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Rishi Sunak’s campaign trail suggests a defensive approach to take on Labor and the Lib Dems | Political news

Sky News has tracked locations visited by party leaders in the first week of the general election campaign to decipher what their choices tell us about the parties’ election strategies.

By means of Dr. Hannah Bunting, Sky News election analyst, and Joely Santa Cruz, data journalist


Sunday June 2, 2024 11:35 AM, UK

The Prime Minister has taken a defensive approach, indicating that the Conservatives are concerned about the large gap in the polls.

Sir Keir Starmer’s visits demonstrate the scale of their ambition and highlight Labour’s awareness of the challenge they face. To achieve the smallest possible majority, they must gain 125 seats.

This campaign is being waged on new electoral frontiers, with many constituencies undergoing significant changes since 2019.

For the purposes of this analysis, we use fictional results based on calculations by Colin Rallings and Michael Thrasherhonorary professors at the University of Exeter, who estimated the results of the 2019 election seats if they had taken place on the new constituency boundaries.

Defending deep into Tory territory

Rishi Sunak’s very first campaign stop was Erewash in the East Midlands, a seat that should be considered safe with a 22% Conservative majority but which he clearly thinks could be vulnerable.

A Labor victory here would be between Labor becoming the largest party in a hung parliament or capturing an overall majority, if similar levels of voter swings were repeated nationally.

The last time Labor held Erewash (which has seen no border changes this cycle) was from 1997 to 2010, under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.

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Labor ambitious

Labour’s visit to nearby Derbyshire Mid in the East Midlands shows the extent of their daring. They need more than a 16-point swing to take the seat from the Tories, but their recent mayoral victories could mean they are confident of winning over voters here.

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These stops in the Midlands show that the regions are a key battleground between the two main parties. The Conservatives had 76 MPs in the East and West, so it is crucial to their fate at the general election. The scale of Labour’s success here could be the difference between them being the largest party or winning a decisive majority.

The number of seats Sir Keir attended shows how ambitious Labor is in its goals. They do not shy away from places with large Conservative majorities, and as they start their campaign in Kent they know they think they can win in regions that only Blair has managed to win.

Reform threat

Tory problems in Kent could also be complicated by the challenge of reform. In Dover and Deal – where Conservative Natalie Elphicke defected from Con to Lab – leader Richard Tice focused on immigration. The decision of honorary chairman of Reform, Nigel Farage, not to stand as a candidate in these elections was at least good news for the Conservatives.

In total, 16 of Mr Sunak’s 18 visits were to seats the Conservatives are defending, 11 of which are vulnerable to Labor based on current polling suggesting a 16-point swing.

But that has not stopped Sunak from defending what some say is now indefensible. The most marginal place he has visited so far is Vale of Glamorgan, where he took a trip to a brewery in Barry. Labor only needs a swing of 2.6 points to win this seat, so it looks like an optimistic majority to defend.

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Interestingly for a leader under pressure and with many constituencies to defend, Sunak found time for a trip to Belfast East, where the Conservatives have no candidate on their list. Both were part of his opening gambit: a whistle-stop tour of all four nations to showcase the prime minister’s image.

Lib-Dem Southern Front

The Prime Minister also has to fight on two fronts: the Liberal Democrats are closing in on several seats in the south of England. He visited four key LibDem targets, including Chesham and Amersham, which recently gained their first Liberal Democrat MP for their resounding 2021 midterm election victory.

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There are 65 seats spread across the south-west and south-east, where the Liberal Democrats are the Conservatives’ biggest challengers. All nine seats where Ed Davey has been are areas where the Lib Dems came second in 2019. And all in places that swung to the Lib Dems in 2019 or that they occupied before their electoral collapse in 2015.

Davey headed to Eastbourne first and enjoyed an ice cream at a key target venue where they need a 2.1 point swing to beat the Conservative candidate. He launched his Yellow Hammer 1 battle bus from Cambridgeshire South and on Thursday he went on a water slide in Frome & East Somerton, the constituency that will replace Somerton & Frome which they won in the 2023 midterm elections. That is the kind of success they will try to copy and that the Tories hope to avoid.

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Labour’s eyes on the prize

Eight Conservative-defended seats have had the pleasure of a visit from Sir Keir Starmer, but he has also found time to venture into SNP territory in Scotland. Why? Well, Labor is also focusing on John Swinney and his party’s problems.

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Every seat Labor can win from the SNP in Scotland reduces the number they need directly from the Tories in England and Wales for a majority.

Glasgow’s constituencies, once dominated by Labour, are key battlegrounds. It is no surprise that the Labor leader chose to go to Glasgow East. This has involved significant boundary changes, resulting in an estimated 15% majority for the SNP.

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Scottish strategies

The new SNP leader, Mr Swinney, launched their campaign from Edinburgh, where they held three of the five seats around the Scottish capital. Some opinion polls suggest that Labor could win all three in this election.

He also visited Dumfries, an area served by two constituencies that the SNP hopes to wrest from the Conservatives. For this they need fluctuations of less than five percentage points. Scottish Secretary Alister Jack’s decision to resign in Dumfries and Galloway could indicate he thinks the Tories’ prospects of defending the country are slim.

While there are few Labor seats that many claim are vulnerable, the party still has defensive problems, one of which may be the Greens.

They started their campaign in Bristol, where they hope to have some success in the elections.

Voting patterns in recent local elections indicate they could take three of the area’s five constituencies, all of which were won by Labor in 2019.


Dr. Hannah Bunting is an election analyst at Sky News and co-director of The Elections Center at the University of Exeter.


The Data and forensics team is a multi-faceted unit dedicated to delivering transparent journalism from Sky News. We collect, analyze and visualize data to tell data-driven stories. We combine traditional reporting skills with advanced analysis of satellite imagery, social media and other open source information. We want to better explain the world through multimedia storytelling and at the same time show how our journalism works.