The Brexit Election Battleground: The South West

The Brexit Election Battleground: The South West

The South West region stretches from Cornwall in the far south west all the way up to Gloucestershire, taking in Devon, Somerset, Dorset, Wiltshire and the patch of Greater Bristol formerly known as Avon.

At the EU referendum, the region (including Gibraltar for counting purposes) registered a vote for Leave of 52.6%.

It is (somewhat paradoxically) seen both as a eurosceptic region and an area of strength for the Liberal Democrats. The former is true, the latter less so these days, after the Lib Dems lost all fifteen seats they were defending at the 2015 general election. Indeed, it was here that the Lib Dems saw the largest drop in their voteshare of any region.

In 2015, the Tories scooped up 51 of the region’s seats, with Labour taking the remaining four (Exeter and three of the Bristol seats) – with three of those MPs among those who voted against the triggering of Article 50.

UKIP attained nearly 14% of the vote across the South West at the last election, although now they are only fighting 24 of the 55 seats. The region also saw – at 5.9% – the highest Green vote of any region last time round, with the party placing particular emphasis at this election on its effort to win Bristol West.

Well-known Brexiteers standing in the region
Conor Burns (Con, Bournemouth West)
George Eustice (Con, Camborne and Redruth)
Liam Fox (Con, Somerset North)
Sheryll Murray (Con, Cornwall South East)
Jacob Rees-Mogg (Con, Somerset North East)

MPs seeking re-election who voted against triggering Article 50
Ben Bradshaw (Lab, Exeter)
Thangam Debbonaire (Lab, Bristol West)
Kerry McCarthy (Lab, Bristol East)

KEY SEATS TO WATCH

Bath (Estimated Leave vote at June 2016 referendum: 31.7%)
Con: Ben Howlett (sitting MP)
Lab: Joe Rayment
LD: Wera Hobhouse
UKIP: No candidate
Green: Eleanor Field

2015:
Con: 17,833 (37.81%) – Maj: 3,833 (8.13%)
LD: 14,000 (29.68%)
Lab: 6,216 (13.18%)
Green: 5,634 (11.94%)
UKIP: 2,922 (6.20%)
Ind: 499 (1.06%)
Eng Dem: 63 (0.13%)

For a seat in which more than two thirds of people voted Remain and that had a Lib Dem MP between 1992 and 2015, on paper this ought to be a seat that the Lib Dems should have high hopes of gaining at this election. However, several factors suggest that this is not as likely as it might otherwise have been: their originally-selected candidate stood down and was replaced at the eleventh hour; UKIP have opted not to contest the seat whereas the Greens have put up a candidate; and the sitting Tory MP Ben Howlett was a vocal Remain campaigner during the referendum although now accepts the result. It could be a close race.

Bristol East (Estimated Leave vote at June 2016 referendum: 46.8%)
Con: Theo Clarke
Kerry McCarthy (sitting MP)
LD: Chris Lucas
UKIP: No candidate
Green: Lorraine Francis

2015:
Lab: 18,148 (39.27%) – Maj: 3,980 (8.61%)
Con: 14,168 (30.66%)
UKIP: 7,152 (15.48%)
Green: 3,827 (8.28%)
LD: 2,689 (5.82%)
TUSC: 229 (0.50%)

This is now the Conservatives’ top target in the region. With UKIP’s haul of more than 7,000 votes up for grabs after the party opted not to contest the seat, Theo Clarke will be hopeful of unseating Labour’s Kerry McCarthy, who was one of those MPs who tried to stop Article 50 from being triggered.

Bristol South (Estimated Leave vote at June 2016 referendum: 48.0%)
Con: Mark Weston
Lab: Karin Smyth (sitting MP)
LD: Benjamin Nutland
UKIP: Ian Kealey
Green: Tony Dyer
Ind: John Langley

2015:
Lab: 19,505 (38.36%) – Maj: 7,128 (14.02%)
Con: 12,377 (24.34%)
UKIP: 8,381 (16.48%)
Green: 5,861 (11.53%)
LD: 4,416 (8.69%)
TUSC: 302 (0.59%)

Karin Smyth was the only Labour MP in the South West to vote for the triggering of Article 50. With UKIP still in the mix here, she will be hopeful of retaining this seat, which would fall on a swing of 5% to the Tories.

