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Sean Fear’s Friday slot

July 27th, 2007

    Can Labour Retain the South?

I wrote some months ago that the Conservatives could not win a working majority without significantly increasing their presence in the North of England. Conversely, Labour cannot retain a working majority without holding onto a significant number of seats in London and the South of England, particularly the South East. It was Tony Blair’s particular skill to be able to win over large numbers of affluent Conservative voters in the South, enabling Labour to win seats it had never held before.

Following the boundary changes, according to Anthony Wells, there will be 29 seats with Labour MPs, where the party’s percentage majority over the Conservatives is 3% or less. These include 11 seats that have notional Conservative majorities, as a result of the changes. Some commentators consider that a number of these remain notionally Labour seats, but all are agreed that the boundary changes have not been helpful to Labour in these seats. In addition, another 4 Labour seats are vulnerable to a similar swing to the Liberal Democrats. Were they all to fall, then Labour would be left without an overall majority.

Out of these 33 seats, 21 are located in London and the South of England. Of those, 14 have Labour leads of under 2% (including notional Conservative leads). In all but two of these, Hastings and Rye and Islington South, Labour have performed very poorly in recent local elections. Labour could retain an overall majority, even if it were to lose all of these Southern marginal seats, but it would be such a small majority as to call into question Gordon Brown’s ability to govern for a full term.

The history of John Major’s last administration suggests that it is better for a government to lose an election outright, than to hold on to power with a very small majority and see its authority sapped through endless backbench rebellions and defeats.

David Cameron seems to appeal to Southern voters far better than to voters in the North and Scotland. Were the overall vote shares of the parties to be largely unchanged at the next election, Labour’s majority would probably fall quite significantly, were the Conservatives to put on votes in the South, and lose them in the North, because the Conservatives have far fewer marginal seats in the North and Scotland than Labour has in the South.

Gordon Brown has demonstrated over the past couple of months that he is no fool. He will be well aware of his party’s vulnerability in the South, and will make every effort to retain these vital seats.

Last night, there was just one by-election in Powys CC, Grungog. Liberal Democrat 234, Independent 143, Independent 98, Conservative 95. Liberal Democrat hold.

Sean Fear is a London Tory






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