Luke Akehurst: Which seats does Labour need to take to win the next election?

Luke Akehurst

Listed below are all the constituencies where Labour is in second place and the winning party’s majority is under 10 per cent. Winning all 78 of these seats (and holding every seat we hold now) would give Labour 340 seats, a working majority.

Labour becomes the largest party, with 295 seats, if it takes every seat as far down the list as Putney, requiring either a uniform increase in the Labour vote of 3.3 per cent if its main opponents stand still or a swing (change in Labour and its opponent’s vote added together and divided by two) of 1.65 per cent. In such a situation the SNP would have 28 seats, the Lib Dems 12, Plaid Cymru 3 and the DUP 10, so reaching an overall majority would require a coalition or “confidence and supply” arrangement involving the SNP and one of the other parties too.

To reach an overall majority (326 seats), Labour needs to gain 64 seats, taking it as far down the list as Carmarthen West & South Pembrokeshire, requiring a uniform increase in the Labour vote of 7.4 per cent or a swing of 3.7 per cent.

Such a change in vote share was achieved by Jeremy Corbyn this year – up 9.7 per cent. However, it will presumably be more difficult to add yet further voters to Labour’s coalition as this requires us to win over people who have voted Conservative in the last three General Elections or SNP in the last two.

In 2017 we achieved a swing of 2.05 per cent as the Tory vote also went up. Achieving this again would get us to being largest party but not to an overall majority. The required swing for that of 3.7 per cent has only been achieved by Labour in the post-WW2 era: in 1997 (10 per cent) and 1945 (11.6 per cent).

Constituency Region/Nation Winning party Majority % Majority over Lab
Southampton Itchen South East Con 31 0.1
Glasgow South West Scotland SNP 60 0.2
Glasgow East Scotland SNP 75 0.2
Arfon Wales PC 92 0.3
Airdrie & Shotts Scotland SNP 195 0.5
Pudsey Yorkshire & Humberside Con 331 0.6
Hastings & Rye South East Con 346 0.6
Chipping Barnet London Con 353 0.6
Preseli Pembrokeshire Wales Con 314 0.7
Thurrock Eastern Con 345 0.7
Motherwell & Wishaw Scotland SNP 318 0.8
Inverclyde Scotland SNP 384 1.0
Calder Valley Yorkshire & Humberside Con 609 1.0
Norwich North Eastern Con 507 1.1
Stoke-on-Trent South West Midlands Con 663 1.6
Telford West Midlands Con 720 1.6
Broxtowe East Midlands Con 863 1.6
Dunfermline & West Fife Scotland SNP 844 1.7
Bolton West North West Con 936 1.8
Aberconwy Wales Con 635 2.0
Northampton North East Midlands Con 807 2.0
Middlesbrough South & East Cleveland North East Con 1020 2.1
Mansfield East Midlands Con 1057 2.1
Hendon London Con 1072 2.1
Milton Keynes South South East Con 1725 2.7
Northampton South East Midlands Con 1159 2.8
Pendle North West Con 1279 2.9
Edinburgh North & Leith Scotland SNP 1625 2.9
Morecambe & Lunesdale North West Con 1399 3.1
Milton Keynes North South East Con 1975 3.1
Glasgow North Scotland SNP 1060 3.2
Finchley & Golders Green London Con 1657 3.2
Putney London Con 1554 3.3
Camborne & Redruth South West Con 1577 3.3
Harrow East London Con 1757 3.5
Watford Eastern Con 2092 3.6
Copeland North West Con 1695 3.9
Morley & Outwood Yorkshire & Humberside Con 2104 4.0
Vale of Glamorgan Wales Con 2190 4.1
Glasgow South Scotland SNP 2027 4.5
Corby East Midlands Con 2690 4.5
South Swindon South West Con 2464 4.8
Blackpool North & Cleveleys North West Con 2023 4.9
Crawley South East Con 2457 4.9
Worcester West Midlands Con 2508 4.9
West Dunbartonshire Scotland SNP 2288 5.2
Chingford & Woodford Green London Con 2438 5.2
Linlithgow & East Falkirk Scotland SNP 2919 5.2
Paisley & Renfrewshire North Scotland SNP 2613 5.6
Reading West South East Con 2876 5.6
North East Derbyshire East Midlands Con 2860 5.7
Carlisle North West Con 2599 6.0
Paisley & Renfrewshire South Scotland SNP 2541 6.1
Southport North West Con 2914 6.1
Glasgow Central Scotland SNP 2267 6.3
Rossendale & Darwen North West Con 3216 6.4
Glasgow North West Scotland SNP 2561 6.6
Truro & Falmouth South West Con 3792 6.7
Na h-Eileanan An Iar Scotland SNP 1007 6.8
Walsall North West Midlands Con 2601 6.8
Scarborough & Whitby Yorkshire & Humberside Con 3435 6.8
Stevenage Eastern Con 3386 6.9
East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow Scotland SNP 3866 7.1
Carmarthen West & South Pembrokeshire Wales Con 3110 7.4
Livingston Scotland SNP 3878 7.4
Edinburgh East Scotland SNP 3425 7.9
Loughborough East Midlands Con 4269 7.9
Cities of London & Westminster London Con 3148 8.1
Glenrothes Scotland SNP 3267 8.1
Filton & Bradley Stoke South West Con 4190 8.3
Clwyd West Wales Con 3437 8.5
Shipley Yorkshire & Humberside Con 4681 8.8
Erewash East Midlands Con 4534 9.1
Falkirk Scotland SNP 4923 9.1
Carmarthen East & Dinefwr Wales PC 3908 9.5
East Worthing & Shoreham South East Con 5106 9.6
Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East Scotland SNP 4264 9.7
Sherwood East Midlands Con 5198 9.7

