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The 2019 Election Battleground: South West

Overview

Covers 55 constituencies stretching from Cornwall in the far south west all the way up to Gloucestershire, taking in Devon, Somerset, Dorset, Wiltshire and the patch of Greater Bristol formerly known as Avon. For most of the last few decades, this has been the site of battles between the Lib Dems and Tories, although following the 2010-15 Coalition Government, the Lib Dem vote collapsed and they lost all fifteen seats they held, regaining only one in 2017. The Lib Dems’ electoral challenge here is compounded by the fact that some of the seats they used to hold in the region – especially those with a fishing tradition – are also hostile to the EU, membership of which the party is so keen to champion.

Leave voteshare at the referendum in 2016: 52.9%

2017 seat tally (compared with 2015)

  • Conservatives: 47 (-4)
  • Labour: 7 (+3)
  • Lib Dems: 1 (+1)

2017 voteshare (compared with 2015)

  • Conservatives: 51.4% (+4.8)
  • Labour: 29.1% (+11.5)
  • Lib Dems: 14.9% (-0.2)
  • UKIP: 1.1% (-12.5)
  • Green: 2.3% (-3.7)

Seats to Watch

Bath (31.72% Leave)
The sole seat now held by the Lib Dems in the region. The pro-EU attitudes of Ben Howlett – the Tory MP elected here in 2015 – were insufficient to prevent it being gained by German-born Wera Hobhouse in 2017. New Tory candidate Annabel Tall would need a swing of over 5.5% to overturn the Lib Dem majority of nearly 6,000.

Bristol North West (38.85% Leave)
Labour’s Darren Jones put on more than 16 percentage points to snatch this seat from Tory MP Charlotte Leslie at the last election. Her successor as Conservative candidate, Mark Weston, would need a swing of 4.5% to reverse Jones’ majority of approaching 5,000.

Camborne and Redruth (58.41% Leave)
In the 2000s (under a slightly different boundary as Falmouth and Camborne), this part of Cornwall elected a Labour MP, then a Lib Dem MP, before Brexiteer George Eustice was elected here for the Conservatives in 2010. At that election the Lib Dems were 66 votes short of winning, yet it demonstrates just what an electoral hit they have taken that seven years later they could barely hold onto their deposit, on a mere 6.3% of the vote. It is therefore, on paper, Labour’s top target in the South West, with their candidate Paul Farmer needing a swing of less than 2% to overturn DEFRA minister Eustice’s majority – although any seepage of Labour votes to the Lib Dems could in fact boost the Tory grip on the seat.

Cheltenham (42.90% Leave)
In 2015 Martin Horwood fell victim to the mass cull of Lib Dem MPs when Alex Chalk put Cheltenham in the Tory column for the first time since 1987. Following the referendum, at which Cheltenham voted Remain – as did Chalk – Horwood reduced the Tory majority in 2017 to around 2,500. But since then Horwood has been elected an MEP and Max Wilkinson is now the Lib Dem challenger here. Aided by the Greens withdrawing in his favour, Wilkinson will be seeking now to squeeze the 9% Labour vote and target Remainer Tories unhappy with Chalk’s votes in favour of delivering the will of the country on Brexit in his bid to achieve the 2.5% swing he needs to win.

Cornwall North (60.19% Leave)
A Tory/Lib Dem marginal for many an election, Brexit-backing former postman Scott Mann gained it for the Tories in 2015 and increased his majority in the Leave-voting seat in 2017. Lib Dem candidate Danny Chambers would need a swing of more than 7% to win here.

Devon East (50.41% Leave)
Historically a Tory seat with the Lib Dems in second place on about 30% of the vote, but where at the last two general elections an Independent candidate, Claire Wright, has come a strong second, leaving the Lib Dems in 2017 to languish on a mere 2.4% of the vote, losing their deposit. Wright is a Devon County Councillor whose position on Brexit is to back a new referendum on the Government’s deal in which she would campaign for Remain. At this election Sir Hugo Swire, the Conservative MP since 2001, is stepping down as he leaves it to former former broadcast journalist and adviser to Dominic Raab, Simon Jupp, to defend his 8,000 majority.

