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Strategic Showdowns: South England Emerges as Key Battleground in Election Campaign Analysis

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Monitoring the election trails: Southern England becomes key focus area

Sky News has analyzed the destinations party leaders have toured during the initial fortnight of the general election campaign, aiming to understand the implications of their travel patterns on their overall campaign tactics.

By Dr. Hannah Bunting, election analyst for Sky News, and Joely Santa Cruz, journalist specializing in data

Sunday, June 9, 2024, 3:

This week, various incidents have impeded the campaign's progress, impacting Rishi Sunak more severely than Sir Keir Starmer. The leaders of both parties made trips to a smaller number of constituencies, focusing on those with tighter electoral margins compared to

Explore their travels on our illustrated map below.

This election is taking place with updated electoral maps, featuring substantial adjustments to numerous districts compared to 2019.

In this analysis, we refer to hypothetical outcomes derived from calculations by Colin Rallings and Michael Thrasher, who are Honorary Professors at the University of Exeter. These calculations project how the 2019 election results might have looked under the recently redrawn constituency lines.

Campaign buses are on the move

This week's schedule was disrupted by the inaugural TV debate and the 80th D-Day anniversary events, limiting campaign activities. This has generally caused difficulties for Sunak, who was broadly censured for his decision to leave Normandy early to resume campaigning.

In addition to his troubles, the latest Sky/YouGov MRP poll from Monday indicated that his party is facing a potential disaster. His failure to appear allowed Reform UK to gain traction at Nigel Farage's event.

This week, although the prime minister and Starmer slowed down their campaign efforts, they both initiated Saturday with the unveiling of new campaign buses.

During his inaugural trip to the North East, Sunak selected the fittingly titled Redcar as the spot to unveil his blue-colored bus. This isn't the first instance the town's name has been playfully used. On the night of the 2019 election, Boris Johnson boasted, "we turned Redcar Blue-car," highlighting a significant defeat for the Labour Party in the region known as the Red Wall.

A shift of just 5.5 percentage points is required for the Labour Party to reclaim Redcar from the Conservatives. According to the Sky/YouGov MRP poll, former MP and Labour candidate Anna Turley is poised to accomplish this. It appears that Redcar won't remain under Conservative control for much longer.

The prime minister subsequently made his way to Blyth & Ashington, a constituency that was initially captured by the Conservatives in 2019. However, recent boundary adjustments suggest it is now more favorable to Labour. According to our MRP poll, Sunak's chances of winning it appear slim, with Reform UK currently polling ahead of the Conservatives for second place.

Starmer teamed up with Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner to unveil her campaign bus. They selected Boris Johnson’s former constituency, Uxbridge & South Ruislip, as the starting point for her extensive 5,000-mile tour across the nation. Interestingly, they initiated this journey in a constituency where the ULEZ might have influenced a 2023 by-election loss, marking the occasion by starting up the diesel engine for the first time in that location.

A quieter week with narrower margins

Starmer has reduced the frequency of his campaign stops, now averaging 0.6 visits per day, a drop from the initial 1.2 visits per day during the first week of the campaign. Likewise, Sunak has also decreased his pace, falling from an average of 2.2 visits each day to 1.1 in the current week.

In the second week of campaigning, the leaders of the two major parties have focused their efforts on more competitive electoral districts. Previously, we reported that the Conservative Party was concentrating on areas where they held a significant lead, with an average majority of 23.5%. This week, that figure has decreased to 18.1%. Despite this, according to the latest Sky/YouGov MRP poll, nearly all of these seats are predicted to be won by either the Labour Party or the Liberal Democrats, except for one. The sole remaining Conservative stronghold, Melksham & Devizes, is currently seen as highly uncertain, with outcomes that could swing in either direction.

In the constituencies that the Conservatives secured in 2019, Labour faces an average majority of 19.5% to overcome based on the seats they targeted last week. In contrast, the average majority in the three constituencies they are focusing on this week is significantly lower, at 8.1%.