Six of these constituencies were Labour until the last general election. A further 26, mainly in Scotland, were lost in 2015, whilst 28 were lost in 2010. Ten were lost in 2005 or before i.e. only previously won in landslide Labour victories; and eight have never been held by Labour (unless you count Arfon as the successor to Caernarfon, which was Labour from 1950 to October 1974).

These constituencies are not evenly distributed around the UK:

22 in Scotland

9 in the East Midlands

8 in the North West

7 in London

7 in the South East

7 in Wales

5 in Yorkshire & Humberside

4 in the Eastern region

4 in the South West

4 in the West Midlands

1 in the North East

Such is the changing political geography of the country that a lot of traditional bell-weather seats in the West Midlands, or the Thames Gateway in Kent and Essex are not within range, whereas some seats that have never been marginal before such as East Worthing and Shoreham (which is increasingly taking on the demographics of neighbouring Brighton and Hove), Southport (where the Lib Dems have collapsed from 1st to 3rd), and Chingford & Woodford Green (almost all London seats are undergoing huge demographic change) are now targets.

32 of the marginal seats Labour notionally held (on the new boundaries) in 2005 but lost in 2010 are now beyond this list of targets as they have moved away from us while other areas have moved towards us (despite the national vote share now being 5 per cent better). These are heavily concentrated in particular regions that were historically marginal but seem resistant to the Corbyn Labour Party: 11 in the West Midlands, six in the South East of which four are in Kent. It’s not coincidental that these are very pro-Leave areas with lots of skilled working class (C2) voters.

Looking at each region in turn:

The high number of Scottish seats is a cause for optimism as almost all of them were safe Labour bastions in the Central Belt before the 2015 SNP surge and it might be hoped they will revert to type (the exception is Na h-Eileanan An Iar, the Western Isles, a completely idiosyncratic seat where candidates’ personal votes are key as the electorate is so small, which was lost to the SNP in 2005). Many now have tiny SNP majorities. However, a note of caution needs to be sounded as Labour’s vote share only went up by 2.8% in Scotland this year, so thus far it seems less enthused by Jeremy Corbyn than England and Wales do.

The high number of targets – nine seats – in the East Midlands is a cause for concern as this was one of Labour’s most difficult regions this year, with a swing to Labour of only 0.8 per cent and two seats (Mansfield and North East Derbyshire) actually lost to the Tories (though there were also three gains). These two seats are among the nine that need to be gained. They and Sherwood are former mining seats with a strong Leave vote in the EU referendum. Sherwood and Mansfield are in the old Nottinghamshire coalfield where animosities between NUM and UDM supporters dating back to the 1984/5 Miners’ Strike are still a local political factor. Most of the rest are the kind of middle sized English towns that are often swing seats as they combine diverse social and economic wards in one constituency.