Bristol West (Estimated Leave vote at June 2016 referendum: 20.7%)
Con: Annabel Tall
Lab: Thangam Debbonaire (sitting MP)
LD: Stephen Williams
UKIP: No candidate
Green: Molly Scott Cato MEP
Money: Jodian Rodgers

2015:
Lab: 22,900 (35.66%) – Maj: 5,673 (8.83%)
Green: 17,227 (26.83%)
LD: 12,103 (18.85%)
Con: 9,752 (15.19%)
UKIP: 1,940 (3.02%)
Bristol: 204 (0.32%)
LU: 92 (0.14%)

This is the only seat in the country that the Greens are deemed to have a realistic chance of gaining. It was a Labour seat from 1997 until 2005 when Stephen Williams won it for the Lib Dems, but he came a poor third in 2015, yet is standing again, fresh from his defeat in the contest to be the first Mayor of the West of England. The Green candidate, Molly Scott Cato, is currently one of the region’s MEPs.

Cheltenham (Estimated Leave vote at June 2016 referendum: 42.9%)
Con: Alex Chalk (sitting MP)
Lab: Keith White
LD: Martin Horwood
UKIP: No candidate
Green: Adam Van Coevorden

2015:
Con: 24,790 (46.13%) – Maj: 6,516 (12.13%)
LD: 18,274 (34.01%)
Lab: 3,902 (7.26%)
UKIP: 3,808 (7.09%)
Green: 2,689 (5.00%)
Ind: 272 (0.51%)

Alex Chalk scored an impressive result at the 2015 election to gain this seat from the Lib Dems, who had held it since 1992. Defeated MP Martin Horwood is standing again but with UKIP off the ballot paper, he will have a tough job to unseat Chalk, who backed Remain but accepts the referendum result.

Exeter (Estimated Leave vote at June 2016 referendum: 44.8%)
Con: James Taghdissian
Lab: Ben Bradshaw (sitting MP)
LD: Alexandra Newcombe
UKIP: No candidate
Green: Joe Levy
Ind: Jonathan West
ND: Jonathan Bishop

2015:
Lab: 25,062 (46.40%) – Maj: 7,183 (13.30%)
Con: 17,879 (33.10%)
UKIP: 5,075 (9.40%)
Green: 3,491 (6.46%)
LD: 2,321 (4.30%)
TUSC: 190 (0.35%)

One-time BBC Berlin correspondent and former Cabinet Minister Ben Bradshaw has been among the most vocal Remain supporters on Labour’s backbenches and actively voted against triggering Article 50. In 2015 he increased his majority in the seat he has held since 1997 on the back of the collapse in the Lib Dem vote. If he were to see his vote slip in favour of any Lib Dem resurgence and most former UKIP backers were to vote Tory, this sole Labour seat in a sea of blue in Devon could be at risk.

Plymouth Moor View (Estimated Leave vote at June 2016 referendum: 66.4%)
Con: Johnny Mercer (sitting MP)
Lab: Sue Dann
LD: Graham Reed
UKIP: Wendy Noble
Green: Joshua Pope

2015:
Con: 16,020 (37.60%) – Maj: 1,026 (2.41%)
Lab: 14,994 (35.19%)
UKIP: 9,152 (21.48%)
LD: 1,265 (2.97%)
Green: 1,023 (2.40%)
TUSC: 152 (0.36%)

First-term Tory MP Johnny Mercer gained this seat from Labour by winning less than 39% of the vote in 2015. But what looks like a vulnerable majority ought to be bolstered if a significant proportion of those more than 9,000 UKIP voters switch to Mercer, despite the fact that UKIP are still fielding a candidate here.

