It’s no secret that the Labour Party enters this election campaign on the back foot. Recent polling shows Theresa May’s Tories surging above 45% with Labour stuck around 20 points behind whilst the results are even worse for the opposition when question such as ‘Who would make the best Prime Minister’ are posed. UK Polling Report currently predicts a Conservative majority of 116 with Labour losing 50 seats and returning fewer MPs that at any election since 1935. All such predictions, however, work on models of uniform swing and do not account for the most significant issue in this election; Brexit.
In any election, Labour would be throwing time and money at key marginals like City of Chester, Halifax, and Ilford North (all with majorities below 1.5%) but on current polling, seats as far down the defence list as Hyndburn (majority of 4400) may be up for grabs. With so many seats to defend, Labour needs to prioritise, and that means looking at how seats voted in the EU referendum. Though referendum votes were counted in council areas not constituencies, estimates have been made as to how Westminster seats voted last June. Comparing these estimates to Labour’s defence list produces some interesting results which may be key to Labour holding on in seven weeks’ time.
Despite being clear that Britain must now leave the EU and voting for the ‘Brexit Bill’, Labour is struggling to convince Leave voters that they can be trusted with Brexit. Worryingly for Labour, many of its former strongholds voted, against the party, to leave the EU and now threaten to hand seats to the Tories or even UKIP. There are twenty-five seats with Labour majorities of between two and five thousand which voted Leave by a greater margin than the country as a whole and in which a ‘pro-Brexit’ party came second. The UKPR prediction shows Labour losing its fifty closest marginals; were all these twenty-five Leave seats to fall, Labour could lose over 60 seats.
The real danger which this research highlights is that even if Labour improve in the polls to a point where predicted losses are around twenty, these twenty-five Brexit seats may still be at risk and could effectively wipe out any such gains. Importantly, the seat of Copeland would have featured on this list had it not been lost to the Tories in a by-election in February. Should Labour fail to gain Leave voters’ trust, seats such as Bolton North East, Bury South and Great Grimsby could fall to the Tories whilst Hartlepool and Dagenham & Rainham could go to UKIP. As well as committing time and money to these constituencies, Labour must carve out a distinctive and popular line on Brexit to avoid significant losses, even if the national polls tighten.