Tuesday, 23 May 2017

On constituencies with 'added flavourings'

Mostly within British elections, independents and minor parties (those without enough candidates to get a Party Political Broadcast and which do not feature in national opinion polls anywhere in the UK) are not in contention at all and are lucky if they can get the 5% of the votes cast needed to get their £500 deposit returned. This includes MPs who have left their party and try to hold their seats as Independents (they almost always fail):

These constituencies provide notable exceptions to this rule, though:

Bradford East: David Ward, whose own campaigning in the predecessor seat, Bradford North, was responsible for his (i.e. the Liberal Democrats') gain of Bradford East in 2010 in the first place (he lost it in 2015 but his vote shared only decreased by 4.2%, far less than the Conservatives' vote share did). He was sacked for anti-Semitic comments shortly after reselection and is now an Independent candidate, which will in any event cause the Liberal Democrat vote to plummet in this constituency, given his personal vote: Prediction: Labour will almost certainly hold; David Ward might save his deposit but he is unlikely to be able to have enough of an impact.

Bradford West: Bradford West is notable for not conforming to national trends in general elections. Bradford West has many fascinating psephological markers: recording a pro-Labour swing in 1979; one of only 2 constituencies to record a pro-Conservative swing in 1997 (the other being Bethnal Green & Bow), the first constituency where the Green Party beat the Liberal Democrats (they did so in 2001, and except for of course Brighton Pavilion they did not manage this until the 2015 general election; in 2005 it was one of only a handful of constituencies where the Green vote fell noticeably), one of only a few constituencies with a pro-Labour swing away from the Conservatives in 2010, and the only one where Conservative voters may have tactically voted for Labour (to oust George Galloway) in 2015 after he spectacularly returned to Parliament via the 2012 by-election. This time, Salma Yaqoob, formerly George Galloway's right-hand woman in the now defunct Respect Party, is standing as an Independent even though her previous contests have only been in Birmingham, where she was a councillor for some years. Prediction: The odds are in Labour's favour but Salma is not without chances given that she will be the most likely recipient of George Galloway's old votes, and the Conservatives will bounce back significantly in this seat. Her personal vote and profile is comparatively high as well, although despite having a better reputation than 'Gorgeous George' she is not quite as good a campaigner.

Bethnal Green & Bow/Poplar & Limehouse: Both prominent Independent candidates (Ajmal Masroor is ex-Liberal Democrat and Oliur Rahman is ex-Respect) standing in the two constituencies within the London Borough of Tower Hamlets belong to the controversial 'Rahmanite' faction of Independent councillors (formerly Tower Hamlets First until this party was deregistered by the Electoral Commission following former Mayor Lutfur Rahman being convicted of electoral fraud and malpractice). Recent local by-election results in Tower Hamlets show that they still attract significant support within Tower Hamlets, and both can cause considerable damage to Labour's vote. Prediction: Labour will likely hold both but both these Independents are likely to come a strong second, if they can rally round their supporters, mainly located in the Bangladeshi communities of these two seats. The majority of ex-Respect votes went to Labour in 2015 but both Independent candidates will divert those votes to their tally.

South West Surrey: Dr Marie-Louise Irvine (known as Louise Irvine) did well last time (8.5%) against Jeremy Hunt, widely regarded as the worst Health Secretary in the history of the NHS, back in 2015, especially when the leader of the SW Surrey Liberal Democrats branch called on people to vote for her after the Lib Dems' candidate, Patrick Haveron, was suspended for forging signatures on nomination papers. This time, the Green Party (who saved their deposit in this seat in 2015, with 5.4%) are backing her for this election and so are many others (including notably three Labour activists who were subsequently expelled for asking the Labour Party to stand down to support Dr Irvine). Prediction: A likely Conservative hold-neither Labour nor the Liberal Democrats have stood down to endorse Dr Irvine and their vote can only be squeezed so far, and as with Surrey in general the core Conservative vote is very high indeed. However, given Jeremy Hunt's bad reputation, and the fact this seat has been marginal before, a (narrow) win for Dr Irvine is not out of the question.