Plymouth Sutton and Devonport (Estimated Leave vote at June 2016 referendum: 54.4%)
Con: Oliver Colvile (sitting MP)
Lab: Luke Pollard
LD: Henrietta Bewley
UKIP: Richard Ellison
Green: Daniel Sheaff
Ind: Danny Bamping

2015:
Con: 18,120 (37.78%) – Maj: 523 (1.09%)
Lab: 17,597 (36.69%)
UKIP: 6,731 (14.03%)
Green: 3,401 (7.09%)
LD: 2,008 (4.19%)
Communist: 106 (0.22%)

The electoral arithmetic is quite complicated here in Labour’s top target in the South West. When Oliver Colvile won this seat for the Tories in 2010, he did so on less than 35% of the vote, beating Labour by barely 1,000 votes and with the Lib Dems notching up nearly 25% of the vote. In 2015, the Lib Dem vote plummeted as UKIP’s surged and both Labour and the Tories increased their voteshare. If UKIP’s vote collapses in Colvile’s favour, it ought to be a Conservative hold.

St Ives (Estimated Leave vote at June 2016 referendum: 54.8%)
Con: Derek Thomas
Lab: Christopher Drew (sitting MP)
LD: Andrew George
UKIP: No candidate
Green: No candidate

2015:
Con: 18,491 (38.27%) – Maj: 2,469 (5.11%)
LD: 16,022 (33.16%)
UKIP: 5,720 (11.84%)
Lab: 4,510 (9.34%)
Green: 3,051 (6.32%)
Meb Ker: 518 (1.07%)

Ex-Lib Dem MP Andrew George is seeking to regain his old seat in the south-westernmost tip of Cornwall in a straight three-way fight between him, the sitting Tory MP who defeated him, Derek Thomas, and a Labour candidate. Brexiteer Thomas only won the seat with a somewhat precarious 38% of the vote, so will be hoping that former UKIP voters plump for him, along with some switchers from other parties, if he is to hold on. George, on the other hand, will doubtless be seeking to tap up former Green voters and tactical switchers from Labour.

Stroud (Estimated Leave vote at June 2016 referendum: 45.9%)
Con: Neil Carmichael (sitting MP)
Lab: David Drew
LD: Max Wilkinson
UKIP: Glenville Gogerly
Green: Sarah Lunnon

2015:
Con: 27,813 (45.73%) – Maj: 4,866 (8.00%)
Lab: 22,947 (37.73%)
UKIP: 4,848 (7.97%)
Green: 2,779 (4.57%)
LD: 2,086 (3.43%)
Ind: 246 (0.40%)
FPT: 100 (0.16%)

This will be the fifth general election in a row that Neil Carmichael and David Drew have squared up to each other on the hustings and the score currently stands at two apiece. Drew was MP for Stroud between 1997 and 2010 and was always regarded as an old Labour eurosceptic, although he admitted to his local paper last month that he backed Remain at the referendum. Carmichael, on the other hand – who has been MP here since 2010 – was a vocal Remain campaigner who one imagines will have backed the triggering of Article 50 with gritted teeth. Carmichael’s voteshare has, however, gone up with every election he has fought and could yet do so again.

Thornbury and Yate (Estimated Leave vote at June 2016 referendum: 52.2%)
Con: Luke Hall (sitting MP)
Lab: Brian Mead
LD: Claire Young
UKIP: No candidate
Green: Iain Hamilton

2015:
Con: 19,924 (41.02%) – Maj: 1,495 (3.08%)
LD: 18,429 (37.94%)
UKIP: 5,126 (10.55%)
Lab: 3,775 (7.77%)
Green: 1,316 (2.71%)

Conservative candidate Luke Hall scored a surprise gain by ousting the Lib Dem pensions minister Steve Webb here in 2015. But now, with Webb and any personal vote he had amassed over his eighteen years gone – and Hall presumably eyeing the more than 5,000 UKIP votes – the Lib Dem efforts to win their top target the South West could well be in vain.

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

Photocredit: Rose Davies