A rough guide to the British election

A region-by-region beginners’ guide of what to look for in today’s/tomorrow’s British election.

This post features, or will feature, a region-by-region run through of the key constituencies and their prospects for the British election, which is being held overnight our time with the business end of the count occurring tomorrow morning. The maps identify Conservative marginals as “primary” if they would fall to Labour on the uniform national swing predicted by the polls, which broadly point to a Conservative vote of 34% (down three on the last election), Labour on 33% (up five) and the Liberal Democrats on 9% (down fourteen). “Secondary” marginals are those which might be expected to fall if Labour won a majority, which I’ve crudely drawn at the 12% point on the swing-o-meter. I’m playing Liberal Democrat seats by ear according to the betting markets in identifying them either as safe or under threat from this party or that.

I’ll be adding regions to the guide progressively as I complete them. And what better place to start than:


Six seats in London that would fall from Conservative to Labour on the uniform swing indicated in the polling, but no real prospects for Labour beyond that, the margin in Ilford North being 11.5%. I’ve heard it said that the swing is expected to be slightly above par in London, but an Ashford poll during the campaign had the Conservatives with a four-point lead in Croydon Central. With respect to the Liberal Democrat seats, Labour are very short-priced favourites in Brent Central and favourites in Hornsey and Wood Green. Other Liberal Democrat seats are at least endangered, but betting markets favour them in each case.


This area is ground zero for the Ukip insurgency, being home to the two seats they have won at by elections, Clacton and Rochester & Strood, and the seat being targeted by party leader Nigel Farage, Thanet South. It’s also good territory for the Greens, encompassing their solitary seat of Brighton Pavilion.

The strength of both parties is causing Labour headaches, and could certainly cost them what should otherwise have been an easy win in Thurrock, which the Conservatives won last time on the tightest of margins. Southhampton Itchen is the only seat anywhere identified as a potential Conservative gain for Labour, partly due to a retiring sitting member, but also because Ukip is believed to be biting into the Labour vote (the number for it has failed to show up on my map tomorrow, but it’s the one bordering Eastleigh to the west).

The Greens vote could also cost Labour potential gains in the two seats neighbouring Brighton Pavilion, Hove and Brighton Kemptown, although they are the favourites in both cases. Seats Labour is clearly favoured to gain from the Conservatives are Hove, Brighton Kemptown and Hastings & Rye, and the betting is fairly tight in Milton Keyes South.

The Conservatives are short-priced favourites to win Portsmouth South from the Liberal Democrats, and rated competitive but behind in Eastbourne. The markets rate the Liberal Democrats a better chance than Labour to unseat the Conservatives in Watford, for what reason I’m not sure.


This region is the greatest area of strength for the Liberal Democrats, and much depends on the extent to which they can dig in here. The Conservatives are clearly favoured to win St Austell & Newquay, Taunton Deane, Somerton & Frome, Wells, Mid Dorset & Poole and Chippenham, and it would appear to be very close in St Ives, North Cornwall, North Devon and Torbay. Labour is expected to win Bristol West from the Liberal Democrats, despite determined efforts from the Greens. The only seats the Liberal Democrats are clearly favoured to retain are Yeovil, Bath, Thornbury & Yate and Cheltenham. As for the few Conservative-Labour contests, Labour is strongly favoured to gain Plymouth, Sutton & Devonport, it’s expected to go down to the wire in South Swindon, and the Conservatives are slightly favoured in Gloucester.

Midlands/East Anglia

Moving up to the central band of England, we find rock solid Labour industrial areas and equally safe Conservative countryside, with marginal seats tending to crop out where the two blur together. Labour is very strongly favoured to win Sherwood, City of Chester, Broxtowe, North Warwickshire, Wolverhampton South West and Corby, and moderately favoured in Cannock Chase, Erewash, Amber Valley, Lincoln and Bedford. Crewe & Nantwich, Nuneaton, Halesowen & Rowley Regis, Northampton North, Ipswich and Norwich North are thought to be lineball, while Labour holds out some hope in High Peak, Cleethorpes, Loughborough, Worcester, Peterborough, Great Yarmouth.

