The Brexit Election Battleground: The South East

The Brexit Election Battleground: The South East

The South East of England has long been a stronghold for the Conservatives and at the last election they won more than 50% of the vote across Kent, Surrey, Sussex, Hampshire, Oxfordshire, Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and the Isle of Wight: they scooped up no fewer than 78 of the 84 seats up for election here, including that of then Prime Minister, David Cameron, and his successor, Theresa May.

It was also the region which was closest to reflecting the overall UK-wide referendum resulting, delivering a vote of 51.8% for Leave last June.

Despite some historic pockets of support – sometimes attained through by-election victories over the years – the Lib Dems lost the final four seats they held here at the 2015 general election. Then UKIP leader, Nigel Farage, failed in his bid to win the Kent seat of Thanet South, while the Greens held onto their sole seat at Brighton Pavilion. Labour is defending four seats here, the safest on paper being Oxford East, where the new candidate seeking to retain the constituency that has been held by the party since 1987 is Annaliese Dodds, a sitting MEP for the region.

Well-known Brexiteers standing in the region
Steve Baker (Con, Wycombe)
Gerard Batten MEP (UKIP, Maidenhead)
Suella Fernandes (Con, Fareham)
Michael Gove (Con, Surrey Heath)
Chris Grayling (Con, Epsom and Ewell)
Penny Mordaunt (Con, Portsmouth North)
Dominic Raab (Con, Esher and Walton)
John Redwood (Con, Wokingham)

MPs seeking re-election who voted against triggering Article 50
Peter Kyle (Lab, Hove)
Caroline Lucas (Green, Brighton Pavilion)
Alan Whitehead (Lab, Southampton Test)

Key seats to watch

Brighton Kemptown (Estimated Leave vote at June 2016 referendum: 43.6%)
Con: Simon Kirby (sitting MP)
Lab: Lloyd Russell-Moyle
LD: Emily Tester
UKIP: No candidate
Green: No candidate
ND: Doktor Haze

Con: 18,428 (40.67%) – Maj: 690 (1.52%)
Lab: 17,738 (39.15%)
UKIP: 4,446 (9.81%)
Green: 3,187 (7.03%)
LD: 1,365 (3.01%)
SPGB: 73 (0.16%)
Ind: 69 (0.15%)

The Tories, Labour and UKIP all increased their voteshare here in 2015 as the Lib Dem vote collapsed – allowing Simon Kirby to retain the seat he gained from Labour in 2010, albeit with a reduced majority. The absence of UKIP and Green candidates this time makes this a relatively straight Labour-Tory fight – Labour’s top target in the South East.

Eastbourne (Estimated Leave vote at June 2016 referendum: 57.5%)
Con Caroline Ansell (sitting MP)
Lab: Jake Lambert
LD: Stephen Lloyd
UKIP: No candidate
Green: Alex Hough

Con: 20,934 (39.57%) – Maj: 733 (1.39%)
LD: 20,201 (38.18%)
UKIP: 6,139 (11.60%)
Lab: 4,143 (7.83%)
Green: 1,351 (2.55%)
Ind: 139 (0.26%)

With UKIP opting not to stand here this time, the battle for the seat in which Theresa May was born is effectively a two-way contest between first-term Brexiteer Tory MP Caroline Ansell and Stephen Lloyd, the Lib Dem she beat in 2015. While UKIP’s withdrawal in an area with a Leave vote of nearly 60% ought to help Ansell, Lloyd will doubtless be frustrated at the insistence of the Greens to contest the seat. It is the Lib Dems’ top target seat in the region.

Hove (Estimated Leave vote at June 2016 referendum: 33.0%)
Con: Kristy Adams
Lab: Peter Kyle (sitting MP)
LD: Caroline Hynds
UKIP: No candidate
Green: Phelim Mac Cafferty
Ind: Charley Sabel

Lab: 22,082 (42.29%) – Maj: 1,236 (2.37%)
Con: 20,846 (39.92%)
Green: 3,569 (6.84%)
UKIP: 3,265 (6.25%)
LD: 1,861 (3.56%)
Ind: 322 (0.62%)
TUSC: 144 (0.28%)

Blairite Peter Kyle gained Hove for Labour from the Tories at the 2015 election and it is Labour’s most marginal seat in the South East. At the referendum, the constituency voted heavily for Remain (just a third of voters backed Leave) which presumably emboldened Kyle as he joined those voting against the triggering of Article 50. It looks a pretty clear two-way fight between the Tories and Labour, especially since UKIP are not contesting the seat, and the votes they attained in 2015 ought to be scooped up by the new Tory candidate, Kristy Adams. There is little remaining Lib Dem vote for Kyle to squeeze, suggesting that his fortunes may rest on whether he can persuade those tempted to vote for the Green candidate to give him their support.

