Focus on Lancashire
Iâ€™ve commented several times that while a strong performance for the Conservatives in Southern England would be sufficient to deprive Labour of their majority, there is no chance of the Conservatives winning an overall majority without regaining a lot of ground in the North of England, something they conspicuously failed to do in 2005. Nowhere is that more true than in Lancashire, a key battleground for decades between the Conservatives and Labour.
When the new boundary changes come into force, Lancashire will have sixteen seats. Of those, three will be very safe for the Conservatives, namely Fylde, Ribble Valley, and the new seat of Wyre and Preston North. Three will be very safe for Labour, namely Burnley, Blackburn, and Preston. This is despite the fact that the Liberal Democrats polled strongly in the first two in 2005, and the BNP managed to save their deposits.
The remaining ten seats, or their predecessors, have all switched between the two parties over the past thirty years, although they are all now currently held by Labour. Few other counties have seen such a turnover during that period.
Despite being held by the Conservatives up till 1997, Blackpool South is probably now safe for Labour, with a projected majority of 18%, according to Rallings and Thrasher. There was no swing between the parties in 2005, and it is as good an example of any of the long term swing away from the Conservatives in seaside resorts. Likewise, Chorley, once a seat which swung with the tide, now seems to have become fairly safe for Labour, despite Conservative success in local elections. It had a swing of just 1% to the Conservatives in 2005. If either of these falls, the Conservatives will probably be heading for a 100 seat majority.
Hyndburn is likely to be more competitive. The Labour lead is 14%, and the swing against the party was in line with the national average in 2005. Like several other seats in the County, this one has a large BNP vote, which it makes the outcome more unpredictable. If the Conservatives win this, they will have a reasonable working majority. West Lancashire, which has a similar Labour majority, will be equally competitive. Unusually, it combines some of the richest and poorest wards in the North of England. Labour won it by the huge margin of 17,000, ten years ago, but that has been cut to 6,000 in successive elections.
Morecambe and Lunesdale, with a 12% Labour lead, is notionally more marginal than the previous two seats. However, it is a typical seaside resort constituency that has moved heavily to Labour in recent years, if not as run down as Blackpool South. There was no swing against Labour in 2005, and the Conservatives will have to be doing very well indeed to recapture it. Lancaster and Fleetwood (formerly Lancaster and Wyre), one of the Tories few Northern gains in 2005, has been converted from a Conservative to a Labour seat by the same boundary changes that bring Wyre and Preston North into being. It has a notional Labour lead of 9%, and is a must-win seat for the Conservatives if they are to have any hope of victory.
Rossendale and Darwen, with a projected Labour lead of 8%, is a classic marginal, which was lost by the Conservatives in 1992. However, several Northern Conservative seats which were won in 1992, such as Hazel Grove and Sheffield Hallam, have now passed out of reach, so this is precisely the kind of seat the Tories must regain, even to emerge as the largest party in Parliament. Blackpool North and Cleveleys, with a similar Labour lead, is the more well-heeled of that townâ€™s two constituencies. It had never actually been lost by the Conservatives until 1997, but the Conservatives have not made much headway since then. However, boundary changes are favourable to the Conservatives here, and their capture of the council, in 2007, will give them hope here.
Pendle is the one three way marginal in Lancashire. The vote share for each of the three main parties came within 1% of the national average in 2005, and there is a large BNP vote as well. The local council is, however, very solidly Liberal Democrat, which suggests that the party is squeezed in national contests. Expect this seat to be won by whichever party wins the election. Finally, South Ribble, with a 5% Labour lead, is the kind of wealthy seat which the Conservatives really shouldnâ€™t have lost in the first place. It produced only a small swing to the Conservatives in 2005, but if the Conservatives canâ€™t win here, Labour will probably be comfortably the largest party in Parliament.
There were eight by-elections last night. The Liberal Democrats had the most to celebrate.
Carmarthenshire County – Llandybie: Independent 496, Labour 337, Plaid Cymru 310, Conservative 52, Independent 49. Independent hold.
Conwy County Borough – Rhiw: Lib Dem 548, Conservative 513, Ind 80, BNP 61, Green 36. Lib Dem gain from Conservatives. All three seats have come up in by-elections in this ward. The first two were won comfortably by the Conservatives, so this was an excellent result for the Liberal Democrats.
Norfolk County – Aylesham: Lib Dem 1696, Conservative 854, Labour 177, UKIP 71 Liberal Democrat hold with a strong swing to the party from the Conservatives.
Rossendale Borough – Hareholme: Labour 591, Conservative 520. Labour hold with a small swing to the Conservatives from May.
Wellingborough Borough – West: Conservative 363, Lib Dem 149, Labour 38. An easy Conservative hold.
Forest Heath District, Manor. Lib Dem 281, Conservative 211, UKIP 32. Lib Dem gain from Conservative, in a seat which was uncontested in May
Winchester City – Wickham: Lib Dem 630, Conservative 349, UKIP 40, Labour 15. An easy Liberal Democrat hold.
Dundee City, Lochee. SNP 2,005, Labour 1,395, Lib Dem 435, Conservative 154, Socialist 55, Solidarity 57 (1st round). SNP 2,055, Labour 1,448 (final round). SNP hold.
Sean Fear is a London Tory