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By Baroness Smith of Llanfaes
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Tories Could See Bigger Swings Against Them In Seats Where MPs Are Standing Down

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak on the General Election campaign trail this week (Alamy)

3 min read

The Conservatives could see bigger swings against their party in the general election in seats where the incumbent is standing down, according to political scientist Professor Rob Ford.

Ford, a politics professor at the University of Manchester told PoliticsHome that he would “expect” to “see a swing against the Conservatives that’s a few points larger in open seats” than in those where an MP is standing again.

But he also warned that it may not be enough to save MPs their jobs, as the value of a personal vote is only likely to make a difference if a race for a parliamentary seat is very close. 

More than 100 MPs are leaving Parliament at this General Election, with departures having continued to be announced since Rishi Sunak called the poll, which will be held on 4 July.

Among them are more than 75 Conservatives, including former prime minister Theresa May, former chancellor Sajid Javid and long-serving Cabinet minister Michael Gove

A poll from YouGov last week, after the election was called, showed that there is still more than a 20 percentage point gap between Labour and the Conservatives, with Keir Starmer’s party on 44 per cent, compared to the Tories’ 22 per cent. 

Ford predicted that the role of any personal vote for MPs who have served their constituencies before is “only going to make a difference if the race is very close”. 

“So if you’re a Conservative MP and your majority is less than 30 per cent, I don’t think that personal vote is going to save you," he explained.

“If you’ve got a big majority to start with and you can afford to lose quite a lot of votes there may be some personal votes at the margin that may help you to survive.

“I would expect that we’ll see a swing against the Conservatives that’s a few points larger in open seats where incumbents are standing down than in seats where incumbents fight on again.” 

The latest YouGov MRP poll in March, which gave a seat by seat breakdown of which party was likely to win, put the Conservatives on 155 seats, compared to Labour’s 403. 

In the 2019 election, Labour had won 202 seats to the Conservatives’ 365. 

In the same polling model, YouGov predicted that the Lib Dems could win 49 seats this time around. 

For the weight of incumbency or any associated personal vote to “make the difference” Ford said the constituency contest would “need to be competitive” anyway. 

“If you’re talking about a 10-point national swing and an even bigger swing in the battlegrounds, then a lot of MPs even with the best will in the world are not going to be competitive even if they have an unusually large personal vote.” 

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