There are only a few Liberal Democrats seats here, but one of them is Nick Clegg’s seat of Sheffield Hallam, where polling long found him struggling to hold off Labour, although more recent polling has been more favourable to him. Labour is also expected to gain Norwich South, but the Conservatives are favourites in Cambridge, and Birmingham Yardley is lineball. Next door to Birmingham Yardley, the Conservatives are short-priced favourites to unseat the Liberal Democrats in Solihull.

The North

Around Liverpool and Manchester, we see a repeat of the pattern in the Midlands where marginals seats fill the cracks between Labour-voting industrial and Conservative-voting country areas, although elsewhere in the north the distinctions are more pronounced. The betting markets favour Labour to win six seats from the Conservatives throughout the region: Wirral West, Bury North, Dewsbury, Lancaster & Fleetwood, Morecambe & Lunesdale and Carlisle. The Conservatives are rated as having the edge in South Ribble, Rossendale & Darwen, Pendle, Colne Valley, Elmet & Rothwell and Blackpool North & Cleveleys, while Keighley and Pudsey are down to the wire.

The expectation is that the Liberal Democrats will be hit hard in the north as voters react against their involvement in the coalition by returning to Labour, who are thought all but certain to gain Bradford East, Burnley, Manchester Whitington and Redcar, with the Liberal Democrats given a slight edge in Leeds North East. There are a further three seats where the Liberal Democrats are under pressure from the Conservatives, with the markets favouring the Liberal Democrats in Southport, the Conservatives in Berwick upon Tweed, and evenly split in Cheadle. The wild card constituency in the region is Bradford West, which George Galloway won from Labour for his Respect party at a by-election in March 2012. His re-election bid would appear to be a 50-50 proposition.


My casual observation of polling suggests the Conservatives have dropped a point since the last election, Labour has gained one, the Liberal Democrats are down thirteen and Plaid Cymru are up about four. Labour are short-priced favourites to take Cardiff Central from the Conservatives and Cardiff North from the Liberal Democrats, and at least some chance of further gaining Carmathen West & South Pembrokeshire, Vale of Glamorgan and Aberconwy from the Conservatives. The Liberal Democrats are also under pressure in Brecon & Radnorshire from the Conservatives and Ceredigion in Plaid Cymru, who otherwise don’t seem in danger of matching the SNP’s accomplishments.



It may seem odd to be short-changing Scotland in a guide to this election, but there really isn’t all that much that needs be said: anything that isn’t held by the Scottish National Party is under threat from them. The map to the right accordingly sticks to representing the result of the 2010 election. Out of 41 seats currently held by Labour, a list of seats from The Week where they “might survive” consists of Coatbridge Chryston & Bellshill, Glasgow East, Glasgow North East, Glasgow South West, Motherwell & Wishaw and Paisley & Renfrewshire South. The SNP is clear favourite in every one of the 11 seats held by the Liberal Democrats with the exception of the border seat of Berwickshire Roxburgh & Selkirk, a three-way contest in which the Liberal Democrats might instead lose to the Conservatives.

Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland and its 18 seats are generally treated as an appendage to the real action, since it has a distinctive party system with an overlaying of sectarianism. Sixteen of those seats behaved the same way at both the 2005 and 2010 elections, with five being won by Sinn Fein, eight by the Democratic Unionist Party founded by Ian Paisley, and three by the nationalist, Labour-aligned Social Democratic and Labour Party. The Ulster Unionist Party lost its only seat at the last election after formally aligning with the Conservatives, causing its one incumbent, Lady Sylvia Hermon, to contest and hold her seat of North Down as an independent. The other change was that the non-sectarian Alliance Party won Belfast East from the Democratic Unionist Party, which is mounting a determined effort to win it back.

Author: William Bowe

William Bowe is a Perth-based election analyst and occasional teacher of political science. His blog, The Poll Bludger, has existed in one form or another since 2004, and is one of the most heavily trafficked websites on Australian politics.

