Skip to main content

Letter from Northamptonshire


By Vincent Carroll-Battaglino and Phil Briscoe

The Midlands is always a key election battleground. There are many seats here that are the middle of the country both geographically and politically, and historically they’re littered with MPs that served terms that coincide exactly with their party’s time in government (indicating true swing seats). To form a government, you have to win here. Back in 2015 the sure sign for me that Labour was going in the wrong direction was how few seats we won in the midlands (very little outside the large cities), and how small majorities were where we did hold on. In 2019, the Conservative majorities in these seats became very large – but as we have seen, big swings are becoming the norm. 

On Tuesday, Phil Briscoe and I had the opportunity to take in a few constituencies campaigning for our parties. One of the great things about this job is you can have those friendships across the political divide with an understanding that ‘it’s all in the game’. Like First World War soldiers at Christmas 1914, we met for lunch after morning canvassing to compare notes, before resuming hostilities. These are the kind of seats I like: straight red/blue battles, no messing about.

In Labour battleground seats the norm is three campaigning sessions a day: morning, afternoon, evening. In one constituency, I missed a visit from Keir Starmer by one day. In the second, I was lucky to catch the Deputy Leader Angela Rayner on her Battlebus. We counted 14 instances of ‘Change’ arranged on the decal on the side of the bus and wondered if it was one per year of Conservative rule. Or completely unrelated, maybe. The visit was considered a good morale boost by all involved, as Rayner met local stalwarts and loads of photos were had.

I was impressed by the turnout and operations wherever I went. We had 12 activists in the morning and around eight after the Battlebus visit in the afternoon. They used a mixture of the traditional ‘pen and board’ and modern app to record data (which is quicker – when I spent a day campaigning on the south coast it was all apps). While traditionally London local parties are seen as larger and more active, these midlands seats seemed to have more ordinary (non-councillor) activists than some London areas I know. The outlook was broadly positive in a ‘much better than we have been doing’ way. I found some solid Labour vote, some coming back after going Conservative last time, and some who wanted more from the manifesto and Starmer but would vote Labour at a push to get the change they thought was the minimum needed.

But there was also a lot of general apathy toward politics and the outlook for the country. No one denied that either, and the Labour people I met were under no illusion that they still had to fight for votes and there was no immediate or assumed outpouring of love for Labour. Unusually, the more experienced candidate I met was more obviously optimistic than the younger first-timer. Usually that’s the other way round. But nobody wanted activists sent elsewhere and everyone agreed the result would be close.

Activists reported to me that they were not picking up a great surge for Reform, or much activity from them at all – which may surprise some in the media or polling companies. The proof is in the count, of course, and usually a higher Reform vote helps Labour win seats.

There’s also a great deal of excitement from councillors about what this election means for them. An MP on the same side, and a positive bounce in the lead up to the next council elections, at which they hope to take control of their councils.