Welcome back to our series on the election battlegrounds! As in 2015, we’ll be taking a region-by-region look at the seats which could change hands and offering our suggested lists of target seats for each party.
These lists aren’t predictions of gains: rather, they’re just seats which we think could be competitive. They might be official party targets, have a small majority, or be subject to other factors which could leave them open to change.
Amongst the resources we’ll be using to steer us through these murky waters are Electoral Calculus, UK Polling Report, Number Cruncher Politics, and Election Polling, whilst all Leave vote share estimations are from Chris Hanretty’s very helpful constituency-by-constituency charts. We’re also keeping an eye on the work of many other pollsters, psephologists, and analysts, some of whom our assistant editor has collated onto a Twitter list.
Battleground rating: 6/10
Targets by party:
(NB These are our own suggestions of potential attack seats for each party – including those officially designated as targets and others where the incumbent has a relatively small majority, or local factors are at play which may open the seat to change.)
Bishop Auckland: This County Durham seat has been held by Labour since 1935, but has become increasingly marginal in recent years – with the Labour majority falling from an eye-watering 21,064 in 1997 to 3,508 in 2015. Christopher Adams, the 2015 Conservative candidate, has been reselected and local Conservatives are bullish about turning the seat blue. An estimated 60 per cent Leave vote certainly helps, as does the fact that UKIP took over 7,000 votes at the previous election but aren’t standing this time. Electoral Calculus estimates Adams’s chance of recording an historic victory at 59 per cent.
Darlington: Held by Michael Fallon from 1983 to 1992, Alan Milburn turned it into a safe Labour seat with a majority of over 10,000 votes. When he left in 2010 there was an opportunity to seize it back, but his replacement, Jenny Chapman, held the constituency by 3,388 votes and her majority was only slightly reduced to 3,158 in 2015. Peter Cuthbertson, the 2015 Tory candidate and ConHome contributor, is back for another go, boosted by the estimated 58 per cent Leave vote – and this time Electoral Calculus gives him a 55 per cent chance of winning.
Hartlepool: At first glance, this might be a surprising target, given the Conservatives were in third place behind UKIP in 2015. Peter Mandelson’s former seat has long been the North East’s capital for the People’s Army, but local in-fighting and the UKIP candidate’s dubious decision to register a local B&B as his “home address” have, I’m told, led to its status as a purple target being withdrawn. If Conservative Carl Jackson can capitalise on the estimated 69.5 per cent Leave vote, and thereby combine the 2015 Tory vote of 8,256 with some of UKIP’s 11,052, he will be in with a good shot at beating Labour, who won with 14,076 votes last time. Notably, the sitting Labour MP has chosen not to contest the seat again – and Electoral Calculus judge the race to be neck-and-neck, with a 49 per cent chance of a Tory gain.
Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland: Held by Labour since the constituency was created in 1997, Labour’s majority fell to 1,677 votes in 2010 before recovering slightly to 2,268 in 2015. Tom Blenkinsop, who had been the MP, has decided not to stand again, and a recent shock Conservative victory in a council by-election – their first since the city went unitary over 20 years ago – hints at why. With an estimated 65 per cent Leave vote, 6,935 UKIP votes up for grabs (the party isn’t standing again, and their 2015 candidate has defected to the Tories) and a 64 per cent chance of victory according to Electoral Calculus, Conservative Simon Clarke is a leading hope for the Party.
North West Durham: If Labour lose here, in a seat they have held continuously since 1950 and in which they enjoyed a majority of over 10,000 in 2015, then they will be having an absolutely dire night. Still, with an estimated 55 per cent Leave vote and 7,265 UKIP votes to squeeze, Sally-Ann Hart is in with a 29 per cent chance, according to Electoral Calculus.
Sedgefield: Tony Blair’s former constituency would be a dream gain for the Conservatives – but with a good following wind it might be in reach. The recent local elections saw Tory county council gains in this County Durham seat, which had an estimated 59 per cent Leave vote in the referendum. Young Conservative candidate Dehenna Davison is working the patch hard, has had supportive visits from David Davis and Karen Bradley, and looks set to eat sizeably into Labour’s 6,843 majority – notably reduced since Blair’s peak of over 25,000 in 1997. Electoral Calculus gives her a 36 per cent shot.
