Key battles in election 2007

A brief guide to the interesting contests for the late night election junkie.

With an unpopular Government, a new Prime Minister in waiting, a resurgent Conservative Party, the Lib Dems struggling under an ineffective leader and the SNP on the brink of power, these elections promise to be of particular interest.

We should start in Scotland, where the likely victory for the SNP in the Parliamentary elections could represent the next step towards independence (and for those of us watching from south of the border, a step towards permanent Tory domination in England).

The SNP has consistently held its lead in the face of an increasingly frantic Labour campaign. Was it wise for Labour to allow Blair and Brown to lead the negative attacks on the SNP and the prospects for an independent Scotland? A Scotsman poll of polls this week predicted the SNP to be the largest party with 46 seats, still some 19 seats short of what is needed to form a majority.

The most interesting contest will be in Gordon, where Alex Salmond himself is seeking election. Held continuously by the Lib Dems since 1983, currently with a 4,000 majority, it is 18th on the SNP hit list.

The SNP didn’t even manage second place last time, and Salmond will have to outperform the current polls to win this seat (something this charismatic politician is surely capable of doing?).

If Salmond fails to win Gordon, he has a second chance of election as he tops the SNP north-east regional list. But as the SNP already holds four of the nine regional seats, and could win two more – Aberdeen Central and Dundee West – with just a small swing from Labour, the party is unlikely to gain any additional regional seats. So it is possible that the SNP could be the largest party in the new Parliament, but without their leader at their helm!

Other key SNP targets include Glasgow Govan, where Nicola Sturgeon the SNP deputy leader is seeking to overturn a 1,200 Labour majority; David Steel’s old seat, Tweedale, Ettrick and Lauderdale, which has a Lib Dem majority of 538; and Galloway and Upper Nithsdale with a Tory majority of 99. The SNP will also expect a repeat of the 2005 Westminster victory over Labour in the Western Isles. A key role could be played by the Greens, who currently hold seven seats. Their poll rating is the most volatile of any party, ranging from 3% to 10%. The better they do, the fewer seats the SNP is likely to win. Lastly, with the local council elections contested for the first time on a proportional representation system, the political map of Scotland is likely to be completely rewritten.

In England, the Tories are riding high in the polls with around 36% of the vote, but they would hope to be attracting nearer 40% and 600+ seats to be on target for a victory at the next general election. They will certainly win swathes of council seats in the South from Labour and the Lib Dems. Some key Tory targets include Dartford, Dover, Maidstone, Gravesham (typical Kent seats that they will need to win at the next general election), Braintree, Brighton, Ipswich and Labour-controlled Plymouth. They will expect to advance in the Midlands, perhaps winning Rugby and Tewkesbury, and making gains in towns like Derby. A bigger challenge for the Tories will be to make gains in the north, where there is very little evidence of a Cameron-led revival. Targets here include Barrow-in-Furness and Bury (and other towns in East Lancashire/West Yorkshire), whilst they will also hope to make some symbolic gains in the northern towns where they currently have no representation, such as Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle and York.

In the South and Midlands, the Lib Dems will just be looking to hold off the Conservative challenge by keeping control of South Norfolk and Bournemouth, whilst preventing the Tories winning control of hung councils such as Mid-Suffolk, North Wiltshire, Waverley and Woking, and perhaps taking Northampton. In the North, they will want to retain control of Liverpool, Newcastle and York, and even triumph in the old Labour stronghold of Hull.

Labour did badly in 2003, the last time these seats were fought, so if it loses further ground it will be a truly awful night for the Government. In addition to the seats already mentioned, it is likely to take a battering practically everywhere, losing its last representatives in many Southern councils. Perhaps the most it can hope for is to hold onto its northern heartlands, so it will be desperate to keep control of Blackburn, Bury, Oldham, even though it will take only a small swing for them to become hung.