501 comments on “A rough guide to the British election”

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  1. Last minute polls
    Guardian/ICM Lab+1
    Ipsos-MORI Con+1 (although apparently Lab has picked up 5 in a week)
    Populus Tie
    Ashcrost Tie

    It seems the polls are suggesting a last min surge to Labour.

  2. Up until now the Tories made a big deal about being the legitimate government because they would have the biggest minority party. Now Labour might be the biggest. How will the Tories and the media spin that?

  3. I think the taxation analysis which took into account local government rates and VAT which showed that people with incomes in the lowest 10% in Britain paid 43% in total taxes, while those in the highest 10% of incomes paid 35% in total taxes has demonstrated how unfair the policy settings of the Conservative-Lib-Dem Coalition have been.

    There is a sense that while Britain as a whole has had some degree of recovery from the GFC, it has been very unevenly spread, and an “unfair” burden has been placed on those least able to cope with it. I think that is essentially why Cameron is struggling to hold on after only one term.



  4. I think non traditional media is having a bigger impact as time goes on. Rupert & Dacre are openly being derided online for their stupid claims & headlines before their rags even hit the streets.
    I hope there is a late surge to Labour.

    Is there any exit polling anywhere?

  5. silentmajorty

    Your wish appears to have come true…

    However, a series of London-wide surveys suggest a big swing to Labour in the capital, with the party consistently 12% to 14% ahead of the Tories and poised to claim anywhere between six and 12 seats.

  6. Aren’t the polls telling us there will be some kind of uncomfortable deal between Labour and the Scottish Nationalist’s, or have I been missing something?

  7. sohar – 2 – It reminds me of watching some right wing US political commentators the night before the 2000 US election. There was a concern that Bush might beat Gore in the popular vote but lose in the Electoral College.

    Some of these commentators were saying, I kid you not, that in that scenario the honorable and democratic thing would be for some of the Electoral College voters to “swap sides” (in US terms, become ‘faithless electors’) and re-install Bush as President.

    Somewhat ironic given what actually happened!

  8. [Now Labour might be the biggest. How will the Tories and the media spin that?]

    They can sit and spin either way.
    Parliamentary systems work off parliamentary majorities: it doesn’t matter a toss who is the largest party.

    They can wait for Her Madge to point that out to them, or someone can save her the embarrassment.


  9. silentmajority – 4 – I believe that the first exit polling will be at 10pm UK time (7am Eastern Australia). Because their polling booths open at 7am and close at 10pm – being a normal weekday workday.

  10. I liked this from The Guardian editorial – my point on fairness –

    <i.But the contrast between them and the Conservatives is sharp. While Labour would repeal the bedroom tax, the Tories are set on those £12bn of cuts to social security, cuts that will have a concrete and painful impact on real lives. Even if they don’t affect you, they will affect your disabled neighbour, reliant on a vital service that suddenly gets slashed, or the woman down the street, already working an exhausting double shift and still not able to feed her children without the help of benefits that are about to be squeezed yet further. For those people, and for many others, a Labour government can make a very big difference.

    This newspaper has never been a cheerleader for the Labour party. We are not now. But our view is clear. Labour provides the best hope for starting to tackle the turbulent issues facing us. On 7 May, as this country makes a profound decision about its future, we hope Britain turns to Labour.

  11. lefty e 10 – yes the spectacle of Cameron trying to hold on would be schadenfreude. Like Jeff Kennett after the 1999 election, who was threatening (?promising) to test his numbers on the floor of the Legislative Assembly. I imagine Cameron, urged on by Murdoch’s harpies, will use the same sort of bluster in his language. But eventually the emabarrassment of being voted down in the House of Commons would loom large, and he would give up.

  12. 12-18 months ago, I felt David Cameron was politically dead but over the last year the government’s standing appears to have improved, this may be the result of both the UKIP and Labour losing a bit of support more than the government earning it.

    My predictions are for another coalition government, I don’t think either of the majors will be able to win enough for a majority although had they introduced preferential voting then I think that outright would have been more achievable.

  13. Of course the Tories are going to spin the “illegitimate government” line if they lose. They’d be stupid not to. It is politics after all.

