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Is it because the marginals ARE different?

February 9th, 2010

The map that changed my view of the election

I’ve shown this before but it’s worth running again as we try focus on why things might be different in the marginals.

For combined with the Andy Cooke analysis and the marginals polling, including last week’s aggregated MORI data, a clearer picture is emerging of the dynamics of the coming election and a better sense of the outcome.

The map first appeared here in September 2007 in a guest slot by geographer, Blair Freebairn, in which he tried to show where the election would be won and lost. This had a great influence on my thinking which has been reinforced by what we’ve seen in the past few days.

Blair noted “Take a good look at the map. Notice anything? That these marginal seats will decide the next election is not news. But look at the pattern the 201 marginal seats highlighted make. They don’t concentrate in Wales, Scotland, London, the major cities or the truly rural areas. They aren’t really regional. They are heavily concentrated in Medium English Towns and Their Hinterlands (METTHs from now on).

From Scarborough via Stourbridge to Hereford. Or maybe Cleethorpes to Halifax. Stevenage to Swindon by way of Luton. From St Austell to Taunton and up to Stroud and Redditch. Kettering Corby and Broxtowe (hi Nick). How about Gravesham, Hastings and Basingstoke. Burton across to Southport via Chester. The marginals are strung like bunting through Britain avoiding the cities and the truly rural. It’s the towns, stupid!

These seats are clustered on a fine scale but not a large one, in other words they occur across all parts of the UK but where they do occur you get lots of them….”

Last month Blair added further to his insight when he observed while the Cameron family debate was in full flow that significantly more couples got married in the marginals that Labour if defending than in the party’s strongholds.

So we start to get a picture of what a key election battle-ground looks like. It’s a medium sized English town, which is not part of a big conurbation, and was generally held by the Tories until the great Blair landslide of 1997. By contrast with the cities it is more socially cohesive with a distinct demographic profile.

Politically they are likely to have seen a big decline in the number of Labour councillors and activists in the past decade or so.

It’s how the party messages play out in places like this that matter most – for this election is decided not in the 650 seats but the 100 marginals starting with target number 51 on the Tory list.

So policies designed to help the cities and the concerns of the big conurbations matter less in electoral terms than designed for the towns –

Hopefully we’ll have a marginals poll from Angus Reid in the next couple of weeks.

Mike Smithson