The Brexit Election Battleground: The North East

The Brexit Election Battleground: The North East

The North East covers 29 parliamentary seats across urban Tyneside, Wearside and Teesside, along with the towns and rural hinterland of County Durham and Northumberland. This patch saw a hefty Leave vote of 58.0% at last year’s referendum – the third highest of any region. Traditionally, it has been Labour heartland territory and during the Blair era it was political home to numerous cabinet ministers (aside from Blair himself, think Mandelson, Milburn, Byers, Mowlam amongst others).

Labour still currently holds all but three of the constituencies here. However, it was also the region which delivered – at 16.7% – the highest percentage of the vote for UKIP at the 2015 general election, most of which will have come from former Labour voters (not least as there was not a substantial Tory vote to tap into). But if the opinion polls are accurate, that UKIP share is going to drop dramatically, yet those who backed the party are not expected to be persuaded in great numbers to back the current Labour offering.

So will those voters stay at home or do what many of their forefathers would have found beyond the pale and vote Conservative? The North East could throw up some of the most interesting results this election night.

Well-known Brexiteers standing in the region
Ronnie Campbell (Lab, Blyth Valley)
Anne-Marie Trevelyan (Con, Berwick-upon-Tweed)
James Wharton (Con, Stockton South)

MPs seeking re-election who voted against triggering Article 50
Catherine McKinnell (Lab, Newcastle upon Tyne North)
Chi Onwurah (Lab, Newcastle upon Tyne Central)

Key seats to watch

Berwick-upon-Tweed (Estimated Leave vote at the June 2016 referendum: 55.3%)
Con: Anne-Marie Trevelyan (sitting MP)
Lab: Scott Dickinson
LD: Julie Pörksen
UKIP: No candidate
Green: Thomas Stewart

2015:
Con: 16,603 (41.07%) – Maj: 4,914 (12.16%)
LD: 11,689 (28.92%)
Lab: 6,042 (14.95%)
UKIP: 4,513 (11.16%)
Green: 1,488 (3.68%)
Eng Dem: 88 (0.22%)

At the 2015 general election, Anne-Marie Trevelyan gained this seat from Liberal/Liberal Democrat MP Alan Beith, who had held it since his victory at the 1973 by-election here. She was a vocal supporter of the Vote Leave campaign and UKIP have therefore opted not to oppose her and most of their more than 4,500 votes ought to transfer to the Tory column this time. It is therefore hard not to see Trevelyan’s majority being bolstered, although on paper it is the Lib Dems’ top target in the region.

Bishop Auckland (Estimated Leave vote at the June 2016 referendum: 60.9%)
Con: Chris Adams
Lab: Helen Goodman (sitting MP)
LD: Ciaran Morrisey
UKIP: No candidate
Green: No candidate
BNP: Adam Walker

2015:
Lab: 16,307 (41.40%) – Maj: 3,508 (8.91%)
Con: 12,799 (32.49%)
UKIP: 7,015 (17.81%)
LD: 1,723 (4.37%)
Green: 1,545 (3.92%)

Bishop Auckland has never returned a Conservative MP since its creation in 1885. But on paper there is a chance that history could be made here at this election. Labour’s Helen Goodman is sitting on a very slim majority, historically speaking, and a mixture of reticence of Labour supporters to go out to back the party this time and some UKIP backers switching to the Conservatives could yet provide the perfect political cocktail to make it a Tory gain. What happens to UKIP’s more than 7,000 voters from 2015 will be decisive, although Goodman’s courting of those 1,500 or so Green voters could yet make all the difference.

Darlington (Estimated Leave vote at the June 2016 referendum: 58.1%)
Con: Peter Cuthbertson
Lab: Jenny Chapman (sitting MP)
LD: Anne-Marie Curry
UKIP: Kevin Brack
Green: Matthew Snedker

2015:
Lab: 17,637 (42.87%) – Maj: 3,158 (7.68%)
Con: 14,479 (35.19%)
UKIP: 5,392 (13.11%)
LD: 1,966 (4.78%)
Green: 1,444 (3.51%)
TUSC: 223 (0.54%)

Darlington was held by Michael Fallon for the Conservatives between 1983 and 1992, when he was defeated at the hands of future Labour Cabinet Minister Alan Milburn. Current Labour MP Jenny Chapman is one of those serving on Labour’s frontbench Brexit team under Sir Keir Starmer and is vulnerable to a swing of less than 4% from Labour to the Tories. Tory candidate Peter Cuthbertson will have been emboldened by his party getting the most votes here (albeit on a low turnout) at the recent Tees Valley mayoral election.

