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What are the seats to watch?

October 6, 2007

The ten seats to watch in the event on a snap election.

Given that British politics is dominated by national, rather than local, events it is always necessary to look at macro trends rather than at individual seats. Indeed, Labour’s polling of marginal seats in 1997 predicted a 50 seat majority, as opposed to the 175 seat majority that they ended up with. However, there are a few seats which will be genuinely affected by local factors and/or are good indicators of how the national trend is going.

1. Bethnel Green and Bow – If there was a contest for the most vicious contest of the 2005 election then Bethnel Green and Bow would have won hands down. On the back of anti-semitism the notorious George Galloway beat sitting Labour MP Oona King, winning the seat for Respect, a coalition of far left activists and Islamists. However, with Galloway standing in another seat, rumours of splits within Respect and with Brown’s announcment about a partial troop drawdown Labour should easily get the needed swing of 1.7%.

2. Finchley and Golders Green – This is the most marginal Labour seat in the country with a notional majority of only 34 for Rudi Vis, the sitting MP. The Conservatives have stated that they are concentrating on a big push in London so it goes without saying that if they fail to gain this seat then they can write off any chances they have in reducing the government’s majority.

3. Stirling – This seat is especially interesting in that it is Scottish (which is less affected by trends in England and Wales), 100th on the Conservatives target list and the sitting Labour MP is dependant on tactical voting by Lib Dems. If the Conservatives are doing well here then the government are in serious trouble.

4. Rochdale – This seat is the most marginal Lib Dem seat in the country (though alternative measures have it a Labour seat after boundary changes). If Paul Rowen manages to hold on, or even remains competitive, then many Lib Dems can breathe a bit more easily (although they will still have to worry about the threat from the Conservatives elsewhere).

5. Romsey and Southampton North – This is the first Conservative target seat that they could take from the Lib Dems. Even if the Conservative don’t increase their vote share the unwinding of the anti-conservative tactical vote could win it for them.

6. Kettering – This is the most marginal of Labour targets that has a sitting Conservative MP (the more marginal seats all have Labour MP). Although the rural nature of the seat could lead to a reduced turnout in the case of bad weather this is an indication of whether Labour can expect to make any gains.

7. Wyre Forest – This seat is currently held by Dr Richard Taylor, of the ‘Save Kidderminster Hospital and Health Concern’ party. Although he retained this seat at the last election, he did so with a vastly reduced majority. Interestingly, a deal with the Liberal Democrats for them not to stand has fallen through. Given the strong third place finish of the Conservatives this is a genuine three way marginal.

8. Poplar and Limehouse – This seat would be interesting because, like Stirling, a Conservative gain would indicate that they are on course for a majority. However, the fact that George Galloway, the Jane Fonda of British politics, is standing in this seat will mean that there could be a repeat of 2005 (although the Muslim population is only 33% here as compared to 39% in Bethnel Green). Again this could be a possible three way marginal.

9. Eastleigh – The fact that the sitting MP is Chris Huhne makes this especially significant. Anything other than a gain of a few seats will mean that Menzies Campbell will stand down as Lib Dem leader and Chris Huhne will be a strong favorite to win. However, if the Lib Dems do to badly then Huhne could be in trouble himself.

10. Cambridge – This is 54th on Labour’s list of targets. If they manage to take this seat then the Lib Dems are facing major losses.

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