The 2019 Election Battleground: South East

The 2019 Election Battleground: South East


Covers 84 constituencies across Kent, Surrey, Sussex, Hampshire, Oxfordshire, Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and the Isle of Wight. In parliamentary terms, this is the Conservative Party’s strongest region, although at the EU referendum it voted almost exactly in line with the national picture in terms of the Leave:Remain split. 37 seats voted Remain while 47 backed Leave – and while the seats in the left-leaning cities of Brighton and Oxford unsurprisingly backed Remain, there was also some hostility to Brexit in a number of the prosperous Home Counties seats in the region which usually vote Conservative.

Leave voteshare at the referendum in 2016: 51.8%

2017 seat tally (compared with 2015)

  • Conservatives: 72 (-6)
  • Labour: 8 (+4)
  • Lib Dems: 2 (+2)
  • Green: 1 (-)

2017 voteshare (compared with 2015)

  • Conservatives: 53.8% (+3.0)
  • Labour: 28.6% (+10.3)
  • Lib Dems: 10.5% (+1.1)
  • UKIP: 2.3% (-12.5)
  • Green: 3.1% (-2.1)

Seats to Watch

Beaconsfield (49.01% Leave)
Beaconsfield is not a constituency you’d usually find on a list of seats to watch at an election: it has always been a safe Conservative seat and in 2017 the Tory majority was nearly 25,000, putting this patch of south Buckinghamshire in the top dozen safest seats for the party anywhere in the country. But the Tory MP since 1997 has been Dominic Grieve who has been an increasingly painful thorn in the side of the Government in recent years owing to his opposition to Brexit and willingness to use any parliamentary device to try and block it. He was finally deprived of the Tory whip in September (along with 20 of his colleagues) and so is now fighting on as an Independent, with the Lib Dems having withdrawn to back him. Fighting the seat as the new Conservative candidate is Leave-voting Joy Morrissey.

Buckingham (48.87% Leave)
There has not been a normal general election contest here since 2005 because after the seat’s previous MP John Bercow became Speaker in 2009, he fought the next three elections as ‘Speaker seeking re-election’ and the other main parties followed convention and did not challenge him. It has generally been a very safe Conservative seat – Bercow attained a majority of 18,000 in 2005, winning 57% of the vote – and Greg Smith, who is hoping to retain it for the party, wrote about his euroscepticism for BrexitCentral at the beginning of the campaign. The Lib Dems, meanwhile, are putting more effort into the campaign here than they have historically done, having put up as their candidate former Cabinet minister in John Major’s Government and European Movement Chair, Stephen Dorrell, who recently joined the party after standing in the West Midlands at this year’s European election for the now defunct Change UK.

Canterbury (45.33% Leave)
One of the most eye-catching Labour gains of 2017 when Rosie Duffield unceremoniously despatched with long-serving Tory MP Sir Julian Brazier by a margin of 187 votes, becoming the first Labour MP here ever. Donning the blue rosette now is Anna Firth who has impeccable Brexiteer credentials, having been Co-Chair of Vote Leave-backing Women for Britain at the EU referendum. But despite being the top Tory target in the South East, a fiercely fought contest is underway, not least after the originally-selected Lib Dem candidate quit and urged people to vote for Duffield. A replacement Lib Dem candidate was found, although Labour will be relentlessly seeking to squeeze her vote in an effort to retain this seat with a strong student presence.

Eastbourne (57.54% Leave)
Ever since the Lib Dems snatched this seat at a 1990 by-election, it has been a Tory/Lib Dem marginal. Stephen Lloyd won it for the Lib Dems in 2010, but was defeated by Caroline Ansell in 2015 by a mere 733 votes, only for him to take it back in 2017 by a majority of little over 1,500 – and the pair now go head to head for a third election running. During the course of the 2017-2019 Parliament, Lloyd actually resigned the Lib Dem whip to back both Theresa May and Boris Johnson’s Brexit deals in order to “uphold the commitment I made… to accept the result of the referendum”. However, in an eve-of-election volte-face – despite nearly six in ten of his constituents having voted for Brexit – he said the new general election “cleans the slate” and he would be “backing Remain full-throatedly” and promptly regained the Lib Dem whip. A swing of 1.5% would deliver the seat to Ansell.

Esher and Walton (41.57% Leave)
Brexiteer Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab has been Conservative MP here since 2010 when he took the baton from europhile Tory Ian Taylor. He enjoyed a majority of nearly 24,000 in 2017, although given that the Surrey commuter belt seat inclines to Remain (and shares a border with already Lib Dem-voting Kingston and Surbiton), Jo Swinson’s party have been expending particular energy in this patch. They persuaded the Green Party to stand down here and back their candidate Monica Harding, who would need a swing of more than 20% to win it from third place.

