The UK’s Benchmark Seats – Part 4

The UK’s Benchmark Seats – Part 4


    A guest article by Harry Hayfield

Conservative majority of 50: Weaver Vale: Con gain from Lab (Swing: 7.01% to Conservative)

Weaver Vale (which as the name suggests is based in the historic weaving communities of South Cheshire) is the newest of all the seats on the Conservative hitlist as it was created in 1997 by taking a huge chunk out of Conservative Eddisbury and creating a new seat out of the remnants. Clearly it was the Labour bits they took as the forecast for 1992 suggested a Labour majority of 7,000 and therefore it was no great surprise in the Lab landslide of 1997 that the Labour MP Mike Hall (who had decided to leave Warrington South) had a majority of 13,500 to enjoy (incidentally Warrington South had a Lab majority of 11,000). In 2001, the majority shrank to 10,000 and in 2005 it fell to 7,000. Still nice and comfortable you might think and indeed it was until the boundary Commission got hold of it and reduced the Lab majority to 5,000.

Tallies for Weaver Vale 1997 – 2007: Labour 1997 – 2007 (10 years) Conservatives None Liberal Democrats None Long Term Trend: To short to be confident, but Lab / Con marginal.

Conservative majority of 100: Norwich North: Con gain from Lab (Swing: 8.30% to Conservative)

Norwich North is perhaps the most famous of the seats on the Conservative target list. Who can forget the constituency drummed into our brains as the seat Labour had to gain in 1992 in order to win an overall majority. Mind you, the fact that Labour had to win it back in 1992 is part of the reason they spent so long in opposition! Back in 1950, Norwich North was Labour and how! 13,000 was the majority! It fell to 9,000 in 1951 (with no Liberal candidate) and stayed that way throughout the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s. It was 1983 when everything went wrong for Labour thanks in part to the Boundary Commission.

Rejigging Norwich turned a Labour majority of 6,000 into a Conservative majority of 3,500, add to that the Alliance taking even more Labour votes and a Con majority of 5,000 was only to be expected, and in 1987 the majority climbed to 8,000 leading to Norwich North’s iconic mention in 1992 and the strange thing is, Labour very nearly did it! They needed a swing of 7.8% to gain the seat, and in the end they got a swing of 7.6%. So it was no great surprise that Labour did win Norwich North again in 1997 with a majority of 9,000 but that majority halved in 2001 but stayed moderately stable in 2005 and in the boundary changes actually went up to 7,000!

Tallies for Norwich North 1950 – 2007: Conservatives 1983 – 1997 (14 years) Labour 1950 – 1983, 1997 – 2007 (43 years) Liberal Democrats None Long Term Trend: Labour win

Labour majority of 150: Hexham: Lab gain from Con (6.02% swing to Lab)

Ah, Hexham! The typical Northern countryside town with its green rolling dales, sheep happily bouncing around and no doubt the occasional hanglider sailing through the air, the sort of seat where nothing ever changes you might think and generally speaking you’d be right, although that’s not to say it’s produced the odd little result from time to time.

And in 1950, it made headlines before a single vote had even been cast. The reason? Well, the Conservative candidate wasn’t opposed by a Labour candidate nor a Liberal candidate but an Independent candidate. To be accurate though he was an Independent Liberal, but it had no real bearing on the result as Hexham elected a Conservative MP with a stonking 20,000 (or to put it another way 72% majority). So that even when normality returned to Hexham in 1951, there was no great suprise when it declared as a Conservative hold although there was some suprise at the 8,000 majority but as turnout had climbed by over 20%, the numerical majority didn’t really matter too much.

And so Hexham carried on electing a Conservative MP throughout the 50’s and even during the 60’s. Even in Labour’s 1966 landslide the Conservative majority was still 4,700 (11%) and so as Britain swung between Conservative and Labour during the 70’s, Hexham seemed completely ignorant of everything but when the Conservatives entered Number 10 in 1979 Hexham was at the fore as it recorded a 8,500 majority over a certain Stuart Bell (who is now the Labour MP for Middlesbrough) and as the Conservative star ascended ever upwards so the safeness of the seat was assured. 20% over the Liberals in 1983 (and a stonking 34% over a certain Stephen Byers), 18% over the Liberals in 1987 and even though Labour came second in 1992, still an incredible 28% majority seperated them from the Conservatives. It would take an asteroid hitting the earth for the Conservatives to come anywhere to losing this seat.

Which is exactly what happened in 1997. Labour came within 222 votes of taking perhaps the safest of all Northern Conservative seats on a swing of 14% to Labour. It was perhaps no wonder to hear that in the 1995 local elections for Tynedale council (which covers the Hexham constituency) the council was announced as a No Overall Control council with Labour the largest party, but Labour were unable to continue this success as in 2001 (partly as a backlash to the foot and mouth disease reaction) the Conservative majority climbed to 2,500 and in 2005 it doubled to 5,000. By historical standards low, but still a Con majority.

Hexham 1950 – 2007: Conservatives 1950 – 2007 (57 years) Labour NONE Liberal Democrats NONE Long Term Trend: Conservative Heartland

So there you have it then, a profile of the benchmarks for the next election between the Conservatives and Labour. There are of course benchmarks between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats (for instance, the Conservatives will need to regain their by-election losses in Romsey and Eastleigh and have to gain historically Liberal seats such as Cornwall North, Cheadle, Truro and Berwickshire not to mention the halving of the SNP), but overall it does mean one thing. The Conservative battleground at the next election will be a sea of red with only occasional islands of gold and yellow.

Harry Hayfield is a Lib Dem from Ceredigion

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