On June 8th, voters across England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland will go to the polls to elect a new parliament after Prime Minister Theresa May called a snap election. She called the election in a bid to increase her slim majority in the face of the Brexit negotiations with the EU. Her main opposition is the Labour party, led by their left-wing and fairly controversial leader, Jeremy Corbyn. The UK uses a winner-take-all first-past-the-post system similar that which is used for election to the U.S. House of Representatives. 650 members are elected and 323ish members are needed for a majority (because Sinn Fein refuse to show up). There a few ways to watch the results, but I recommend the BBC. This will be the final hurrah of David Dimbleby, the legendary news presenter who hosts Question Time and has anchored every general election results program since 1979.
This election has been a polling rollercoaster with two different tracks. All of the polling started off with the Tories having a massive lead. The only disagreements were about whether the lead was 15 points or 20 points. Over the last few weeks, that lead has steadily shrunk, with the Tories dropping a little and Labour surging by consolidating the left and squeezing the smaller parties. However, we’re still left with two very different polling narratives. One says that the Tories are only ahead by 3-6 points. All of the polls in this group did not start weighting for turnout by age and class after the 2015 polling miss. The other group is made up of pollsters who did make methodological changes. This group tends to have the Tories leading by 10-14 points. As often is the case, the result all comes down to what you believe about turnout. A 3-point victory would like result in a Tory minority government. A 12-point one would give May a huge majority. Given the unreliability of British polling in general, that’s pretty much the tightest range of possibility available.
Though the Tories started with a large polling lead, their campaign hasn’t been very masterful, to say the least. They’ve been running a prevent defense strategy and had several very unpopular manifesto pledges. At the beginning, the focus was on their strengths; Brexit, the unpopularity of Jeremy Corbyn, and the Trident nuclear deterrent. However, in the last few weeks, the discussion shifted to the party manifestos, and the Tories suffered for it. It also hasn’t helped that while Theresa May has done interviews and taken questions from voters, she has refused to debate. However, in the last few days the conversation has shifted, first to the Manchester bombing, and now back to Brexit. The worst is probably over.
Labour, by contrast, has run a very good campaign. Corbyn hasn’t been overly visible, but he did show up at the last leaders’ debate earlier this week. Corbyn has also found and deployed a surprisingly good surrogate in Barry Gardiner. Corbyn himself has also seemed to be enjoying the campaign (in contrast to May) and has cut down his unpopularity to a much more manageable level. Though arguably unfeasible from a tax perspective, the Labour manifesto contained many popular spending pledges for increases to public services. Now that the discussion is mostly turning away from manifestos, we’ll see if not having to talk about Brexit was the main reason for their rise or not.
As for the Liberal Democrats, Britain’s traditional third party, their campaign has been hilariously ineffective. They decided after the terrible losses that they took last time that they would rebrand from being the party of rural populists and young people to being the party of young people and hardcore Remainers. The only big problem with that last part was that though 48% voted to Remain, only 22% support remaining now that they lost the referendum. Combine that with a leader (Tim Farron) who occasionally makes strange comments about religion and the launching of their manifesto in a nightclub, and you might begin to see the problem.
There can be, and often are, very significant differences in swing on a regional basis. What plays well in one place doesn’t in an another. Long-term trends also manifest themselves even if the underlying issues aren’t the issues of the day. Finally, local factors in countries that aren’t England, such as nationalist minor parties, also play a role. The rest of this preview covers those differences and gives clues to what to look for on election night in each region.
This is by far the Tories’ strongest region. It’s strongly rural and suburban with a white-collar bent. As with now, when they’re in the majority, they control about 90% of the region’s almost 200 seats. There are only a few competitive constituencies in the region, though there are still some targets. Polling suggests that the region will be very similar in margin to 2015.
Seats to watch:
Southampton Test – If the Conservatives take this (the last seat that they don’t hold in Hampshire), then everything is alright and the landslide may be on it’s way (or regional variations aren’t as severe as predicted).
St. Ives – The Liberal Democrats, despite their new focus, are still trying to get their southwestern rural seats back. If they take this Cornwall seat or only narrowly miss retaking it, then they’re doing well on that front.