Lewes (Estimated Leave vote at June 2016 referendum: 47.1%)
Con: Maria Caulfield (sitting MP)
Lab: Daniel Chapman
LD: Kelly-Marie Blundell
UKIP: No candidate
Green: No candidate

Con: 19,206 (38.00%) – Maj: 1,083 (2.14%)
LD: 18,123 (35.86%)
UKIP: 5,427 (10.74%)
Lab: 5,000 (9.89%)
Green: 2,784 (5.51%)

Lewes had been held since 1997 for the Lib Dems by unlikely some-time government minister Norman Baker, when it was gained in 2015 by Leave-supporting Conservative Maria Caulfield, who has served on the Brexit Select Committee since its creation last autumn. The seat narrowly voted to Remain at the referendum and with neither UKIP nor the Greens standing, the election here will be one of the few instances of a pure three-way contest between the Tories, Labour and the Lib Dems. But with Labour clearly out of the picture, the scene is set for a keen battle between
Caulfield and a new Lib Dem candidate without any of the personal vote that Baker will have amassed during his tenure.

Slough (Estimated Leave vote at June 2016 referendum: 54.1%)
Con: Mark Vivis
Lab: Tan Dhesi
LD: Tom McCann
UKIP: Karen Perez
Green: No candidate
Ind: Paul Janik (Ind)

Lab: 23,421 (48.52%) – Maj: 7,336 (15.20%)
Con: 16,085 (33.32%)
UKIP: 6,274 (13.00%)
LD: 1,275 (2.64%)
Green: 1,220 (2.53%)

This was the only Labour seat in the South of England (outside London) to vote Leave at last year’s referendum. Fiona MacTaggart, the Labour MP here since 1997, has stood down to make way for a new Labour candidate, who would fail in his bid to succeed her if the Conservatives managed to clock up a swing of 8%.

Southampton Itchen (Estimated Leave vote at June 2016 referendum: 60.3%)
Con: Royston Smith (sitting MP)
Lab: Simon Letts
LD: Eleanor Bell
UKIP: Kim Rose
Green: Rosie Pearce

Con: 18,656 (41.73%) – Maj: 2,316 (5.18%)
Lab: 16,340 (36.55%)
UKIP: 6,010 (13.44%)
Green: 1,876 (4.20%)
LD: 1,595 (3.57%)
TUSC: 233 (0.52%)

It was only in 2015 that the Brexit-backing Tory Royston Smith wrested this seat from Labour at the second time of asking, when John Denham stood down after a tenure of 23 years. With a Leave vote of more than 60% at last year’s referendum, Smith will be looking to seize a chunk of the UKIP vote and bolster his majority, although on paper it is Labour’s second best prospect for a gain in the South East.

Southampton Test (Estimated Leave vote at June 2016 referendum: 49.4%)
Con: Paul Holmes
Lab: Alan Whitehead (sitting MP)
LD: Thomas Gravatt
UKIP: No candidate
Green: No candidate
Ind: Keith Morrell
Ind: Andrew Pope

Lab: 18,017 (41.27%) – Maj 3,810 (8.73%)
Con: 14,207 (32.55%)
UKIP: 5,566 (12.75%)
Green: 2,568 (5.88%)
LD: 2,121 (4.86%)
Ind: 770 (1.76%)
TUSC: 403 (0.92%)

Rather than seeking to gain Itchen (above), Labour activists in Southampton might be better advised to use their resources trying to defend this seat, held since 1997 by Alan Whitehead. He was one of those who voted against triggering Article 50, despite the referendum vote splitting almost 50-50 here last June. Tory Paul Holmes will in particular be eyeing up the more than 5,500 votes that UKIP won last time, given the fact that they are not standing at this election, while Whitehead will have similar hopes that former Green supporters might help edge it for him.

Thanet South (Estimated Leave vote at June 2016 referendum: 61.7%)
Con: Craig Mackinlay (sitting MP)
Lab: Raushan Ara
LD: Jordan Williams
UKIP: Stuart Piper
Green: Trevor Roper
CPA: Faith Fisher
Ind: Tim Garbutt

Con: 18,838 (38.13%) – Maj 2,812 (5.69%)
UKIP: 16,026 (32.44%)
Lab: 11,740 (23.76%)
Green: 1,076 (2.18%)
LD: 932 (1.89%)
ND: 318 (0.64%)
Manston: 191 (0.39%)
Reality: 126 (0.26%)
Thanet: 63 (0.13%)
Ind: 61 (0.12%)
Zeb: 30 (0.06%)

This is where Nigel Farage came closest to becoming a Member of Parliament, trailing the Conservative candidate (and one-time UKIP deputy leader) Craig Mackinlay by less than 3,000 votes at the 2015 general election. As a result it remains on paper UKIP’s second best prospect of a gain in the country, although the recent county council election results here, where UKIP lost all its seats in the local area, do not bode well for them.

Estimated Leave votes by constituency have been calculated by Chris Hanretty of the University of East Anglia

Photocredit: Roland Turner