Jeremy Corbyn can become Prime Minister by swinging just a few hundred voters towards Labour in 45 small towns across the UK, research from a new think tank has found.
Analysis for Centre For Towns, to be launched next month, suggests that Corbyn can win the keys to Downing Street if he and his party can break out of their “Metropolitan” base in Britain’s big cities.
Early findings by the group of leading political and social scientists, released exclusively to HuffPost UK, show that Labour can take power from the Tories by addressing the concerns of votes in urban areas often seen as remote from London and other big conurbations.
The study found that 45 marginal Westminster seats are dominated by small towns that have been neglected by successive governments and have borne the brunt of Britain’s de-industrialisation for decades.
These so-called “town seats”, a new electoral definition where most of the electorate live in a town, have average majorities of just 734 votes each, according to the analysis of Parliamentary results from 2015 and 2017.
The 45 key marginals make up a crucial chunk of the 76 swing seats with majorities below 2,000 votes and are set to determine the outcome of the next general election.
Following the June election’s switch back to a largely ‘two-party’ system, most big cities in England are now packed with solid Labour seats, while rural areas are the almost exclusive preserve of the Tories.
As a result, several MPs believe Corbyn needs to change Labour’s image as a “Metropolitan” party and win back areas which either voted ‘Leave’ in the Brexit referendum or have drifted away to the Tories over the years.
Centre for Towns will unveil more data on an interactive website that brings together the largest single town-based data set in the UK, tracking everything from demographic make ups and social attitudes, to home ownership and election trends.
The brand new think tank has been created to address what its founders see as the current lack of research and focus on the small towns in England, Wales and Scotland that are often dismissed as “left behind” by globalisation.
Among its contributors are Manchester University’s Professor Rob Ford and Dr Maria Sobolewska and Southampton University’s Dr Will Jennings. Elections analyst Ian Warren is another key figure behind the Centre.
Big urban populations are already served by their own independent research group, Centre for Cities, which has existed since 2005, but the founders of the new think tank believe a more tailored approach is required to meet the specific needs of towns.
Labour’s ‘Corbyn surge’ in the 2017 election saw the party win back ‘town seats’ such as Bedford, Warwick, Portsmouth South and Lincoln.
But next time it needs to clinch constituencies such as Thurrock, Hastings (held by Amber Rudd), Norwich North, Stoke on Trent South, Telford, Northampton North and Pendle where tiny vote swings would ensure it becomes the largest party in a hung Parliament.
The Tory party has built an electoral power base in many of England’s towns, and its strategists believe its success is in part due to Labour being seen as out of touch with their residents’ values.
Labour still has a mountain to climb to win an outright majority, needing a big swing in key marginals, but becoming the largest party would allow Corbyn to seek to form a government with the support of smaller parties.
Wigan’s Labour MP Lisa Nandy, who has toured the country to assess the issues faced by small towns, told HuffPost UK that Labour can’t win without changing its approach.
“Cities have dominated decision making for decades. After Brexit it is clear that this status quo is completely unsustainable,” she said.
“The needs, values and priorities of the 12 million people in towns have been ignored for too long. The Centre for Towns will put those views back on the political agenda and ensure that decisions are made in the interests of the whole country.
“Our towns can offer the skills, strong relationships and environment that will help our economy to thrive but too often these assets are ignored by decision makers. Far too many of our towns do well despite the system. That must change.”
Warren, who has acted as an adviser for both Labour and UKIP, added: “Early research from Centre for Towns has shown the potential impact that understanding – or neglecting – the unique dynamics of towns can have on our elections.
“A relatively small number of voters, spread across a handful of constituencies, now have the ability to dramatically alter the face of British politics.”
Jennings said that the new think tank would help promote urban areas beyond London, Manchester, Newcastle, Birmingham and other big cities.
“Increasingly, we are seeing the politics of place emerging as a key determinant of social, economic and political outcomes. Centre for Towns has been established to understand the challenges and opportunities that exist beyond cities, and work towards realising the full potential of towns.”
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