At the next general election, the Conservatives’ hopes of regaining the overall majority in the House of Commons will rest on winning a substantial number of seats from Labour in Brexit supporting areas in the North and Midlands of England. This is especially true given that they can expect to lose seats in Remain voting areas in London, the South East and Scotland.
The map above compares the results of the 2016 EU referendum on a constituency basis (with seats coloured to indicate whether the result was 70%+, 60%-70%, 55%-60%, or 50%-55% in favour of leave or remain) with the results of 2017 general election. Overall, there were 242 constituencies where the majority of voters voted to remain in the EU, and 408 that voted for Brexit. A majority in both Conservative (75%) and Labour (60%) constituencies voted to leave the EU.
However, there is no sign that the Conservatives are making sufficient progress in leave voting areas in the North and Midlands to regain their majority through this path. To demonstrate this, I looked at the regional breakdowns in the two polls released by ComRes so far this month. One poll had the Tories with a 1% lead over Labour on 30%, the other showed them with a 4% lead on 31%; I took the average of the two polls.
The charts below show the regional breakdown of party support for the 11 regions in Great Britain.
The following charts show the same data, except instead of vote shares they show the movement of vote shares from the results at the 2017 general election (for the Brexit Party, I have used the 2017 Ukip results as a comparison).
To have a chance at regaining a majority, the movement in Conservative vote share will need to exceed the equivalent movement in Labour support in the West Midlands, North East, North West and Yorkshire and the Humber. However, there is little evidence that this is the case.
In the West Midlands, both Labour and the Conservatives are down 14%, the Lib Dems are up 12% and the Brexit Party are up 12% on Ukip’s 2017 performance. Given that they are basically static in terms of the Labour vs. Tory contest, the Conservatives would be unlikely to make much of a dent in Labour’s 24 MPs, other than in ultra-marginal seats such as Newcastle-under-Lyme (Labour majority: 30).The Lib Dems aren’t really in contention anywhere here.
In the North West, the Conservatives will be hopeful of success in some of the 39 Labour seats that voted for Brexit, to add to the 20 that they won in 2017. Labour’s support in the ComRes polls indicated that their support is down 14% from the election, and given that the Tory vote is “only” down 10%, this suggests that they may be making a small amount of ground on Labour here.
However, there is not an abundance of Tory targets in the North West. There is only one seat (Warrington South) that voted Labour where the Tories were within 5% of victory, and only a further five (Workington, Bury North, Bolton North East, Weaver Vale and Blackpool South) where the Tories were within 10% of Labour. Only making a net gain of 4% in terms of vote share over Labour in the North West is unlikely to be sufficient to make substantive gains.
In Yorkshire and the Humber, there were almost four times as many Leave constituencies (43) as Remain constituencies (11). Labour won 36 seats in 2017, of which 29 had voted for Brexit. The Tories won 18. However, given that Labour and Conservative support appears to have fallen at around the same rate, there is little evidence that the Tories are on course to make many gains here either. The Liberal Democrats will be very confident about regaining the seats lost to Labour in 2017 of Leeds North West and Sheffield, Hallam.
The story in the North East is better for the Conservatives. Nearly five times as many constituencies in the North East voted Leave as Remain (24 to 5), whilst the Tories only won three seats to Labour’s 26. The fact that the Tories are “only” down 13% whilst Labour have fallen 20% means that they are making progress, but as with the North West, there is a lack of obvious targets.
There are only two Labour seats that were close in 2017 (Stockton South and Bishop Auckland), and a third (Darlington) where Labour had a 7% majority and the seat is within range for the Tories. However, the remaining 23 Labour seats were won with substantial double digit majorities and it will be very difficult for the Conservatives to win, assuming that the election is reflective of current polling.
If there is an area of strong opportunity for the Conservatives it is a perhaps unexpected one: Wales. Conservative support is broadly flat from the 2017 election here, whilst Labour’s has plummeted by 15%. This means that there are as many as nine strong opportunities for the Tories to make gains at Labour’s expense, in seats such as Vale of Clwyd, Wrexham, Cardiff North and Delyn.
Another possible outcome is that London isn’t as disastrous for the Conservatives as is widely thought. The Tories are down 7% in the capital, but Labour are down a catastrophic 26 points. Labour and the Lib Dems are essentially tied in terms of popular support in London, with the Conservatives only slightly behind. This may mean that they are able to sneak through the middle in new three way marginal seats.
Whilst the Conservatives are likely doomed in seats such as Richmond Park where the Lib Dems performed strongly in 2017, they may well survive in constituencies such as Finchley and Golders Green where the Tories only have a 3% majority over Labour, where the Lib Dems can expect to gain a substantial amount of Labour votes but might not be able to win the seat themselves.
It is obviously a horrendous cliché to say “a lot can change between now and polling day”, but it’s especially true for this election, when even the question of whether there will be an election this year is in some doubt. However, on the basis of current polling, the Conservatives are going to find a route back to Number 10 through the Brexit supporting North and Midlands an extremely difficult one.