Devon North (57.04% Leave)
A seat with a strong Liberal tradition – most notably as political home to Jeremy Thorpe – but which Conservative Peter Heaton-Jones gained back for the Tories in 2015. But after only four years in the Commons he is standing down and handing the Tory baton to local councillor Selaine Saxby. Alex White for the Lib Dems would need a swing of 4% to win this time.

Plymouth Sutton and Devonport (54.41% Leave)
In 2010 and 2015 the Conservatives won this seat with barely one-third of the vote, with support for all the others parties rather fractured. But 2017 was very much a two-party affair as Labour’s Luke Pollard won the seat back from the Tories, with all other candidates losing their deposits. Conservative candidate Rebecca Smith would need a swing of nearly 7% to over turn Pollard’s majority of approaching 7,000, and her task is made all the more difficult by the presence on the ballot paper of Ann Widdecombe: now a Brexit Party MEP for the South West, this is in fact her second foray into Plymouth politics, having contested Plymouth Devonport for the Tories in 1983 when SDP leader David Owen was the local MP.

St Ives (54.77% Leave)
Lib Dem Andrew George has fought this seat – covering the south-westernmost tip of the UK – at every election since 1992. He represented it between 1997 and 2015 when he was defeated by Leave-voting Conservative Derek Thomas, although came within 312 votes of winning it back in 2017. It is now the Lib Dems’ top target in the region and would technically fall on a swing in their favour of less than 0.5%. But whereas the 2017 election was a simple three-way contest between the Tories, Lib Dems and Labour, George’s task is made all the harder at this election by the intervention of candidates from both the Green Party and continuity Liberal Party.

Stroud (45.86% Leave)
In 1997, Labour’s David Drew triumphed here by beating Tory MP Roger Knapman, who would go on to spend four years in the 2000s as UKIP leader. Every election in the seat between 2001 and 2017 then saw europhile Conservative Neil Carmichael standing against Drew, who was at one time viewed as a Labour eurosceptic, but has not given voice to such views of late. Carmichael held the seat in 2010 and 2015, but narrowly lost it in 2017, since when he has defected to the Lib Dems via a brief sojourn in Change UK, for whom he contested the 2019 European election in the East of England. New Conservative candidate Siobhan Baillie needs a swing of 0.5% to overturn Drew’s 687 majority in a seat which has the additional curiosity of the Lib Dems stepping aside to back the Green candidate at this election.

Totnes (53.89% Leave)
The Lib Dems ran the Tories pretty close here during the late 1990s and 2000s but after becoming Conservative MP in 2010, Sarah Wollaston then enjoyed majorities well into five figures at both the 2015 and 2017 elections (the Lib Dems actually came fifth in 2015). However, Wollaston – who switched sides from Leave to Remain halfway through the 2016 referendum campaign – became increasingly hostile to Brexit and defected to The Independent Group/Change UK in February 2019 before joining the Lib Dems in August 2019. She now fights the seat under that banner, on paper needing a swing of more than 20% to win the seat from third place, although she might be able to count on many of the 2,000 voters who backed the Greens last time as they have withdrawn in her favour. Defending the Tory majority of over 13,000 is Anthony Mangnall, who has signed the Stand Up for Brexit pledge.

Wells (53.63% Leave)
In 2010 Lib Dem Tessa Munt became the first non-Tory MP for this Somerset seat in nearly 90 years, but was summarily ejected by James Heappey for the Conservatives in 2015. He held it again (against her) in 2017 by a majority of more than 7,500, although she is standing yet again at this election and would need a swing of more than 6% to win it back.

Estimated Leave votes by constituency have been calculated by Chris Hanretty of the University of East Anglia

 

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