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4 July 2024

The 13 constituencies to watch

Your guide to the seats that will decide the narrative of election night.

By Ben Walker and Finn McRedmond

The contours of this election were set early on in the campaign: the collapse of the Conservatives; the rise of Reform, catalysed by Nigel Farage’s surprise return to front-line politics; and of course the Labour Party’s inexorable march to No 10.

But in which constituencies are we going to see the closest fights? How many high-profile politicians might lose their seats? Where best encapsulates the themes of this election? And which seats will reveal the state of the nation as 14 years of Conservative government almost certainly come to a close?

Here are our picks for the 13 constituencies across the UK to watch out for as election night unfolds.

One of the big questions of the night: will Penny Mordaunt lose her seat? Some are adamant she is the future of British conservatism, and she was the alternative option for leader against Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak in 2022. But she was unsuccessful both times. And she is in danger now. Britain Predicts tips her Portsmouth North seat to be a Labour gain by a wafer-thin margin. Everything is up in the air here.

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Conservative councillors were wiped out here in the recent local elections. But the anti-Tory votes went to local independents, not so much to the Liberal Democrats and Labour. If the anti-Conservative vote splits in the same way, then Mordaunt might hold on. The local Labour Party should also be concerned: if it can't convert a high-profile fight like this into a win, the party may face some serious scrutiny. This seat has the compelling combination of a recognisable candidate and an underperforming local party.

Jacob Rees-Mogg is another high-profile Tory who will be nervous tonight. Recent boundary changes have led Labour to believe that if it campaigns hard in North East Somerset, it may just have a chance of winning. But the party's activity has been weak in recent years, as evidenced by poor results in local elections. In fact, the only party of opposition to win council seats across the majority of this constituency has been the Liberal Democrats, not Labour. But things will get tricky for Rees-Mogg if those Liberal Democrat voters go Labour's way as part of a tactical voting drive. Labour could surprise.

A few weeks ago Novara Media tried to claim that Labour's 14-point lead over Jeremy Corbyn in this seat was a narrow gap. It really isn't. But it has narrowed slightly. Corbyn is very popular. And if this election was purely a personality contest he would probably walk it. But now he no longer has access to the Labour Party campaigning apparatus. And in general elections voters behave differently: there is more at stake than the personality of an individual candidate. Corbyn can win here. But it's not likely.

It is never a good sign to see a Prime Minister heavily campaigning in their own seat: these should, in theory, be very easy holds for the party of government (no matter the direction of travel for the entire country). In fact, if Rishi Sunak did lose his seat it would make him the first Prime Minister ever to do so. That’s why news emerging on Wednesday evening – that Sunak was privately anxious about this happening – is such a shock.

However, Labour has been historically weak in this constituency: not once in this century, for example, has the Richmondshire District Council elected a Labour councillor. There are few Labour activists, few council candidates, and very little organised effort. Sunak will be fine, so long as the Conservatives perform on the upper end of expectations. But there are no guarantees of that happening.

Stoke-on-Trent South

Stoke-on-Trent went Conservative in 2019, a humiliating result for Labour in what should be a safe seat for the party. Most urban seats should come home to Labour tonight, but not all. Stoke South is not a typical case: noise from the ground suggests the Conservatives are holding out hope here. But it's unlikely they will succeed – Labour's recovery in the local elections was total, as it gained a majority on the council after eight years in opposition. Britain Predicts chalks this up as a gain for Labour too.

There is a small "if". If Reform's presence here is bigger than the numbers suggest, Labour could be in trouble. Those Conservative 2019 voters - who went undecided for a few years - and then came out for Labour under Sunak, could have become unsettled about Labour in the denouement of this campaign. Seepage from Labour to Reform has been an emergent trend in recent days – and if this trend is real it will perhaps be best illustrated in Stoke South. All eyes are on Reform.

Let's not excite any Liberal Democrats unnecessarily – Ed Davey has been doing enough of that this summer. But (whisper it) Sheffield Hallam is a seat worth watching for the party. This is Nick Clegg's former constituency, but it went Labour thanks to the 2017 Corbyn surge. Britain Predicts suggests this will not change. But we can take a longer view: if the Liberal Democrats give Labour a close run here tonight – in the latter's landslide year – then we can say with reasonable confidence that there's trouble down the line for Labour. And not just in the traditional red-blue marginals, but also in these urban, graduate-heavy and pro-European Union seats too. Labour strategists should also be wary of a large Green vote.

If you're after a seat to illustrate the threat posed to Labour by its more progressive voters (Green) and its consciously pro-EU voters (Liberal Democrat), this is the one to watch.

The sprawling seat of Chester South and Eddisbury could be the last refuge for Tories in this county. A quarter of this new constituency belonged to the City of Chester seat, which over two millennia has evolved from a Roman fortress to a Labour stronghold. Recently, the land of long and gated driveways (Handbridge and Park ward) began electing Labour councillors. And the party's strength in the city and the subsequent boundary changes have encouraged Labour to throw resources here. Britain Predicts has the result on a knife edge.

The Liberal Democrats tend to perform better in rural areas than Labour (making this seat an interesting watch for that reason alone). But there is something else important going on here: this isn't Reform-friendly territory. If you want evidence that the Conservative collapse isn't just a revolt on the right, then this seat is where it will show. Conservative activists as far as North Yorkshire have been asked to help out here with door-knocking. Even the Prime Minister was spotted in the area the other week. The addition of a decent Liberal Democrat presence (unwilling to defer to Labour to ensure a Tory loss) has made the campaign very active. "Can't win here," is the favourite adage of all parties in this seat. They can't all be right.

