Where the election was won and lost: key battlegrounds
The Lib Dems went into the election with seven seats in London – by this morning they had only one
Scottish Labour Party leader Jim Murphy gives a gracious speech after failing to be re-elected as a member of parliament for East Renfrewshire. Photograph: Graham Stuart/Reuters
All eyes were on this midlands seat, one of the first of the battlegrounds to declare a result, for an early indication of trends in key marginals. Labour held the seat from 1992 to 2010 and needed just a 3 per cent swing to reclaim it from the Conservatives. Most pollsters predicted a Labour win. When the declaration came after 1.30am, however, Nuneaton provided confirmation of what the surprise exit poll had indicated: that the national swing was with the Tories. Sitting MP Marcus Jones was re-elected with a majority of 4,882, an increase of more than 2,800 on the last general election. Approaching the microphone for his victory speech, Mr Jones said simply: “Wow.” He wasn’t alone.
Jim Murphy’s role as leader and figurehead of Scottish Labour made his a vital seat for Labour to retain and an especially attractive one for the SNP to target. A tight contest was expected, but Labour drew comfort from Murphy’s profile, his commanding performance in 2010 (when the SNP came fourth in the constituency) and a late assurance by the bookmaker Ladbrokes that he was the “outright favourite” for the seat. At 3.20am, it was announced that the SNP’s Kirsten Oswald had defeated Murphy by 23,013 to 19,295. He gave a gracious concession speech, but Labour activists were stricken by their leader’s defeat. The SNP were now unstoppable. Nowhere in Scotland was safe for Labour.
A key plank of the Conservatives’ electoral strategy was to target the Liberal Democrats’ traditional strongholds in the southwest. David Cameron’s party didn’t merely make inroads; they turned the entire region from yellow to blue, wiping out all traces of their coalition partner. Yeovil was typical of the trend. The Lib Dems had held this constituency for 32 years (it was once the bastion of former party leader Paddy Ashdown) and had a high-profile candidate in David Laws, the minister of state for schools. Yet the Tory Marcus Fysh won with 24,178 votes, some 5,000 more than Laws received. It was a similar story for the liberals in Bath, Cheltenham, Somerton & Frome and elsewhere. In some constituencies the party’s vote was down 30 per cent. A clean sweep in the southwest played a big part in giving Cameron a majority.
4. Castle Point
Ukip had targeted about 10 seats in the east of England, but despite winning more than 10 per cent of the national vote, Nigel Farage’s party was restricted to just a single seat by a combination of the first-past-the-post system and an aggressive Conservative rearguard action. In the working-class Essex seat of Castle Point, where Ukip launched its election manifesto and deployed considerable resources, it polled 32 per cent but still finished 20 points behind the Conservative Party, whose candidate added 3,000 votes to her 2010 tally.
The pattern was repeated in seat after seat, leaving Ukip with just one MP in Tory defector Douglas Carswell. Sweetest of all for the Tories was the defeat of Farage himself, in Thanet South. Another election passes without a decisive parliamentary breakthrough for Ukip.
5. Bermondsey and Old Southwark
Arguably the only silver lining for Labour when the final votes were counted this morning was its performance in London, where the party confirmed its dominance by taking 45 out of 73 seats. The capital was one of the few places where Ed Miliband’s party won key targets seats, including Brent Central and Enfield North. A notable victory came in Bermondsey and Old Southwark, where strong local opposition to the rise in tuition fees helped Labour candidate Neil Coyle to comfortably defeat the Lib Dems’ Simon Hughes, who had held the seat for 32 years. The Lib Dems went into the election with seven seats in London. By this morning they had only one.
Ruadhán Mac Cormaic