Hartlepool (Estimated Leave vote at the June 2016 referendum: 69.6%)
Con: Carl Jackson
Lab: Mike Hill
LD: Andy Hagon
UKIP: Phillip Broughton
Green: No candidate

2015:
Lab: 14,076 (35.64%) – Maj: 3,024 (7.66%)
UKIP: 11,052 (27.99%)
Con: 8,256 (20.91%)
Ind: 2,954 (7.48%)
Green: 1,341 (3.40%)
Hospital: 849 (2.15%)
LD: 761 (1.93%)
Ind: 201 (0.51%)

Hartlepool saw a stonking result for the Leave campaign at the referendum (the highest mandate for Leave in the North East) in the seat which was represented in Parliament during much of the 1990s and 2000s by arch-Europhile Peter Mandelson. At the 2015 general election UKIP were barely 3,000 votes off ejecting the Labour MP Iain Wright who – despite making a name for himself chairing the BEIS select committee – opted to step down as the snap general election was announced. He won the seat with less than 36% of the vote last time, against UKIP’s 28% and the Tories 21%. However, the result in this patch from the recent Tees Valley mayoral election (albeit on a low turnout) suggests that an even split in the Tory/UKIP votes could yet see Labour retaining the seat again; and with UKIP having opted not to stand candidates against many pro-Brexit Tories in many places around the country, here they tried – in vain – to persuade the Conservatives to return the favour and step down for them as best-placed to win on an anti-EU ticket. It’s also worth recalling that this is also the town which three times elected as its mayor the man who, as H’Angus the monkey, was mascot for the local football club, so anything might happen.

Middlesbrough South and Cleveland East (Estimated Leave vote at the June 2016 referendum: 65.3%)
Con: Simon Clarke
Lab: Tracy Harvey
LD: Chris Foote Wood
UKIP: No candidate
Green: No candidate

2015:
Lab: 19,193 (42.02%) – Maj: 2,268 (4.97%)
Con: 16,925 (37.05%)
UKIP: 6,935 (15.18%)
LD: 1,564 (3.42%)
Green: 1,060 (2.32%)

This is now the top Conservative target in the North East, and would be gained on a swing of 2.5% from Labour in their favour. All UKIP votes from 2015 will be up for grabs as the party has opted not to contest the seat and the Conservatives will have them in their sights. The anti-Corbyn sitting Labour MP, Tom Blenkinsop, appears to have seen the writing on the wall and has already vacated the seat to give a new candidate the job of defending his precarious majority.

Sedgefield (Estimated Leave vote at the June 2016 referendum: 59.4%)
Con: Dehenna Davison
Lab: Phil Wilson (sitting MP)
LD: Stephen Psallidas
UKIP: John Grant
Green: Melissa Wilson

2015:
Lab: 18,275 (47.20%) – Maj: 6,843 (17.67%)
Con: 11,432 (29.53%)
UKIP: 6,426 (16.60%)
LD: 1,370 (3.54%)
Green: 1,213 (3.13%)

Tony Blair used to pile up majorities well into five figures here, yet a collapse in the Labour vote and switching en masse of UKIP supporters to the Tories could make this a very long shot for a Conservative gain. While Labour MP Phil Wilson did vote for the triggering of Article 50, he is one of the few MPs listed on the website of Open Britain, the continuity Remain campaign, as a parliamentary supporter.

Stockton South (Estimated Leave vote at the June 2016 referendum: 57.8%)
Con: James Wharton (sitting MP)
Lab: Paul Williams
LD: Drew Durning
UKIP: David Outterside
Green: Jo Fitzgerald

2015:
Con: 24,221 (46.76) – Maj: 5,046 (9.74%)
Lab: 19,175 (37.02%)
UKIP: 5,480 (10.58%)
LD: 1,366 (2.64%)
Green: 952 (1.84%)
IASI: 603 (1.16%)

James Wharton snatched this seat from Labour by a whisker in in 2010 and substantially increased his majority in 2015, after which he became a government minister. At the 2016 referendum he was a vocal supporter of the Leave campaign and while on paper his seat is Labour’s top target in the North East, the party’s efforts will probably be more productively used on defensive, rather than aggressive, manoeuvres.

Tynemouth (Estimated Leave vote at the June 2016 referendum: 47.6%)
Con: Nick Varley
Lab: Alan Campbell (sitting MP)
LD: John Appleby
UKIP: Stuart Houghton
Green: Julia Erskine
ND: Anthony The Durham Cobbler

2015:
Lab: 25,791 (48.21%) – Maj: 8,240 (15.40%)
Con: 17,551 (32.81%)
UKIP: 6,541 (12.23%)
Green: 2,017 (3.77%)
LD: 1,595 (2.98%)

Tynemouth was a Conservative seat until 1997, yet Alan Campbell has held it for Labour with relatively comfortable majorities ever since. Conservative candidate, Nick Varley, was Head of Ground Campaign for Vote Leave at last year’s referendum, although the constituency did, however, marginally back Remain. It would need a noticeable drop in Labour’s vote, combined with much switching from UKIP to Varley, for it to be a potential Tory gain.

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

Photocredit: Ian Britton