The UK’s Benchmark Seats – Part 1

The UK’s Benchmark Seats – Part 1


    A guest article by Harry Hayfield

Every election there is always a discussion about the benchmark seats, but which seats will come to the fore at the next election?

Given that based on the new boundaries Labour would have an overall majority (on no swing at all) of 48, it seems fair to assume that those benchmarks would be: Labour majority of 100, Lab majority of 50, Lab hung parliament, a “well hung” parliament (both Con and Lab on the same number of seats), Con hung parliament, Con majority of 50 and a Con majority of 100, but what sort of seat would give those parties that outcome and what sort of swing would be needed?

Labour majority of 100 : Staffordshire, Moorlands : Lab GAIN from Con (Swing: 1.93% to Labour)

Now, I know what you are all saying. “Hold on a minute, Staffordshire Moorlands, Conservative???” and you would be right. At the 2005 election Charlotte Atkins (Lab) did indeed win Staffordshire, Moorlands with a majority of 2,438 (5.51%) over the Conservatives, but the Staffordshire, Moorlands of 2007 is not the same Staffordshire, Moorlands that was won in 2005. The main reason for this is the Boundary Commission who have decided that the seat needs a bit of a trim and so decided to give some of it to Burton (to which Janet Dean (Lab, Burton) said “Thank you very much” as her majority was boosted from 1,400 to 2,100), some went into Stone (which trimmed Bill Cash’s majority from 9,000 to 8,200), and gave back to Stoke on Trent North what they had lost in 1997 (to which Joan Walley was more than pleased with a boost in her majority from 10,000 to 14,000).

The only downside to all this though was that Staffordshire, Moorlands itself turned from a Lab majority of 2,438 into a Con majority of 1,618. In fact it should be stated that because of these boundary changes, the Conservatives start the next election on 210 seats (up 12 on 2005) which means that on average they’ve done better through boundary changes than three general elections (Boundary Changes Gain: 12, Average Gains from 1997 – 2005: 11). But what sort of history does Staffordshire, Moorlands have? Well, to be honest not that long (at least the name). Staffordshire, Moorlands first appeared in 1983 when David Knox (Con) won the new seat with a majority of 17,000, but working on the rule that if the MP’s the same, then the seat’s the same, we can trace back Staffordshire, Moorlands right back to 1950!

Staffordshire, Moorlands was originally called Leek and in 1950 was also won by Labour with a moderately healthy 5,000 majority (when Lab had a national lead of 3%). They held the seat in 1951 suffering a 2% swing to the Conservatives (pretty much in line with the UK). The seat remained with Labour in 1955 (recording a majority of 1,000 against a national Con lead of 2%), and managed to defy the odds in 1959 when it stayed Labour with no swing at all (compared to a national swing of 1% to the Conservatives).

As you might expect, given the 3% and then further 2% swing to Labour in the 1960’s the seat stayed with Labour, but despite everything there was no way it could survive the pounding of a national 5% swing to the Conservatives in 1970 and down it went. It stayed Conservative in both elections of 1974, and when Margaret Thatcher entered Downing Street, Labour wondered if they would ever win the seat again. Well, as we know they did in 1997 with a stonking 10,000 majority from an actual base of 7,000 in 1992.

So tracking the history of the seat from Leek 1950 to Staffordshire, Moorlands 2007, the tallies are: Conservative 1970 – 1997 (27 years) Labour 1950 – 1970, 1997 – 2007 (30 years) Liberal Democrats None Long term Trend: Lab / Con marginal

Harry Hayfield is a Lib Dem from Ceredigion

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