Sunday, 16 May 2010

East of England – Post Mortem [Part I]

You'd think the East of England region wouldn't have been too interesting, and in many ways you'd be right. The area does not have dozens of key marginals like the Midlands or Yorkshire as the Conservatives held most of the seats anyway. But there is still a little bit to talk about, especially as the Labour vote collapsed to leave the Liberal Democrats in second place in the region. This post will focus on the few close LAB/CON marginals and over the coming days I'll be looking at how some Conservative MP's expenses' affected their vote and the crazy seats in Norwich, Luton and Watford.

From the notional figures the Conservatives held 42 of the 58 seats in Essex and they easily increased this to 52 by gaining 10 seats off Labour. With a national swing of 5% and a regional swing of 7% Labour didn't stand much of chance holding on to seats like Harlow (Tory Target Seat #5), Thurrock East & Basildon South (#17). I'm sure expenses were an issue in Great Yarmouth (#66) and Stevenage (#72) where the Tories enjoyed swings of over 8% from Labour to take them with room to spare. Anthony D Wright may feel slightly aggrieved as he felt his conduct was fine but he lost his seat on a swing (8.7%) almost twice the national average. Barbra Follett did not contest Stevenage following the controversy surrounding her security patrols but this was not enough to save the seat for Labour. Patrick Hall was dubbed a saint and this could be why he only suffered a 5.7% swing against him. But as he could only cope with a swing of less than 4.1% he lost his Bedford (#71) seat to the new Conservative MP Richard Fuller.

If you're keeping count that's 5 of the 10 gains accounted for. The Tories also won Watford, which was a three way marginal, and 'gained' Norwich North again after a by-election victory but I'll look at these later this week. It's the other three, which the Conservatives needed over 6% swings to take, that I'll discuss in more detail now.



Notional Majority

Swing Needed




Swing Achieved


Bob Blizzard




CON Gain

CON Gain



Chris Mole




CON Gain

CON Gain



Andrew MacKinlay




LAB Hold

CON Gain


Waveney was the Conservative Target Seat #116, or as it was known on election night – The Holy Grain. If the Tories had taken every seat up to and including Waveney David Cameron would have secured an overall majority. Unless you've been under a rock for the last week it won't be news to you that he didn't; despite gaining this seat, and two others requiring greater swings in this region alone. I've already offered some initial thoughts on why the Conservatives didn't win some of the seats they, according to the numbers, should have won but for now I'll offer some explanations as to how they won these when they apparently shouldn't have.

Despite a majority of almost 6,000 Bob Blizzard was not the favourite to retain his Waveney seat. This has to be taken with a pinch of salt as the betting markets predicted a seat haul of around 320 for the Conservatives. In this case there are a few factors why a larger than average swing should have been expected. Blizzard was called on his expenses but I'm unsure whether this seeped into the local press. What's more likely to have cost Labour in Suffolk is the fact the have hardly any Councillors. Their vote collapsed in the 2009 Council election and they now have only four County Councillors. The General Election showed this loss of support was not just a one off protest. In the Waveney District Council elections in 2008 they faired slightly better holding 15 of the 48 seats but the Tories easily remained in control with 30 Councillors. So with the national picture it's not surprising the Conservatives were able to take a seat like Waveney.

The situation in Ipswich is quite similar. Although Chris Mole didn't do a lot wrong, again, his Councillor base wasn't that great. They are the largest group on the Ipswich Council but they only have a couple more Councillors than the Tories. And with nothing to defend in the surrounding area the Tories could bus activists in for this seat. They chose a solid candidate in Ben Gummer, son of a former Conservative minister John Gummer, and so it was clear they quite fancied taking this. I think the 8.1% swing is a reflection of the effort the local Conservatives put into this, rather than anything Mole did or didn't do.

Finally, Thurrock was very close. Although the odds were slightly shorter than the other two seats I felt Labour had a good chance of holding this. I guess I can claim to be half right considering the margin of victory! The Conservative candidate Jackie Doyle-Price beat the Labour candidate Carl Morris by less than 100 votes. But it seems my prediction that the minor parties would have a big say in the outcome didn't happen. I argued that would hold this because the BNP campaign seemed to be falling apart which would help Morris but UKIP polled almost as much as the BNP so they probably cancelled each other out. In the end I think the seat was lost purely because the popular incumbent Andrew MacKinlay wasn't on the ballot. I think if he'd run then Labour would have just held on.


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