The UK’s Benchmark Seats – Part 2

The UK’s Benchmark Seats – Part 2


    A guest article by Harry Hayfield

Labour majority of 50: Sittingbourne and Sheppey : Lab GAIN from Con (Swing: 0.03% to Labour)

Sittingbourne and Sheppey is another case of a seat turned upside down thanks to the Boundary Commission (although you’d be very hard pressed to see any changes on a map) turning a Lab majority of 79 into a Con majority of 22. I should point out though that Sittingbourne isn’t usually that marginal though. Go back to 1983 and the seat had a stonking 15,000 majority over the Social Democrats! Faversham (as the seat was called back in 1950) was a rarity in those days. A seat contested by Con, Lab and Lib. In 1950, Labour won with a majority of 2,000, and held on in 1951 by a mere 500 (thanks in part to the Liberals not fielding a candidate). Boundary Changes in 1955, however and a national swing to Con threatened to do Labour in, but they held the seat by a wafer thin 59 votes and so started a trend of creating panic at Labour Party HQ.

In 1959, they held the seat by 253, and you might think that majorities of 4,000 in 1964 and 2,500 in 1966 would settle nerves. Sadly not. The Conservatives gained the seat by 4,000 in 1970 and managed to increase their majority to a peak of 16,000 over Labour by 1992. So when the Boundary Commission reorganised things in 1997, and created the new Sittingbourne seat with an 11,000 majority over the Lib Dems you’d assume that the Conservatives could have sit back and enjoy the view. Bad move! Lab gained the seat in 1997 on a 15% swing and gained a majority of 1,900 which to several people’s amazement (least of all the Conservatives) increased to 3,500 in 2001 before they came within a whisker of winning it back in 2005.

Tallies for Faversham 1950 – Sittingbourne and Sheppey 2007: Conservative 1970 – 1997 (27 years) Labour 1950 – 1970, 1997 – 2007 (30 years) Liberal Democrats None Long Term Trend: Lab / Con marginal

Labour hung parliament: Northampton South : Con gain from Lab (Swing: 1.89% to Conservative)

Northampton South has an electoral record as long as your arm, the only problem being that the Northampton South of 2007 is nothing like the Northamptonshire South of 1950 (which does make a direct comparison rather tricky). Back in the 1950’s, Northampton Town was one big constituency with the rural area around the town another constituency, but as Northampton’s population grew thanks to it’s burgeoning shoe making industry, it became clear that one MP wasn’t going to be enough and so in February 1974, Northampton was split into a Northampton North and a Northampton South. And my word, if that first election was a guide then Northampton South was going to be the most closely watched seat of all. The Conservative candidate Michael Morris won by just 179 votes over Labour.

Now given that slender a lead and the national swing to Labour in October 1974, you would imagine that Northampton South would be a Labour gain, but amazingly it stayed Conservative, this time by 141 votes! It wasn’t until 1979 that Mr. Morris could breathe a little easier as his majority climbed to 4,000. And he was able to take things very easy when in 1983 his majority skyrocketed to 15,000 over the Social Democrats, and in 1987 it went up to 18,000 over Labour before dipping to 17,000 in 1992. But in a slight nod to it’s beginnings back in February 1974, Labour won the seat in 1997 on a 13% swing to record a majority of 744, which increased slightly to 885 in 2001 before the Conservatives won the seat back in 2005 by 4000.

Tallies for Northampton South Feb 1974 – 2007: Conservatives Feb 1974 – 1997, 2005 – 2007 (25 years) Labour 1997 – 2005 (8 years) Liberal Democrats None Long Term Trend: Conservative Win at a normal election

Harry Hayfield is a Lib Dem from Ceredigion

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