tweed prediction.