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:

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Ilkley Moor

The second region covered (as defined by the EU regional constituencies) is Yorkshire and the Humber, a vast beautiful area covering everything from Richmond to Sheffield, and Ingleton to Spurn Head. Politically the region can be divided in three – the large rural constituencies which are safe Conservative seats and probably always will be, the urban seats in places like Leeds, Sheffield, Bradford and Hull which mostly vote Labour, and the post-industrial seats in West and South Yorkshire, surrounding the big cities. It is the latter that could prove decisive in this election.

Unlike in the North East, a lot of these post-industrial seats already have a history of being tight and changing hands. Seats like Calder Valley, Colne Valley, Halifax and Keighley and switched between the Tories and Labour, often during the big landslide elections. Most famously, the two elections held in the new seat of Morley and Outwood have been decided by a handful of votes, with former Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls ousted in 2015.

But there are plenty of other seats teetering, and once again this hasn’t necessarily been extensively covered by the media yet. Labour have 33 seats in the region but most of these face some kind of threat from a potential UKIP collapse – especially now that UKIP aren’t standing in many of these seats.

There are some where it seems extremely unlikely they can be toppled – Barnsley Central, Barnsley East, Bradford East, Bradford West, Hull North, Leeds Central, Sheffield Brightside and Hillsborough, Sheffield Central, and Wentworth and Deane should all be comfortable holds even if the Labour-Tory swing is bigger than expected.

At the other end of the scale, there are 10 seats where the combined Tory+UKIP vote was bigger than that of the Labour MP:

Batley and Spen: When Jo Cox won this seat in 2015, her majority was 6,057 (12%) over the Tory candidate. However, UKIP picked up 9,080 votes (18%) to finish third. After Cox’s assassination by a far right activist, all the major parties declined to stand against Labour’s Tracy Brabin, and she took 85.2% of the vote in the by-election. But in 2017 these parties return, with the exception of UKIP. This has been a Labour seat since 1997, prior to which it was a Tory seat from its formation in 1983 – Batley has mostly been represented by Labour since 1922. A 6% swing would be enough for a Tory win here in West Yorkshire.

Bradford South: The only Bradford seat which is currently remotely close, Labour’s Judith Cummins won in 2015 with a majority of 6,450 (17.2%). The Tories finished second with 9,878 (26.3%), but this was only just ahead of UKIP, who picked up 9,057 (24.1%), making a combined majority of the vote between the two right-wing parties (50.4%), some 7% ahead of the Labour vote. This hasn’t been won by the Tories since 1918, and has been Labour continuously since the Attlee landslide of 1945. The swing looks big at 8.5% but it’s a very winnable seat for the Tories.

Dewsbury: A classic swing seat which has flip-flopped since long-time MP David Ginsburg left Labour for the SDP in 1981, handing the seat to the Tories in 1983 with a split centre-left vote. It changed back to Labour in 1987, before returning to the Tories in 2010, and then back to Labour again in 2015. Paula Sherriff won the seat by 1,451 (2.7%) on a swing of 2.8%, but UKIP finished third with 6,649 (12.4%). UKIP are not standing this time which in theory should hand this seat back to the Tories, with only a 1.4% swing needed. Despite the name, it actually covers most of the southern part of Kirklees beyond the town of Dewsbury itself.

Don Valley: Former minister Caroline Flint has been MP here since 1997, but Labour have held this seat in South Yorkshire since 1922. Despite increasing her majority to 8,885 (20.9%) in 2015, she was significantly helped by the rise of UKIP, taking votes from the Tory candidate to finish third with 9,963 votes (23.5%). It would take a sizeable swing of 10.5% for the Tories to oust one of Labour’s best-known female MPs, but UKIP have now withdrawn, which leaves Flint massively exposed to a potential Tory surge.

Great Grimsby: With Austin Mitchell stepping down, UKIP targeted Great Grimsby as one of their potential gains in 2015. However, their challenge ultimately fell flat as the split of the right-wing vote allowed new Labour MP Melanie Onn in with a majority of 4,540 (13.5%). The Tories finished second with 8,874 (26.3%), and UKIP third with 8,417 (25.0%). It’s a clear demonstration of a right-wing majority in the seat of just under 4,000. However, UKIP aren’t giving up the fight just yet, selecting Fisheries Spokesman Mike Hookem – best known for taking it outside “mano el mano” with Steven Woolfe in Strasbourg last year. The Tories need a 6.8% swing, or just over half of the UKIP vote, to win the seat for the first time since 1935 – nationally the polls suggest the Tories are indeed taking just over half of the UKIP vote. The Tory candidate is Jo Gideon – perhaps replacing the outgoing Gideon who used to represent Tatton?

