Back to Blog

Posted: 30.06.24

Race for Downing Street: LCA’s top seats to watch outside London

For this election, a lot of the key battlegrounds are beyond the boundaries of Greater London. In 2019, the Conservative’s victory was won by capturing Labour’s long-standing seats in the so-called Red Wall in the north of England and Midlands, built on the promise of ‘levelling up’ and a determination to get Brexit done.

post-daniel-6682e1f690feb.jpg (original)

But with Labour’s consistent 20-point lead, the political map so shaken up in 2019 looks set to be shattered further. As we approach polling day, looking at constituencies grouped by characteristics helps paint a picture of the key battleground seats.

Coastal towns

Some of the country’s most deprived communities live in seaside towns – some are faded resorts, others formerly reliant on declining or now disappeared industries. Voters in seaside constituencies are more likely to be over 55, own their own home, and less likely to be educated to degree level. There’s also a notable ‘brain drain’ of young people moving out to bigger cities and towns for work. Yet it is also the case that some coastal towns, particularly those within London’s orbit, are seeing a transformation as younger liberal voters move in, leaving the capital in order to fulfil the dream of home ownership and raising a family.

We’ve already seen the political consequences of this change. In the 2022 local elections, Labour gained control of Worthing and – along with the Lib Dems and Greens – made progress in places like Folkestone, Hastings and Southend. In last year’s local elections, Labour’s southern coastal push extended further, taking Plymouth, Medway, Brighton & Hove, Dover, and Thanet. Adur District Council fell to Labour in May this year, completing the Sussex seaside trio.

Seats to watch: East Worthing and Shoreham, Hastings and Rye, Morecambe and Lunesdale, Great Grimsby, East Thanet, Scarborough and Whitby, Bournemouth East, Folkestone and Hythe.

London’s commuter belt

The Conservative-held ‘Blue Wall’ across the south east of England is under threat, and nowhere more so that in the commuter belt around London. Lib Dem Leader Ed Davey has cornered the market in election stunts involving walls and hammers. In local politics, the Conservatives’ grip on the Home Counties has been slipping for several years, aided in part through London becoming a much more expensive place to call home. Younger, more liberal voters have left London in greater numbers, settling in towns in the donut around London. Whereas previously they might have left their politics at the M25, increasingly they’re taking their liberal values with them, diluting the once true blue Conservative strongholds.

The political landscape of Surrey, Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Hertfordshire, Essex and Kent is being transformed. Historic Tory strongholds like Woking, Basingstoke and Tunbridge Wells look vulnerable. For the incumbent Conservatives, the Home Counties host several of the party’s key figures, now all at risk of being unseated, including the Chancellor Jeremy Hunt, Defence Secretary Grant Shapps, and Chief Secretary to the Treasury Laura Trott.

Seats to watch: Woking, Welwyn Hatfield, Harlow, Basingstoke, Godalming and Ash, Sevenoaks, Wycombe, Crawley, Bracknell, Aldershot.

Attack of the Polytechnics

Politics experts have long debated the effects of university education on a person’s voting intention, but the geography of where students are located has transformed the voting habits of some former county towns and smaller cities. Take the cathedral city of Peterborough, home to centuries of brickmaking and sugar – the postwar growth has made this a typical bellwether seat, flipping between Conservative and Labour. A growing population in Cambridge prompted Anglia Ruskin University to begin building a campus afield in Peterborough, focusing on employment-related studies. Its first students were enrolled in 2022 with the potential to house 12,500 students by 2028. In this bellwether seat, a few hundred students can make the difference. Moreover, this year’s election date comes at a point in the academic year where many students will return to their family homes. In a tight contest, homeward bound students, fresh from months of studying, could make political change happen in their home towns.

But it’s not just an influx of students which can change a seat’s voting habits. With youth comes a growth in businesses which cater to them; including new markets for retail, leisure or hospitality, plus a direct ‘town and gown’ conveyor belt of students to the service sector. Indeed, the Conservative Government’s vision for ‘levelling up’ saw the potential of regional former polytechnic universities establishing their own identities as the businesses of the future. Life science accelerators in the East of England, advanced manufacturing in the Tees Valley and North East of England, or creative clusters in the Liverpool-to-Hull corridor. Decentralising the experience of higher and further education from its core campuses, as in Peterborough, both physically hosts a student population and invests into places outside typical student centres. The result? A change in demographic, outlook and economy – reasons for political parties to pay attention.

Seats to watch: Cheltenham, Stoke on Trent Central, Peterborough, Lancaster and Wyre, Lincoln, Northampton North, Milton Keynes Central, Loughborough.