The Tories need to make big gains in the north of England if they are to win a Commons majority but face an uphill struggle.
1. Struggle in the North: The Tory challenge
Large swaths of the the urban north are Tory-free zones, especially after five years of austerity. Their task will be made harder as disgruntled Lib Dems are more likely to switch back to Labour than to them. Then there is Ukip. Will Nigel Farage's successes split the centre-right vote, or take support from Labour, or both? In Tory-held constituencies such as Pudsey – where Labour came second in 2010, and the Lib Dems were a decent third – they could lose if Lib Dem deserters return to Labour in numbers. In Tory targets such as Bolton West, which Labour holds with a majority of just 92, Lib Dem returners could well help keep the hyper-marginal seat for Labour. Berwick-upon-Tweed, however, is an example of where the Tories (a good second in 2010, with Labour well behind) could make a gain if the Lib Dem incumbent's vote collapses.
Seats where Tories could struggle and Labour could take control:
Pudsey Conservative majority 1,659 (2010). Con 38.5%, Lab 35.1%, Lib Dem 20.8%, Ukip 2.5%
Dewsbury Conservative majority 1,526 (2010). Con 35%, Lab 32.2%, LD 16.9%
Seats where Tories will struggle to make gains against Labour in their northern targets:
Bolton West Labour majority 92 (2010). Lab 38.5%, Con 38.3%, Lib Dem 17.2%, Ukip 4%
Middlesbrough South East and Cleveland Labour majority 1,677 (2010). Lab 39.2%, Con 35.6%, Lib Dem 15.9%, Ukip 4.1%, BNP 3.4%
Seats where Tories could gain if the Lib Dem vote collapses in its northern strongholds:
Berwick-upon-Tweed Liberal Democrat majority 2,690 (2010). LD 43.7%, Con 36.7%, Lab 13.3%, BNP 3.2%, Ukip 3.2%
2. Midlands marginals: The key battleground
Many believe the Midlands is where the election will be decided. It has 39 marginals – most of them close Tory versus Labour contests. Here both the main parties believe the argument will be all about the economy. The Tories are hopeful that in the more prosperous areas, the recovery will boost their vote. But Labour thinks its message about falling real wages and living standards will resonate strongly. The Tories are eyeing seats like Labour-held marginal Birmingham Northfield and Walsall North where the Conservatives came a close second in both 2010. But Ukip and the BNP had a strong presence in the two seats in 2010, and could complicate the picture. Labour is hoping to take Tory-held marginals like Nuneaton and Cannock Chase, if Lib Dems deserters switch to them and Ukip splits the centre-right vote.
Seats where the Tories could do well on the back of economic growth, if Ukip and BNP don't split their vote:
Birmingham Northfield Labour majority 2,782 (2010). Lab 40.3%, Con 33.6%, LD 15.7%, BNP 5.5%, Ukip 3.3%
Walsall North Labour majority 990 (2010). Lab 37%, Con 34.3%, LD 13.1%, BNP 8.1%, Ukip 4.8%
Seats where Labour could topple the Tories with help of returning Lib Dems:
Nuneaton Conservative majority 2,069 (2010). Con 41.5%, Lab 36.9%, LD 15.3%, BNP 6.3%
Cannock Chase Conservative majority 3,195 (2010). Con 40.1%, Lab 33.1%, LD 17%, BNP 4.8%, Ukip 3.5%
3. The West Country challenge: Lib Dems at bay
The Tories need to make strong gains against the Lib Dems in the west country, to make up for a likely lack of a breakthrough in the north. But Lib Dem resilience, the rise of Ukip, and Labour tactical voting could mean their successes are limited. David Cameron's party look well placed to topple Lib Dem incumbents in seats like Mid Dorset and North Poole, and St Austell and Newquay, where Labour was a distant third in 2010. Lib Dems are masters at digging in, however, and they hope that strong local organisation in seats like St Ives, together with the help of Labour supporters who may well hold their noses and cross the Lib Dem box to keep a Tory out, could allow them to see off a good few challenges. Ukip may also help to depress the Conservatives' tally.
Seats where Tories could topple Lib Dems:
Mid Dorset and North Poole Liberal Democrat majority 269 (2010). LD 45.1%, Con 44.5%, Lab 5.9%, Ukip 4.9%
St Austell and Newquay Liberal Democrat majority 1,312 (2010). LD 42.7%, Con 40%, Lab 7%, Ukip 3.7%, BNP 2.2%
Seats where tactical voting by Labour supporters for Lib Dems and Ukip could help the Lib Dems defend seats:
St Ives Liberal Democrat majority 1,719 (2010). LD 42.7%, Con 39%, Lab 8.2%, Ukip 5.6%, Green 2.6%
North Cornwall Liberal Democrat majority 2,981 (2010). LD 48.1%, Con 41.7%, Ukip 4.9%, Lab 4.2%
4. The Ukip fringe: Farage plots his entry
Ukip's rise has made the outcome of the election, and the results in dozens of seats across the country, more unpredictable than in the past. If it wins two imminent byelections caused by Tory defections (Clacton, and Rochester and Strood), it will go into the campaign on a roll and, probably, as the third biggest party in the polls. In dozens of seats it could disturb the best laid plans of the Tories, Labour and the Lib Dems, and throw the predictions of the pundits way off. It is confident of winning a handful of seats outright. Farage is standing in Tory-held Thanet South, where he is confident of leapfrogging all three established Westminster parties, to win. Ukip also hopes to add Boston and Skegness, where it polled 9.5% of the vote and the BNP secured 5.3% in 2010, from the Tories. It could also threaten Labour in seats like Great Grimsby where it polled 6.2% of the vote in 2010 and is making strides.
