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Will the wind of change become the beast from the East?

East Anglia
By Phil Briscoe
13 June 2024
Public Affairs
East Anglia
general election 2024

As election coverage is peppered with references to the Red Wall and the Blue Wall, the Eastern Front will be a defining region for the Conservatives on July 4th.

It is common to hear about the South-East as the Conservative heartland, but at the last election in 2019 the East of England was the region most likely to elect a Conservative Member of Parliament, helping them secure 52 of the 58 constituencies in Essex, Suffolk, Norfolk, Hertfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Bedfordshire. Of the remainder, Labour took five and the Liberal Democrats one, in St Albans. The Conservatives won every constituency in Essex and Suffolk and all but one constituency in each of Norfolk and Hertfordshire, securing 57.2% vote share across the region (3.2% higher than the South-East) , compared to Labour on 24.4% and the Liberal Democrats on 13.4%. 

Although the Conservatives have historically dominated the region, the gap in the vote share fell to just 0.9% between the Conservatives and Labour in 1997, while Labour took the lead (with a 0.4% margin) in 1945. That 1945 result is the one and only election in which Labour held a majority of MPs in East of England, with 23 of the then 36 seats on offer. 1997 only secured them 22 of the 56 constituencies.

Since 2019, Labour have expanded their team by two, gaining the seat of Mid Bedfordshire in a by-election and securing the recent defection of Dan Poulter, the then MP in Central Suffolk and North Ipswich. Boundary changes have expanded the number of constituencies from 58 to 61 in the region for the 2024 election, and 15 of the remaining 51 Conservative MPs have chosen to stand down.

What can we expect from the 2024 results? And will the Eastern Region form the last Conservative stronghold, or will it be sending another 20 or so Labour MPs to contribute to a new government?

Essex has no shortage of high-profile Conservative MPs, with Kemi Badenoch, James Cleverly and Dame Priti Patel, but headlines over the past few days have focused on the Nigel and Ric Show!  Not quite a double act, but Nigel Farage has returned as the Leader and presumed saviour of Reform UK to contest the Clacton constituency. The Conservative Party Chairman, Richard Holden, was presented as the solitary choice for the new parliamentary candidate in the safe (at least on paper) Essex constituency of Basildon and Billericay.

The odds look good for Farage in Clacton and the strong support for Brexit from Essex and the wider region was highlighted in the 2015 general election when UKIP commanded 16.2% share of the vote across the East . However, voting is never entirely predictable, and it is worth reflecting on the wider results which saw both the Conservatives and Labour increasing their vote share while the Liberal Democrats fell by a corresponding 16%.

The Conservatives could lose up to ten of their Essex constituencies, but the ones to watch on election night include:

  • Thurrock, where the Conservatives are defending a near-12,000 majority in a three-way fight with Labour and Reform UK.
  • Colchester, where local councillor Pam Cox is favourite to gain the seat for Labour for the first time since 1945 and in the process stop Olympic rowing medallist and Conservative candidate James Cracknell.
  • Southend East and Rochford where Labour candidate Bayo Alaba is tipped to snatch the seat from new Conservative candidate Gavin Haran, following the retirement of Sir James Duddridge.


Suffolk is the Eastern outpost for the growth in support for the Green Party, where they gained 30 councillors across the county in 2023 and took overall control of Mid Suffolk District Council. This adds an interesting dynamic to a county where the Conservatives won every seat last time and where their smallest majority (outside the urban hub of Ipswich) is Suffolk Coastal with a majority of over 18,000 (although the newly recreated seat of Lowestoft has a smaller notional majority of less than 16,000).

