During the 2015 campaign, our Hot seats series saw Conversation authors report from key marginal seats around the UK. Here, they take stock of the results.
Brighton’s bellweather seats
Paul Webb, University of Sussex
The results across the south-east reflect the overall picture of Conservative triumph, Labour disappointment and Liberal Democrat despair. Always the Tory heartland anyway, most of the remaining bastions of opposition in the region are now blue as well.
Labour just managed to take Hove back from the Conservatives, while Caroline Lucas strengthened her grip on Brighton Pavilion for the Greens by 10%. She now enjoys a margin of almost 8,000.
Labour’s failure to take the likes of Hastings and Rye or Brighton Kemptown exemplified the overall shortcomings of the party’s national result. Knowing that it was likely to face decimation at the hands of the SNP in Scotland, Labour needed to do significant damage to the Tories in England – and it failed utterly.
Meanwhile, the Liberal Democrats’ fabled ability to dig in and retain seats on the basis of strong reputations as constituency MPs did not save them from the blue tidal wave in their strongholds of Eastbourne or (even more shockingly) Lewes.
We still await the count in local elections. Do not be surprised now of the Tories also manage to take control of the likes of Gravesham and Thanet from Labour, Eastbourne from the Liberal Democrats, and Brighton and Hove from the Greens.
Charles Pattie, University of Sheffield
It’s been a dire election night for the Liberal Democrats. Across the country, its vote has collapsed, seats have tumbled, and major Lib Dem politicians have been swept out of Parliament. Goodbye Vince Cable, Danny Alexander, Simon Hughes, Ed Davey … The list goes on. But the biggest Lib Dem scalp of all, Nick Clegg, has survived the night – just.
Clegg faced a very strong challenge from a hard-fought Labour campaign. On the night, Labour came close in Hallam but not close enough: Clegg won 40% of the vote, and Labour’s Oliver Coppard took 36%.
This represents a dramatic change in Hallam since 2010 – the Lib Dems down 13%, Labour up almost 20% – a remarkable 16.5% swing from Lib Dem to Labour.
So how did Clegg dodge the fate of several of his senior colleagues? Two factors almost certainly account for it.
First, sheer hard graft. The party has thrown everything it could into the Hallam campaign. One indicator is the mountain of campaign literature it has delivered to Hallam’s voters over the last few weeks (approximately a new leaflet every other day to every house over the last two weeks of the campaign). Local campaign efforts can pay dividends.
Second, tactical voting. This helped the Lib Dems win the seat for the first time in 1997, and it helped them hold it in the 2001, 2005 and 2010 elections. In those contests, they appealed to Labour supporters in the constituency, pointing out that as Labour was in third place, the only way to prevent a Conservative win was to vote Lib Dem. And Labour voters responded. This time, however, and faced with a local Labour surge built in part on Labour supporters who had voted tactically for the Lib Dems but felt betrayed by the coalition with the Conservatives, Hallam’s Lib Dems changed tack.
Part of their 2015 campaign locally was an effort to persuade Hallam Conservatives to vote Lib Dem to prevent Labour winning the seat. Remarkably, they were able to claim endorsements for Clegg’s candidacy from both the previous Conservative candidate in Hallam and Tim Montgomerie, a leading Conservative opinion-former. And that seems to have worked: the Conservative vote is 10% down on 2010 in a seat they once held.
But this is clearly the most bittersweet victory for Clegg: his seat saved but his party decimated, his leadership in question, his cabinet seat lost. Seldom can being a senior government minister have been so costly.
Redcar and Cleveland
David Byrne, Durham University
Labour has taken Redcar, with Anna Turley winning 44% of the vote. The Lib Dems, who won the seat in 2010, came second with 18%, only 42 votes ahead of UKIP. The Tories came in third at 16%. Peter Pinkney, the Green candidate and National President of the RMT union, got just 2% and lost his deposit.
There had been no Green organisation in Redcar and Cleveland before he stood; this matters, because in North East constituencies where there had been an active Green Party, the Greens did better, saving deposits in some Newcastle seats and in Durham.
However, plainly they have made little headway so far. Pinkney’s trade union credibility did not translate into votes.
What is remarkable from the north east results in is the demise of the Lib Dems as the main opposition party. Not only have they lost Redcar and Cleveland, they have come fourth in almost all the other seats in the region that have reported, fifth behind the Greens in Tynemouth, and have even lost deposits – this in areas where they have been the only real opposition in local councils for years, even controlling Newcastle City in the recent past.