    In this scenario (remember: we don’t know what the result is actually going to be), Miliband should just focus on governing well and growing into the role of PM and the line will not stick (and 5 years down the track it would be a non-issue.)

  14. [RR: Good thing too. Its rubbish that we allow it here.]

    The only exit polling I remember is the recent QLD elections 🙂

  15. Carey – 20 – Yes, I think if it is clear that Cameron cannot command a majority, Miliband should just sit back and say “The PM has a decision to make” – instead of pushing his own barrow, put the onus back onto Cameron. And no amount of Murdoch front pages and editorials will be able to change the numbers in the Commons.

  16. Canada has a law to prevent the publication of polling results before the election is finished, in areas where the election is still running. They also have different polling hours in different time zones (of which they have 5, spread over 4.5 hours) to reduce the time delay. At the last election the results were all over twitter.

  17. The only real question is whether or not the Lib Dems get invited into a Lab-SNP grand coalition, or if the Scotch go it alone with Labour.

    Tories are done. Murdoch’s going to be furious.

  18. teh_drewski

    I think if it was possible for the LibDems to join Labour and the SNP in a coalition then the U.K will have a new government.

  19. Mb @ 26

    The SNP will not form a coalition government. It will support Labour in confidence supply.

    It may play havoc with Labour’s mind as it introduces legislation popular with many Labour members but unpopular with the blairites running the show

  20. Mb @ 26

    The SNP will not form a coalition government. It will support Labour in confidence supply.

    It may play havoc with Labour’s mind as it introduces legislation popular with many Labour members but unpopular with the blairites running the show

  21. Very interesting day coming up, starting at 7am EST with exit polls. Will be interesting to see what Lib-Dems, with or without Clegg depending on his own seat result, say about result if it is clear that Cameron has no path to majority.

    Having alienated and lost many of their ‘left’ supporters by going into formal coalition with the Tories, I wonder if they would now lose their more conservative supporters if they formally backed a Labour Government?

  22. The Liberal Democrats are said to have a chance in Watford against the Conservative MP. The LibDems candidate has been re-elected as Mayor many times over many years and the Council has been, and remains, a LibDems strongold.

  23. UK Election info:

    The boffins behind the broadcasters joint exit poll, including esteemed psephologist Prof. John Curtice, have attached a slight caveat for tonight.

    With the rise of the SNP in Scotland and UKIP in England, they believe the accuracy may not be as good as in recent elections (in 2005 and 2010 it essentially nailed the actual result).

    Consequently, take with a small dose of salt until we have some early results.

    Those familiar with the 1992 ‘polling disaster’ will probably know that it was not apparent until some of the early marginals reported that the exit poll was wrong.

  24. “@NateSilver538: Exit poll projections have been quite good in the past 3 UK elections, but were often just horrible before that. More in a bit.”

  25. A senior Lib Dem source in Nick Clegg’s camp said:

    Our initial thoughts on the exit poll are that it doesn’t match any of our internal intelligence and we find it quite extraordinary that not a single bit of evidence has pointed to this so far. Labour losses and Tory gains seem extraordinary. For the SNP to take all but one seat in Scotland would also be extraordinary. We are going to take a loss we’ve always known that and it’s not going to be an easy night but we think 10 is right at bottom end of our expectations.

  26. Needless to say I am reaching for the whisky bottle. What the chuff happened? Ten Lib Dems though, never saw that coming

  27. “@NateSilver538: I’m most skeptical of the exit poll claim that LibDems will be down to just 10 seats. Their vote hard to pick up without constituency data.”

  28. OC

    Not if the Lib Dems support Labor. That assumption of supporting Tories may not hold.

    That is if the exit poll is correct. Given all the polls you have to doubt

  29. guytaur 3 final polls had Tories ahead, 1 Labour, the rest tied so not that unexpected. Clearly some UKIP swingback too, resembles what happened in Israel where Netanyahu won back support from minor rightwing parties at the last moment

  30. The unionists are expecting to pick up a couple perhaps 3. UUP and DUP are in an electoral alliance in some of the marginals while SDLP and SF are cintesting all seats.
    315 Tory and 11 Unionist and the Lib Dems are out of the game.

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