Halifax: This is the sort of seat Labour usually hold when they are doing OK, and the Tories only take when they are doing really well – the last time they won it was 1983. But Holly Lynch’s majority in 2015 was just 428 (1%), one of the smallest in the entire country.  By contrast, UKIP picked up 5,621 votes (12.8%). With a swing of 0.5% needed, only a fraction of the UKIP votes switching over would give the Tories the seat.

Penistone and Stocksbridge: Labour’s Angela Smith won this seat, a mix of rural areas and former industrial towns, with a handy majority of 6,723 (14.3%) on a swing of 3.9% away from the Tories. However, this was of course in part due to another UKIP surge, as they picked up 10,738 votes (22.9%) to finish third. Though on the surface it seems like quite a safe seat, needing a 7.2% swing to the Tories to change hands, the reality is that big UKIP vote may drop away just as quickly as it appeared – the Tory+UKIP percentage of the vote was 50.6%. Penistone has been continuously represented by Labour since 1935.

Rother Valley: We come to a rare seat where UKIP actually finished second ahead of the Tories, which does make it slightly trickier to predict exactly what will happen. In 2015, Kevin Barron held a majority of 7,297 (15.5%) over UKIP, with the Tories in third on 10,945 (23.3%). This was an increased majority from 2010, when Barron’s lead over the Tories was 5,866 (12.5%). Theoretically this is a safe seat, always held by Labour since its creation in 1918. But that combined UKIP+Tory 2015 vote was 51.5%, though it is hard to guess exactly where that UKIP vote will go. The Tories need a 10.2% swing to take it.

Scunthorpe: The Lincolnshire steel town has been represented by Labour since 1987, but Nic Dakin’s majority over the Tory candidate (Jo Gideon again) in 2015 was 3,134 (8.5%). UKIP’s total of 6,329 (17.1%) was just over half the Tory total – half of that switching to the Tories this time would give the seat to them on a swing of 4.3%. As recently as 2001, the Labour majority here was 14,173 (34.1%).

Wakefield: The city has been represented by Labour continuously since 1932, but has already drawn media attention for the situation currently developing there. Mary Creagh, a Shadow Cabinet member throughout Ed Miliband’s tenure as leader who briefly ran for the leadership herself in 2015, faces a significant threat. Her majority in 2015 was just 2,613 (6.1%) over the Tories’ Antony Calvert, who had narrowly lost to Ed Balls in Morley and Outwood in 2010. The UKIP vote was 7,862 (18.3%), which is high enough that the Tories would expect to take the seat on a swing of 3.1%. To make the situation seemingly easier for them and bleaker for Labour, UKIP confirmed early on that they would stand aside. Calvert is standing again for the Tories, and is likely to become an MP at the third time of asking; Creagh is seemingly doomed.

Beyond these, there are still further seats where the margin is likely to be close, even if the 2015 Tory+UKIP vote isn’t quite bigger than the Labour vote – here are the tighest:

– Doncaster Central – Labour 49.1%, Tory+UKIP 44.8%, notional majority 1,707 (note: no UKIP; Rosie Winterton’s seat)

– Hull West and Hessle – Labour 49.2%, Tory+UKIP 37.4%, notional majority 3,772 (note: currently Alan Johnson’s seat, but he’s stepping down)

– Leeds North East – Labour 47.9%, Tory+UKIP 40.6%, notional majority 3,543 (note: no UKIP)

– Leeds West – Labour 48.0%, Tory+UKIP 38.6%, notional majority 3,623 (note: Rachel Reeves’ seat)

– Rotherham – Labour 52.5%, Tory+UKIP 42.5%, notional majority 3,790 (note: UKIP a strong second here)

– York Central – Labour 42.4%, Tory+UKIP 38.4%, notional majority 1,921 (note: no UKIP; also no Green, who polled 10% of the vote)

Here are some slightly longer shots, but not as unlikely as you’d think – remember that while a majority of 5,000 might seem like a lot, only 2,501 people who previously voted for the MP would need to change their mind and vote for the second-placed party to swing the result. If Labour drop below 25% of the vote nationally, these seats will come into play:

– Doncaster North – Labour 52.4%, Tory+UKIP 40.9%, notional majority 4,545 (note: Ed Miliband’s seat)

– Hull East – Labour 51.7%, Tory+UKIP 38.3%, notional majority 4,726 (note: John Prescott’s former seat)

– Leeds East – Labour 53.7%, Tory+UKIP 39.9%, notional majority 5,277 (note: Richard Burgon’s seat)

– Leeds North West – Lib Dem 36.8%, Labour 30.1%, Tory+UKIP 25.5%, notional majority (over Tory+UKIP) 4,868 (note: no UKIP; potential three-way marginal so hard to call)

– Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford – Labour 54.9%, Tory+UKIP 42.1%, notional majority 5,859 (note: Yvette Cooper’s seat)

– Sheffield Heeley – Labour 48.2%, Tory+UKIP 33.6%, notional majority 6,162 (note: Louise Haigh’s seat)

– Sheffield South East – Labour 51.4%, Tory+UKIP 39.3%, notional majority 5,069

There’s also one further important seat – Sheffield Hallam, the seat of former Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg. There was a lot of hype around this seat in 2015 because for a while looked like the Deputy Prime Minister would lose his seat, a huge symbolic blow for the party after five years in government. However, Clegg held on, defeating the Labour candidate by 2,353 votes (4.2%).

One might expect Clegg to retain his seat a bit more comfortably this time. But there’s a catch – the Lib Dems aren’t picking up votes. If you believe the polls, both Labour and the Lib Dems are hovering around the same percentage of the vote nationally as they got in 2015. In fact, if anything the Lib Dems are facing being squeezed in an election that is a clear two-horse race. That would presumably leave Clegg, like all the other Lib Dems, under threat. While we don’t have the Ashcroft constituency polls to make it exciting this time, we shouldn’t forget that he is still very much at risk of losing his seat, although I would still expect him to win again.


With the deadline for the announcement of candidates tonight, there’s essentially a flood of announcements of the seats UKIP aren’t standing in. It seems they are standing aside in many marginal seats, which presumably will massively work against Labour and the Lib Dems. They are also standing down in many seats the Tories took from the Lib Dems in the last election (all 2015 gains are marked with a *). I’m updating this list as we go on, along with stats from last time – my source is here but this itself is being updated:

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The local and mayoral election results may carry many caveats about turnout and local issues, but there’s one clear trend that comes out of them. As projected by recent opinion polls, UKIP’s support is collapsing, and the vast majority of it is heading to the Conservatives. It’s difficult to scope out the exact extent of this, or if the way that collapse is spread around the country, but this is terrible news for Labour.

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Even as a Labour Party supporter, it’s hard to make an argument that Jeremy Corbyn is going to be the next prime minister. Even the most optimistic opinion polls since the election was called have Labour on roughly the same number of votes as in 2015 – you can make an argument for how much of an achievement/disappointment (delete as appropriate) that may be, but when the Conservative vote is going up, it isn’t going to get Corbyn into 10 Downing Street.

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The first Welsh poll ahead of next month’s general election caused quite a stir. For the first time in 99 years, the Labour Party are set to not have the most seats in Wales. Instead, it is the Conservative Party who are seemingly on course to take the most seats for the first time in what can loosely be called modern politics. They are on 40%, up 13% on 2015. Labour are down 7%, meaning a Labour-Tory swing of 10% – not as extreme as in Scotland in the last election, but still an enormous shift, and nothing short of a potential revolution in Welsh politics.

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Britain’s last boat trains

Posted: March 26, 2017 in Rail, Transport


As part of the package for my current job (working for a train operating company), I currently have free travel throughout much of the British railway network – a dream come true. Over the last few months I’ve been exploring parts of the country that I could never have imagined visiting – places that were just names on a map to a little Welsh lad who rarely ventured past Birmingham prior to turning 21.

Two of my recent trips have been linked. On 18 March, I found myself heading west from Leeds on the only train of the day to Heysham Port. Today, a week later (25 March), I was on one of the few services across South Wales from Cardiff to Fishguard Harbour. Both are amongst Britain’s last surviving services to ferry ports, linking with services to the Isle of Man and Rosslare respectively.

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