Preseli Pembrokeshire: Chris Overton is standing again over the uncertain future of Withybush General Hospital in Haverfordwest, located in this constituency. He achieved 9.2% of the vote in 2015, damaging both the Labour and the Conservative votes in the process. In the context of Brexit and Theresa May's agenda the NHS is under more of a threat than ever, so on this basis Chris stands to do better particularly since no Green candidate is standing in this constituency this year. Prediction: Stephen Crabb will likely hold on due to Labour's woes in Wales, although how strongly the people of Preseli Pembrokeshire care about the issue currently will have a significant impact.

Fylde: The anti-fracking Independent who stood last time, Mike Hill, is not standing again even though the fracking issue in Lancashire has gotten much worse since 2015, and nor is UKIP. This should boost the Conservatives but the anti-fracking votes will likely go en masse to the Greens, who vehemently oppose fracking for environmental reasons as well as for community rights reasons. Prediction: A Conservative hold here is a foregone conclusion, as per usual-Fylde is the safest Conservative seat in Lancashire and one of the safest in the country. However, the Greens could challenge them in future.

Rochdale: Simon Danczuk, who was suspended from the Labour Party and then resigned after Labour refused to allow him to run under their banner this year, is standing as an Independent. Rochdale's psephological history is rather interesting, particularly because it is one of the few seats that have changed hands between Labour and the Liberal Democrats more than once in recent memory, and also because it has attracted a wide variety of political 'characters' of various sorts (not just Liberals). Prediction: Labour will certainly hold-like Michael Hancock (Portsmouth South's ex-Lib Dem MP who was the subject of allegations of a similar type to those levied against Simon Danczuk) he will lose almost all personal support he once attracted, particularly with his past and present marital problems, and the Lib Dems are in no position to win this constituency back.

Shipley: Sophie Walker, Women's Equality Party leader, is standing here and is being backed by the Green Party (who have a stronger than average following in Shipley) so that paleoconservative Philip Davies can be ousted (he has a history of sexism, as well as filibustering many Private Members Bills just because he personally does not like them). However, Sophie has never lived in Shipley and Philip is a rather assiduous backbencher. Prediction: Philip will sail home-Shipley can only be lost by the Conservatives in their worst years, UKIP is not standing, and Sophie will likely not be well received.

Skipton & Ripon: The Liberal Democrats are standing down to help the Greens in return for the Greens standing down for them in Harrogate & Knaresborough, even though the Lib Dems are not in a position to win Harrogate & Knaresborough at present and Skipton & Ripon is a very safe Conservative seat by any standards. Prediction: Easy Conservative hold-the Green strength in Skipton & Ripon is rather high but the core Conservative vote in Skipton & Ripon is simply too strong, especially since UKIP are not standing in Skipton & Ripon either.

Wyre Forest: For the first time since 1997, Dr Richard Taylor, who was MP for this seat from 2001-2010, will not be a candidate, and even in his last contest he attracted as much as 14.6% of the vote (nonetheless coming a poor fourth). This leaves the question of how well it can be captured by the major parties contesting this seat. Prediction: Conservative hold as per usual-Wyre Forest fka Kidderminster is generally safely Conservative but in the long-term whoever captures the majority of votes previously acquired by Richard Taylor will be in a better position to challenge the Conservatives in future.

East Devon: One of only a handful of seats which an Independent can win, and in this case it is Claire Wright, a high-profile figure in East Devon who as an Independent achieved 24% of the vote against Conservative MP Hugo Swire, who is not well regarded by any means. She is being backed by the Greens just as she was in 2015. The impressive performance of her fellow Independents in recent East Devon local elections and by-elections will give her more momentum than before. Prediction: One to watch-UKIP has not stood down in this seat and the East Devon Alliance commands a lot of local respect.

Ashfield: The Ashfield Independents won every one of the five county council seats they contested in Nottinghamshire County Council's election earlier this month, and they have commanded considerable support before. Even though their candidate, Gail Turner, is not one of these councillors, Labour is losing its footing in seats just like Ashfield where Independent groups are fast taking root. With UKIP a busted flush, and Gloria de Piero nearly having been defeated before, can they pull it off from a standing start? Prediction: Like Ashfield this is one to keep an eye on-the considerable UKIP vote can benefit the Ashfield Independents as many UKIP voters in 2015 were protest voters against the two largest parties, and ex-UKIP voters have been shown to be favourable to independent candidates at local level in many places. Ashfield is not as safely Labour as it used to be either.

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