Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Election 2010: Seats to Watch #3: Will the Lib Dems break through in those Northern Cities?


I’ve looked at two sets of Conservative target seats – in the coalfields and in what I called “inner-outer” London. This set of seats is of Liberal Democrat targets in the North of England – where Labour is defending.

For a long while the Liberal Democrats have had a strong powerbase in Northern cities – at present they control Liverpool, Sheffield, Hull and Newcastle. However, this strength has never translated into success at General Elections. The old Liberal Party got David Alton elected in Liverpool and the party have won Manchester Withington, Sheffield Hallam and Leeds North West. A key test for the Liberal Democrats at the forthcoming election is whether they can translate their local success into the election of MPs.

Liverpool Wavertree will be a seat with a lot of attention – at least judging by the 500+ comments on the UK Polling Report thread on the seat! Labour’s Jane Kennedy held the seat in 2005 but is retiring. Labour’s candidate is from London and with boundary changes the nominal majority is just 3,038 requiring a swing of under 4.5% for the Lib Dems to make the gain. With 54% of the vote in the 2008 local elections they really ought to! Expect a campaign laden with scouse vitriol from all sides (plus a little borderline racism wrapped up as anti-Zionism directed at Labour’s Luciana Berger).

Oldham East & Saddleworth is held for Labour by Phil Woolas, the Immigration Minister – boundary changes favour labour and the nominal majority is 4,087 requiring a swing of 5%. The seat stretches from Oldham’s multiethnic inner suburbs out onto the attractive South Pennine moorlands – factors that meant the old Littleborough & Saddleworth seat was a Tory seat in the 1980s. Will be a close run thing with Lib Dem success depending on how much they can squeeze the substantial Tory vote – local elections suggest win with the Lib Dems on 52% and labour in 3rd with just 20%.

The City of Durham must be right at the top of Liberal Democrat expectations. Although held by labour since the 1930s (like most of the North’s mining seats) the majority is just 3,274 requiring a swing of just 3.7% for a Lib Dem gain). Local elections show the Lib Dems building powerful position with 41% of the vote and 15 of the 22 councillors but there’s no Tory vote to squeeze and Labour has a reliable bedrock of support.

With Nick Clegg looking pretty safe in Hallam, the Liberal Democrats can direct their efforts to Sheffield Central where they have an outside chance of winning especially since former Sports Minister, Richard Caborn is standing down. With boundary changes the notional result is 4,807 requiring an 8% swing. Local election results put the Lib Dems on 42% to Labour’s 30% but an active Green campaign may not do Paul Scriven the council leader any favours.

Newcastle-upon-Tyne North is the most marginal of the City’s seats (just ahead of Chief Whip, Nick Brown’s East) and is very much a long shot for the Liberal Democrats. The notional majority is some 6,744 and even with current MP Doug Henderson retiring it’s a tough call for the Lib Dems. However, their local government performances suggest a strong chance (52% of the vote in 2008 and all but two councillors). However, the Labour machine will be working hard here and it will not be the straightforward gain it seems like on paper.

With a weaker Labour Party and voters out to punish them this may be the year when the Liberal Democrats do break through in the urban North – these aren’t the only places there’s also Bradford East, Burnley and Hull West & Hessle where the party fancies its chances.



bristolwestpaul said...

I don't think they will hold Manchester Withington

burkesworks said...

That's a fair, even-handed piece Simon. Wavertree in particular will be interesting now that Luciana Berger has been parachuted in for Labour (she made a fool of herself over her local knowledge in the Liverpool Echo last week), and a defeat for Woolas in Old and Sad would cheer me immensely. Of those five, though, I'd say Sheffield Central has the best chance of turning LibDem; Scriven appears very popular in that city, the boundary changes are helpful and Dick Caborn's incumbency won't be a factor - and the Labourites are far more pessimistic about their chances in that one than, say, Bradford East (not that I can see David losing there).

However, while Bradford East and Burnley are very much live ones, Hull West and Hessle is not. This is of course Alan Johnson's seat and not only would a LibDem win there make the biggest headline of all, it would leave us duking it out with your lot as regards forming a government with the kind of swing that's required! Methinks you meant Hull North, which is a tough ask but far more winnable for the LibDems than other Hull seats.

And Paul - John Leech won't lose Withington. There'll be some LibDem losses, but none to Labour unless you count the very outside chance that Dunfermline might return to type.