General election 2017: Parties target Cheshire's small majorities

Re-enactment of Civil War battle in Chester Image copyright Jeff Buck/Geograph
Image caption Which party will follow in the Parliamentarians' footsteps and take Chester?

King Charles I stood on Chester's ancient city walls in 1645 and saw his last substantial cavalry force defeated just a few miles away. The next year, the city fell to the Parliamentarians.

In 2017, the Conservatives may be hoping Chester will be the first Labour fortress to fall, without the need for much of a battle at all.

It is Labour's most marginal constituency, after they beat the Tories by just 93 votes there in 2015, with a little help from the Greens.

I understand local Green members decided not to field a candidate in the city two years ago in order to help the eventual victor Chris Matheson, because of his "green credentials".

It's a decision repeated this year, with the Greens again telling their followers to back Mr Matheson.

For an idea of how significant the Green retreat was last time, in a council election on the same day, a Green candidate in one part of the city received over 1,000 votes.

But there may be help on hand for Chester's Conservatives too in the form of UKIP, which is not standing in the city either.

Conventional wisdom would have it that most of their 4,148 voters from 2015 will head the Tories' way.

But it's not clear whether UKIP's decision is down to deliberate calculations or a simple lack of local candidates - the party is not contesting the extremely safe Conservative seats of Macclesfield or Tatton either.

Media spotlight

Spare a thought for anyone in Tatton who is sick of seeing TV cameras and newspaper hacks - it is a seat that looks likely to stay in the media spotlight which so far has been shone on former MPs George Osborne, Martin Bell and Neil Hamilton.

Image caption Who will follow in George Osborne, Neil Hamilton and Martin Bell and become Tatton's MP?

The Conservative candidate, former Employment Minister Esther McVey, is looking for a route back to Parliament after losing her Wirral West seat in 2015.

She was a regular on TV screens before her defeat, and that moment was seen by some as a focus of fury against austerity measures and disability benefit reforms.

But even if she does return in Tatton, her apparently safe Conservative seat may turn out to be decidedly unsafe in the long-run as it is set to be abolished as part of planned boundary changes.

School funding reforms

Labour's biggest hopes in Cheshire will be in Weaver Vale - which the Tories hold with a 1.7% majority of 806 - and Warrington South - which they hold with a 4.6% majority of 2,750.

The latter is a seat which the Liberal Democrats have previously turned into a three-way marginal, although that trend ended in 2015 when they lost 12,000 votes and were beaten into fourth place by UKIP.

And Labour's confidence is demonstrated by the fact its leader Jeremy Corbyn has visited not just Warrington, but also Crewe & Nantwich, where Children's Minister Edward Timpson defends a 7.3% majority of 3,620.

Labour will be hoping the issue of school funding will help them.

Schools in the Cheshire East area will receive the lowest level of basic government funding per pupil in England, if Conservative funding reforms are not changed before polling day. Head teachers in Cheshire West and Warrington are looking at similar cuts.

The Labour candidate in Crewe & Nantwich has been a leader of the local campaign against the reforms, whilst Edward Timpson says he has represented local concerns but was prevented from saying much publicly, given he is a government minister in the Department for Education.

But if the opinion polls are right then local Tories may be confident that Labour are destined to retreat back to the north western fringes of Cheshire, holding only their heartland seats of Halton, Warrington North and Ellesmere Port & Neston.

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