Sir Ed Davey is setting a distinctive course by concentrating his efforts on areas that traditionally vote Conservative. Last week, he visited nine locations, all of which are currently under Conservative control and have an average majority of 15.6%. This week, the focus shifted to areas with a larger Conservative majority of 25.3%. Despite these seemingly secure seats, recent polling data indicates they are within reach for Davey's party due to the current challenges facing the Conservatives. His campaign visit to North Shropshire on Tuesday—where his party finished third in the last election—highlights that his strategy is as much about conveying a message as it is about securing a parliamentary seat.

This highlights the difficulty facing the Liberal Democrats, who have just 16 target constituencies where they need a swing of less than 5 percentage points to win.

Local Conflict Zones

During their campaigning efforts, Sunak, Starmer, and Davey have collectively made stops at 54 out of the 650 parliamentary seats.

The Southeast is drawing significant focus, with a total of 12 visits noted. This underscores the critical role the area plays for all English political parties. The region boasts 91 constituencies, featuring the sole Green Party seat in Brighton, along with numerous key targets for the Liberal Democrats.

In the 2019 elections, the Conservatives secured 81 out of 91 seats. However, a recent Sky/YouGov MRP poll indicates that their hold could be significantly reduced to just 37 seats, a loss of more than half. According to the poll, Labour is predicted to claim 28 of these seats, with the remaining ones likely going to the Liberal Democrats.

This is certainly not the worst regional result for the Conservatives, who might face total elimination in both the North East and North West.

Like all surveys, these figures come with a degree of uncertainty and only capture the opinions of voters during the period they were surveyed, which was from May 24 to June 1, prior to Nigel Farage's re-entry into the race.

This week, the notable absence of key figures from the election campaign allowed Farage to capture the media spotlight. Backers of the Conservative challenger convened in Clacton, a location where Reform's Nigel Farage aims to replicate UKIP’s solitary victory in a general election.

Sunak has made it to every region at least once, but there are still four areas that Starmer has not visited. The Labour leader has not traveled to the North East, South West, Yorkshire & The Humber, or Northern Ireland. He concludes his week of campaigning in London, a region he has visited three times, tying with the North West and South East as his most frequented locations.

This week, the leaders of the primary political parties did not travel to Scotland. However, John Swinney, the head of the SNP, toured five constituencies in the northern regions. The SNP anticipates retaining two of these, while the other three are seen as competitive according to our mixed member proportional analysis. The SNP commenced their campaign bus journey in Glasgow North, a district where they lead by 13.4%, but which remains vulnerable to a Labour takeover.

On Friday, the Prime Minister returned to the South West, marking it as the region he frequents most. He toured three electoral districts and had visited four others just the week before.

Thus far, the Secretary of Work and Pensions, Mel Stride, representing Central Devon, stands as the sole cabinet minister to have welcomed the prime minister, indicating that others may view the prime minister's involvement as more detrimental than beneficial to their prospects of being re-elected.

Numerous members of the cabinet are engaged in tight electoral contests, as a Sky/YouGov MRP Poll suggests that half of the 26 incumbents running could be at risk of losing their seats.

The constituencies of Wimbledon, Bury, and Harpenden & Berkhamsted have seen the highest number of visits, with both Sunak and Davey making stops in Wimbledon and Harpenden, while Sunak and Starmer have both visited Bury North. These are all held by the Conservatives, with two of them having majorities under 2.5%. The Liberal Democrats have Wimbledon as their third highest target, and Bury North is seventh on Labour's list of targets.

Dr. Hannah Bunting serves as an elections analyst for Sky News and is also the Co-director of The Elections Centre at the University of Exeter.

The Data and Forensics unit at Sky News consists of a versatile team committed to delivering clear and accountable journalism. We collect, scrutinize, and present data to craft stories driven by solid evidence. Our approach blends conventional journalistic techniques with sophisticated analysis of satellite imagery, social media, and various publicly accessible sources. By employing multimedia narratives, we strive to enhance understanding of global events and transparently demonstrate our journalistic processes.

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