2017 Election: The state of play in the North West

Posted: May 14, 2017 in Politics


The North West has long been a Labour heartland. There are still plenty of constituencies which are essentially no-go areas for the Conservatives – the moment a Tory gets elected in Liverpool is the moment you know things are dire for Labour. But despite having a lot of well-off suburbs, this was a region that went almost totally red during the Blair landslide years, and the Tories have had to chip away over the last three elections to gain a more significant presence.

However, as in the other northern regions, this may be about to change. 16 Labour or Lib Dem seats here had a right-wing party majority in 2015. With the collapse of the UKIP vote incoming, these seats will come into play in this election, and if the Tories take all of them, they will have a majority in the North West region:

Barrow and Furness: John Woodcock, the sitting Labour MP for Barrow since 2010, has been one of Jeremy Corbyn’s most outspoken critics. But despite openly admitting that he will not back his party’s leader to be prime minister, he stands for Labour again this year. They have held this seat since 1992, and before that from 1945 to 1983. The loss of the seat during the Thatcher years could possibly be attributed to Labour’s anti-nuclear stance in the Michael Foot years, Barrow being an important base for the UK’s nuclear deterrent. But it has been slowly moving back the Tories, since before Corbyn became leader. Woodcock’s majority in 2015 was 795 (1.8%), with UKIP third with 5,070 votes (11.7%). A tiny swing of 0.9% would be enough for the Tories to take it, which may be why Woodcock has chosen to distance himself from his anti-nuclear leader and effectively go it alone. It’ll be interesting to see if that will be enough to save his seat; you’d have to say it’s unlikely.

Blackpool South: The neighbouring seat of Blackpool North and Cleveleys has been Tory since its creation in 2010, currently being held by Rail Minister Paul Maynard. The South seat, which covers the town centre and promenade, has so far stayed Labour since 1997, having previously been held by the Tories for decades. However, Gordon Marsden’s majority in 2015 was 2,585 (8%), with a UKIP vote of 5,613 (17.3%). If around half of this vote goes to the Tories, they’ll have the 4% swing they need to take the seat. It is also worth noting that this seat had the highest Leave vote in the North West, with 67.8% voting for Brexit last year.

Bolton North East: The Tories have a growing vote in Bolton. They took Bolton West in 2015 and are now closing on the other two seats in the town. North East is the closer of the two, with Labour’s Sir David Crausby holding a majority of 4,377 (10.1%) in 2015. UKIP again finished third on 8,117 votes (18.8%). Crausby has been MP here since 1997, having taken the seat from the Tories after MP Peter Thurnham defected to the Lib Dems. A swing of 5.2% will see him unseated. Bolton South East would only fall to the Tories on a huge swing of 15%, but that is a seat with a much bigger UKIP vote (see below).

Bury South: Bury is another Greater Manchester town divided by politics. Bury North was one of the tightest seats in the region, with the Tories just holding it. Bury South was held by Labour’s Ivan Lewis with a majority of 4,922 (10.4%) over the Tories. But UKIP picked up 6,299 (13.3%), leaving Lewis exposed to a potential Tory challenge in this election if they pick up the necessary swing of 5.2%. Bury seats have typically swayed back and forth between red and blue. Like many of the seats in this area, Labour has held this seat since 1997, with Lewis present throughout. Before that, it had been a Tory seat since its creation in 1983.

Chorley: This was a bellweather seat until 2010, having changed hands most recently in 1997 and before that in 1979. Lindsay Hoyle was the Labour MP who bucked the trend, and in 2015 his majority was 4,530 (8.8%). However, UKIP picked up 6,995 votes (13.5%), which leaves Hoyle vulnerable to the 4.4% swing the Tories need to take back the Lancashire town. Hoyle is currently the Deputy Speaker of the House.

City of Chester: Labour’s most marginal seat victory came when Chris Matheson gained Chester from the Tories by just 93 votes (0.2%). They had previously held this seat from 1997, when Christine Russell defeated well-known Tory MP and TV presenter Gyles Brandreth to become the first Chester Labour MP. Russell was defeated by Stephen Mosley in 2010, who in turn was beaten by Matheson. However, with a UKIP vote of 4,148 (8.1%) now disappearing due to the party’s decision not to stand here, it seems like this one may be a lost cause for Labour, although as 2015 showed, just because a seat is ultra-marginal doesn’t mean the swing will go the way you it expect it to.

