The Road to Downing Street: The Midlands

The road to Downing Street runs through the Midlands. The region comprises several bellwether constituencies that Sunak and Starmer will need to win if they want the keys to No 10, from cities and market towns, to former industrial heartlands and rural shires. Since the 2005 general election, the Conservatives have increased their vote share at every general election in the Midlands. This looks all-but-certain to change in 2024.

Rebuilding the ‘Red Wall’

The 2019 general election saw the Conservatives sweep aside large Labour majorities in its working class strongholds, winning the support of new Conservative voters who were unhappy with Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party and wanted to get Brexit done. This time around, Brexit is done and Sir Keir Starmer is trying to expunge the memory of Corbyn. In traditional bellwether seats such as Nuneaton and Lincoln, the picture is grim for the Conservatives fighting on two fronts against Reform UK and Labour.

The recent local elections saw Labour gain control of several key councils, such as Nuneaton, Redditch, and Tamworth. If these trends play out across the region on 4th July, Labour is on course to regain not only seats it lost in 2019 but those that fell in 2010 after the party’s 13 years in government. It may even win rural seats that Blair failed to take in 1997.

Meanwhile, the Conservative Party faces a further, potentially existential threat in the form of Nigel Farage’s Reform UK, from which Labour will be the main beneficiary. Driven by unease over rising immigration and the failure to deliver on the promise of ‘levelling up’, polling indicates that a significant portion of the Conservatives’ 2019 voter base in the Midlands will switch to Reform UK. Nowhere is more emblematic of this than the East Midlands seat of Ashfield, whose MP Lee Anderson was elected as a Conservative in 2019 but has since defected to the party.

The Liberal Democrats could also regain a foothold in the region since their wipeout at the 2015 general election, with the party primed for gains in the more affluent Shropshire and Herefordshire counties.

Not all a bed of roses for Labour

Labour also faces its own challenges in the region. The Midlands is home to cities and large towns, some with large Muslim and student populations. Labour has faced significant anger from some Muslim voters over its stance on the conflict in Gaza, with the Labour Muslim Network recently warning that many Muslim Labour voters felt “betrayed”. This played out in the recent West Midlands mayoral election, when an independent candidate who ran on a pro-Palestine ticket almost denied Labour the mayoralty, winning 70,000 votes. Labour also faces dissatisfaction from young progressive voters in Midlands cities, driven by their concerns about a perceived lack of ambition on issues like climate change and public spending.

Although the Greens and independents may benefit, this is unlikely to have a material impact on results given the scale of the likely swing to Labour. However, it could be a problem for a midterm Labour government.

Calling businesses in the Midlands

If current polling trends are replicated on 4th July, Labour looks set to form the next government off the back of large gains in the Midlands and elsewhere. The region is home to party bigwigs such as Pat McFadden, Jonathan Ashworth and Shabana Mahmood, which presents an important opportunity to Midlands-based businesses to build on their local ties and demonstrate the value they bring to the region.

If you are a Midlands-based business and want advice about how you can navigate a change in government, get in touch with our Head of Public Affairs, Alan Boyd-Hall.