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Could the university seats be Blair’s undoing?

July 31st, 2004

Focus Leaflet - NewcastleNewcastle LibDem leaflet

    Does retaining the university seats hold the key to Tony Blair’s premiership?

Applying the Martin Baxter caculator to the latest poll figures gives Labour 346 seats – 22 more than is required for a majority and the bottom of the current spread markets on the party.

But how safe are the 22? Could disproportionate swings or highly focused targeting take away this number or even more seats leaving Tony Blair without a majority. Could those targets include traditional inner city Labour strongholds which have high university, student and academic, populations that might be vulnerable to the Lib Dems?

    With one in every four Labour voters from 2001 now having abandoned the party Tony Blair’s ability to hang on to power with a workable majority could well depend on seeing off the Lib Dem challenge in the university areas.

A striking feature of the seats where the Lib Dems were second to Labour in 2001 is that many are in university areas – where issues such as the war and the imposition of tuition fees might have a bigger impact on the student and academic voters than in the rest of the country. Although many of the Labour majorities are large there are several factors that could put many of them within Charles Kennedy’s reach.

  • Big inroads at the local elections were made by the Lib Dems in the university cities on June 10 showing a growing activist base and creating a good platform for General Election success – see picture above.
  • Not as many votes need to switch when the target seats are Labour. Unlike Lib Dem Tory targets which usually have large electorates and high turnouts the opposite is the norm with the Labour list making it much easier to focus resources. So although, in percentage terms, the majorities seem insurmountable they can be within reach.
  • Labour has not proved itself to be comfortable fighting off challenges in city strongholds and they’ve found it difficult developing anti-Lib Dem messages to keep supporters loyal.
  • Tactical voting is likely to more pronounced in university seats than elsewhere if the anti-Tory switching of last time is anything to go by. That was against Tory incumbents in 1997 and 2001 – this time it will be against Labour and the small Tory vote will be susecptible to the squeeze message,
  • The Lib Dems came second to Labour in one or more seats in the following University cities:- Aberdeen, Cardiff, Bristol, Birmingham, Cambridge, Durham, Edinburgh, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle, Oxford and Sheffield.

    Given the scale of the threat would Blair be better off holding the election during the university vacation?

    A classic example is Manchester Withington where the university population is well into five and the result last time was:-
    LAB 19,238: LIBD 7715: CON 5,349: OTH 2,747. With Labour polling at more than a quarter less than it got in 2001 and the Lib Dems doing a third to a half again better then on a crude move with the national swing it goes LAB 14,000 to the LIB DEMS 11,000. Add the effects of heavy targetting, to the big squeeze on the Tory vote and then build in an element of Labour disenchantment over university fees and you have a real Lib Dem possibility. This in a seat where the percentage Labour majority was 32.

    Although some of those mega-majorities look beyond reach University seats might react differently than the norm with significant parts of the electorate that are more political and more unified. Many of these voters will not need reminding that one of New Labour’s first acts on coming to power in 1997 was to abolish student grants and to introduce fees.

    Our call remains – SELL LABOUR in the spread markets and BUY LIB DEM.

    Mike Smithson






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