It’s the English towns – stupid!

It’s the English towns – stupid!

A re-look at Blair Freebairn’s battleground map

It was just two years ago that geographer, Blair Freebairn, did a PB guest slot in which he produced the above map to show where the general election battle-ground will be. This has had a great influence on my thinking and I thought it well worth repeating.

Blair noted: “Take a good look at the map. Notice anything?

That these marginal seats will decide the next election is not news. But look at the pattern the 201 marginal seats highlighted make. They don’t concentrate in Wales, Scotland, London, the major cities or the truly rural areas. They aren’t really regional. They are heavily concentrated in Medium English Towns and Their Hinterlands (METTHs from now on).

From Scarborough via Stourbridge to Hereford. Or maybe Cleethorpes to Halifax. Stevenage to Swindon by way of Luton. From St Austell to Taunton and up to Stroud and Redditch. Kettering Corby and Broxtowe (hi Nick). How about Gravesham, Hastings and Basingstoke. Burton across to Southport via Chester. The marginals are strung like bunting through Britain avoiding the cities and the truly rural. It’s the towns, stupid!

These seats are clustered on a fine scale but not a large one, in other words they occur across all parts of the UK but where they do occur you get lots of them. When analysts talk about key battlegrounds and try to isolate regional clusters they are missing the big picture. Again, so what?

For campaign strategists this is a striking piece of good news. Local urban context and sub-regional belonging influence the attitudes and concerns of residents far more than large scale regionality and, sometimes, even demographics. Strategists should be imagining how policies will play not broken down by geographical regions but rather by urban context.”

Blair suggested a number of possible policies areas starting with the car. For here there are not the mass transit systems of the big conurbations and private motoring is even more important. Measures that impact on this might have a disproportionate effect where it matters most electorally.

Since its first publication we’ve had the 2008 and 2009 local elections where Labour lost a large number of councillors in the target seat areas. Not only is the party not in control any more – but losing councillors usually means reduced funding (no councillors’ expenses for instance) and fewer activists.

It will be the Tory penetration in the English towns that will determine the outcome.

Mike Smithson

Today I'm travelling to London for a lunch then have a family commitment in Croydon so I won't be monitoring the site very much. A provocative piece on the Lisbon Treaty by David Herdson is scheduled to be published in the early afternoon. This means that posts held up in the moderation box might take longer to clear.

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