12 seats to watch

12 seats to watch

The general election result will be made up of the results of 650 individual battles.  Some will be very predictable.  Here are twelve seats that will help to determine how the next Parliament will be comprised.

Norwich South

As a proud Norfolk boy, I can say that there’s something funny in the water in this constituency.  It had been held by the Lib Dems until 2015, and Clive Lewis made an instant impact on his election.  He is already regularly talked of as possibly Labour’s next leader.

His next problem, however, is to hold onto his seat, where he faces a three-pronged challenge from the Conservatives, the Greens (who got their fifth best vote share in this constituency in 2015) and the Lib Dems.  A university seat, it voted Remain by a margin of roughly 60:40 and he rebelled on the Article 50 vote, no doubt to help protect his flank from the newly-resurgent Lib Dems and the Greens.  He is obviously jittery, having talked up the idea of a progressive alliance and having caused psephological outrage by appearing to attribute to ICM a constituency poll that was nothing of the sort.

In a landslide year, he just might lose to the Conservatives.  This looks set to be a landslide but he nevertheless should still hang on.


Ben Bradshaw must feel very lonely.  Exeter is Labour’s most isolated English constituency, a red redoubt in a sea of blue.  He has held the seat since 1997 – a remarkable achievement given that it had only previously elected a Labour MP in the Labour landslide of 1966.  Moreover, his vote share in 2015 was only marginally below his vote share in 1997.  The Conservatives need a 6.7% swing to take the seat and many of the recent national polls suggest that the Conservatives are achieving a national swing well ahead of that.

However, Exeter voted Remain by roughly 55:45.  I expect Ben Bradshaw to hold on.  Whether he remains Labour’s most isolated English MP will depend on results in Bristol, Cambridge and Norwich.

Don Valley

Don Valley has only ever elected socialist or Labour MPs since its creation in 1918.  It is not in the Conservatives’ 100 most marginal targets.  Not, you would have thought, an interesting seat in any general election.  Yet it’s featuring here.  Why?

Don Valley racked up a massive Leave vote, with nearly 70% of its voters hopping aboard the Brexit bus.  Opinion polls have repeatedly shown Leavers overwhelmingly breaking for the Conservatives.  Anecdote from both Labour and Conservative politicians suggests that many voters in such constituencies are abandoning Labour.

How far can the Conservatives make inroads into such seats?  My instincts are that they can go a long way and Aaron Bell, aka politicalbetting’s regular poster Tissue_Price, will be elected Don Valley’s first Conservative MP on 8 June.


Now we get into some of the stranger constituencies.  Rochdale alternated between the Lib Dems and Labour until 2010, when Simon Danczuk won the seat for Labour.  In 2015 the Lib Dem vote cratered and they finished fourth, Labour holding the seat with a 12,000 majority.

On paper it should be an easy hold for Labour then, even while they are struggling in the polls.  The fly in the ointment is that Simon Danczuk has been deselected (following an entanglement with a 17 year old) and has resigned from the party to stand as an independent.  The launch of his campaign, however, was overshadowed by news that he was being investigated following an allegation of rape.  Meanwhile, Rochdale voted decisively for Leave, so the Conservatives will be hoping to make inroads.

I’m still expecting a Labour hold, especially since they have selected a heavyweight former MP and Mayor of Manchester in Tony Lloyd, but keep an eye on this seat.  It might spring a surprise.

Bristol West

Bristol West, held by the wonderfully-named Thangam Debbonaire for Labour, has been steadily trending leftwards.  Held by the Conservatives until 1997, the blue team took just 15% of the vote in 2015 in this seat.  The Greens are in second place and need just a 4.4% swing to take it.  They have appointed a high-profile MEP to fight the seat and are clearly rolling their sleeves up: this is their top target.  The Lib Dems held the seat until 2015 and their former MP, Stephen Williams, recently stood and failed to become the Bristol metro mayor.  He is standing again.

Bristol West is one of the most Remainian seats in the country, with an 80% Remain vote.  Who will win this seat is anyone’s guess.  My guess is the Greens, who offer a cost-free method for progressive voters to express their credentials.


Hartlepool has been continuously held by Labour since 1964.  In 2015, they were run very close by UKIP, who need only a 3.9% swing to take the seat.  Labour polled just 35.6% of the vote in 2015 and Hartlepool voted just under 70% for Leave.  With Labour’s incumbent standing down, the seat looks like it will change hands this time.

