In which Alan Collins from Medway Elects takes a look at what the General Election what might bring for Chatham and Aylesford..
It’s the most wonderful time of the year. No, not Christmas, but the one where almost everyone in Medway with access to the internet seems to cry out for change, only for the Conservatives to be re-elected by a wide margin.
So for this series of articles, Messrs Jennings and Keevil have asked their resident data nerd to run the numbers and try to predict, on the numbers alone, whether that mythical change might happen, or whether we will wake up on 13 December to the news that the three Conservative candidates have been re-elected.
To answer that question I shall be taking a look at what the data from the 2015 general election tells us about what might happen next month. No, I’ve not forgotten that we also voted in 2017. However, the election in 2015 presents an extra set of data which is infinitely more useful in comparing how the attitudes of Medway’s voters has shifted: the local elections. I shall, therefore, be taking a look at how the results in each ward for Medway’s three constituencies changed between 2015 and 2019, and using that to try and determine whether any of our three MPs are likely to be queuing up outside a job centre on 13 December.
I have form for this. A comparison of the shift in local election behaviour was one of the key principles behind the data model I produced in 2010 which, as I explained at the beginning of the year on this very website, was remarkably accurate. Whilst I have created a similar model for this year, it comes with its own caveat: there are additional parameters to account for both the 2015 and 2017 general elections, so essentially there is more data to go wrong in the projections that have been generated for each constituency. Just to fill you all with confidence…
That said, these have only ever been projections, not predictions, and the usual caveat that they are only a snapshot of where support likely sits, not a demonstrative prediction of what the vote will actually be, applies.
As my full analysis is likely to range between 4,000 and 5,000 words, for this article I will be just be looking at the data for Chatham and Aylesford, with further articles to follow for our other constituencies.
Finally for housekeeping, I apologise to anyone in the south of the constituency, but as this is The Political Medway and not The Political Tonbridge and Malling, I will not be analysing the performances in the latter wards in this article. However, the results are part of the data model which gives the final Chatham and Aylesford projection, so I haven’t forgotten you completely.
We start our whistle stop tour around the constituency in Chatham Central, home to Labour’s general election candidate Vince Maple. In 2019, they saw their share of the vote rise from 35.3% to 49.1%, an impressive climb which should give them some hope for next month. Unlike in 2015, the Green party declined to field candidates in the ward this year, while the Conservatives and UKIP both saw their share of the vote drop, so this is one ward where the tide clearly turned in favour of Labour.
Lordswood and Capstone is safe Conservative territory, but even here the Conservatives saw their share of the vote fall from 66.9% in 2015 to 57.7% in 2019, which can likely be explained by Ukip’s decision to field a candidate here, picking up 20.2% of the vote. It wasn’t good news for Labour, however, as their vote share fell even further, from 27.4% to 11.1%. The Green party joined Ukip in fielding a candidate and earning themselves 11% of the vote. Overall, the two main parties lost out to smaller competitors, a trend which is, as we will see, not unique to this ward.
The Conservatives took many people by surprise when they won one of the three seats in Luton and Wayfield in 2015. Notwithstanding that they had won a by-election in this traditional Labour heartland in 2009, coming virtually neck-and-neck with the incumbents in terms of the share of the vote four years ago was an achievement. Whilst the Conservatives, Labour and Ukip all lost ground to the Liberal Democrats and, more significantly, independents in 2019, this ward does highlight the danger in only taking the shift in local election voting behaviour into account when considering general elections (and why my projection model contains additional parameters), as the two independent candidates were both incumbent councillors and, presumably, pulled votes away from the Conservatives and Labour, their respective parties when they were elected in 2015.
Princes Park was tipped as a seat which might have changed hands in 2019, and Labour’s work in the ward did see their share of the vote rise from 25.4% in 2015 to 27.5%. However, with Ukip losing ground and TUSC not standing a candidate this time round, the Conservatives saw their share of the vote rise slightly more, from 44.8% in 2015 to 47.8%. Overall the Conservatives should see this as a good sign that their vote is secure in this part of Chatham and Aylesford as they head into the general election.
Finally, we come to Walderslade, where the Conservatives appear to have built themselves yet another fortress since prising one of the seats away from an independent councillor in 2007 and the other in 2011. This year, for the first time in this ward, the Tories saw their share of the vote exceed the 50% mark, going from 47.4% in 2015 to 55.1%. Labour also saw their share of the vote rise, if slightly more modestly from 19.8% to 24.5%, as both the Liberal Democrats and TUSC declined to stand again. Ukip also fell slightly from 23.5% to 20.4% as the two biggest parties made gains from their smaller challengers.
Chatham and Aylesford was the strongest of Medway’s three constituencies for the Conservatives in both 2015 and 2017. With 57% of the vote last time round and a majority of almost 25%, it would take an incredible swing for Tracey Crouch to find herself looking for a new job on 13 December. Whilst her opponents will likely be doing their very best to achieve that outcome, with the mixed swings locally above, together with all of the other parameters, the data model is currently projecting a Conservative hold, if with a smaller share of the vote and reduced majority. The Brexit party do not appear to be a challenger for anyone, and may even poll behind the Liberal Democrats here, although both parties will be relieved to keep their deposits.
So the data suggests that Chatham and Aylesford is a likely hold for the Conservatives, but what of our other two constituencies, Gillingham and Rainham and Rochester and Strood? Well, keep an eye out on this very website to find out! All will be revealed soon…
Alan Collins is the creator of Medway Elects, which is committed to building a complete electoral history for Medway.