General Election 2019: Will the Reds again dominate Merseyside?

By Claire Hamilton
Merseyside political reporter, BBC News


While the starting gun for the formal general election campaign only began when Parliament was dissolved on 6 November, some of Merseyside's key battles have already been fought and settled.

The region has been dominated by Labour so heavily in the past that, barring huge shocks, the majority of their candidates will again be returned to Westminster without too much of a struggle.

The big fights, therefore, have been within the party. With a few notable exceptions, the fighting has been done behind the scenes.

Four Labour MPs have either stood down or left the party, creating very juicy vacancies behind them in the Liverpool seats of Wavertree, Riverside, and West Derby and over the Mersey in Birkenhead.

Internal selection battles have seen factions within the party split, with some very public rows.

What about the other parties?

The electoral map is about as red as it gets in this part of the world, with Southport being the only seat which wasn't won by Labour in 2017.

And Southport is the kind of constituency that gets political geeks like me very excited. For it's a three-way marginal, meaning that Labour, the Conservatives, and the Liberal Democrats all believe they can claim it.

At the last general election two years ago, the Tories snatched it from the Lib Dems, who slipped to third place behind Labour.

With the town voting to remain in the 2016 EU referendum, the Lib Dems are confident that their loud and consistent "Scrap Brexit" message will appeal to many voters.

Their confidence will be further boosted because fellow Remainers the Green Party have agreed not to stand in Southport.

On the other side of the coin, though, the Brexit Party's Nigel Farage has decided not to field candidates in Tory-held seats. That call may well help the Conservatives, whose supporter base tends to overlap the Brexit Party.

So if Brexit Party supporters can no longer vote for their first choice, conventional wisdom is that they'll instead mark their X in the Tory box come election day.

But is Brexit the be-all and end-all?

It isn't the only issue which will be playing on people's minds.

Southport has a strong local identity, and has typically been represented at local government level by the Lib Dems and Conservatives.

But in the last two council elections, Labour has won seats - victories which have increased party bosses' belief that Southport could return a Labour MP for the first time.

Indy momentum?

For four decades, Labour voters in Birkenhead have supported Frank Field.

But while his name will still be on the ballot paper, he'll be without the red rose.

Having quit Labour, he will now stand as the Birkenhead Social Justice Party candidate.

It's certainly true that his name recognition in the town is strong.

A Euro-sceptic, he also reflected his constituents' views on Brexit. Some 52% voted Leave back in 2016 - mirroring the UK vote.

Mr Field's strongest challenger is likely to be Labour's Mick Whitley, a trade unionist from Birkenhead.

The Tories will be represented by Claire Rowles.

The Greens, meanwhile, finished in last place two years ago. Given that the party snatched two seats from Labour at this year's local council elections in Wirral to take their overall total to three, their confidence will have been buoyed.

Two of those seats are in the Birkenhead and Tranmere ward - including leader Pat Cleary who is the party's candidate in Birkenhead. Another local councillor, Stuart Kelly, is standing for the Liberal Democrats while the Brexit Party will be represented by Darren Lythgoe.

Other key battles

Wirral West was a key target for the Conservatives in 2017, but instead of winning it, they lost for the second time to Labour's Margaret Greenwood who increased her majority. She will be defending the seat next month.

The Conservatives' Laura Evans has been a visible presence in the towns of Hoylake and West Kirby but with a changing demographic in the constituency and the hardening of hearts towards the Tories based on Labour's anti-austerity rhetoric, their activists believe it'll be a tough battle to win back Wirral West.

They have been speaking optimistically about the "Boris bounce" on the doorstep, though. Green John Coyne (a former Liverpool city councillor) and current local Liberal Democrat councillor Andy Corkhill complete the line-up along with the Brexit Party's John Kelly.

It'll be interesting to see whether Brexit party candidates dent the huge Labour majorities in places like St Helens, Bootle and Knowsley which voted to leave the EU in 2016.

Labour activists tell me they're confident those voters wouldn't necessarily switch to the Tories, but they might decide to stay at home instead of heading to the polls.

Wirral South has been described as a marginal, but Alison McGovern - a strong campaigner and powerful local voice - will be very hard to beat. She was first elected in 2010 with a majority of only 530 but turned that into one of more than 8,000 in 2017.

A big local issue has been the fall-out from the New Ferry explosion, and there's been a war of words between the Labour-run council and the Conservative government about whether the emergency response and financial support in the aftermath was adequate.

This will certainly be a feature of the local campaign. Stewart Gardiner, a councillor in Cheshire East is standing for the Conservatives here, while local councillor Chris Carubia will represent the Lib Dems and Harry Gormon will be flying the flag for the Green Party. Martin Waring will be the Brexit Party's candidate.