The UKIP candidate, Phillip Broughton, is a former semi-professional wrestler and briefly stood – as did so many in his party – for the party leadership last summer.  He is swimming against a fast-receding tide and I expect the Conservatives to take the seat from third.


Thurrock is a hair-raisingly tight three-way marginal, with just 2% separating first (Conservatives) from third (UKIP) in 2015.  With second-placed Labour under the cosh, it seems likely that the seat will be most seriously contested by these two parties.

Elsewhere, UKIP is disintegrating.  In Thurrock, the purple team have two unusual advantages that they don’t have in many places elsewhere.  First, in Tim Aker they have a candidate who is highly competent.  Secondly, they have a local issue to make hay with – the proposed siting of the Lower Thames Crossing.

Tim Aker should do well here.  His problem is that the Conservatives are also likely to improve their vote share and I expect them to keep this seat.

Sheffield Hallam

Nick Clegg is fated never to lead a dull life.  In 2015 Labour launched a concerted attempt at a decapitation strategy on him.  He successfully held on by enlisting tactical votes from Conservatives: uniquely among Lib Dems he benefited from the fear of voters of Ed Miliband being propped up by Alex Salmond.

Two years on and he faces a different threat.  Conservative voters are unlikely to be fearful of Jeremy Corbyn being elected and are therefore unlikely to support Nick Clegg once more.

Sheffield Hallam voted nearly two to one to Remain in the referendum.  I expect Nick Clegg to get through but this could be a tight three way vote.

East Renfrewshire

Leaving England behind, we move to another three-cornered fight.  East Renfrewshire is one of the most affluent constituencies in Scotland and until 1997 it had been Conservative since the 1920s.  Jim Murphy took the seat for Labour in the landslide of 1997 and built up a personal vote.  In the Scottish landslide of 2015, however, this was to no avail and even him benefiting from a large tactical vote from erstwhile Conservatives, the SNP took the seat despite it having voted nearly 2:1 for the union.

The Conservatives start the 2017 campaign from third, but with polls showing them making great strides in Scotland, they will fancy their chances.  Annoyingly for them, one of Labour’s most prominent politicians and strident unionists, Blair McDougall, is standing.

It seems unlikely to me that Blair McDougall will retain Jim Murphy’s personal vote.  I therefore expect Paul Masterton (who I should mention is a work colleague of mine) will overtake him.  With the SNP off its 2015 highs, he should take the seat as well.


Into the valleys.  Like Don Valley, Torfaen and its predecessor seat Pontypool has been Labour-held since 1918.  In 2015, hardly a gala year for Labour, Nick Thomas-Symonds held a 21.5% majority over his Conservative challenger.

But like Don Valley, Torfaen voted decisively for Leave.  Recent Welsh opinion polls have shown the Conservatives increasing their vote share by something close to 50% since the last election off the back of the EU referendum.

The Conservatives will make progress in this seat but unlike Don Valley I expect them ultimately to fall short.  Torfaen was 60:40 for Leave, unlike Don Valley which was close to 70:30.  The local elections suggest that the Conservative Welsh surge is strongest outside Labour’s south Wales heartlands.  This may well be where the Conservative tide falls short.

Carmarthen East & Dinefwr

Recent polls suggest that the Conservatives are surging in Wales.  Labour seem to have rallied a bit in recent polls.  Meanwhile the other parties, including Plaid Cymru have fallen back a bit in the polls.  They were originally hoping for gains, but they must now make sure that their existing seats are secure as well.

If the Conservatives aren’t doing as well in the valleys as elsewhere, logically they must be doing better elsewhere.  If so, they might well cause a shock in this seat, where they were third in 2015 but require an 8.6% swing to take the seat.  The seat voted for Leave.  Their chances are probably impeded by Neil Hamilton deciding to contest the seat for UKIP.  But they might just do it.  One to watch.

Belfast South

Finally, a real wild card.  Alasdair McDonnell won this for the SDLP in 2015 on just 24.5% of the vote.  The DUP, the Alliance and Sinn Féin will all be getting stuck in.  The recent Assembly votes show that all four parties have squeaky close vote shares: their candidates combined first preferences were: DUP 20.8%, SDLP 19.4%, Alliance 17.8% and Sinn Féin 17.7%.  Only the DUP have changed their candidate from 2015.  Alasdair McDonnell might just keep it on his personal vote.  I wonder, however, whether the Alliance, who have had a good couple of years in Northern Irish politics, might just snatch it this time.

Alastair Meeks

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