Seats where Ukip threatens the Tories:
Thanet South (where Nigel Farage is standing for Ukip). Conservative majority 7,617 (2010). Con 48%, Lab 31.4%, LD 15.1%, Ukip 5.5%
Boston and Skegness Conservative majority 7,617 (2010). Con 49.4%, Lab 20.6%, LD 14.6%, Ukip 9.5%, BNP 5.3%
Seats where Ukip threatens Labour:
Great Grimsby Labour majority 714 (2010). Lab 32.7%, Con 30.5%, LD 22.4%, Ukip 6.2%, BNP 4.6%, Ind 2.5%
Plymouth Moor View Lab majority 1,588 (2010). Lab 37.2%, Con 33.3%, LD 16.9%, Ukip 7.7%, BNP 3.5%
5. The battle for the capital: London split
The Conservatives underperformed in the capital in 2010 and want to use their record on the economy – and the commitment by Labour and the Lib Dems to a mansion tax – to seduce voters back, particularly in the wealthier areas and suburbs. Labour did well in the May local elections, and believes it can take seats both from the Lib Dems, and perhaps even the odd one, like Enfield North, from the Tories. The Lib Dems look vulnerable to Labour in seats like Brent Central, where Sarah Teather is stepping down, and Hornsey and Wood Green. The Tories believe that many metropolitan types will see David Cameron as the best defender of their interests, and hope to win Labour-held seats like Tooting and Hammersmith. There are 73 Westminster seats in Greater London: 38 Labour, 28 Tory, and 7 Lib Dem. Tory and Labour may gain at the Lib Dems' expense, but the capital is ikely to remain fairly evenly split between the big two.
Seats where Labour may gain at the expense of Lib Dems:
Brent Central Liberal Democrat majority 1,345 (2010). LD 44.2%, Lab 41.2%, Con 11.2%, Green 1.5%
Hornsey and Wood Green. LD Majority 6,875 (2010). LD 46.5%, Lab 34%, Con 16.7%, Green 2.3%
Seats Labour hopes to win from Tories:
Enfield North Conservative majority 1,692 (2010). Con 42.3%, Lab 38.5%, LD 12.2%, Ukip 2.1%
Seats where Tories hope to make gains off Labour:
Tooting Labour majority 2,524 (2010). Lab 43.5%, Con 38.5%, LD 14%, Green 1.2%, Ukip 1.2%.
Hammersmith Labour majority 3,549 (2010). Lab 43.9%, Con 36.4%, LD 15.9%, Green 1.5%, Ukip 1.2%
6. The elusive south-east: Labour's southern discomfort
As with the Tories in the north, Labour needs to break through in the south to win a decent majority. But it does not feel like 1997, when Tony Blair swept through the former Tory strongholds to win a landslide. Labour is eyeing seats like Lib-Dem held Norwich South, where it was second in 2010 and has a strong base. It also believes it could win in outposts like Hastings and Rye, where it lost out narrowly to the Tories last time, if Lib Dems come back to the fold. But David Cameron's plans for tax cuts by 2020, announced at last week's party conference, are designed to appeal where Ed Miliband's centre-left message may have less resonance. The Conservatives could well make gains in Lib Dem seats like Eastbourne and Portsmouth South, countering any small Labour gains.
Seats where Labour could make gains off Lib Dems:
Norwich South Liberal Democrat majority 310 (2010). LD 29.4%, Labour 28.7%, Con 22.9%, Green 14.9%
Seats where Labour could gain off the Tories:
Hastings and Rye Conservative majority 1,993 (2010). Con 41.1%, Lab 37.1%, LD 15.7%, Ukip 2.8%
Seats where the Tories could consolidate:
Eastbourne Liberal Democrat majority 3,434 (2010). LD 47.3%, Con 40.7%, Lab 4.8%, Ukip 2.5%
Portsmouth South Liberal Democrat majority 5,200 (2010). LD 45.9%, Con 33.3%, Lab 13.7%, Ukip 2.1%
7. Scotland chooses again: after the referendum
The independence referendum has thrown everything up in the air as far as the destiny of Scotland's 59 Westminster seats are concerned. If Scottish MPs are to be downgraded to second-class citizens in Westminster, how will that affect the way the Scots choose the men and women they send to London? Polls suggest that, having failed to get their supporters to back the union, Labour has lost a mass of support, and could cede as many as 20 of its 41 seats to the SNP. The Lib Dems, who currently have 11, are also likely to suffer for being in government with the Tories, who have only one Scottish seat to lose. The SNP will need to make huge gains to win any seats from Labour but seem confident of doing so in Glasgow and the central belt. The Tories are hopeful, however, that they can enjoy a mini-revival, winning seats from the Lib Dems such as Aberdeenshire West and Kincardine.
Seats where Labour could lose out to the SNP if there a huge move towards them:
Glasgow East Labour majority 11,840 (2010). Lab 61.6%, SNP 24.7%,LD 5%, Con 4.5%, BNP 2.1%
Glasgow Central Labour majority 10,551 (2010). Lab 52%, SNP 17.5%, Lib Dem 16.4%, Con 7.1%
Seats where Lib Dems could lose out to the Tories or SNP:
Aberdeenshire West and Kincardine Liberal Democrat majority 3,684 (2010). LD 38.4%, Con 30.3%, SNP 15.7%, Lab 13.6%
Seats where Lib Dems could lose out to the Tories, SNP, or Labour:
Argyll and Bute Liberal Democrat majority 3,431 (2010). LD 31.6%, Con 24%, Lab 22.7%, SNP 18.9%
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