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Nick Faith: Housing - a key issue at the next election in urban marginals

Nick Faith is Director of Communications at Policy Exchange.  Follow Nick on Twitter.

My brother-in-law to be is a self confessed ‘spreadsheet monkey’. He’s also politically extremely savvy and has come up with a very interesting piece of analysis that highlights the Conservative Party’s urban problem.

He has produced a table listing 32 marginal seats that the Tories ought to be targeting at the next election (defined as requiring a 5% or under swing from red or yellow to blue). He has then created an urbanity index by overlaying 2001 Census data on population density – a proxy measure for urbanity – onto these marginal seats.

ConstituencyWin fromSwing to WinUrbanityQuartile
Tooting Labour 5.00 83.61 4
Hampstead and Kilburn Labour 0.10 62.79 4
Sutton and Cheam Liberal 3.30 48.18 4
Southampton Itchen Labour 0.40


Eltham Labour 4.00 40.60 4
Plymouth Moor View Labour 3.80 37.28 4
Dudley North Labour 1.70 34.76 4
Walsall North Labour 2.70 34.07 4
Birmingham Edgbaston Labour 3.10 32.02 3
Great Grimsby Labour 2.20 31.20 3
Bradford East Liberal 0.90 30.33 3
Nottingham South Labour 4.30 29.20 3
Walsall South Labour 4.30 27.99 3
Solihull Liberal 0.30 27.24 3
Derby North Labour 1.40 27.11 3
Norwich South Liberal 0.70 24.82 3
Gedling Labour 3.90 24.16 2
Telford Labour 2.40 17.63 2
Halifax Labour 3.40 16.42 2
Morley and Outwood Labour 2.30 12.92 2
Bolton West Labour 0.20 11.78 2
Wirral South Labour 1.30 11.66 2
Newcastle-under-Lyme Labour 3.60 10.72 2
Oldham East and Saddleworth Labour 0.20 8.30 2
Wakefield Labour 3.60 6.44 1
Dorset Mid and Poole North Liberal 0.60 5.09 1
Middlesbrough South and Clevel Labour 3.60 4.70 1
Wells Liberal 1.40 1.66 1
Chippenham Liberal 4.70 1.63 1
St Ives Liberal 3.70 1.57 1
St Austell and Newquay Liberal 2.80 1.25 1
Somerton and Frome Liberal 3.00 1.07 1

The results make grim reading for Downing Street. The urban challenge facing the Conservatives represents more of a mountain than a molehill. Electoral calculus dictates that the Tories need to win 19 of these marginal seats to secure an overall majority at the next election. Even if the least urban constituencies (those listed in Quartiles 1 and 2) – from Nottingham’s Gedling and the New Town of Telford, down to Cider-producing Somerton & Frome – went to the Conservatives, this would still leave the party some three short of an overall majority.

And, this is exacerbated by second order issues. Urban areas are more likely to contain higher numbers of ethnic minority voters. As the graph below indicates, all other things being equal, the less urban the area, the more white the population tends to be.

Faced with the twin urban/ethnicity challenge what can the Prime Minister do to appeal to voters living in these key constituencies?

From a presentation perspective a trip or two to these key seats wouldn’t do any harm. In a series of focus groups that Policy Exchange hosted as part of our Northern Lights report, people said they knew that Tony Blair’s seaside trips were mainly PR stunts but nonetheless they liked the fact that he bothered to venture outside the Westminster village to meet hard working people up and down the country.

Policy should, however, be the key focus. The Prime Minister has begun to start talking about cost of living issues such as energy bills and fuel prices. He’s right to do so. Our research found that these were the biggest concerns facing ordinary working people across the country, regardless of income, age, gender and voting intention. A focus on greener but cheaper climate policies such as abandoning the EU’s hugely expensive and unnecessary Renewable Energy Directive could save billions which could in turn be used to put pressure on the energy companies to reduce electricity bills.

There also needs to be a narrative built around policy areas which seem authentic coming from the mouths of Conservative politicians. Before the 2010 election, many people didn’t quite believe the Tories when they promised to protect the NHS budget. The subsequent healthcare reforms have rightly or wrongly been used by Labour to reinforce the image that “you cannot trust the Tories on the NHS”. Policies must be seen as realistic and authentic if they are to receive widespread public support.

Housing would be one area of policy that I would focus my efforts were I David Cameron trying to appeal to swing voters in urban areas.

Policy Exchange polling found that the Tory lead among those who own their own house outright is +15%. Among those buying their house through a mortgage it is +9%. Among those renting from a private landlord it is -14% and for those renting from a local authority it is -39%. The average age of someone buying their first property is now 37.

Housing is not just a key concern for younger voters. One of the greatest worries for older generations is the fear that their children will not be able to get on in life. Home ownership transcends class divides. A place to call home is very important to us Brits. If younger generations are unable to afford to buy a place of their own their parents will increasingly start to ask whether the government is doing all it can to help future generations.

The construction of thousands of new, good quality homes – especially in northern, urban areas – provides the Tories with a strong message for those swing voters in the key, urban marginals. Not only that, it’s an issue that sounds authentic.


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