Less than three weeks to go until polling day and this is still one of the most unpredictable elections anyone can remember. Indeed Ed Balls quipped, on a visit to Ipswich yesterday, that even when people were wrong in the past, they were collectively wrong. Wilson was incorrectly expected to win in 1970. Kinnock likewise in 1992. Cameron was expected to get a majority in 2010.
Anyone who tells you they know what will happen in this election is lying. But what we can do is start to predict individual seats. There are some really exciting changes happening, which will make election night one of tears of joy and anguish.
Here are my tips for seats that will – or won’t – change hands unexpectedly.
Castle Point – The Tories have held Castle Point for every election since 1983, with the exception of 1997 when Labour took the seat for four short years. Bob Spink quit the Tories in 2008 and briefly joined UKIP, before resigning the whip and sitting as an independent MP. He lost to Tory Rebecca Harris in 2010. Yet UKIP’s Jamie Huntman might well be on course to become a UKIP MP, in what has suddenly become a close fight between the Tories and UKIP. UKIP gain.
Harlow – This seat is a classic bell weather seat. Labour hold it when they are in Government, the Tories when they’re in power. In 2010 Robert Halfon won the seat from Bill Rammell and many expected it to go back to Labour in this election. But Mr Halfon has been an outspoken and populist MP and privately some Labour officials have conceded that they’ve lost Harlow. Tory hold.
Norwich South – In 2010 the Liberal Democrats narrowly beat sitting Labour MP Charles Clarke, leaving Norwich unrepresented by a Labour MP for the first time in decades. However in a defining example of the dangers of coalition for the junior partner, the Liberal Democrat candidate Simon Wright is likely to come third – or even fourth – in his defence of his seat. This seat is a competitive race between former BBC journalist Clive Lewis for Labour and the Green Party’s Lesley Grahame. It’s apparently very tight, but I suspect that Labour will have done enough here. Labour gain.
Clacton – There is a rule in politics that personal votes are rarely worth more than a handful of votes. Clacton is the seat that proves that every rule has an exception. Douglas Carswell won this seat with 53% of the vote as a Tory in 2010. He then won the seat in a by-election he caused to become UKIP’s first elected MP – with 59% of the vote. Everyone else has given up on this seat, and it would be a massive shock for Mr Carswell not to be returned as the next MP for Clacton – a shock akin to David Cameron losing his Witney seat to the National Health Alliance party. UKIP hold.
Rochester – I’ve heard rumours that there are Tories at Conservative Campaign Headquarters who are so angry with Mark Reckless that they’d be happy to have lost the General Election to a Labour majority, so long as Mark Reckless lost his seat. The Tories have flung everything they have at this seat, and with UKIP unable to maintain the by-election atmosphere they had six months ago, Rochester Castle is likely to be breached. Tory gain.
Finchley & Golders Green – Most of this seat is an approximate successor to the seat that Baroness Thatcher represented for 33 years – yet in 1997 it went red. Labour’s Rudi Vis held the seat from 1997 to 2010, when Mike Freer won with a healthy majority. Yet a shock poll by Lord Ashcroft this week puts Mr Freer 2% behind his Labour opponent Sarah Sackman. Since the poll was carried out over Passover, it is likely flawed, and it would be a huge shock for Labour to have overturned a 12% majority. Because of this poll, and because it was Maggie Thatcher’s seat, expect the media to be shocked that Mike Freer holds on. Tory hold.