The 2019 Election Battleground: North West

The 2019 Election Battleground: North West


Covers 75 parliamentary seats in a region that stretches from the northernmost tip of Cumbria at the border with Scotland down to the south of Cheshire, taking in Lancashire and the urban population centres of Merseyside and Greater Manchester. While the cities of Liverpool and Manchester have for decades been Labour strongholds, this region contains significant chunks of key electoral battleground, mainly Conservative/Labour marginals, though with several pockets of occasional Lib Dem strength. In 2016, 21 constituencies were judged to have voted Remain, with 54 plumping for Brexit.

Leave voteshare at the referendum in 2016: 53.7%

2017 seat tally (compared with 2015)

  • Conservatives: 20 (-2)
  • Labour: 54 (+3)
  • Lib Dems: 1 (-1)

2017 voteshare (compared with 2015)

  • Conservatives: 36.2% (+5.0)
  • Labour: 54.9% (+10.2)
  • Lib Dems: 5.4% (-1.2)
  • UKIP: 1.9% (-11.7)
  • Green: 1.1% (-2.1)

Seats to Watch

Altrincham and Sale West (38.59% Leave)
Few would anticipate anything other than a victory for Brexit-backing Sir Graham Brady – Conservative MP here since 1997 and Chairman of the 1922 Committee. He held it in 2017 with a majority of nearly 6,500 over Labour, but the curiosity in the seat at this election is the candidacy of Angela Smith: a Labour MP in South Yorkshire from 2005 until she joined the Independent Group for Change/Change UK in February, before switching in September 2019 to the Lib Dems, for whom she is standing here.

Barrow and Furness (57.28% Leave)
The last two elections here saw Labour candidate John Woodcock defeat Tory candidate Simon Fell. In 2017, Woodcock – an arch-critic of Jeremy Corbyn – held on by a mere 209 votes, but following his loss of the Labour whip and his decision not to contest the seat as an Independent, he has now endorsed his former Tory opponent who is hoping it will be third time lucky as he contests the seat again. Fell is a signatory to the Stand Up for Brexit pledge and needs a swing of just 0.2% to prevent the newly-selected Labour candidate Chris Altree from inheriting the seat – and wrote about his campaign for BrexitCentral here.

Birkenhead (51.71% Leave)
Labour Leaver Frank Field has been MP here since 1979 in what has always been a safe Merseyside Labour seat: in 2017 he scooped up more than three quarters of the vote and his largest ever majority, topping 25,000. However, he dramatically quit Labour in August 2018 over the “culture of intolerance, nastiness and intimidation” in the party and later founded the Birkenhead Social Justice Party, for which he is the sole candidate at this election. Mick Whitley is seeking to retain the seat for Labour.

Blackpool South (67.81% Leave)
More people voted for Brexit in 2016 here than any other seat in the region, yet since 1997 Remainer Labour MP Gordon Marsden has been its MP. He had a majority of a little over 2,500 in 2017, but a swing of less than 4% would deliver it to Conservative candidate Scott Benton, a signatory to the Stand Up for Brexit pledge.

Bolton North East (58.11% Leave)
A narrow Tory marginal under Thatcher and Major which was convincingly won by Sir David Crausby for Labour when Tony Blair was at the height of his powers, but his majority has stubbornly remained around the 4,000 mark for the last four elections. Conservative candidate Mark Logan would need a swing of a little over 4% to put the seat back into the Tory column for the first time since 1992.

Bolton West (55.55% Leave)
Another classic Labour/Tory marginal which has been won at the last three elections by a three-figure majority. Labour’s Julie Hilling held it in 2010, but Leave-voting Conservative Chris Green won it from her in 2015 and held it in 2017. Hilling is standing yet again and would need a swing of 1% to win what is Labour’s top target in the region.

Burnley (66.61% Leave)
A Labour seat for most of the last century but which actually returned a one-term Lib Dem MP in 2010 in the form of Gordon Birtwistle. When Julie Cooper regained the seat for Labour in 2015, the Tories were relegated to fourth place behind UKIP, but following a heavy Leave vote at the 2016 referendum, in 2017 they increased their voteshare by an eye-watering 17.5% to come in second. Nonetheless Cooper remains odds-on to hold the seat, with a very divided non-Labour vote splitting between (in addition to several also-rans) Tory candidate Antony Higginbotham, the Brexit Party’s Stewart Scott and the perennial Lib Dem candidate Birtwistle – who has publicly disavowed the Lib Dem Brexit policy of revoking Article 50 by telling his local paper that while he favours a second referendum, “my view is that we need to leave with a deal”.

Bury North (53.67% Leave)
Between 2010 and 2017 the seat was represented for the Conservatives by stalwart of the Better Off Out campaign David Nuttall, but he lost to Labour’s James Frith by nearly 4,500 at the last election. New Tory candidate James Daly would require a swing of 4.5% to win it back.

