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A future history of Labour’s election in ten seats

November 6th, 2019

You have to admire Jeremy Corbyn’s grit. Facing personal polling figures that find him to be less popular than herpes, he has nevertheless sought out the fight and is looking to repeat the confounding of expectations that he achieved in 2017.  

If anything, the prospects are still more daunting this time round. Labour’s polling has been at a lower level for longer. Jeremy Corbyn’s personal ratings are far below what they were at the outset of the general election in 2017. Yet here we are.

Where will Labour’s chances stand or fall? I set out ten seats below which are representative of the election for Labour.

Bermondsey & Old Southwark 

In 2015 and 2017, Labour completed a complete conquest of Labour/Lib Dem marginals. Bermondsey & Southwark, so long held by Simon Hughes, now has a Labour majority of nearly 13,000.  

There has been a change in the political weather, and the Lib Dems are surfing on the back of a wave of Remainian fury about Brexit. They will be giving this, and other strongly Remain-voting constituencies like this, a huge effort. Despite needing a swing of more than 11%, they will fancy their chances.

If the Lib Dems take this, Labour will be fretting in Hornsey & Wood Green, Vauxhall and maybe even Hampstead & Kilburn and Islington South & Finsbury. Punters think the Lib Dems are very clear favourites. If they’re right, Labour are going to find themselves with an immediate setback of half a dozen seats or so.

Lib Dems 8/15 (Paddy Power, Sky Bet), Lab 6/4 (Ladbrokes)

Bolsover 

Labour need to worry about defence in Leave areas as well as Remain areas.  Bolsover has been held by Labour since its creation in 1950. Labour has never got less than 50% of the vote (and got above 70% in every election to 1979).  The Conservatives, however, made major inroads in 2017, coming within 11.4% of winning. They would love to take the scalp of Dennis Skinner (who if successful for re-election would become Father of the House – though he disdains that title).

To lose, Labour need to lose further vote share, not just see the Conservatives consolidate the opposition vote. On the face of it this loss looks unlikely, but Conservative punters are hopeful. If they’re right, Labour is in for a torrid night throughout the East Midlands and South Yorkshire.

Labour 4/6, Conservatives 6/5, both with Paddy Power.

Leeds North West 

Leeds North West was another Lib Dem/Labour marginal that was conquered by the red team, part of the final obliteration in 2017. The Lib Dems are looking to take it back. This was a strongly Remain-voting seat (nearly 2:1) and you would have thought their message would fall on fertile ground here. On the other hand, Greg Mulholland, their longstanding former MP, is not standing again. If the betting markets are to be believed, it’s a safe bet for the Lib Dems, but it doesn’t look a sure thing, particularly as the new Labour MP can expect a first time incumbency bonus.

Lib Dems 2/5, Labour 9/4, Conservatives 10/1, all with Ladbrokes.

Portsmouth South 

This one is wild. Labour took the seat from a distant third in 2017, one of the seats that utterly vindicated YouGov’s MRP model for that election.  Before then it had been in Conservative hands and before that it was a Lib Dem fiefdom for many years.

The Lib Dems have had a very colourful history in this seat and their current candidate is the local council leader, fighting the seat for a third time. All three main parties will fancy their chances and a recent constituency poll showed them in something close to a dead heat, with 6% separating the Lib Dems in first from Labour in third.

It’s anyone’s guess how this is going to go but on the odds Labour must be worth backing. If they don’t take seats like this, they are definitely going backwards in the seat count quite a long way.

Conservatives 5/4 (Ladbrokes, Paddy Power), Lib Dems 11/8 (Ladbrokes), Labour 7/2 (Ladbrokes, Sky Bet)

Kirkcaldy & Cowdenbeath 

After near-annihilation in 2015, Labour staged something of a recovery in Scotland in 2017. This seat, previously held by Gordon Brown, was one of six Scottish seats that Labour retrieved.  

Since then, Labour has seen immune to the charms of the Corbynite left.  Labour finished fifth in the EU elections earlier this year on 9.3%. They’ve been below 20% in every Scottish opinion poll since April. Right now they look at risk of losing many of their 2017 gains. This seat, held by the shadow Scottish Secretary, is typical.

SNP 1/3, Labour 9/4, both with Paddy Power.

Preseli Pembrokeshire 

If Labour are going to make progress, they’re going to need to take seats. The good news for them is that there are lots of targets with tiny majorities.  Stephen Crabb is defending a majority of just 314 in this constituency.

Labour’s polling in Wales has fallen far from its 2017 peak. They will need to rekindle the enthusiasm they generated then to take this seat.

No markets at present.

Northampton South 

Similarly, a 1.5% swing would deliver Northampton South to Labour. Despite being nearly 60:40 for Leave, it swung to Labour last time round – the importance of Brexit to the outcome last time round can be overstated.  Labour’s ability to bypass the referendum as a subject for voting in this election will be critical in determining their success.

No markets at present.

Glasgow Central 

If Labour are going to get close to an overall majority, they are going to need either to get a very substantial swing indeed in England or to take many more seats in Scotland.  They actually don’t need a big swing here, just 3.2%, but the polls have very much gone the other way in the last two years. They’re going to need some magic if they’re going to make progress in Scotland this time round.

SNP 1/14, Labour 7/1, both with Paddy Power.

Stevenage 

If Labour take every seat up to Stevenage (and recoup all the ones that left the fold in the last Parliament), they would have a bare majority. A 3.5% swing to Labour would do it, which is well within the normal range of swings that we see at elections.  

Right now, however, the swing in the polls has firmly been the other way.  No markets at present. The absence of markets here and in Preseli Pembrokeshire and Northampton South should be ominous for Labour: these seats are currently so uninteresting that the bookies haven’t got round to making markets on them yet.  Labour needs to make them more interesting to punters.

Wimbledon 

If Labour got as far as taking Wimbledon, they would (depending on how they do in Scotland), either have a bare majority or a decent working majority. As a seat that firmly supported Remain, the Conservatives look to have some work to do to keep it. But the Lib Dems are challenging for it and threatening to steal Labour’s lunch, even though they were a distant third in 2017.  Can Labour get the discussion off Brexit, where it struggles, and onto other policy matters, where it has a good retail offering? The outcome of this election will depend on that. Right now, the Conservatives look excellent value in this seat at 1/2.

Cons 1/2 (Sky Bet), Lib Dems 15/8 (Ladbrokes), Lab 20/1 (Sky Bet)

Alastair Meeks