On the frontline: the four seats we visited

81 Harlow

The Conservatives have been much more successful in recovering votes since their 1997 defeat in the New Towns than they have nationally, and Harlow is an example of this. The Conservative MP Robert Halfon is an effective campaigner with a good sense of the local and national issues, such as fuel taxation, that strike a chord here, and it will take a tough campaign capable of inspiring ‘aspirational’ and ‘traditional’ Labour voters (the two are not, of course, opposites) to beat Halfon. Labour was narrowly ahead in the 2012 local elections when the party won back control of Harlow council, and in 2013. So far the constituency with Harlow in it (from 1955 to 1974 the seat was called Epping) has gone with the national winner in every election since 1955 with the sole exception of 1979.

Region    Swing needed %    Con 2010 %    Lab 2010 %    LD 2010 %    UKIP 2010 %    Candidate
EE                            5.6                                44.9                      33.7                   13.7                       3.6                 Suzy Stride

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86 Crewe and Nantwich

The by-election in Crewe and Nantwich in 2008 was a disastrous defeat for Labour in a seat that had been held by the party since 1945 – albeit sometimes, as in 1983, thanks to the personal vote of former MP Gwyneth Dunwoody.
The legacy of the by-election affected the result in 2010, helping the Conservatives to a bigger win than they might have expected. In general, the effect of by-elections fades over time and Crewe is probably more winnable for Labour than the raw figures indicate. However, unlike in the by-election, the party will need to appeal not only to the traditional working-class vote in the railway town of Crewe, but also to the increasingly suburban remainder of the seat.

Region    Swing needed %    Con 2010 %    Lab 2010 %    LD 2010 %    UKIP 2010 %    Candidate
NW                          5.9                                 45.8                      34.0                  15.0                      2.8                 Adrian Heald

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89 Finchley and Golders Green

The successor to the Finchley constituency, represented in parliament by Margaret Thatcher from 1959 until 1992, was one of many surprise Labour gains in the London suburbs in 1997, and it stuck with the party until 2010. With a minor assist from boundary changes, Conservative candidate Mike Freer won it fairly easily in 2010. It is the most Jewish constituency in Britain, with 21.1 per cent of the population regarding themselves as Jewish by religion. Barnet borough politics is disputatious and the 2014 borough elections will be hard fought. It is a difficult constituency but the right Labour candidate can triumph, as Andrew Dismore did in the London assembly election in 2012.

Region    Swing needed %    Con 2010 %    Lab 2010 %    LD 2010 %    UKIP 2010 %    Candidate
LN                           6.2                                 46.0                     33.7                     17.0                     1.7              Sarah Sackman

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100 Redditch

Jacqui Smith was one of the more high-profile Labour MPs to be defeated in 2010, but in truth she had done well to hold on with a low swing in 2005 in this quiet Worcestershire New Town that had never elected a Labour MP in any general election prior to 1997 (though it did in Labour’s best by-election result under the Heath government in 1971). Council elections in Redditch, like general elections, are hard-fought Conservative-Labour contests and Labour gained a one-seat majority in 2012. In 2013 UKIP did extremely well, with Labour just ahead on a three-way vote split.

Region    Swing needed %    Con 2010 %    Lab 2010 %    LD 2010 %    UKIP 2010 %    Candidate
WM                    6.6                                43.5                    30.3                      17.6                       3.4                    Rebecca Blake

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Lewis Baston is senior research fellow at Democratic Audit and a contributing editor to Progress. He has profiled all Frontline 40 seats and reviews the polls each month here as part of the Campaign for a Labour Majority. He tweets @lewis_baston

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