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Red and yellow and blue and green? - the General Election in the South West

Clifton Suspension Bridge
Public Affairs
south west

2024 could be the election that sees a total realignment in the South West’s, as well as the country’s, politics.

So often thought of as being Conservative and Liberal Democrat heartlands, we could be on the brink of seeing more Labour MPs elected in the region than ever before.

Back in 2019, the Conservatives won a colossal 48 of the region’s 55 seats. Demographically and economically, the region is a fascinating and contrasting mix. The urban centres of Bristol, Exeter, Plymouth, Swindon, Bournemouth and Gloucester sit cheek by jowl with coastal and rural constituencies.

Rishi Sunak is faced with a red and yellow pincer movement that threatens to slash the number of Conservative MPs in the region. This problem is exacerbated by the fact there are previous few Labour / Lib Dem marginals.

When I worked for Labour South West, I was impressed by Keir Starmer’s recognition that the party need to focus on, and win, seats in the South of England. Winning back the ‘Red Wall’ was important to him, but he talked about an imaginary line along the M4 and the need for Labour to win south of that line. The high-water mark for the Party in the South West was its 16 seats won in 2001; and polling suggests this will be surpassed.

Likewise the Lib Dems, previously so strong in the region, will be seeking to build on their recent by-election successes. Finally, the Greens have been metaphorically throwing the kitchen sink at the new seat of Bristol Central. Having won 34 of the 70 council seats in May, Green co-leader Carla Denyer (the Green candidate in Bristol Central) will be hopeful of victory.

Outside of the key national and international issues, voters will undeniably be asking themselves when they cast their votes, “what exactly have 48 Conservative MPs done for the South West?” One key issue facing the region is transport – the South West receives far less in funding per capita than other regions of the country. Another is housing; whether due to cities and universities growing or a high proportion of second homes, or the notable increase in popularity of the region post lockdown, the region is crying out for a strategic approach to alleviate the housing crisis.

With vast potential for renewable energy, the region could be at the forefront of the country’s net zero plans. With the around 700 miles of coastline, voters will be concerned about the lack of action on water quality, drainage capacity and sewage spills. Farming, fishing and tourism have all been hit by the pandemic, post-Brexit trade deals and the high cost of living. This positive smörgåsbord of issues is likely to see the political map redrawn in the region come Friday morning.

My South West seats to watch:

Plymouth Moor View – two veterans face off as Conservative Johnny Mercer is up against Labour’s Fred Thomas. This constituency is known for its high level of support for Leave and dislike of Jeremy Corbyn.

Somerset North East and Hanham – 2010 called and wants its election back, as Conservative Jacob Rees-Mogg and Labour’s Dan Norris face off once again.

Bristol Central – A seat that was Conservative until 1997, Labour until 2005, Lib Dem until 2015 and Labour again since 2015 might be about to turn Green.

The new ‘Bridgwater & Burnham’ constituency – the area has seen massive inward investment in the form of the construction of Hinkley Point C and related supply chain plus the recently announced gigafactory. With the ‘…and West Somerset’ part of the constituency shorn off this new constituency, could Labour be about to improve its fortunes in the ‘cider county’ in the shape of local Labour stalwart Leigh Redman?

Matt’s South West prediction: Lab 21, Lib Dem 19, Con 17, Green 1.