04 May 2010

UK election: Seats to watch

In a Parliament of 650 constituencies I am NOT going to review every one, but given the UK has first past the post, it is worth noting that many of those are NOT worth noting.

The bellweather seats worth keeping an eye on are:

Gillingham and Rainham: The Conservative's highest ranked target, if that can't be won it will be a bitter disappointment to the Conservatives and give Labour much cheer.

Guildford: The Liberal Democrat's highest ranked target, although it is Conservative held. If it stays Conservative, it will show the Liberal Democrat surge has not been at the expense of the Conservatives, but if it shifts it will be a big worry for Mr Cameron.

Waveney: Assuming a uniform overall swing, and no losses, this is the seat the Conservatives need to win to get a majority. It needs a 12% swing from Labour to the Conservatives, a fairly hard ask.

Rochdale: Where Gordon Brown's "bigoted women" resides. This is the number one Liberal Democrat target held by Labour. It would be very surprising to see this not fold, but if it doesn't then the Liberal Democrats will be worried indeed.

Bethnal Green and Bow: George Galloway's Marxist, Islamist party RESPECT took this seat last time round, but there have been major boundary changes (and he isn't standing in this seat). Labour will be keen to win this one back given Galloway's absence, the end of British military presence in Iraq and the lower controversy over Afghanistan. Watch Birmingham Hall Green for a similar reason, as the current leader of RESPECT, Salma Yaqoob is standing although RESPECT was not in the top three in 2005.

Poplar and Limehouse: Galloway IS standing here, but this is a very mixed constituency, including wealthy bankers living in apartments at Canary Wharf, a middle class on the Isle of Dogs and a substantial Bengali low income presence. Expect this to be three way between Conservatives, Labour and RESPECT.

Ochil and South Perthshire: This is the Scottish National Party's prime target to win from Labour, and given the high likelihood of a hung parliament, the SNP is key to play a role if it can. However, while a swing from Labour seems natural, the SNP has been burnt by the banking crisis, as some Scots no longer believe that an independent Scotland can hold out in the event of a major recession. If this doesn't go SNP, expect Scotland to be one of Labour's few areas of relative success.

Brighton Pavilion: No party gets positive coverage like the Green Party, and so it is seeking to make this its first seat. Caroline Lucas the wolf in sheeps clothing MEP and Green leader is standing in this Labour held seat. However, if she does well it is likely to be at the cost of Labour, so she might let the Tories slip in with the leftwing vote split. Watch and Norwich South and Lewisham Deptford for the same reasons.

Buckingham: Held by John Bercow, the speaker (from the Conservatives), it is a tradition that the two major parties never contest the seat held by the speaker. Now without confusing Bercow with the Scottish git who removed himself after the Parliamentary expenses scandal, there is a chance that a high anti-politics vote could remove him. The lead contender is UKIP's Nigel Farage, although there are a multitude of independents and joke parties. UKIP came second in the European elections for the UK last year, so will be keen to make this breakthrough, bringing a very different flavour to the House of Commons.

Barking: Held by Margaret Hodge for Labour, this should be a safe seat. However the big challenge comes from the BNP, as leader Nick Griffin is contesting. The BNP came a close third behind the Conservatives in 2005, and is pulling out all stops to get Griffin elected. It is unlikely he will win, as it is likely Liberal Democrat and Conservative supporters will hold their noses and vote Labour to prevent it. However, if Griffin does significantly better than the 16% the BNP got last time, it will show more than ever that parts of working class Britain still hanker to blame johnny foreigner for their own woes.

Morley and Outwood: Contested by Education Minister Ed Balls, one of the candidates on the Labour left to potentially replace Gordon Brown, this is being fought hard by the Conservatives to make a "Portillo" moment (when Conservative Cabinet Minister Michael Portillo was ousted by Labour in 1997). The odds are not high, but if it can be achieved it will be a clear sign of a sound Conservative victory.

Bury North: Number 50 in the Tory target list. If this can't be won, it will be a clear sign the Conservatives have not broken into the north and wont be the largest party in the House of Commons. 5% swing required from Labour for this seat.

Keighley: Number 100 in the Tory target list. If this can't be won, then it will be difficult for the Tories to form a majority. 10.5% swing required from Labour.

Dundee East: Labour's number one target against the SNP. A 1% swing needed here, which is possible given disenchantment at the Scottish Assembly where the SNP is in government with the Liberal Democrats.

Carmarthan West and Pembrokeshire South: A Plaid Cymru target. If this can be won, Plaid Cymru will have lined itself up for 3 or maybe 4 more seats in the House of Commons.

Hastings and Rye: The threshold at which Labour loses its majority. Assuming the Conservatives obtain an even swing of 2.5%, the loss of this seat will mean Labour cannot govern alone. However, it does not mean the Conservatives can either.

Liverpool Wavertree: Not as interesting as it might have been. A safe Labour seat with 52% of the vote in 2005, but now has a Labour-Co/op candidate (the Co-operative party is aligned with Labour and has a very low profile) who is controversial locally for being a London carpetbagger. Actor Ricky Tomlinson expressed interest in standing, given he is a Marxist, but decided not to do so for business reasons (ironically). Instead, Arthur Scargill's Socialist Labour Party has put up a candidate endorsed by Tomlinson. The red flag flies in Liverpool?

Cambridge: Libertarian blogger Old Holborn is contesting under that very name as an independent. At least this academically inclined city has a choice that is clearly about much less government, even if you don't agree with all of his views (e.g. on Afghanistan). His campaign website is here, and he is campaigning wearing the V for Vendetta mask worn by the character "V".

Safe seat games?

It is worth for budding psephologists to look at what happens in safe seats, the obvious six worth watching are:

Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath: Gordon Brown's seat. He had 58% of the vote there in 2005, with the SNP a distant second on 14.5%. Interesting to see how many protest vote to other parties.

Witney: David Cameron's seat. He had 49% of the vote in 2005, with the Liberal Democrats second on 23%. UKIP and the Liberal Democrats may both get a boost.

Sheffield Hallam: Nick Clegg's seat. With 51% of the vote in 2005, the Conservatives are a closer second on around 30%. Protest votes unlikely here though.

Liverpool Walton: Labour's safest seat. About 73% of the vote in 2005, the Conservatives not even able to rustle up 16%. Lib Dems, BNP and a socialist candidate all hope to make inroads.

Beckenham: Safest Conservative seat. 45% in 2005 but boundary changes have significantly strengthened that.

Ross, Skye and Lochaber: Liberal Democrat's safest seat, held by former leader Charles Kennedy with around 59% of the vote. Labour a distant second on around 15%.

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