Hertfordshire County might be considered a true-blue Conservative heartland, but its history has not always been that straightforward. The Labour surge of 1997 saw five of the 11 constituencies turn red. Over the following Parliaments, the surge fell back and by 2010 the county was once again all blue.
In 2017, the Tories had solidified their gains. Six constituencies had majorities in excess of 10,000. Only two seats had majorities less than 4,000 (Stevenage / Watford) both with Labour in second place.
At the 2019 General Election, the main threat to the Conservatives in Hertfordshire appears to be from the Liberal Democrats, with the Party making steady progress at council level. However, polling once again shows that their share of the vote is being squeezed as voters become polarised towards the two largest groups.
Liberal Democrat gains at local level seem unlikely to translate to General Election success this time around and Hertfordshire will remain blue with the likely exception of St Albans.
Cratus prediction – Conservative hold. Personally popular across the political spectrum, Walker is a senior backbencher and was a Vice Chair of the 1922 Committee. Given the circumstances of this election and the Tory stranglehold on the Leave vote, Walker is unlikely to face a real challenge for control of Broxbourne and may even increase his majority.
Cratus prediction – Conservative hold. Former Minister Mike Penning won the seat back from Labour representative Tony McWalter in 2005 by just 499 votes. He built his majority to a solid 14,000+ before it dropped to less than 10,000 in 2017. It seems unlikely that he will lose this time around.
Cratus prediction – Conservative hold. A rock solid Tory seat since it was created, it has only had two MPs in its current configuration. With former Housing Minister Mark Prisk standing down, self-described Essex Mum and lifelong Brexit supporter Julie Marson has been parachuted into the constituency, causing a few local rumblings. But with the vote weighed rather than counted, we can expect to see Julie Marson in Westminster on 13th December strengthening the pro-Leave ranks of the Conservative Party.
Cratus prediction – Another Conservative hold. Former Downing Street adviser Oliver Dowden has risen through the ranks to become a Cabinet Office minister, giving more weight to his campaigns to prevent the erosion of green spaces in his constituency and prevent the Strategic Rail Freight Interchange at Radlett from happening. He is also fighting for additional road infrastructure and better transport – a common theme in Hertfordshire. He has a solid majority and there is no obvious reason for an upset.
Cratus prediction – Conservative hold but with such a strong Remain population, Bim Afolami will face more of a fight than his 12,000 strong majority may suggest. These are the seats were the Conservatives are most nervous about and they will be peddling the line “Get Brexit done” as a way to clear the air and move everything back to business as usual, rather than as a means to “take back control”. We expect the Conservative majority may be reduced in this constituency but it is unlikely to be a shock gain.
Cratus prediction – Conservative hold. Oliver Heald has held this seat since 1997, even as a new candidate against the Blair surge. Leave and Remain are finely balanced in the area meaning there is little risk of an upset. Last time round Labour did achieve a 9.5% swing but still fell well short. The question this time is whether the Labour vote will hold up against the Liberal Democrats. Oliver Heald should be back in Westminster following the count.
Cratus prediction – Conservative hold – but with a different MP. David Gauke has held South West Hertfordshire since 2005 when he took over from Richard Page. He built the majority steadily from around 8,000 to a high of 23,000 under the moderate Cameron administration showing where the local electorate sit on the scales. Combined with the Referendum result, the ill feeling at the way Mr Gauke was treated by the Conservative Party, and his vigorous campaign and there is a serious battle being held in the constituency. However, Mr Gauke is campaigning for a People’s Vote which is likely to split the Lib Dem and Labour votes. With that in mind, it seems likely that the Conservatives will still win the battle with sitting Essex County Councillor Gagan Mohindra taking up this plum seat.
Cratus prediction – Conservative hold. An urban seat in central Hertfordshire, Stevenage was Labour until Barbara Follett stood down in 2010 (as an aside she stood against George Freeman, now MP for Mid Norfolk in 2005). Since then the seat has been hotly contested with Conservatives maintaining a majority of between 3-5,000 from Labour, while the Liberal Democrats have lost ground in the general squeeze. This time round Mr McPartland has two factors in his favour, first his strong work around the Stevenage Local Plan and the East Herts Local Plan, both of which he managed to have called in, and second the high proportion of Leave voters. This should be enough to ease him to victory, potentially with an increased majority. If Labour are to win the election – it will have to hoover up seats like this.
Cratus prediction – A close call. A moderate internationalist, Richard Harrington became a Government Minister in June 2017, a post he held until he had the whip removed as one of the 21 Tory rebels. He quietly had the whip restored prior to the election but decided not to stand for office again, leaving an open field.
Mr Harrington has been replaced as the Tory candidate by Dean Russell, a Leave supporting marketing expert. Mr Russell will face a Chris Ostrowski who returns for a second attempt at the seat having run in 2017 when he managed to achieve a swing of 16% in his favour. He beat off a challenge from the Left of Labour ranks to run. The margin for error is quite small with a majority of just 2000 – less than the size of the remaining Liberal Democrat vote. Chris Ostrowski is running on a pro-remain ticket, making a solid pitch for these 5000 votes.
Cratus prediction – Conservative hold. Shapps has held the seat since 2005 achieving a maximum majority of over 17,000. However, in successive elections that has fallen by 5,000 each time to just over 7,000 in 2017. In the same period the council (elected by thirds) has steadily become less Conservative with the party now forming a minority administration. This time around his vote may hold up slightly better given the Leave / Remain split and the three more Remain (Lib Dem / Labour / Green) parties taking votes from each other. We expect the seat to stay Tory with similar majority to 2017.
Anne Main faces off with Liberal Democrat Challenger Daisy Cooper for a re-run of the 2017 election battle. This time around Main is defending a much smaller majority – just over 6000 – and is running against the backdrop of one of the most pro-EU constituencies in England.
St Albans is not your typical Hertfordshire seat. In the late 1990s it went red, returning Kelly Pollard to Westminster after being represented by the Conservatives since 1950. Pollard held the seat for the highwater mark of the Blair era, losing to Anne Main in 2005 as the Tories began to take back areas they would have considered core prior to Blair. But having been non-Conservative, the residents of St Albans have had a taste of something different and Main has had to work very hard to build her majority from a little over 1,000 to 12,000 in 2015.
Since 2015 the main threat has come from the Liberal Democrats. The party has been strong at local authority level for many years, holding overall control for three periods up to 2011 and running a minority administration currently led by Cllr Chris White. The Liberal Democrat candidate, Daisy Cooper, has been running a strong campaign, playing up their Remain credentials while also pointing to prominent local issues, like ever increasing rail fares (St Albans has a large commuter population – Daisy is one of them), while also hitting national Liberal Democrat messages on climate change. Cooper is a Director of More United a self described “movement” which advocates public service investment, democratic reform, a green economy, tolerant society, and co-operation with the EU. Unsurprisingly the group supports Cooper’s bid to win the seat.
Anne Main has also got strong credentials, running a vigorous and vocal campaign against the rail freight terminal and the expansion of Luton Airport. However, with such a strong backdrop of Remain voters and a Government which is relentless in its use of Brexit as a narrative for all of its agenda, it seems unlikely that she will be able to put together enough support to stay in Westminster despite her local profile. We predict a rare Liberal Democrat gain.