New boundaries, and impacts of smaller parties make some of the seats difficult to predict, but some of the contests to keep an eye on include:

  • Ipswich, the ultimate Suffolk swing seat that has changed hands between the Conservatives and Labour in five of the last six general elections. Tom Hunt won it for the Conservatives in 2019 on a majority of 5,479 and despite media speculation that he was set to defect to Reform UK, he is defending the seat on unchanged boundaries, and Labour will expect to win this.
  • Suffolk Central and Ipswich North had a moment in the headlines earlier in 2024 when incumbent Conservative MP Dan Poulter defected to Labour. He is not running again, so a crop of new candidates in a seat where the Conservatives are defending a 20,000 majority from 2019. The constituency straddles three different local authorities is a local campaigning bar chart dream with recent council elections showing it to be a marginal Conservative vs Green battle – on the last round of local elections, the Conservatives edged it on a 9,900-9,200 vote split with Labour trailing in a distant fourth place. While some betting points to a Labour gain here, they start from a low base and only fielded candidates in six of the fifteen local council wards, so one to watch for a possible Green breakthrough.
  • Lowestoft is reborn as a constituency for the first time since 1979, and will be defended by incumbent Conservative Peter Aldous, who won the former Waveney seat on an 18,000 majority. On revised boundaries and a smaller notional majority, he is being challenged by former Labour special adviser and councillor, Jess Asato and is one where Labour will feel they are in serious contention.

Norfolk is generally considered a Conservative county, with the exception of the strong Labour base in Norwich, the cyclical swing to Labour in King’s Lynn and the local Lib Dem base in North Norfolk that converted into them holding the seat between 2001 and 2019. The most high-profile Parliamentarian in the county is Liz Truss in South West Norfolk and although some commentators have predicted she might lose, her 26,000 majority from 2019 make this notionally one of the safest seats in the county and an unlikely one to change hands.

Constituencies that are likely to provide some change in Norfolk include:

  • Norwich North has been held, against the odds and Labour expectations, by Conservative Chloe Smith since winning the seat in the 2009 by-election. Slight boundary improvements suggest the Conservative majority of 4,700 in 2019 has been expanded to a notional 6,300 majority, but this still places it right in the crosshairs for Labour and is predicted by most betting sites to change hands, especially with Chloe Smith standing down. Labour candidate grew up in Norfolk and is a former Labour adviser and Southwark councillor.
  • Great Yarmouth has almost always followed the direction of the party of government, switching to Conservative in 1970, Labour in 1997 and back to Conservative in 2010. With the retirement of Sir Brandon Lewis and the voting history of a seat where UKIP mopped up 10,000 votes in 2015, the Conservative majority of 17,663 from 2019 looks particularly vulnerable.


Latest news reports suggest that the Labour Party has withdrawn campaigners from Conservative seats with majorities lower than 3,000 because they expect them to switch to them without additional work – if this is the case, then Labour considers just two seats in the Eastern Region are a given as Labour gains – Watford and Peterborough. However, if the reported Conservative nervousness around seats with a sub-16,000 majority is true, then this puts another 16 seats in the balance.

There are no Eastern seats that reflect a tipping point where we will know whether the Conservatives have lost their majority or are staging a fightback, but the clear indicators are that if Labour do not pick up sets like Peterborough, Ipswich and Watford, their keys to No.10 may not be unconditional ones, while if the Conservatives start to lose seats like Welwyn Hatfield, Colchester and St Neots, we will know the swing is greater than 1997 and there will be only one real outcome.

Whatever happens in these seats, simple maths from 2019 show that five of the ten constituencies with the largest Conservative majorities are in the East of England, and if polls are correct with a collapse in the Conservative vote to around 100 seats, then around a quarter of the remaining MPs are likely to be in the East. A region that is home to many of the household names from the current government and a new crop of former SPADs and advisors is likely to have a leading role in how the Conservatives redefine themselves in opposition.

That group of former advisers seeking election in this region includes Will Tanner (contesting Bury St Edmunds and Stowmarket), former Deputy Chief of Staff to Rishi Sunak in No.10, Nikki Da Costa (contesting North East Hertfordshire), former Director of Legislative Affairs in No.10 for Theresa May and Boris Johnson, and Nick Timothy (contesting West Suffolk), former Joint Chief of Staff to Theresa May in No.10. Collectively, the three of them have spent more time in Downing Street than most of our recent Prime Ministers! 

Parallels with Boudica leading the political revolt from the East may be drawn but whether it is Priti, Kemi or Liz (again) taking the reins of that chariot will remain to be seen and will depend a great deal on which members of the tribe are still standing on 5th July.  

The term Beast from the East was first used in 2018 to describe the Siberian cold weather snap but will the July 2024 election see the Labour red flags raised in constituencies across the East and a return to the political landscape of 1945?