With the most recent YouGov poll showing the Conservatives currently enjoying a 24-point lead over their rivals, May’s decision to call a general election makes perfect sense. Labour, struggling to project unity as they continue to be ravaged by infighting and apathy, are in crisis, whilst the Liberal Democrats, badly damaged from the last general election, no longer have enough MPs to even put together a football team, let alone offer a serious challenge to May’s leadership. Why wait until 2020, mere months after the scheduled conclusion of the Brexit negotiations, to hold an election when she can seek a fresh mandate now, safe in the knowledge that a Corbyn-led Labour Party is on course for disastrous losses? It’s cynical, yes, but effective.
Nonetheless, May’s decision to seek a mandate for her 'version' of Brexit runs the risk of making the election little more than a second EU referendum. The Liberal Democrats will be licking their lips at the prospect of taking on Conservative Leavers in Remain seats, especially in Outer London boroughs.
With interesting contests set to take place on both ends of the political spectrum and in all corners of the country, here are the top 10 constituencies that could prove to be key battlegrounds on June 8th.
After cleverly positioning themselves as the 'party of the 48%' in the aftermath of last year’s referendum, the Liberal Democrats will certainly feel confident about their chances of increasing their meagre representation in the House of Commons.
Former Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, Vince Cable, is set to stand in his old seat of Twickenham, located in a borough in which 61.4% of voters backed Remain. Tania Mathias, the current incumbent, profited from a 16.4% drop in the vote for the Liberal Democrats to win the seat for the Conservatives in 2015. This part of south-west London could turn yellow once again thanks to the return of its former MP.
Vauxhall is another London constituency the Liberal Democrats will be eyeing up, but it won’t be the Conservatives they’ll be chasing.
Kate Hoey, who has comfortably held the seat since 1989, was one of only a handful of Labour MPs to back Brexit. Despite currently boasting a majority of 12,000, Hoey would be wise to watch out for the Liberal Democrats, who are traditionally second-place finishers in the constituency, and will be aiming to take advantage of the fact that 78.6% of local voters supported Remain.
To the east, Clive Lewis faces a daunting task trying to hold on to his seat in Norwich South.
Traditionally a three-way marginal between Labour, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats, the constituency represents another on which the latter party will have set their sights. At 56.2% to 43.8%, the city of Norwich proved to be the only part of Norfolk that voted to remain in the EU.
Despite his personal support for the Remain campaign, Lewis will be under pressure from the Liberal Democrats due to the historically low level of support that Labour currently have. The former Shadow Secretary has only held the seat for two years since winning it from the Liberal Democrats’ Simon Wright. It could prove to be one of several constituencies that swings back to the anti-Brexit party once again.
Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland
Labour are predicted to suffer catastrophic losses in June, with some experts predicting that their share of the vote could drop below the 27.6% won in 1983. At most risk are those seats located in what were once the party’s traditional heartlands but have now become, at best, unpredictable marginal.
One constituency the Conservatives will be targeting is Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland, a seat in which Labour currently have a majority of little over 2,000. Tom Blenkinsop, a frequent critic of Corbyn, has already announced that he won’t stand in June, presenting the Tories with a great opportunity to win in an area that backed Brexit by an overwhelming majority.
Like Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland, nearby Darlington also represents an area that voted for both Labour and Leave in 2016 and 2015. The last two general elections have seen Jenny Chapman’s majority drop from 10,000 votes to just over 3,000, with the Conservatives finishing in second place on both occasions.
56.2% of residents backed Brexit last year, meaning the constituency could prove to be one of many northern seats that switches to the Tories in unprecedented numbers. Much will rely on the decisions made by the 5,392 voters who backed UKIP two years ago. Will they stick with the Eurosceptic party as a way of ensuring the government seeks a 'hard' Brexit, or has May done enough to prove that Britain’s exit from the EU is safe in her hands?
North East Derbyshire
Labour’s majority in North East Derbyshire has progressively fallen in each of the last four general elections.
Natascha Engel, MP since 2005, beat her Conservative opponent by only 1,883 votes in 2015, and with the area voting for Brexit by 62.8% to 37.2%, the constituency represents another traditionally safe Labour seat that could turn blue this time around.
Currently surrounded by a sea of red, this part of the East Midlands also boasts a sizeable minority of UKIP voters, many of whom could hand a significant blow to Labour if they decide to back the Conservatives, who haven’t won here since 1931.
It may not be all doom and gloom for Labour, however, as they will have their sights firmly locked on a handful of marginal, urban seats that are currently held by Conservative MPs. Croydon Central has proven to be such a close-fought constituency that its current MP, Garvin Barwell, wrote a book about how difficult it was to hold on to at the last general election. His majority of just 165 represents the fourth smallest in the country, handing a rare opportunity to Labour, who held the seat between 1997 and 2005, to take advantage of any anger felt by the 54.3% of voters who backed Remain.
The general election has come at quite possibly the worst time for UKIP, who, under their new leader Paul Nuttall, are set to embark on a rebranding project as they aim to remain relevant in a post-Brexit Britain.
South Thanet was the most-watched constituency for UKIP supporters in 2015, with then leader Nigel Farage attempting win a seat in Parliament at the seventh attempt. In the end, the Conservatives scraped a win with a majority of 2,812, but, with UKIP aiming to concentrate their limited resources on favourable seats such as this one, the constituency could serve up another tight battle.
As was the case in 2015, Clacton also represents one of UKIP’s best – and arguably only – chances of regaining representation in the House of Commons.
Currently held by Conservative-turned-Kipper-turned-independent Douglas Carswell, the constituency returned the then UKIP MP with majorities of 12,404 and 3,437 in 2014 and 2015, respectively.
However, Carswell’s recent announcement that he won’t be standing for re-election has blown the race wide open, with the Conservatives and UKIP both eyeing up the seat. Add into the mix the populist firebrand Arron Banks, who quickly threw his hat into the ring, and you have a potentially feisty fight.
Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk
The Scottish National Party will be looking to consolidate their position as Scotland’s number one party in the House of Commons as they use the upcoming election to push for a second independence referendum, but they could be in danger of losing out in Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk.
The seat, which was only created in 2005, narrowly voted for SNP MP Calum Kerr with a majority of just 328 over his Conservative rival, John Lamont, in 2015. The latter, who is currently the MSP for Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire (a constituency whose boundaries are remarkably similar to its sister in the House of Commons), won last year’s Scottish Parliament election with a far more comfortable majority of 7,736, and whoever stands this time round has a good chance of continuing the Conservatives’ impressive resurgence north of the border.
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