General election 2024: A landscape transformed

Come Friday, if the polls are correct, we will see a vast redrawing of the electoral map. Where seats are retained and where they change hands will be instructive in analysing what went wrong, or right, for the campaigns and for getting an early sense of the trends that will develop over the course of the Parliament.

English seats to watch

For Labour simply to become the largest party in the House of Commons, a national swing of eight points is needed, which would see places like Chelsea & Fulham, Bournemouth East and Stevenage return Labour MPs. If Labour is on track for an outright majority, Conservative seats like Buckingham & Bletchley, Basingstoke, Great Grimsby, and Cleethorpes will need to comfortably fall into their column, with swings of some 12 points.

With the polls and commentary leaning heavily towards an enormous Labour landslide, it’s easy to forget that the 12.7 swing the party needs for a majority of just one MP would be larger than Tony Blair secured in 1997. Just a year ago, this was still seen as a major obstacle for Labour. Now it’s looking more than achievable. In large part this is due to the party regaining support that it haemorrhaged in 2019, as voters across the midlands and north rejected Jeremy Corbyn and rewarded Boris Johnson for his commitment to Brexit. If Labour wins seats in the north west, such as Burnley, Bury (south and north) and Bolton North West, then it will feel confident that the so-called “Red Wall” is being rebuilt.

The Liberal Democrats are likely to achieve around the same popular vote as the 2019 general election – 11.6 %. Five years ago, this translated to just 11 MPs, but now, thanks to a fall in support for the Conservatives in the south east and south west, better distribution of their votes, and by encouraging tactical voting, they could more than quadruple their representation in Parliament. They will be targeting seats in Conservative heartlands in the south like the seats of Justice Secretary Alex Chalk in Cheltenham and Science Secretary Michelle Donelan in Chippenham.

Nigel Farage’s return to UK politics has complicated matters significantly for the Conservatives. Farage is now likely to overturn a massive Conservative majority in Clacton, and Lee Anderson is on course to win Ashfield. Reform could pick up Great Yarmouth, Louth and Horncastle, and Basildon and Billericay all from the Conservatives. More importantly, Reform is polling second in some 125 constituencies and could see them challenge in Barnsley North, South Holland and The Deepings, Havant, and Folkestone and Hythe, splitting the right wing vote and potentially paving the way for Labour or the Liberal Democrats if they aren’t successful themselves.

What next?

Much of the focus on Thursday evening will be on the here and now, but the detail of the results will have ramifications that go beyond an immediate change in government. If the Conservatives are wiped out, they will need to pick their leader from a pool of possibly fewer than 100 MPs, which may not include leadership hopefuls like Grant Shapps and Penny Mourdant. Whoever prevails will have the daunting task of rebuilding the party so it can begin to be electorally competitive again whilst defending its right flank from, potentially, Nigel Farage MP.

For Labour, it will be looking closely at its margin of victory in target seats. A spread of very narrow victories may cause nervousness in the party as it looks for signs that it can secure at least two terms in office. The size of MPs’ majorities can also provide clues as to how they will behave in Parliament: new MPs who narrowly won may be caught between party loyalty and being an outspoken constituency champion to shore up their local support, leading to potential mid-term challenges for Starmer.

For businesses, working with so many new MPs will bring fresh opportunities and challenges. Many longstanding policy experts will no longer be in place, and the task will begin anew to identify potential advocates and detractors.

For advice and support in this new political era, get in touch with Grayling’s Head of Public Affairs, Alan Boyd-Hall.