Guildford (41.20% Leave)
Apart from a one-term Lib Dem MP in 2001, Guildford has returned a Conservative MP at every election for over a century. But having regained it for the Tories in 2005 and turned it back into a safe seat, Anne Milton was deprived of the Tory whip in September 2019 for backing efforts to seize the Commons agenda in the name of preventing a no-deal Brexit. She is now fighting on as an Independent, although – unlike in Beaconsfield – the Lib Dems are putting up a candidate against her, Zöe Franklin, who would need a swing of over 15% to gain the seat. It falls to Angela Richardson to defend the 17,040 Conservative majority.

Hastings and Rye (55.94% Leave)
Political home to former Cabinet minister Amber Rudd for the last nine years who resigned the Tory whip in solidarity with those like Dominic Grieve and Anne Milton who lost it for their anti-Brexit antics in September. Rudd has opted to retire from the electoral stage rather than stand as an Independent, leaving local councillor Sally-Ann Hart to defend the 346 Conservative majority. Labour’s Peter Chowney would need a minute swing to take the seat, although Davis will likely benefit from the Brexit Party’s decision not to contest Tory-held seats, given that UKIP still piled up nearly 1,500 votes in 2017.

Lewes (47.14% Leave)
A Lib Dem seat between 1997 and 2015 when Brexiteer Tory Maria Caulfield won back what had otherwise been a Conservative seat since 1874 and she increased her majority to over 5,500 in 2017. Lib Dem Oli Henman requires a swing of 5% to win what is, on paper, his party’s top target in the South East – although it is not one of the constituencies where they did a deal with the Greens to step aside in their favour.

Portsmouth South (51.76% Leave)
This seat has been won by three different parties over the last three elections: a Lib Dem seat by around 5,000 votes in 2010, gained by Flick Drummond for the Conservatives by a similar margin in 2015, but then taken by Stephen Morgan for Labour in 2017 with a majority of around 1,500. The Greens have withdrawn to back Lib Dem Gerald Vernon-Jackson, leader of Portsmouth Council, who came third with 17% of the vote in 2017, while standing for the Tories is Donna Jones, who ran the Vote Leave campaign in Portsmouth in 2016 (the erstwhile MP Flick Drummond has been selected for safe-as-houses Meon Valley). Jones needs a swing of less than 2% to win here, although her job is made harder by the fact that there is also a Brexit Party candidate on the ballot paper, despite her public appeal to Nigel Farage to back her. She also wrote about her optimism for an independent UK on BrexitCentral here

Reading East (38.25% Leave)
A Labour/Tory marginal for the last couple of decades, Labour’s Matt Rodda won this Remain-inclined seat in 2015 from the Conservatives with a majority of a little under 4,000 votes. Tory candidate Craig Morley would need a swing of 3.5% to win it back.

Southampton Itchen (60.29% Leave)
In 2010 Conservative Brexiteer Royston Smith failed to oust Labour’s John Denham by just 192 votes but he gained the seat after Denham retired in 2015. However, in 2017 he only held on by a mere 31 votes, now making it Labour’s top target anywhere in the country. Simon Letts is donning the red rosette.

Winchester (39.64% Leave)
Lib Dem Mark Oaten gained this seat in 1997 by a mere 2 votes and held it until his retirement in 2010 when Steve Brine took it back for the Tories. His majority in 2017 was 9,999, although whether he would be able to defend it was temporarily in doubt after he lost the party whip in September along with Dominic Grieve, Anne Milton and others (as referenced above), although he regained the whip by the end of October. Lib Dem candidate Paula Ferguson would need a swing of nearly 9% to win the seat, where the Greens have withdrawn in her favour – although there is also no Brexit Party candidate to take away from the Tory vote, even though Brine could hardly be described as a Brexiteer.

Wokingham (42.69% Leave)
This has been the political home since 1987 of former Conservative Cabinet minister Sir John Redwood and few expect that to change at this election as he defends a majority of nearly 19,000. Traditionally the Lib Dems have been in second place here, although they have been pushed into third place at the last two contests. However, challenging for the Lib Dems this time is Phillip Lee, the former Conservative minister who represented neighbouring Bracknell from 2010 until the recent dissolution of Parliament. He quit the Government over its handling of Brexit in the summer of 2018 and finally defected to the Lib Dems in September 2019. He would need a swing of more than 20% to shift Redwood.

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