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. For gods sake – if the exit poll is right the Tories will have nearly 80 seats more than Labor. On this alone, can anyone countenance Milliband being PM – let alone holding on as Opposition leader.

  2. Professor Curtice shows that, as the male expert psephologist matures, he looks more learned with hair, such as there is, becoming wispy and uncontrollable and a tie selection which is aa little dour.

  3. So are signs now pointing to a tory victory? I’m about to go to bed soon here in Edinburgh. Was hoping I’d be able to wake up to good news

  4. Bonza signs not good. Bad exit poll for Labor. However early days in count which may prove exit poll wrong. So there is hope for good news.

  5. From the BBC live election site:

    …..a final poll of polls compiled by the Press Association puts the Tories on 276 seats, Labour on 271, Lib Dems on 28, SNP 48, UKIP three and Greens one……

    That sounds better.

  6. If the exit poll is accurate, another case of Scotland and England voting in opposite ways and Scotland getting a government it did not vote for.

  7. You’d want some supporting evidence for the BBC poll before you started thinking it was anything other than a dud at this stage. Might turn out to be spot on of course, but all the evidence so far points the other way.

  8. “@peterjukes: Don’t go. Either 11 pollsters have completely screwed up. Or the exit poll has. @SJ_Watson”

    Yes which is more likely?

  9. and another exit poll:

    ……Electoral Calculus who were the closest at the 2010 election are predicting
    CON = 280
    LAB = 274
    LIB DEM = 21
    SNP = 52…..

    It’s something to hang our hat on.

  10. Ross

    So far on results two seats only.

    Small swing to Labor big swing to UKIP mainly at Lib Dem expense. Labor seats.

  11. 61 The Tories clearly have a majority in England and Wales on these figures, but thanks to Scotland it will be a hung parliament, so England does not get the government it voted for either. Of course the Tories won a majority in 1964 and 1974 in England under Home and Heath, but thanks to Scotland the UK got Wilson and a Labour government, so England does not always get what it voted for either

  12. The swingometer so far:

    Lab = +4.6
    Con = -4.9
    UKIP = +17.7
    Lib = -13.1
    Grn = +3.5

    Ed’s got it in the bag!

  13. “@peterjukes: A serious point: with this five part system, thinking in terms of right/left blocs is the only way to navigate it.”

    Doing that Cameron does not have the bloc needed to govern.

    Guy from DUP is saying they have not decided which party to support.

  14. In the block of votes needed to form a majority. Its like here when Windsor Oakeshott chose Gillard over Abbott. This despite in first past post terms Abbott having largest vote.

  15. The Sky reporters and commentators are all treating the exit poll as the actual results. They keep asking Labour and LD pollies to react to the carnage.

  16. Well the Unionists would say that wouldn’t they, while they are looking for the earner. On historical and ideological grounds The chances of them supporting Labour is less than that of the Australian Nationals ditching the Liberals

  17. [Ross
    Posted Friday, May 8, 2015 at 8:19 am | PERMALINK
    and another exit poll:

    ……Electoral Calculus who were the closest at the 2010 election are predicting
    CON = 280
    LAB = 274
    LIB DEM = 21
    SNP = 52…..

    It’s something to hang our hat on.]

    Well at least this one is in the same ball park as the opinion polls.

  18. It only seems slow because we don’t get progressive results, only the final numbers. The counting actually happens very fast. Here we get nowhere near getting final numbers within a couple of hours, as they did in Sunderland.

  19. [The count is slow. Ours is lightning fast by comparison]

    You would think one advantage of first past the post – probably the only one – would be that it is quicker. Apparently not.

  20. By the equivalent time to that used to finalise the Sunderland count, we would have had a few rural booths and something from Lord Howe Island.

  21. My god, Sky News in UK – woeful and smashing a Labour candidate based on their dodgy Exit Poll. Talking about her leadership ambitions! OMG – disgusting interviewer. Can he be anymore biased, if I was the Labour politician I would go to London and clobber him round the ears!

    On a lighter side and in Newcastle we have ‘Nick the Flying Brick from the Monster Raving Loony Party’

  22. Its better than Canada where they don’t declare the Maritimes until after Vancouver has closed

  23. [Kevin Bonham
    Posted Friday, May 8, 2015 at 9:28 am | PERMALINK
    There have been naturally increased concerns this year that either the main polls could all be wrong (a la 1992) or the exit poll could be wrong in new ways (http://fivethirtyeight.com/datalab/what-the-uk-exit-poll-will-tell-us/) or both!


    Apparently there has been another exit poll which differs markedly from the first – much more favourable to labour. It was also the most accurate last time. So it’s all very confusing.

  24. Tempers fraying on Sky with only an exit poll to talk about – and ask party people about – and the party people rightly refusing to speculate on the basis of a single exit poll that’s at odds with all the other polls.

  25. Observation from Guardian live site:

    [These figures(Swindon North) help to explain why the exit poll could be right. The swing is not Conservative to Labour, but Labour to Conservative – by more than four percentage points. That may be because Ukip are taking votes from Labour.]

  26. So if Cameron remains PM, he is locked in to an EU referendum in 2017. I wonder how the financial “heavies” in London will view this if the Tories nearly have a majority in their own right? Because nothing is guaranteed to decrease the financial “clout” of London/UK more than an exit from the EU.

  27. OC

    [A question just for fun – would SF enter Westminster to stop the Unionists?]

    Isn’t the problem for SF that MP’s in the Commons have to take an oath of allegiance to the UK monarch?

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