Copeland: There is a caveat with this one – the Tories have already taken it. Earlier this year, Trudy Harrison won the by-election held in the western part of Cumbria after sitting Labour MP Jamie Reed, a fierce critic of Jeremy Corbyn, resigned to take up a role at the Sellafield nuclear complex. In 2015 he had held the seat with a majority of 2,564 (6.5%). UKIP finished third with 6,148 (15.5%). In the by-election, Tory Trudy Harrison won the seat with 44.3% of the vote and a majority of 7%. UKIP dropped to fourth with 6.5%, with the Lib Dems rising to third. Turnout was 51.35%, down 12.4% on the general election. Election convention says that we have to ignore by-elections when making projections for general elections, but the fact is it’s already a Tory seat, so another win for them seems very likely. This seat was last won by them in a general election in 1931.

Heywood and Middleton: This constituency hit the headlines in 2014 with a by-election after the death of Jim Dobbin, the MP since 1997. UKIP mounted a huge campaign to win the seat but ultimately Liz McInnes held on for Labour by a narrow margin. She increased her majority in 2015 to 5,299 (10.9%) over UKIP, with the Tories in third with 9,268 (19.1%). As with all the other seats where UKIP finished ahead of the Tories, it’s hard to judge exactly how much the Tories will benefit from it, but they need a 12% swing to win from third. Heywood has been represented by Labour since 1964, and Middleton since 1974.

Hyndburn: A 1992 gain for Labour, this seat centres on the town of Accrington. Graham Jones has been the MP here since 2010; in 2015 his majority grew to 4,400 (10.3%). But there was a notably high UKIP vote, with 9,154 votes (21.3%). It is thus unsurprising that over 65% of people here chose to vote Leave the following year. The Tories need a swing of 5.4%, which seems a decent possibility with only half the UKIP vote needed to take it.

Lancaster and Fleetwood: Cat Smith is one of the great hopes of the left of the Labour Party, but she faces an uphill struggle to retain her seat. This was a gain for Labour in 2015, with Smith ousting Eric Ollerenshaw by 1,265 votes (3.0%), on a swing of 1.9%. Both candidates improved on their party’s 2015 share, as did UKIP, who finished third with 4,060 votes (9.7%). Due to boundary changes, this seat only came into being in 2010, before which it was notionally a Labour seat; Ollerenshaw ousted Labour MP Clive Grunshaw. The former Tory MP stands again this time, and will take it back on a swing of just 1.5%.

Oldham East and Saddleworth: In 2010 this seat was the subject of a scandal surrounding Labour MP Phil Woolas, who was found guilty of making false statements about the Lib Dem candidate whom he had beaten by just 103 votes. By the time of the resulting by-election, the Lib Dems were in the coalition government and Debbie Abrahams won comfortably for Labour. In 2015, Abrahams had a majority of 6,002 (13.5%), though this time it was over the Conservatives. UKIP finished third with 8,557 votes (19.2%), with the Lib Dems dropping to fourth. A 6.8% swing will give this seat to the Tories, who notionally held it going into 1997 (due to a reorganisation of the Oldham seats) but have never previously been contenders on the current boundaries.

Southport: Like nearly all surviving Lib Dem MPs, John Pugh doesn’t have a particularly big majority. His majority of 6,024 (13.8%) in 2010 was reduced by Tory Damien Moore to just 1,322 (3%), although he did well to keep hold of his seat in the circumstances. This seat has changed hands between the Lib Dems and Tories three times in the last 30 years; Liberal Ronnie Fearn gained the seat in 1987, losing to Tory Matthew Banks in 1992, and then gaining it back in 1997. Pugh took over from Fearn in 2001, but may not hold on much longer. In 2015, UKIP picked up 7,429 votes (16.8%) to finish fourth. Pugh may require significant tactical voting from many of the 8,468 Labour voters (19.2%) to have any chance of holding his seat; Damien Moore needs a swing of 1.5% to claim victory in the seaside town at the second attempt.

Stalybridge and Hyde: This seat in the east of Greater Manchester saw a gradual erosion of its Labour majority from a peak in 1997 to 2010, when it dropped to just 2,744 (6.7%). This was the first election won by Jonathan Reynolds, who took over the seat from James Purnell after a controversial selection process. Reynolds managed to increase his majority in 2015 to 6,686 (16.3%), as UKIP’s strong showing of 7,720 votes (18.8%) helped erode the Tory vote. However, with a potential UKIP collapse, the Tories will fancy their chances, with an 8.2% swing needed to win a seat Labour have held continuously since 1945.

