Over the course of the most unpredictable General Election campaign of living memory, Lodestone will be producing a series of notes shining a spotlight on the regions and nations that will decide the outcome. This week, the Midlands.
The Midlands – traditionally divided into East and West regions – are a battleground at every British General Election but they are absolutely critical to Boris Johnson’s strategy for a majority in 2019. The Tories have always done reasonably well in this part of the country but, in 2019, big wins are necessary if Johnson wants a healthy majority and it is in Labour’s heartlands that such wins must come.
Many of the seats being contested here form part of Labour’s ‘Red Wall’ – supposedly die-hard Labour constituencies upon which Labour leaders of all stripes have been able to depend. As in the North East and parts of Yorkshire, the Tories are hoping that divisions over Brexit have loosened Labour’s grip and turned traditional assumptions on their head. In 2017, Theresa May targeted these seats but made only modest gains. This picture of overall failure, however, conceals a more subtle story – the Tories may only have won one extra seat but they closed the gap massively in a swathe of constituencies and therefore enter this election in a much stronger position than before, needing smaller swings than in 2017.
Added to this, a number of big Labour beasts in Midlands seats have chosen to step down at this election, leaving inexperienced candidates (often far to the Left of their predecessors) to fight on in their place. This is bittersweet for Jeremy Corbyn. On the one hand, the fresh clutch of candidates in places like West Bromwich, Ashfield and Dudley are more likely to be loyal to him and his project if returned on December 12th. On the other, they may be less likely to win. And if these seats fall, Corbyn stands vanishingly little chance of ending up in Number 10.
2017 Results – West Midlands
|Party||Seats (change)||2017 vote share||Share change||2017 votes|
|Lib Dems||0 (0)||4.4%||-1.1||122,000|
2017 Results – East Midlands
|Party||Seats (change)||2017 vote share||Share change||2017 votes|
|Lib Dems||0 (0)||4.3%||-1.3||102,000|
2019 Projected vote shares
The Tories are hoping that through the Midlands is a path to a majority. But, as with their strategy elsewhere in the country, this depends on making very significant incursions into territory that is, traditionally, firmly Labour. YouGov regional pollingoffers encouragement for Conservative strategists – in both the East and West Midlands they lead Labour (51%-41% in the East, 49%-23% in the West) and although in both regions this represents a minor fall in support since 2017 it is nothing like the catastrophic collapse in Labour support (down around 20 points in both regions). These regions are both two party races and Labour has a long way to go if they want to catch up.
What does it mean?
As things stand, Boris Johnson looks set to capitalise on Theresa May’s progress across the Midlands and turn a brace of Labour seats with small majorities blue. In Ashfield, where Labour incumbent Gloria De Piero hung on by just a thousand votes in 2017, YouGov’s MRP model now suggests her successor will fall to the Tories. In West Bromwich East, where Labour Deputy Leader Tom Watson enjoyed a healthy majority in 2017, the MRP suggests it is ‘too close to call’. Losing these seats – and the dozens in between – would mean a complete collapse in Labour’s support in the Midlands and would predict a very healthy Conservative majority.
Seats to watch out for on the night
Using the Lodestone Election Barometer, we have compiled a list of seats for each region that are ones to watch – i.e. particularly marginal or particularly telling about the overall direction of travel on election night. Below are our top picks for the Midlands.
High Peak, Ruth George
- Total votes cast in 2017: 54,018
- Majority: 2,322
Ruth George won this seat in 2017 with a 4.3% majority, swinging the seat back to Labour after it was lost to the Conservatives in 2010. Almost three years later, in this narrowly Leave seat, High Peak serves as a barometer for how successful Boris has been at flipping recent losses back to the Tories.
West Bromwich East, Tom Watson (standing down at this election)
- Total votes cast in 2017: 39,098
- Majority: 7,713
In 2017 West Bromwich East was a comfortable hold for the Labour party and Tom Watson was returned with almost a 20% majority.
Things look far more complicated this time round as Watson has made way for a new candidate. His replacement, Ibrahim Dogus is struggling in the polls and the heavy ‘vote leave’ majority of 2016 (68.18%) isn’t helping. Across the West Midlands, there is a general sense of frustration with Labour’s Brexit policy and the Leader.
The Conservative candidate Nicola Faye Richards has clawed her way in front in the polls, up to 49% to Dogus’ 47%. The campaign message of dealing with Brexit and then focusing on the rest seems to be working in a constituency that has never returned a Conservative MP. A win here would signify a real landmark shift in support towards the Conservative Party in the West Mids.
Wolverhampton South East, Pat McFadden
- Total votes cast in 2017: 36,304
- Majority: 8,514
In its 45 years of life as a constituency, Wolverhampton South East has never returned a Tory MP. In 2017 Pat McFadden was re-elected with a comfortable majority of 23.5%, but like so many other Labour candidates, Brexit looks set to tar the election campaign and siphon votes away from the party who would normally not have to think twice about a majority in this seat.
68.14% of the constituency’s electorate voted to leave the EU in 2016 and once again, Labour’s apparent lack of a coherent Brexit policy could prove the tipping point for a previous safe seat. The Brexit Party and Nigel Farage may still have a roll of the dice: in 2017, the UKIP candidate took 4.6% of the vote share, with current polling showing Raj Singh Chaggar – the Brexit Party candidate – on 17%. Ejaz and the Tories are on 44% and McFadden is on 53%. If the Tories can squeeze the Brexit Party vote here then they have a chance.
Warwick and Leamington, Matt Western
- Total votes cast in 2017: 54,160
- Majority: 1,206
Warwick and Leamington seat has swung three times between the Conservatives and Labour since 1992. Matt Western won the seat for the Labour party in 2017 with the slim majority of 2.2%, a result that echoed the constituency’s decision a year earlier to remain in the EU with a majority of 58.36%.
The polls here have Labour at 46% and the Conservatives at 49%, with the Lib Dems on 17%. If Labour manage to bounce back and hold the seat it will tell us that they have been successful in squeezing Lib Dem Remainers here and elsewhere.