We are writing off Clacton as a gain for Nigel Farage and his Reform Party. Hence why it doesn't feature on this list. Eighth time lucky, the former Ukip leader is finally on course to enter the House of Commons. But what of his Georgy Malenkov, Richard Tice? This seat eluded Ukip in 2015, when the party polled at 12 per cent nationally. It's a seat with a large (but overwhelmingly non-voting) Polish population. And it's a seat everyone loves to declare the most Brexit-backing in the country. (It's not. That award goes to the neighbouring South Holland and The Deepings constituency, but who's counting?)

The Conservative freefall to the benefit of the further-right is best illustrated in a seat like Boston, where voters who place immigration high on their priorities live. This should be an easy Reform gain. But the chronic inability of the radical right in Britain to do anything more effective than stand in a town centre and hand out leaflets makes this more question-mark territory than done-deal. Britain Predicts has this as a gain. But if the Conservative association's old-fashioned ground campaign has been effective, it could make all the difference.

Fermanagh and South Tyrone

Britain Predicts doesn't actually cover Northern Ireland yet. But this is a constituency of extremes: it's the largest in Northern Ireland, often returning the highest turnout in the country; and it's the most marginal seat in the United Kingdom. Sinn Féin held it by a majority of just 57 votes in 2019. In 2010 the party won it by just four. Between 2015 and 2017 the Ulster Unionist Party held the seat. But apart from those years, Sinn Féin has dominated since 2001. The other unionist parties don't field candidates here, so as not to split the unionist vote. But now Sinn Féin is fielding Pat Cullen, former head of the nursing union. She's a candidate with big-name recognition (and featured on last year's New Statesman Left Power List).

This could be enough for Sinn Féin to increase its majority. To understand the green vs orange nature of Westminster elections in Northern Ireland, Fermanagh is a good place to start.

This constituency is a fine race between Labour and Plaid Cymru. The Conservative collapse is benefitting Labour here, and they might win the seat. But it's also benefitting Plaid: evidence that for social conservatives in Wales, when faced with a choice between Labour and Plaid, may opt for Plaid. If it transpires that by tomorrow the Conservatives' situation looks completely irrevocable, social conservatives might go searching for an alternative route: many will be enticed by Reform, but in Wales Plaid could plug that gap too. It's something for Labour to think about.

This is a volatile seat: it was Labour in 2005, went SNP in 2015 and then Conservative in 2017. Now it looks to be an incredibly tight race between the SNP and the Conservatives, completely within the margin of error. This is the seat to keep your eye on if you are interested in how tactical voting works in Scotland.

In England, tactical votes are deployed, generally, along progressive/conservative lines (Labour voters going for the Liberal Democrats to keep the Conservatives out, for example). But in Scotland it happens along unionist/nationalist lines. A pro-Union voter in Scotland – no matter how progressive their politics – is not going to vote SNP. But Scottish Tory voters are willing to cast tactical votes for Labour (with preservation of the Union in mind), and vice versa. The question here, then, is how many would-be Labour voters are willing to vote Tory to keep the SNP at bay. It could be very tight indeed.

Climate conscious, left-wing and proudly alternative, Bristol is the British city most spiritually twinned with Brighton. Therefore, it has been on the Greens' target list for years. It looks like the newly reformed seat of Bristol Central could make that aspiration a reality. The Green candidate and party co-leader Carla Denyer – who has been a city councillor since 2015 – has benefited from recent boundary changes and is believed to have a good chance of unseating Labour's shadow culture secretary, Thangam Debbonaire. Labour is rattled – over the course of the campaign the party has summoned heavyweights Keir Starmer, Sadiq Khan and Ed Miliband to support her.

But the Greens are quietly confident (and some senior Labour members conceded in private weeks ago that it was a lost cause). Debbonaire may receive a consolatory elevation to the House of Lords so she can still serve as culture secretary in a Starmer cabinet. But her defeat will show how unstable Labour's vote is in metropolitan urban areas. Many progressive voters are sceptical of Starmer, and relentless predictions of a Labour landslide may have given them a greater incentive to pick who they really believe in. The result could show whether protest votes against Labour from the left can deliver results.

This Lancashire mill town became the centre of debate after the death of its Labour MP (Tony Lloyd, who had held the seat since 2010) triggered a by-election. George Galloway, the former Labour and Respect MP, soon announced his candidacy, and focused his campaign on the war in Gaza, attempting to appeal to the constituency’s Muslim voters, who make up 30.5 per cent of its population. Gaza soon became the prevailing issue of the campaign after Labour removed its support from its own candidate, Azhar Ali, when his comments about Israel "allowing" Hamas’s 7 October offensive to go ahead were unearthed.

This confluence of circumstances allowed Galloway to take the seat on 40 per cent of the vote. But turnout at the by-election was just 39.7 per cent. Britain Predicts expects a very different result this time: Labour is leading at 46 per cent, with Galloway trailing on 13.8 per cent, only marginally ahead of Reform on 13.6 per cent. This may have something to do with Labour’s change of candidate – Paul Waugh, who is also from Rochdale, is an experienced lobby journalist. But a comfortable win could also close the idea – much-touted after the by-election – that Labour’s position on Gaza would jeopardise its general election chances. Perhaps because hostilities in Gaza have stopped making headlines, or perhaps because domestic issues have dominated the election campaign. In any case, Galloway’s original victory may come to look like a temporary protest, not a permanent rebellion.

[See also: Inside the Greens’ battle for Bristol Central]

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