Stockton North: Narrowly won by Labour on its creation in 1983, when they defeated the sitting SDP MP who occupied the predecessor constituency, their majority peaked at over 21,000 here in 1997 – a staggering margin of 48 per cent of the vote. After the deselection of Frank Cook in 2010, Alex Cunningham won the seat for the reds in 2010 by 6,676 and held it in 2015 by 8,367. However, three factors could put Conservative candidate Mark Fletcher in the running – a sizeable UKIP insurgency in 2015 puts 7,581 votes potentially up for grabs, the estimated 66 per cent Leave vote contrasts with Cunningham’s support for Remain, and James Wharton’s establishment of a more secure majority in Stockton South in 2015 has given the local Conservatives both momentum (with a small ‘m’) and a strong campaigning base. As with other seats in the same patch, the Tory victory in the Tees Valley mayoral election has also fired up local activists. Electoral Calculus currently gives Fletcher a 32 per cent chance.
Tynemouth: This seaside seat (and, to declare an interest, my home constituency) was solidly Conservative from 1918 to 1997, barring a flirtation with Labour in 1945. By 2005, Alan Campbell’s 1997 majority of over 11,000 had been cut by almost two thirds, and hopes were high for 2010. However, Campbell unexpectedly increased his majority in 2010 and 2015, and Labour recently held the North Tyneside mayoralty. Seeking to overturn Campbell’s 8,240 vote majority is Nick Varley, who ran ground operations for Vote Leave. Electoral Calculus currently puts his chances at 35 per cent, presumably in part due to UKIP’s inexplicable decision to stand against a confirmed Brexiteer, but there is a sizeable and concerted campaign underway to take the seat back – notably, the Prime Minister chose it as the venue of a recent campaign speech.
Stockton South: If there’s a seat in the North East where Labour might eye a gain in some circumstances, this is it. James Wharton won it on a 332 vote majority in 2010, but in 2015 a combination of hard work and his high-profile proposition of the EU Referendum Bill paid off with a majority of 5,046. Having become a thorn in the side of the Labour Party, they had hoped to target campaigning efforts here – but the Tory threat elsewhere in the region appears to have put them on the back foot. UKIP are standing again – bizarrely, given Wharton’s prominence as a Leaver – but Labour’s chance in this Leave-voting seat is rated at just 18 per cent by Electoral Calculus.
Berwick-upon-Tweed: Losing their 42-year hold on their North East stronghold was a bitter blow for the Lib Dems in 2015 – they know their strength is in being hard to winkle out once in place, and had hoped for a secure succession from Alan Beith to Julie Pörksen. As it was, Anne-Marie Trevelyan won Berwick for the Conservatives by 4,914 votes on the back of a 9.6 point swing. It was Trevelyan’s second attempt, which had allowed her to establish good name recognition over a period of years – an approach the Lib Dems are mimicking, by putting up Pörksen again this time. However, the stuttering national campaign has demoralised local Liberal Democrats, and the Conservatives made gains here in England’s most northern constituency in the local elections. Electoral Calculus gives Trevelyan a 92-per-cent chance of holding the seat, on what could be a greatly increased majority.
Hartlepool: As discussed above, Hartlepool delivered UKIP’s fourth strongest showing in the whole country in 2015, so ought to be their best prospect in the North East. There was some talk that Paul Nuttall might stand here, but with characteristic confusion he ended up travelling there to announce that he would stand somewhere else. Instead the party has reselected Philip Broughton, who stood in 2015. UKIP’s vote held up better here in the mayoral election than elsewhere in the Tees Valley, but I’m told their local campaign has run into problems: first with Broughton’s decision to claim a local B&B as his home address, and then with a falling out within the local party. In addition to their national polling decline, UKIP high command has, I’m told, withdrawn target seat support for the campaign. Electoral Calculus now puts Broughton’s chances at just two per cent.