Wirral West: The 2015 election campaign in Wirral West was particularly bitter. Labour’s Margaret Greenwood defeated Tory minister Esther McVey by just 417 votes (1%). This seat had previously changed hands in 2010, when McVey won it at the second attempt, and 1997, when Stephen Hesford ousted another former Tory minister, David Hunt. Prior to 1983, the Wirral had been covered by one seat, which was predominantly Tory, including being held by former Chancellor Selwyn Lloyd from 1945 to 1976. However, both Wirral seats and nearby Ellesmere Port and Neston are currently Labour seats, albeit maybe not for much longer. Although UKIP got just 2,772 votes (6.6%) in Wirral West, the Tories still only need 15% of this to take the seat on a 0.5% swing. In both Wirral South and Ellesmere Port and Neston, Labour held a very small majority over the Tory+UKIP vote (see below).

Workington: Labour has held Workington for 99 years, with the brief exception of the period between the 1976 by-election and the 1979 general election, when it was held by the Tories – so technically Labour haven’t lost here in a general election for nearly a century. As with many seats in the North West, new MP Sue Hayman increased Labour’s majority in 2015, holding a 4,686-vote (12.2%) advantage over the Tories. However, both parties’ share of the vote declined, with UKIP presumably being the beneficiary; they finished third with 7,538 votes (19.6%). The Tories need a 6.1% swing to take this seat.

Worsley and Eccles South: Another marginal increase of majority here gave Barbara Keeley a lead of 5,946 votes (14.1%) in 2015. UKIP were third with 7,688 (18.3%), though, so there was a small and now potentially decisive right-wing majority. Keeley was previously the MP for Worsley, which was a safe Labour seat, while Eccles has been represented by Labour continuously since 1945, though much of it is incorporated into the Salford and Eccles seat.

On top of this, there are a lot of seats within the Tories’ sights which they could add to their total:

– Ashton-under-Lyne – Labour 49.8%, Tory+UKIP 43.9%, notional majority 2,288 (note: Angela Rayner’s seat)

– Bolton South East – Labour 50.5%, Tory+UKIP 43.9%, notional majority 2,639

– Burnley – Labour 37.6%, Tory+UKIP 30.8%, notional majority 2,713 (note: Lib Dem held the seat 2010-15, finished second in 2015 on 29.5%)

– Denton and Reddish – Labour 50.8%, Tory+UKIP 42.4%, notional majority 3,286

– Ellesmere Port and Neston – Labour 47.8%, Tory+UKIP 46.3%, notional majority 681

– Leigh – Labour 53.9%, Tory+UKIP 42.3%, notional majority 5,193 (note: currently Andy Burnham’s seat, but he’s standing down)

– Makerfield – Labour 51.8%, Tory+UKIP 41.9%, notional majority 4,403

– Rochdale – Labour 46.1%, Tory+UKIP 35.8%, notional majority 4,700 (note: sitting MP Simon Danczuk standing as an independent against Labour candidate Tony Lloyd)

– Salford and Eccles – Labour 49.4%, Tory+UKIP 38.4%, notional majority 4,735 (note: Rebecca Long-Bailey’s seat)

– Warrington North – Labour 47.8%, Tory+UKIP 45.3%, notional majority 1,166

– West Lancashire – Labour 49.3%, Tory+UKIP 44.6%, notional majority 2,302 (note: no UKIP)

– Wigan – Labour 52.2%, Tory+UKIP 40.2%, notional majority 5,418 (note: Lisa Nandy’s seat)

– Wirral South – Labour 48.2%, Tory+UKIP 46.1%, notional majority 862 (note: no UKIP)

– Wythenshawe and Sale East – Labour 50.1%, Tory+UKIP 40.4%, notional majority 4,215

These are the slightly longer shots – for Labour or the Lib Dems, it would be disastrous to lose them and probably indicative of a huge Tory victory:

– Blackburn – Labour 56.3%, Tory+UKIP 41.6%, notional majority 6,480 (note: no UKIP; Jack Straw’s former seat)

– Oldham West and Royton – Labour 54.8%, Tory+UKIP 39.6%, notional majority 6,551 (note: 2015 election figures; 2015 by-election saw increased Labour majority)

– Sefton Central – Labour 53.8%, Tory+UKIP 39.6%, notional majority 6,967 (note: no UKIP)

– Stockport – Labour 49.9%, Tory+UKIP 37.6%, notional majority 4,855

– Stretford and Urmston – Labour 53.0%, Tory+UKIP 38.7%, notional majority 6,617

– Westmorland and Lonsdale – Lib Dem 51.5%, Tory+UKIP 39.4%, notional majority 5,918 (note: Tim Farron’s seat; no UKIP)


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