Bury South (54.51% Leave)
Ivan Lewis won this seat for Labour in 1997 and has held it ever since, most recently in 2017 with a majority of nearly 6,000. However, having fallen out with and then quit his party, he is now standing as an Independent (and wrote for BrexitCentral about his belief that a no-deal Brexit was better than no Brexit). Lucy Burke now defends the seat for Labour with the Conservatives’ Christian Wakeford hoping his path to winning the seat – on paper a slightly harder ask for the party than in neighbouring Bury North – will be eased by Lewis’s candidacy. (Since publication Lewis has in fact urged Bury South residents to vote Conservative)  

Cheadle (42.65% Leave)
The Lib Dems held this seat on the southern edge of Greater Manchester between 2001 and 2015 and it is now their top target in the entire North West. Sitting Tory MP Mary Robinson had a majority of just over 4,500 in 2017 and new Lib Dem candidate Tom Morrison would need a swing of 4% to snatch it.

Crewe and Nantwich (60.29% Leave)
Scene of the famous 2008 by-election won by Tory candidate Edward Timpson following the death of Labour’s Gwyneth Dunwoody which signalled that change was coming nationally at the 2010 general election. Timpson went on to serve as a minister in the Cameron Government but lost the seat in 2017 by a mere 48 votes to Labour’s Laura Smith. He successfully sought safer climes in neighbouring Eddisbury (see below) and donning the blue rosette to fight what is now the top Conservative target in the North West is Kieran Mullan, who has signed the Stand Up for Brexit pledge.

Eddisbury (52.17% Leave)
As explained above, former minister Edward Timpson is hoping to hold this Cheshire seat for the Conservatives, where the party had a comfortable majority of nearly 12,000 in 2017. The only curiosity is that the woman who has represented it for the Tories since 2015, ardent Remainer Antoinette Sandbach, is now the Lib Dem candidate. Like 20 other Tory MPs, she lost the Tory whip for backing efforts to seize the Commons agenda in the name of preventing a no-deal Brexit in September, but by the end of October had joined the Lib Dems, who only just managed to hold onto their deposit here in 2017.

Hazel Grove (52.21% Leave)
Like the majority of his constituents, William Wragg – the Conservative MP here since 2015, when he took it from the Lib Dems (who had held it since 1997) – voted to leave the European Union. The Lib Dem candidate at the last two elections, Lisa Smart, is standing again and with Green Party backing, is seeking to attain a swing of just over 6% to overturn Wragg’s majority of 5,514.

Hyndburn (65.82% Leave)
A Labour seat since 1992, held by Graham Jones since 2010 with majorities never exceeding 6,000. With nearly two thirds of voters having backed Brexit in 2016, Conservative candidate Sara Britcliffe will be hoping to attain the 6.5% swing required for her to win here.

Southport (46.29% Leave)
Despite coming within the boundaries of Merseyside, the Southport constituency has never had a Labour MP in its 134-year history. Held by the Lib Dems for most of the last three decades, Brexit-backing Damien Moore won it for the Conservatives in 2015 and increased his majority to nearly 3,000 in 2017. At this election, he will benefit from the absence of a Brexit Party candidate (UKIP still won more than 1,000 votes last time) while Lib Dem John Wright would require a swing of 6% to oust him.

Warrington South (51.11% Leave)
Since Warrington was divided into two constituencies in 1983, the North division has always returned Labour MPs, whereas Warrington South has been a tighter fight between the Tories and Labour, with the Lib Dems on occasion even turning it into a three-way fight. The last two elections have been pretty straight Labour/Tory battles, and in 2017 here we saw Labour’s Faisal Rashid defeat sitting Tory MP David Mowat by a little over 2,500 votes. New Tory candidate Andy Carter needs a swing of 2% to take it back at this election.

Weaver Vale (50.55% Leave)
Conservative Graham Evans held this Cheshire constituency with three-figure majorities in both 2010 and 2015. Labour’s Mike Amesbury won it by nearly 4,000 in 2017 and the new Conservative candidate – and Stand Up for Brexit supporter – Adam Wordsworth would need a swing of 4% to take the seat back into the Tory column.

Westmorland and Lonsdale (47.06% Leave)
The only seat the Lib Dems won in the North West at the last election, Tim Farron snatched this patch at the bottom of the Lake District from the Tories in 2005 by a couple of hundred votes. His majority soared to more than 12,000 in 2010, but in 2017 – by which time he was leading his party – he was a mere 777 votes ahead of Conservative candidate James Airey. Airey fights the seat again now, albeit with the frustration of a Brexit Party candidate this time (whereas UKIP had not fought it in 2017) while Farron will doubtless be seeking further to squeeze the 9% Labour vote.

Workington (61.01% Leave)
At the beginning of this election campaign, the key swing voter identified by think-tank Onward as being likely to decide the result of the election nationally was an older, white, non-university-educated, Leave-voting rugby league fan – deemed to be ‘Workington man’. Hence there has been more interest than usual in this Cumbrian constituency which has returned a Labour MP at every general election for a century (although the Tories briefly held it after a by-election in 1976). But Labour’s numeric majority has been reduced at every election since 1997 and in 2017 Sue Hayman – now Shadow Environment Secretary – held on by less than 4,000 votes. The Conservative candidate needing a swing of less than 5% to unseat her is Mark Jenkinson who was, as recently as 2015, the UKIP candidate here.

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

Photocredit: Gwyn