At the 2017 General Election, the results for the South East were:
The seats to watch on election night 2019 are: Southampton Itchen, Canterbury, Hastings and Rye, Oxford West and Abingdon, Portsmouth South, East Bourne, Milton Keynes South and Milton Keynes North.
This region is the UK’s largest in terms of the number of seats, with 84. The Conservatives traditionally perform very well here, but they lost a total of six seats in 2017, including Canterbury, which came to symbolise the shifts that took place in that election, as it had been held by the Conservatives since World War 1. The sudden change happened because of the constituency’s relatively high remain vote, the increase in Labour’s share is particularly noticeable in the two major towns of Whitstable and Canterbury. In the end, the seat was very close, won by 183 votes, so will be fiercely fought this time. YouGov’s MRP has Labour holding the seat, but a lot depends on how well the Liberal Democrat candidate performs, which would split the remain vote, something that didn’t happen in 2017.
Labour made four gains in this region in 2017, including Portsmouth South, Reading East and Brighton Kemptown, in addition to Canterbury. They will be looking to hold these, though Canterbury will be tough, as we have mentioned, and will target seats such as Southampton Itchen, which they were within a whisker of snatching in 2017, ultimately losing out by 31 votes. Another interesting contest will occur in Hastings and Rye, where former Home Secretary Amber Rudd has stood down at this election, having been returned in 2017 by just 346 votes.
However, making this gain will prove challenging in a seat that was 56% in favour of Leave last time. The next two Labour targets are both Milton Keynes seats, South and North, which were remarkably similar last time, both being won by fewer than 2,000 votes by the Conservatives, ahead of Labour. Here, solid Remain votes in both constituencies will be complemented by the general trend of London’s spreading influence in this region. The rise of commuter towns that ring London has meant these areas have been trending towards Labour in recent years, and they stand a reasonable chance of gaining at least one of these seats this election, and it will be interesting to keep an eye on.
The Liberal Democrats will harbour some hopes of gaining Lewes, a seat where they finished 5,508 votes behind the Conservatives, putting it just outside the traditional definition of marginal, at a majority of 10.1%. The seat was 53% in favour of Remain in 2016. Despite this, the Conservatives were able to pull away slightly from the Liberal Democrats last time, achieving a swing of 4% in their favour, mainly benefitting from UKIP, who gained 10.7% in 2015, not putting up a candidate. Gaining this seems unlikely, so they will be looking to at least hold onto Oxford West and Abingdon, as well as Eastbourne, two seats they gained in 2017 by the narrow margins of 816 and 1,609 votes, respectively. They will likely hold the former, but Eastbourne presents more of a challenge, as it voted 57.6% for Leave in the referendum.
The Greens are set to hold on to their single-seat, Brighton Pavilion, where Caroline Lucas is seeking re-election. She holds a majority of nearly 14,000 ahead of Labour, and will be helped by the Remain alliance being active in this seat, meaning the Liberal Democrats have agreed not to stand.
In conclusion, the Conservatives have some tough defences, and could lose a few more seats, but most constituencies are uncompetitive due to the large majorities the Conservatives hold. The Liberal Democrats cannot hope for any gains, and face two difficult defences of the seats they do hold. Labour, on the other hand, have the potential to make several gains, including the two Milton Keynes seats. However, they also have some defending to do in seats such as Canterbury, so a bad day for them could see a further cementing of the Conservative hegemony in this region.