Brexit Districts in Tory Sights as May Seeks Bigger Majorityby
Tories may find pro-EU London constituencies bigger challenge
Scottish Conservatives could cause upset as polls show gains
Theresa May’s Conservatives will be targeting pro-Brexit districts as they seek to boost their majority in the June 8 snap election. Of the 60 constituencies that are in theory most winnable from the main Labour opposition, more than two-thirds voted to leave the European Union last year.
The Tories were 6.5 percentage points ahead of Labour in the 2015 general election. With polls now showing the Conservatives about 20 points ahead of Labour, that represents a shift in the vote of perhaps 7 points from Labour to the Tories since the last election. A swing on that scale could boost their majority to well over 100 in the 650-member House of Commons.
Those districts that supported Brexit are more likely to back May’s policy aimed at a new deal with the EU that pulls Britain out of the bloc’s single market. And in eight of those 60 Labour seats -- many of them in the English Midlands -- more than two-thirds of voters wanted to quit the EU.
The premier’s early campaign visits have reflected that effort.
She started off in Bolton in northwest England and was in Dudley in the West Midlands over the weekend. Target constituencies in each town voted heavily for Brexit -- and the Conservatives need swings of less than 6 percent. Apart from her own district, May also went to Enfield North in north London and on Tuesday to Bridgend in South Wales, both constituencies that voted “Remain” only by a very narrow margin.
The most tightly contested seats in the last election were pro-Brexit districts and are in the north and Midlands of England, as well as in Wales, with only a handful in London and the south. May headed to seats in Wales on Tuesday on her latest campaign trip.
It may be a tougher task for the Tories to woo support in more pro-EU constituencies, despite Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s lack of clarity on his own Brexit policy. These six districts -- five in London and one in Brighton -- are theoretically just as winnable for May’s party as the Brexit areas, but they all backed “Remain” by about two-thirds or more.
But there may be an unexpected opportunity for more Tory gains in Scotland, where the Scottish National Party won 56 of the 59 House of Commons seats in the 2015 election -- and the Conservatives just one.
Two polls over the weekend showed a surge in Tory support, building on a pattern that saw the Conservatives become the second-largest party in the Scottish Parliament last year.
If the polls are right, the Tories could take seven to nine seats from the SNP assuming a uniform swing across Scotland, according to Anthony Wells of the U.K. Polling Report website. As well as helping the Tories toward the big majority May says she needs to ensure support for her Brexit plans, it would be a psychological blow in her battle to prevent Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon from calling a new independence referendum.
A YouGov poll Monday from Wales had good news for May too. It showed the Tories surging 12 points since the start of the year to 40 percent support, putting them on course to gain 10 districts from Labour and take a majority of the 40 seats in the principality for the first time since the 1850s. Even for the Tories to be potentially in such a position “indicates that we are on the brink of something truly seismic,” Roger Scully of Cardiff University said on his blog. Seven “Leave” districts in Wales, including both in Newport, the third largest city, are among the 60 most winnable. Bridgend needs a swing of just 2.5 points.
In some places, though, the Tories will be on the defensive.
The resurgent anti-Brexit Liberal Democrat party already took the pro-EU Tory seat of Richmond Park in southwest London in a by-election last year. Now it has its eyes on more of the same. There are six Tory-held districts that voted “Remain” that the Lib Dems can capture with a swing of about 6 points or less. All were in Lib Dem hands until 2015.
In two of these seats -- Twickenham and Bath -- more than two-thirds opposed Brexit. And Twickenham, the Lib Dems are fielding former Business Secretary Vince Cable, who held the seat until 2015, while former Energy Secretary Ed Davey is running in Kingston. Richmond Park is next door to both.
Meanwhile, three pro-EU groups launched a cross-party campaign Monday to target 40 seats across the country. The strategy is twofold: Oppose lawmakers supporting a so-called hard Brexit in 20 key seats -- 18 of them Tories -- and in the other 20 give added support for candidates with a proven track record fighting Brexit.