Election campaign midpoint: Lonely Sunak fights battle on three fronts

Politics

This week the leaders were selling their visions to voters as they launched their manifestos, and Sunak and Starmer went head to head in Grimbsy at the Sky News live election special The Battle For Number 10.

Watch their journeys in the latest week in our animated map below.

This campaign is being fought on new electoral boundaries, with many constituencies undergoing significant changes since 2019.

For the purposes of this analysis, we use notional results based on calculations by Colin Rallings and Michael Thrasher, Honorary Professors at the University of Exeter, which estimate the 2019 election seat results if they had taken place on the new constituency boundaries.

Manifesto week

We’re now more than halfway through the general election campaign and voting will soon be under way as postal ballots start to arrive through letterboxes.

In the final pushes to persuade the electorate, this week the parties have been releasing their manifestos.

The choices they’ve made about where to launch them reveal a narrative of safety.

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The prime minister chose Northamptonshire South in the East Midlands to launch the Conservative manifesto, where they have a 42.4% majority.

This is Andrea Leadsom’s old seat, one of the safer Conservative constituencies in that region. Boundaries have changed over time, but none of its predecessors have been Labour.

But it’s starting to look like there are no safe Tory seats. Recent Sky News/YouGov MRP polling suggests they could lose it, placing this seat as a “toss-up” Conservative hold, i.e. too close to call. If Labour won here, the required swing of 21.2 means they’d be well into decisive majority territory.

On Thursday Sir Keir Starmer chose Manchester Central as the launching pad for Labour’s manifesto. This is Lucy Powell’s seat and her majority is 44.4%.

This is home turf, and a rare venture into Labour heartlands for Starmer, who so far has only visited seats his party already hold three times in his 23 constituency tally – a safe choice for a safety first manifesto.

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Both location choices are key areas of support for the main parties. The Greens did the same in choosing to launch in Hove, the home of their first and only seat in the House of Commons, Brighton Pavilion.

Sir Ed Davey, who has been keeping everyone guessing throughout his campaign, made the curious choice of Hackney South & Shoreditch, a seat that has been Labour since its creation, represented by chair of The Public Accounts Committee Meg Hillier since 2005.

But he was soon back on the attack in Tory territory, following up with a visit to ride a rollercoaster at Thorpe Park in Surrey.

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4:47

Ultimate guide to the election

Where are the troops?

The prime minister has cut a lone figure on the campaign trail, rarely seen with senior members of his party or indeed visiting their seats.

As Sky News revealed earlier this week, his image and Conservative Party branding have often been absent on much of their campaign material. One man who did make an appearance on Andrea Jenkyns’ leaflets for Leeds South West was Reform leader Nigel Farage, and that’s indicative of Sunak’s problem.

In the first two weeks he was fighting on two fronts, but now it seems the new Reform leader has just opened a third. Sunak’s woeful week ended with a YouGov poll suggesting his party could have now even dropped into third place.

So which cabinet ministers in trouble have had a visit from Sunak to boost their chances?

This week, none of them, and since the start of the campaign, just two of them.

Those were Work an Pensions Secretary Mel Stride’s Devon Central in the first week of campaigning, and Michelle Donelan, Science, Innovation and Technology Secretary in Melksham & Devizes in the second week.

He has visited four other ministerial seats, all of which polling has suggested could be at risk. Those were Justin Tomlinson in Swindon North, Jacob Young in Redcar, David Johnston in Didcot & Wantage, and David Rutley in Macclesfield.

So far no visit from the PM to the likes of Penny Mordaunt, Johnny Mercer and Grant Shapps, all of whom are said to be in a close fight for their parliamentary careers.

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4:18

Highlights from Sky’s leaders’ event

Sir Keir Starmer has also spent little time in shadow cabinet constituencies, instead taking many of them on the road with him to seats he’s targeting from the Tories.

Some have also been deployed in key areas where they’re popular, like deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner who has been spending time in the north of England seats that Labour lost to the Conservatives in recent elections. She’s also been hitting “true blue” northern areas like Macclesfield and Altrincham & Sale West, which have never been represented by a Labour MP.

Battle is in the areas that take Labour to a large majority

At Sky’s event on Wednesday, Starmer let slip that he’s expecting to be in government.

A national uniform swing of 8.3 points from the Conservatives would make Labour the largest party, one of 12.7 would deliver them a majority. If Labour uses its vote more efficiently than in the past and gains extra seats in Scotland then it reduces the overall swing required.

So far, Starmer has visited nine target constituencies which require swings of less 8.3 points vs 11 which require a greater vote swing. One of those which he visited this this week was Redcar, where Sunak went last week.

Labour’s candidate Anna Turley is trying to win it back after losing to the Conservatives in 2019. Last week we outlined its importance for each party’s campaign.

He has only visited five places where the swing required is more than 12.7, such as Nuneaton, a Brexit voting constituency in the West Midlands held by Labour in the early Blair years but Conservative since Cameron. The required swing to gain for Labour is 14.5 points.

Twenty-one of the 34 seats that Sunak has visited are Con-Lab battles that he defends. Seven have swings of less than 8.3 for it to be a Labour gain, while eight require swings bigger than 12.7.

Then there is the final front on which Sunak is defending: against the Lib Dems. Sunak has been to 11 seats where he’s fighting them off, such as Horsham in West Sussex this week where the Lib Dems need a swing of 15.5.

All bar two of Davey’s 27 visits have been to targets the Tories defend, where the average swing needed is 22.4 points.


Dr Hannah Bunting is a Sky News elections analyst and Co-director of The Elections Centre at the University of Exeter.


The Data and Forensics team is a multi-skilled unit dedicated to providing transparent journalism from Sky News. We gather, analyse and visualise data to tell data-driven stories. We combine traditional reporting skills with advanced analysis of satellite images, social media and other open source information. Through multimedia storytelling we aim to better explain the world while also showing how our journalism is done.

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