The eight seats in the North West include two classic Pennine marginals with high levels of low-cost owner-occupation making them susceptible to concerns about interest rates (Pendle and Rossendale & Darwen); three seaside resorts (Blackpool North & Cleveleys, Morecambe & Lunesdale, Southport) which is a type of seat that has been trending to Labour for decades due to economic decline; and the by-election loss of Copeland, which is economically dependent on the nuclear power industry. Bolton West was one of the surprise Tory gains in 2015.

The seven seats in London include four with among the largest Jewish electorates in the UK (Chipping Barnet, Finchley & Golders Green, Harrow East, Hendon), where Labour’s stance on Israel and it being seen to tackle antisemitism allegations will be a factor. Two of the remaining three (Chingford & Woodford Green and Cities of London & Westminster) have never been Labour before, while Putney has only been won in 1964, 1966, 1997 and 2001. Having said this, demographic trends are working in Labour’s favour across London.

The seven in the South East include three New Town seats (Crawley, Milton Keynes North, Milton Keynes South) which are classic marginals; the Home Secretary’s seat of Hastings & Rye (another seaside resort trending to Labour demographically); Southampton Itchen which Labour won as recently as 2010; Reading West which is in the economically strong M4 corridor; and the previously solidly Tory but now Brighton-esque East Worthing & Shoreham.

The seven Welsh seats include five Tory seats that had been Labour for at least part of the Blair years but are always competitive, and two long-term Plaid Cymru seats. Urban Wales is largely already Labour, so these target seats have demography that wouldn’t make them very winnable in England but they could be picked up given the cultural affinity of Wales to Labour. Quite a few of the Welsh seats fall into the seaside resorts category.

The five Yorkshire seats is a small number for a region that historically has had a reasonable number of marginal seats. Ed Balls’ former Morley & Outwood seat was a surprise loss in 2015. Pudsey and Shipley are in the suburbs of respectively Leeds and Bradford. Calder Valley is a tricky Pennine marginal with high levels of owner-occupation. Scarborough & Whitby falls into the seaside resorts category and was only ever won in the two Blair landslides.

There are only four targets in the Eastern region: Thurrock which is heavily anti-European and has the largest UKIP vote in the UK, but is rapidly changing demographically due to its proximity to London; the new town of Stevenage; Watford which is recovering from a period when it was a three-way marginal with a very strong Lib Dem presence; and Norwich North where the balance of the seat is suburban territory from outside the city boundary.

The four in the South West include two neighbouring Cornish seats (Camborne & Redruth and Truro & Falmouth) which have inherited parts of the abolished old Labour marginal of Falmouth & Camborne, where the Lib Dem vote is collapsing and Momentum is strongly organised. Filton & Bradley Stoke is suburbia, much of it built in the 1990s, just to the north of Bristol, a city which swung very heavily to Labour this year. Defence and aerospace are big factors as major employers are Airbus, Rolls-Royce and the Defence Equipment & Support agency. South Swindon is, like Filton & Bradley Stoke, in the M4 hi-tech corridor with automotive the main employer due to the large Honda factory.

There are a low number of targets in the West Midlands – four – given it has historically been a bell-weather region. This reflects a weak performance in 2017 (swing of only 1.15 per cent and net loss of one seat) due to the heavy Leave support in the region and low incidence of the kind of voters attracted to Jeremy Corbyn in London and university towns. Two of the four were lost this year (Stoke-on-Trent South and Walsall South), Telford was a surprise loss in 2015 and only Worcester is a classic marginal (indeed it had a category of swing voter, “Worcester Woman”, named after it in 1997).

Finally there is the single North East seat lost this year, Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland, where the steel industry is the main issue.

So, lots of campaigning work to be done to secure a Labour Government given the difficulty of some of this terrain!

More from LabourList


We provide our content free, but providing daily Labour news, comment and analysis costs money. Small monthly donations from readers like you keep us going. To those already donating: thank you.

If you can afford it, can you join our supporters giving £10 a month?

And if you’re not already reading the best daily round-up of Labour news, analysis and comment…