As the dust settles on the 2019 general election, local parties will be taking stock of what the result means for them.
The Conservatives will of course be delighted with their win. Despite a lacklustre campaign, in which candidate Damien Moore was dogged by accusations of having lied about securing £25 million for the town, it seems all he had to do was to repeat the ‘Get Brexit Done’ mantra in order to win. The people of Southport will no doubt be hoping he does better this time around than in the last parliament, when he was placed 611th out of 650 in the list of best-performing MPs.
On the face of it the general election result in Southport was good news for Labour: their vote share was up to a record high, and they comfortably finished second to the Conservatives, with the Liberal Democrats a long way back.
For the Liberal Democrats the result was a huge disappointment, as they were squeezed out by Brexit on the one side and a huge tactical voting campaign for Labour on the other.
But that’s where the good news for Labour ends, and they are faced with an inescapable truth: they just can’t seem to win in Southport. Worse than that, every time their vote goes up, the Tories win. This happened in 2017, and now again in 2019. In six out of seven elections prior to 2017, it was the Lib Dems who managed to defeat the Tories in Southport, thanks to their ability to attract support from disillusioned Tories, something Labour just doesn’t seem able to do.
Now, polling research by Ashcroft Polls suggests that the vast scale of tactical voting that occurred in December’s election has produced a number of perverse electoral outcomes, with vast numbers of people voting for parties who weren’t their first choice, in order to keep out the party they least liked.
In a unique election such as the one which has just taken place, where the pressure to vote tactically was enormous, Labour’s vote increase in Southport came almost exclusively through taking tactical votes from Lib Dem supporters, many of whom held their noses and voted for Corbyn in an attempt to defeat the Tory candidate. Labour squeezed every single last vote it could get from Liberal Democrats. Result? The the Lib Dem vote fell back significantly, and the Tory majority actually went up.
But tactical voting didn’t just benefit Labour. It also seems many Lib Dem voters and moderate Tories were so worried by the prospect of a Labour win in Southport that they voted tactically for the Conservative candidate to make sure Labour didn’t win, despite their reservations about Boris Johnson.
So, when the next election comes around, can Labour attract these tactical votes again to challenge the Tories? It seems almost certainly not. 2019 was Labour’s big chance in Southport, and they finished even further behind the Tories than previously. Can they attract the votes they need from disillusioned Tories to take the seat next time? History says no; these voters just won’t switch to Labour, and almost always favour the Lib Dems.
Labour also has another problem. Will their ambitious candidate, Liz Savage, now a three-time loser in Southport, stick around for another five years to fight the seat again? Or will she, as some are already suggesting, jump ship to try and secure the seat in neighbouring West Lancs, a much better Labour prospect, where she lives and where, until recently, she was a Labour councillor in Skelmersdale. Only time will tell.
The next election is a long way off, not now due until 2024. A lot can change during that time. But one thing seems sure: Labour has reached the peak of its support in Southport and, almost certainly, the only way is down. In an election which is unlikely to be repeated, where traditional party loyalties were suspended while voters tried to work out a way to defeat the party they liked least, Labour lost again in Southport. On the back of two big Labour vote increases in 2017 and 2019, the Conservatives have enjoyed two comfortable wins. It seems certain that Liberal Democrat voters in the town won’t be lending their votes to Labour again in such numbers in the way they did on the 12th December. Many will be hoping that normal service will be resumed, and that the Lib Dems can bounce back to do what they, and only they, have managed to do so often in the past: take the seat from the Conservatives in Southport.
If not, it looks as though Labour’s big vote may have achieved the one thing it didn’t want: a safe seat for the Conservatives in Southport.