Click HERE for our full in depth look at all targeted seats in Southern England
The capital used to be a right-wing bastion, but those days are long gone. As other parts of Britain move right, London just seems to get more and more leftist by the year. Gentry internationalist liberals combined with the highest non-white population in the country just keep marching the city further and further leftward. At first, polling showed a small swing to the the Tories, just like in the rest of Southern England. However, some polling now suggests that even if Labour loses seats overall, they may gain them here.
Seats to watch:
Ilford North – If the Tories don’t retake this seat on the outer northeastern edge of the city, it’s definitely bad times for them in the capital.
Twickenham – If Liberal star Vince Cable can’t take his old seat back from the Tories, the LibDem fightback is in trouble.
Click HERE for our full in depth look at all targeted seats in London.
This used to be the kind of mix of rural areas and small industrial cities that made a perfect Labour v. Tory battleground. That’s still the character of the place, but it’s taken a decidedly right-leaning tilt in recent decades. Watch particularly what happens in West Midlands County (the Birmingham area). That area has one of the bigger clusters of competitive seats in the country. The Tories are doing well in polling for the region, with a swing about even with their national swing.
Seats to watch:
Wolverhampton South West – This should be an easy pickup for the Conservatives. if they can’t retake it or do so narrowly, Labour is having a fairly good night.
Birmingham Edgbaston – If the Tories take this seat, then they’re on track for solid very good gains and aren’t having too many issues with Remain voters.
Ashfield – If Team May wins here, we’re probably looking at a huge landslide.
Click HERE for our full in depth look at all targeted seats in The Midlands.
The North is the biggest battleground in this election. It’s traditionally Labour’s heartland, full of gritty industrial cities, but Brexit has definitely allowed the Tories to have a major swing to them in the region. The only question is how big the surge is. Labour could lose anywhere from a dozen to 40 seats across North East England, North West England, and Yorkshire.
Seats to watch:
Hyndburn – The Tories’ only taking this narrowly or not at all would probably be a very bad sign.
Hartlepool – If the Monkeyhangers (look it up) are electing a Tory, then the landslide is coming, at least in the North.
Click HERE for our full in depth look at all targeted seats in North West England and HERE for our look at North East England and HERE for targeted seats in Yorkshire and Humberside.
Cymru has been something of a question mark this time around. At first, the Tories had done the almost unthinkable and taken a ten-point lead (they’ve never won here since the property requirement was lifted almost 200 years ago). Then they fell back to earth and seem to be battling it out close to 2015 numbers, though with any swing still likely to be to them.
Seats to watch:
Gower – The Tories took this in a crazy three-way fight, 27-vote squeaker of a miracle in 2015 with 30% (!) of the vote. If they lose it this time, they’re standing pat or going backward slightly in Wales.
Alyn and Deeside – Winning this seat on the West Marches of Northern Wales would mean that the Tories are on their way to a solid win.
Click HERE for our full in depth look at all targeted seats in Wales
Not much ever changes electorally in Ulster. You might see the Unionist parties gain or lose a seat from Sinn Fein, but it’s unlikely. The only real reason that the result there matters is that if May is a few seats short of a majority, she can patch together a majority with Unionist support.
Seats to watch:
Fermanagh and South Tyrone – The UUP took this border seat from Sinn Fein in 2015. However, with Sinn Fein’s recent surge in the devolved assembly elections, they’ll be looking to take it back. It’s a good test of where NI stands on the Nationalist v. Unionist question at the moment.
The dynamic at play north of the border is a bit different. The main issue up there is whether or not there should be a second referendum on independence. The Tories surged into second place behind the SNP as the election began. They also did very, very well in the local elections. They’ve hovered just below 30% (which is a huge improvement). However, Labour has been recovering recently and challenging for second place. Everyone agrees that the Tories should gain seats from the SNP. The question is how many, and whether the other Unionist parties will gain as well.
Seats to watch:
Moray – If the Tory win here is narrow, then they’re only making modest (though still important) headway in Scotland.
East Lothian – If this goes blue, the Tories are on their way to 10 or so gains.
Fife North East – Retaking this means that the LibDems are making decent gains against the SNP.
Edinburgh North and Leith – Labour needs to win this constituency if they have any hope of clawing back some of what they’ve lost to the Nationalists.
Click HERE for our full in depth look at all targeted seats in Scotland.