Something interesting to look at in the run-up to the next election is how many seats we can allocate to the parties before the election even takes place- i.e. safe seats. Obviously there can often be shock results where a seat considered to be safe either flips to another party (Enfield Southgate in 1997), where an independent candidate comes from nowhere to win (Tatton in 1997) or where a minor party manages to gain enough momentum to get ahead of the seat holder and also the main opposition (Brighton Pavilion in 2010, Bethnal Green & Bow in 2005). However, there are seats that would only change hands in the most radical of scenarios. These are the ones that we will be looking at.
As the last two articles have concerned mainly the Conservatives and Labour, it seems fair to start this three-parter by looking at the Liberal Democrats. Some people may assume that with the Lib Dems polling at such poor levels at the moment, none of their seats would be considered safe. However, the Lib Dems have built up some very secure bases over the last few elections and in some cases further back.
Here are the 30 safest Lib Dem seats (they only have 57 in total) with the size of the majority and the party challenging in 2nd place:
|Ross Skye & Lochaber||13070||Labour|
|Westmorland & Lonsdale||12264||Conservative|
|Orkney & Shetland||9928||Labour|
|Leeds North West||9103||Conservative|
|Fife North East||9048||Conservative|
|Inverness Nairn Badenoch & Strathspey||8765||Labour|
|Bermondsey & Old Southwark||8530||Labour|
|Kingston & Surbiton||7560||Conservative|
|Thornbury & Yate||7116||Conservative|
|Hornsey & Wood Green||6875||Labour|
|Berwickshire Roxburgh & Selkirk||5675||Conservative|
|Carshalton & Wallington||5260||Conservative|
|Caithness Sutherland & Easter Ross||4826||Labour|
Rather unsurprisingly, their safest seat is that of their most high-profile figure- their leader, Nick Clegg. Clegg may see his majority dented next time (assuming he stands), but he will comfortably hold the seat. Another high-profile Lib Dem, Charles Kennedy, is the MP for Ross, Skye & Lochaber, and will also comfortably hold his seat.
There are then a whole batch of seats where the Conservatives are in 2nd place- the Lib Dems will be confident of easily holding on to all of these, even in an election where they were reduced to core vote level. We already have real life electoral proof that Labour voters are still prepared to vote tactically to keep the Conservative proof- Eastleigh. This will not suddenly change in 2015, so it is very hard to see how the Conservatives will be able to persuade enough LD switchers to balance out potential tactical Labour votes.
Bristol West is the first seat on the list where you look and think that it could potentially fall. It was a Labour seat as recently as 2001, and this is going to be the perfect kind of seat to see just how badly the Lib Dems are losing voters to Labour at the next election. The Conservatives are a distant third and not a danger, so there is no need for any tactical voting from Labour voters. One very interesting thing to see however, is whether Conservative voters will vote tactically to keep Labour out. There are 10,000 Tory votes for the Lib Dems to squeeze here- it is certainly a seat to keep an eye out.
The Bristol West scenario is going to apply to every Lib Dem seat downwards where Labour are second (barring perhaps places like Orkney and Shetland, which will vote Lib Dem no matter what happens, ever). Labour will be targeting these seats aggressively, reminding voters of how the Lib Dems propped up the Conservatives. The Lib Dem challenge here is how well they can sell their positives of being in government.
Ceredigion, currently the 14th largest majority for the Liberal Democrats, will be a very interesting test to see how the coalition is going down in Wales. This was a Plaid seat in 2001, and was very close in 2005. Plaid will feel that they have a strong chance in running the Lib Dems close here- again, expect a lot of anti-coalition rhetoric.
The seat of Gordon in Scotland has an odd quirk. In the last three elections, the same party has won, but three different parties have finished in 2nd place. In 2001 it was the Conservatives, in 2005 Labour, and in 2010 the SNP. It seems like none of the opposition parties here are going to be able to mount a serious challenge here to worry the sitting MP Malcolm Bruce.
In conclusion, 19 of the top 30 Liberal Democrat majorities are where the Conservatives are challenging. The Lib Dems must hold on to all of these. They will be confident, as the difference between the two parties has been diluted, meaning there is unlikely to be a sudden huge swing to the Tories in these seats. The Lib Dems can also rely on a continuing anti-Conservative tactical vote, which does not appear to be dampening, even with their spell in coalition. They are seats that are as ‘safe’ as it is possible to have for a third party.
The Lib Dems are going to struggle in their seats where Labour are second (apart from the specific examples mentioned above). We will have to wait and see whether even 10000+ majorities such as Bristol West will hold up- for Labour, seats like this would be a huge bonus and a signal of a very good night for them.
Finally, always be wary of anyone predicting a Liberal Democrat ‘wipe out’. As well as the seats above where they will be confident, there are always seats that unpopular parties manage to cling onto for all sorts of reasons (local issues, popularity of local MP- see Birmingham Edgbaston for Labour in 2010). Whatever happens in 2015, the Lib Dems will still have a number of MPs that certainly wouldn’t fit into the back of a taxi.