Labour has been driven out of various parts of the country over the past decade, but none more comprehensively than in south-east England. The 2010 election left not a single Labour MP in this region. Three of its five counties were solid blocks of blue until very recently, when a couple of Tory MPs defected to Ukip in late 2014.
But this area also plays host to the UK’s only Green MP, while three Liberal Democrats have continued to cling on:
I’m including the counties of East Sussex, Essex, Kent, Surrey and West Sussex in this region.
Here are the key electoral statistics:
Number of marginals: 8 or 12.9% of total
Number of ultra-marginals: 1 or 1.6%
Conservative targets: 2
Labour targets: 5
Liberal Democrat targets: 0
Of the two Ukip seats, Douglas Carswell has a majority of 12,404 in Clacton and ought to hold the seat easily. Mark Reckless has a majority of just 2,920 in Rochester & Strood, however, and is one of the Tories’ two targets. The other is Eastbourne, currently held by Lib Dem MP Stephen Lloyd:
Lloyd’s majority might be big enough to see him returned in 2015, particularly if Labour supporters vote tactically. The Lib Dems’ other two seats in this region ought to be pretty safe.
Labour’s five targets consist of four Tory seats plus Brighton Pavilion, which Caroline Lucas won in 2010 for the Greens. I’m pretty confident that Lucas will be reelected (the latest polls suggest she is comfortably ahead), meaning Labour’s best chances will be to pick off some of the Tory marginals:
Jackie Doyle-Price’s majority of 92 in Thurrock is one of the smallest in the land. On paper, her seat ought to fall to Labour with ease. In reality, Ukip has been making such a strong play for the constituency that it has become a three-way marginal. My instinct is that Doyle-Price will hold the seat, but it will be very close.
That leaves Brighton Kemptown, Hove and Hastings & Rye. Whether Labour makes any progress here will be a real test of the party’s popularity in the south of England. It may be that the party wins just one seat, Brighton Kemptown, and has to rely on gains elsewhere if it wants to end up the largest party in parliament.
For the record, here are the rest of the Conservative seats in this region: