General election: 25 key seats where tactical voting could help deliver new Brexit referendum

New campaign urges Remain supporters to make their votes count, as record numbers sign up for 12 December poll

Andrew Woodcock
Political Editor
Thursday 12 December 2019 08:35
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General election: Registering people to vote in the street

Campaigners for a Final Say referendum have released a list of 25 key general election seats where tactical voting could block a Conservative majority and pave the way for Brexit to be put back in the hands of the people.

Based on recent polling – which includes an unpublished survey of tens of thousands of voters conducted under the MRP system which allows constituency-level forecasts – it is believed that these constituencies are on a knife-edge, with tactical voting likely to be decisive if it is deployed in the right way.

The polling revealed that large numbers of Remain voters in the battleground seats are at risk of wasting their vote on candidates heading for third place, thus letting in Conservatives who will back Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal and try to block a second referendum.

The new Vote for a Final Say group is recommending that pro-referendum voters back Labour candidates in 17 constituencies, Liberal Democrats in seven and the Scottish National Party in one.

Among recommendations are Liberal Democrat candidates in Cambridgeshire South, Finchley and Golders Green, and Wimbledon, in all of which the party came third in 2017 and would have to leapfrog both Labour and Conservatives to win, as well as Cheadle, Cheltenham, St Albans and Winchester, where Jo Swinson is hoping her candidates will come from second place to unseat Tories.

Cambridgeshire South is the former seat of pro-EU politician Heidi Allen, who defected from the Tories to Change UK, and later joined the Lib Dems, before announcing she would not stand in the snap election.

And Finchley and Golders Green is being contested by Luciana Berger, who joined the Lib Dems after quitting Labour over allegations of antisemitism against Jeremy Corbyn’s party. She is widely tipped to make a strong challenge to the Tories in a seat with a large Jewish community.

The list was released as the deadline passed to register to vote in the general election, with the group urging people who have secured their vote in the past few weeks to make sure they use it on 12 December.

Even before what is believed to have been a massive last-minute rush of applications on the final day, applications to register have broken all records, with more than 2 million made by younger voters who are disproportionately in favour of the UK remaining in the European Union.

In all, some 3,850,860 people applied between the election being called on 29 October and the registration deadline at midnight on Tuesday, with a record 659,666 filing applications on the final day.

But as many as 1.2 million of the applications are likely to be duplicate entries by people already on the electoral roll, meaning that millions more will miss out on their chance to vote on 12 December.

The Electoral Commission has estimated that up to 9.4 million people were not registered, or were recorded at an old address.

The Vote for a Final Say group includes former personnel from the People’s Vote campaign, which was thrown into disarray after the dismissal of senior officials prompted a walkout by staff.

The group is working with young activists from For our Future’s Sake, a campaign to ensure that the voice of young people is heard in the battle for a public vote.

Jo Swinson on the campaign trail with Luciana Berger

Former director of People’s Vote James McGrory, now a senior adviser to Vote for a Final Say, said: “Time is running out to stop Boris Johnson getting a landslide. There have been too many arguments about who has the best tactical voting website or polling data and not enough action.

“We can all agree that these 25 seats are critical if we’re to prevent Brextremist Tories securing total power. Now is the time for everyone to roll their sleeves up and start fighting back.”

As well as recommending votes for Lib Dem candidates in seven target seats, the group urges voters in Ochil and South Perthshire to back the Scottish National Party’s John Nicolson. He is hoping to overturn a Conservative majority of 3,359 votes.

But the other 17 are Labour-held seats where Jeremy Corbyn’s party is attempting to fight off a challenge from the Conservatives.

In a reflection of Labour’s struggle to make a dent in the Tory lead in the polls, they do not even include its most marginal constituencies like Kensington, Dudley North and Newcastle-under-Lyme, suggesting that anti-Brexit campaigners fear Mr Johnson is set to sweep up a number of gains from Mr Corbyn’s party.

Mr Johnson would have to improve by nine on the tally of 317 seats won by Theresa May in 2017 to hit the magic number of 326 guaranteeing him an overall majority in the House of Commons.

Labour seats on the Vote for a Final Say list include some of the so-called Workington Man seats in the north of England and midlands, where Tories are hoping to win over working-class Leave supporters, such as Wakefield, Warrington South and Sedgefield. The latter is Tony Blair’s old seat where strongly anti-Brexit Labour MP Phil Wilson is defending a 14.6 per cent majority.

Others include Birmingham Northfield, Bristol North West, Bury North, Canterbury, Cardiff North, Croydon Central, Eltham, Enfield Southgate, Gower, Portsmouth South, Reading East, Warwick and Leamington, Weaver Vale and Wirral West.

In Canterbury, where Ms Swinson controversially overruled local activists who wanted to stand aside in favour of Labour’s pro-EU Rosie Duffield, the campaign advises Remain supporters to shun the Lib Dem candidate and back Ms Duffield.

Rosie Duffield, Labour candidate for Canterbury

Vote for a Final Say has raised thousands of pounds to advertise tactical voting advice in these seats.

This will be targeted particularly at young people, working class women and ethnic minorities, who the campaign believes are among the groups which are generally least likely to participate in elections but can be mobilised when it becomes clear that the stakes are so high.

Amanda Chetwynd-Cowieson, the co-founder of youth referendum campaign For our Future’s Sake, said: “More than a million young people have registered to vote in this generation-defining election over the last few days. Now we must make sure people use those votes – and use them wisely.

“These 25 seats could decide whether Boris Johnson gets the majority he needs to do whatever he wants of us having the chance to stop him through a Final Say referendum. Young people are traditionally the group of voters least likely take part in elections but we also have the most to lose. In constituencies where just a few hundred people could make all the difference, it is vital we make our voices heard.”

Analysis of applications to register to vote conducted by the Electoral Reform Society found that the 3,191,193 entries by midnight on Monday equates to 114,000 per day and was 38 per cent higher than in the same period before the 2017 election, when 68,000 a day put their names forward.

Of this year’s applications so far, 2,125,064 applications (67 per cent of the total) were made by people aged 34 or under.

The complete list of 25 constituencies, with the recommended candidate for pro-Remain voters, is as follows:

Birmingham Northfield, Richard Burden (Lab)

Bristol North West, Darren Jones (Lab)

Bury North, James Frith (Lab)

Cambridgeshire South, Ian Sollom (LD)

Canterbury, Rosie Duffield (Lab)

Cardiff North, Anna McMorrin (Lab)

Cheadle, Tom Morrison (LD)

Cheltenham, Max Wilkinson (LD)

Croydon Central, Sarah Jones (Lab)

Eltham, Clive Efford (Lab)

Enfield Southgate, Bambos Charalambous (Lab)

Finchley and Golders Green, Luciana Berger (LD)

Gower, Tonia Antoniazzi (Lab)

Ochil and South Perthshire, John Nicolson (SNP)

Portsmouth South, Stephen Morgan (Lab)

Reading East, Matt Rodda (Lab)

Sedgefield, Phil Wilson (Lab)

St Albans, Daisy Cooper (LD)

Wakefield, Mary Creagh (Lab)

Warrington South, Faisal Rashid (Lab)

Warwick and Leamington, Matt Western (Lab)

Weaver Vale, Mike Amesbury (Lab)

Wimbledon, Paul Kohler (LD)

Winchester, Paula Ferguson (LD)

Wirral West, Margaret Greenwood (Lab)

A so-called “youthquake” in 2017 saw a higher proportion of young people than usual take part in the general election, and was credited by some for Labour’s unexpectedly strong performance.

And as the cut-off for registration grew closer, an even greater proportion of young people registered. On Tuesday, 459,668 people aged 34 or under filed applications to vote - accounting for 70 per cent of those who applied on the last day before the deadline.

Dr Jess Garland, director of policy and research at the Electoral Reform Society, said: “This surge in registrations is highly encouraging, given the huge numbers missing from the electoral roll. We’re seeing a major uplift in new registrations compared to the last election, with large numbers of young people signing up too – a traditionally under-registered demographic.

“It’s vital we close the demographic divides in terms of who is registered. This is a strong start.”

She added: “However, since you cannot check whether you’re registered already, we estimate over a million of the registrations we’ve seen are likely to be duplicates. We urgently need to update our archaic registration system to bring in the ‘missing millions’.”

The Electoral Reform Society is calling for a “registration revolution”, in which citizens are automatically registered to vote so applying is no longer necessary.

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