Fight or flight
This post originally appeared on Progress Online.
North Warwickshire (west Midlands): Mike O’Brien
The Conservative majority in the semi-rural constituency of North Warwickshire stands at a slender 54 votes. Explorer and former army officer Dan Byles is standing down after only one term in parliament to ‘pursue new challenges’.
North Warwickshire consists of two elements – the solidly Labour town of Bedworth, lying between Nuneaton and Coventry, and a more mixed rural area to the west containing former mining villages and some Birmingham commuter suburbs like Coleshill. Labour did well here in the 2013 county elections and led by 11 points in a poll by Michael Ashcroft. Mike O’Brien is a familiar face in Warwickshire. He gained the seat from the Conservatives in 1992 and represented it for 18 years. He was a minister throughout the Labour government, serving in six different departments. It would not be surprising if he resumed his role as a safe pair of hands in the middle ranks of government after 2015.
Cardiff North (Wales): Mari Williams
Cardiff North is a mostly middle-class suburban area of the Welsh capital, which seems to have been swinging gradually in Labour’s favour over time. It was represented by Julie Morgan from 1997 to 2010 in Westminster and since 2011 in the Welsh assembly. Her loss was by a small margin on a low swing. Labour’s candidate in 2015 is Mari Williams, locally raised and a former deputy headteacher who has also served on the Fabian Society executive. Labour morale locally will have been boosted by the regain of the assembly seat, good results in the local elections in 2012, and an 11-point lead in an Ashcroft poll. Outgoing Conservative MP Jonathan Evans previously served a term as an MP for another marginal seat, Brecon and Radnor, from 1992-97.
Brent Central (London): Dawn Butler
Brent Central in north London was a new constituency in 2010, formed from the merger of Brent South (solidly Labour) and Brent East (Liberal Democrat since 2003). Its inaugural contest was between the two members of parliament. Brent East’s Sarah Teather prevailed over Brent South’s Dawn Butler. Teather is standing down after an uncomfortable parliament, having first been elected on a left-of-Labour anti-war vote in 2003 and finding herself in government with the Conservatives.
This should be one of the easier Labour gains – local elections and polling by Michael Ashcroft shows Labour over 30 points ahead. Butler is standing again, and should resume her parliamentary career. She was minister for young citizens and youth engagement in the Labour government and may well return to Whitehall with a less clunky title in 2015.
Hove (south-east): Peter Kyle
The Conservatives won Hove, the genteel section of Brighton and Hove city, by default in 2010. Their 36.7 per cent vote had hardly changed since 2005 but Labour’s splintered. Given the collapse of the left-leaning element of the Liberal Democrat vote, the Conservatives are at risk given that Mike Weatherley is standing down after a single term. However, Labour led only narrowly in a local Ashcroft poll.
Labour’s candidate is Peter Kyle, who is a charity worker in the area of youth unemployment and in the 1990s did charitable work for children in war zones. He has Whitehall experience as a Cabinet Office special adviser for a year.
Erewash (east Midlands): Catherine Atkinson
Erewash is in south-east Derbyshire between Derby and Nottingham, and includes Ilkeston and Sandiacre. It is an unpretentious slice of middle England. Except in 1974, this area has voted for the national winner since 1959, but the Conservatives will have to do without the incumbency boost in 2015 because barrister-turned-MP Jessica Lee is standing down.
Local election results in 2013 were fairly good for Labour, with a nine-point lead over the Conservatives, but Ukip polled well too (22 per cent) and mostly white, non-metropolitan areas like this may be that party’s most fertile territory. Labour’s candidate is Catherine Atkinson, who lives with her family in Sandiacre and, like Lee, is a barrister.
Cannock Chase (west Midlands): Janos Toth
Cannock Chase produced one of Labour’s worst results in the 2010 general election, with what had looked like a safe seat being lost on a mammoth swing of 14 per cent. It was not the first time the industrial and former mining Cannock area had rejected Labour, as the seat was also lost on big swings in 1970 and 1983. But the Conservative hold on the seat has been weakened by the antics of single-term MP Aidan Burley in France and on Twitter, and Labour enters the election as favourite to regain the seat.
There is potential for the United Kingdom Independence party in Cannock and other white working-class marginal seats. In the local elections this year Labour had a narrow lead over Nigel Farage’s party with the Conservatives in third place.
Labour candidate Janos Toth is an experienced local councillor in Cannock Chase and he currently works for a cancer charity. His parents fled communist oppression in cold war eastern Europe.
Dudley South (west Midlands): Natasha Millward
This constituency, in various guises, has voted for the winner in every election since 1970 and it was no surprise when the Conservatives gained this classic Black Country marginal seat in 2010. Chris Kelly is one of the more surprising retirements after one term, as he has been regarded as an MP not short of ambition and potential.
Dudley South is potentially one of the trickier contests because of Ukip. Labour had a tiny (0.4 per cent) lead over the populist party in the 2014 local elections, with the Conservatives another four points behind it. The Labour candidate, Natasha Millward, was born locally, has worked in education, and is a Unison organiser.
South Ribble (north-west): Veronica Bennett
South Ribble, as the name suggests, is on the south bank of the River Ribble, including Leyland, some Preston suburbs such as Penwortham, and some flat west-Lancashire countryside. It was lost to Lorraine Fullbrook on a high swing of over eight per cent in 2010, having been a Labour gain in 1997.
The Conservatives were holding on well in the local elections in 2011 and 2013, and, despite the MP’s retirement, it remains one of the tougher nuts for Labour to crack. Labour’s young candidate Veronica Bennett, who first became politically active in 2009, is up for the fight; she gained a previously Conservative ward in neighbouring Sefton council.
Redcar (north-east): Anna Turley
Redcar, east of Middlesbrough, has one of the larger majorities in a Labour target seat, although the party can legitimately hope that the extraordinary result in 2010 (a Liberal Democrat gain on a 22 per cent swing) in this working-class seat was a freak. Liberal Democrats are particularly dependent on personal votes, and when Ian Swales declared he would stand down the seat went from being a tough contest to one where Labour is the strong favourite. Labour led by 26 percentage points in an Ashcroft constituency poll in autumn 2014.
Anna Turley started her career as a civil servant but became a special adviser to David Blunkett and Hilary Armstrong. Her policy interests are local government, equality and social inclusion, and she is a warm and down-to-earth person.