It could be a good night for the smaller parties. The Greens are putting up a record 1,200+ candidates and will hope to increase their current 91 councillors to over 100. In particular, if the Greens poll strongly in Brighton, where they already have 6 councillors, they could stop the Tories taking control.

The BNP is also fielding a record 750+ candidates and is campaigning in many new areas. In addition to fighting in its traditional working class territory, such as Essex, West Midlands, West Yorkshire, parts of Lancashire, it is seeking to exploit discontent about immigration by taking its message to suburban and rural areas, targeting Torbay, Solihull, Shrewsbury and Harrogate.

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The Brexit ministers who just realised reducing immigration is a problem for them

Turns out there's a teeny tiny hiccup with reducing immigration...

On 27 December 2015, the then-backbencher MP David Davis declared he was "voting out" in the forthcoming EU referendum. Among his reasons was the "disastrous migration crisis". 

Fast forward 14 months. Now the minister responsible for Brexit, Davis has been spotted in the Latvian capital of Riga, with a slightly different message

He admitted it was not plausible that Brits would immediately take jobs in the kind of low-paid sectors like agriculture and social care currently staffed by migrant workers. 

Immigration restrictions "will take years" to be phased in, he added. 

Davis is only the latest minister in the Brexit government to realise that immigration might be down to more than some pesky EU bureaucrats. Here's when the penny dropped for the others: 

Andrea "Seasonal Labour"  Leadsom

During the EU referendum campaign, Brexit charmer-in-chief Andrea Leadsom told The Guardian that immigration from EU countries could “overwhelm” Britain, and that her constituents complained about not hearing English spoken on the street. 

But speaking to farmers in 2017 as Environment secretary, Leadsom said she knew “how important seasonal labour from the EU is, to the everyday running of your businesses”. She said she was committed to making sure farmers “have the right people with the right skills”. 

Sajid “Bob the Builder” Javid 

The Communities secretary Sajid Javid backed the Remain campaign like his mentor George Osborne, but when he was offered a job in the Brexit government, he took it.

Javid has criticised immigrants who don’t integrate, but it seems there is one group he doesn’t have any qualms about - the construction workers who build the homes that fall under his remit.

As early as September, Javid was telling the FT he wouldn’t let any pesky UK border red tape get between him and foreign workers needed to meet his housebuilding targets.

Philip “Citizen of the World” Hammond

So if you can’t kick out builders, what about that perennially unpopular group of workers, bankers? Not so fast, says Philip Hammond.

Just three months after Brexit, he said the government would use immigration controls “in a sensible way that will facilitate the movement of highly-skilled people between financial institutions and businesses”. 

As a Chancellor who personally backed Remain, Hammond is painfully aware of the repercussions if the City decamps to the Continent. 

Greg “Brightest and Best” Clark

The Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy secretary backed Remain, and has kept his head down since winning the meaty new industrial brief. 

Nevertheless, he seems willing to weigh in on the immigration cap debate, at least on behalf of international students. Asked whether the post-study work visa pilot should continue, Clark said the government wanted to attract the brightest and best.

He continued:

"We have visa arrangements in place so that people can work in graduate jobs after that, and it is important that they should be able to do so."

Jeremy "The Doctor" Hunt 

The Health secretary kept his job in the turmoil of the summer, and used his conference speech to toe the party line with a pledge that the NHS would rely on less foreign medical staff in future.

The problem is, Hunt has alienated junior doctors by imposing an unpopular contract, and even those wannabe medics that do sign up will have to undergo half a decade of studying first.

Asked about where he plans to find NHS workers in Parliament, Hunt declared: “No one from either side of the Brexit debate has ever said there will be no immigration post-Brexit.” He also remained “confident” that the UK would be able to negotiate a deal that allowed the 127,000 EU citizens working for the NHS to stay. 

So it turns out we might need agriculture and construction workers, plus students, medics and even bankers after all. It's a good thing the government already has a Brexit plan sorted out...
 

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.