Where Boris Johnson thinks the next election will be won and lost

Government spending announcements give us a sense of where the key marginals are.

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Perhaps before the end of the year, perhaps in the spring, but sooner rather than later, there is going to be another election. Almost everything Boris Johnson has done and said since becoming Prime Minister has been a reflection on that reality, as has almost everything his government has announced.

I’ve been tracking the government’s spending announcements and promises since then, in order to produce a rough and ready guide as to where it thinks the battleground seats are. Using a combination of its 100 towns fund, its six new hospitals, its education spending announcements and various other pledges, I've produced a list of what I think are the constituencies that the government believes represent its target and defensive seats.

I’ve tried to do this in a sensible way – for instance, the constituency of Christchurch has been a beneficiary of spending announcements under Boris Johnson, but I don’t think this is because they fear defeat in Christchurch, which voted to Leave by 58 per cent and where the Conservatives enjoy a 25,000 vote lead over the Labour Party. I think it’s because the spending announcements in Christchurch will have important consequences in the neighbouring Bournemouth constituencies, where the Liberal Democrats control the council.

I’ve eliminated the likes of Norwich South (which the Conservatives privately echo what all the available information suggests, which is that they have no hope or prospect of winning the seat) and Dudley South (where a similar dynamic applies), particularly as their new spending grants largely focus on services shared with their more marginal neighbours.

In addition to private information, I’ve tried to use local election results essentially as ballast for the list in a similar way. So while it is an imperfect list, it is, I think, a helpful one that will help inform where the New Statesman team goes during the election. My fuller impression of where the election will be decided and how we are going to cover it here at the NS will be published soon.

But, of course, there is a big problem with this approach: the Conservatives are fighting an election in three theatres – England, Scotland and Wales – but can only announce spending commitments in one: England. So I’ve used a combination of private information from the various political parties and the upper limit of the Conservative target area to add seats from Wales. (The Scottish battleground will be covered in another piece.)

I’ve been told by several well-placed sources that the Conservatives have opted to make a virtue out of necessity here: some of the English seats that have received extra spending are those that have very big Labour majorities but that are demographically similar to those with smaller ones. The governing party thinks it might be able to take these if absolutely everything goes to plan – and seeing as it can’t splash the cash in lower-hanging fruit in Wales, its opted to go for it in England on the off-chance.

Right, that’s enough methodology; here are the results. Here’s where the Conservatives are targeting, ordered by their majority in 2017, from smallest to largest, based on where the government is spending money:

Crewe and Nantwich

Newcastle-under-Lyme

Barrow-in-Furness

Keighley

Ashfield

Bishop Auckland

Peterborough

Bedford

Ipswich

Stockton South

Penistone and Stockbridge

Lincoln

Warrington South

Wakefield

Wolverhampton South West

Wrexham

Dewsbury

Vale Of Clwyd

Blackpool South

Great Grimsby

Gower

Darlington

Cardiff North

Newport West

Bolton North East

Scunthorpe

Workington

Delyn

Bridgend

Don Valley

Clwyd South

Alyn and Deeside

West Bromwich West

Wolverhampton North East

Ynys Mon

Oldham East

Hartlepool

Blyth Valley

Warrington North

West Bromwich East

Chesterfield

Stockton North

Newport East

Walsall South

Redcar

Wolverhampton South East

Doncaster Central

Torfaen

Cardiff West

Swansea West

Pontypridd

Caerphilly

Cardiff South and Penarth

Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford

Llanelli

Rotherham

Islwyn

Barnsley East

Neath

Doncaster North

Stockport

St Helens North

Blaenau Gwent

Ogmore

Swansea East

Oldham West

Barnsley Central

Cynon Valley

Rhondda

Cardiff Central

Preston

St Helens South

Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney

Aberavon

Halton

Birkenhead

There’s a lot to go over here. The first is that, unsurprisingly, this list looks a lot like, but is not identical to, if I’d just pulled out the list of the most marginal Labour seats. While one’s first instinct is to look at some of these names and some of these majorities and think that this looks like a crazy set of targets, the reality of the 2017 result is that it bequeathed an electoral map in which the number of genuine marginal seats on either side was pretty slim and the number of Conservative targets was slimmer still.

Most of the seats missing from a straightforward list of the most marginal seats are not a surprise either: Kensington, Stroud and Canterbury are the only absences from the top ten. All have more Remainers than the national average and all are the types of seats that the government is willing to risk in order to do significantly better in Hartlepool than it has done previously. While this is a useful and fun exercise in terms of seeing the wider battleground, it isn’t particularly surprising. But doing the same with Conservative-held seats to produce a list of defensive targets produces the following, again ordered from smallest to largest by their majority in 2017:

St Ives

Thurrock

Hastings

Preseli Pembrokeshire

Calder Valley

Norwich North

Broxtowe

Telford

Bolton West

Northampton North

Aberconwy

Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland

Mansfield

Milton Keynes South

Pendle

Northampton South

Milton Keynes North

Camborne and Redruth

Copeland

Morley and Outwood

Vale of Glamorgan

Corby

Blackpool North

Crawley

Worcester

Swindon South

North East Derbyshire

Carlisle

Southport

Darwen and Rossendale

Truro and Falmouth

Walsall North

Scarborough and Whitby

Stevenage

Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire

Loughborough

Cheadle

Clwyd West

Erewash

Sherwood

Nuneaton

Colchester

Halesowen and Rowley Regis

Wells

Thanet South

East Devon

South Ribble

Swindon North

Harlow

Bournemouth East

Redditch

Monmouth

Bournemouth West

Great Yarmouth

Brecon and Radnorshire

Burton

Montgomeryshire

Brigg and Goole

Torbay

Boston and Skegness

Very few surprises in terms of the Labour-Conservative battlegrounds. But noteworthy is that – as is echoed privately by many Conservatives from the area – the government regards Claire Wright, of the independent campaign in East Devon, as a serious challenger for the seat. Interesting, too, is where the government places the Conservative-Liberal Democrat battleground: well away from the seats that the Liberal Democrats are heavily resourcing, and deep into Conservative territory.

Although the circumstances of a by-election made Brecon and Radnorshire a must-win for the Lib Dems, it is at the far reaches of their ambitions in a general election. The likes of Wells, which voted to Leave, where the incumbent Conservative MP James Heappey has a large majority and is generally believed by both parties to be well-organised and well dug-in, is a surprising seat on the list.

Still, it confirms what the government’s overarching approach suggests: that its political strategy presupposes double-digit losses from the Liberal Democrats – but bets that it can win in some very unlikely Labour seats to make up the gap.

Stephen Bush is political editor of the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.