Across the north east, second places have been taken by either UKIP or the Tories. Given that local elections were also held on May 7 in most of the north east’s local authorities, the Lib Dems may well suffer a wipeout in the councils too. Those results will be very interesting. Expect to see UKIP gain council seats, and the Tories perhaps making something of a comeback in urban Tyneside.
Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk
David Byrne, Durham University
The SNP won this seat in a knife edge contest with the Tories, their candidate Calum Kerr just pipping Conservative MSP John Lamont to the post with 37% of the vote to 36%. The sitting Lib Dem MP, Michael Moore, came a weak third, with just 19% of the vote. The Greens did very poorly, as did UKIP; Labour was fourth with just 5%.
This is a remarkable result in what was always one of the weakest areas for the SNP, and it leaves Scotland with just one MP from each of the three main Westminster parties. Plainly a lot of voters took a decision to vote SNP to keep out the Tory, and Moore’s decision to campaign against the nastiness of the Tories backfired on him as he took blame for coalition policies.
Fermanagh & South Tyrone
Neil Matthews, Queen’s University Belfast
The Ulster Unionist Party has emerged victorious in another extraordinarily tight contest in Fermanagh and South Tyrone, with Tom Elliott besting the Sinn Féin incumbent, Michelle Gildernew, by just 530 votes.
While it is being interpreted as a shock by many commentators in the media – it is the first loss at Westminster suffered by Sinn Féin since 1992 – this result may not come as a surprise to those au fait with the peculiar political chemistry in this most westerly constituency of the United Kingdom.
Gildernew’s claim to the seat rested on a majority of four votes in 2010 – one of the lowest winning margins in post-war UK electoral history. A pact among the two largest unionist parties in Northern Ireland – the UUP and DUP – also virtually guaranteed a knife-edge result, with the contest framed as a battle between nationalism and unionism, or “Green and Orange”.
Fermanagh and South Tyrone is a microcosm of the unionist-nationalist divide which structures Northern Ireland’s politics – a fact alluded to by a triumphant Elliott. While magnanimous in victory – a change from previous election night addresses by the former UUP leader – Elliott used his acceptance speech to remind observers that “this is not a green constituency”. It might indeed be “Orange” this time round but it was another very close-run thing indeed.
Parveen Akhtar, University of Bradford
This was one of the most talked-about contests in the UK in the run-up to May 7. A titanic clash of personalities, it pitted Labour candidate Naz Shah against the Respect Party’s iconoclastic George Galloway, who won a sensational by-election in the constituency in 2012.
The turnout was 64%. Shah won big, taking 19,977 to Galloway’s 8,557 – a 7% swing to Labour.
Shah caught the public eye when she published an account of her remarkable story. Her mother was convicted of murdering her drug dealer partner and imprisoned, leaving an 18-year-old Shah responsible for her two younger siblings. She successfully campaigned for the early release of her mother on the grounds that she had suffered years of emotional and sexual abuse.
She had also been forced into an arranged marriage at the age of 15 in Pakistan. Galloway publicly disputed the age at which she was married, claiming Shah had been 16 and a half, and accusing her of lying to smear the Pakistani community. This was a low point in a campaign that became uncommonly rancorous.
Shah made reference to this in her victory speech, saying to Galloway “Your campaign demeaned our democracy, but personal attacks on me have not worked. The people of Bradford West have seen through this and you have been sent on your way.” Both Shah and Galloway and Shah have at different times during the past few weeks logged complaints about the other’s campaigns with the Director of Public Prosecutions.
Galloway’s unexpected 2012 victory in Bradford West was in large part thanks to his ability to galvanise young people and women from Bradford’s large British Pakistani community, who were politically excluded by biraderi, the kinship-based politics system that had become entrenched in Bradford. Galloway ran promising to break the biraderi barriers down, and give these people a political voice.
But at the many hustings held in the run up to May 7, it was clear that many who had supported Galloway in 2012 were now disillusioned. They derided him as an “absentee MP”, and while he got some credit for speaking up on Palestine and Iraq, his constitutents were clearly irked by his peripheral involvement in Bradford politics.
To make matters worse, on polling day, Galloway was reported to police for contravening section 66 of the Representation of the People’s Act by re-tweeting the results of an exit poll while voting was still open.
In the end, May 7’s vote showed that he was wrong to take the votes he won in 2012 for granted. So what next for the man once known as Gorgeous George? Will he put his distinctive black hat into the ring for the London mayoral elections, as he has previously stated he will?
All the signs say yes. Taking to the podium after his loss, he was typically combative: “I’m going off now to plan the next campaign.”