Labour resurgence in the North
Monday's FT had an interesting article looking at the regional breakdown of recent polls.
It quotes ICM as saying that the Tories have gone from being 4% ahead in September across the three standard statistical regions making up the pollsters' North (North, North West and Yorkshire & Humberside) to 14% behind Labour in December.
The political significance of this is that the North West and Yorkshire are packed full of marginal seats - particularly in the area of high levels of owner-occupation on either side of the Pennines (East Lancashire and West Yorkshire).
The regional distribution of the 117 seats the Tories need to gain to have an overall majority of is a more even one than might be expected given the media preoccupation with the south and Midlands as the main battlegrounds:
London - 13 seats (10 Lab, 3 LD)
South East - 15 seats (12 Lab, 3 LD)
South West - 17 seats (11 LD, 6 Lab)
East - 8 seats (all Lab)
East Midlands - 10 seats (all Lab)
West Midlands - 16 seats (14 Lab, 1 Ind, 1 LD)
North West - 15 seats (13 Lab, 2 LD)
Yorkshire & Humberside - 12 seats (11 Lab, 1 LD)
North - 2 seats (1 Lab, 1 LD)
Wales - 5 seats (4 Lab, 1 LD)
Scotland - 4 seats (2 Lab, 2 SNP)
We already know that the Tories have been under-performing in Scotland and may not make any gains at all there. Labour also relatively over-performed in London in both the 2008 GLA elections and the 2009 Euro elections compared to the voting in the rest of the UK on the same days. And I can't see the Tories gaining all their 11 Lib Dem target seats in the South West given how good the Lib Dems are at defending seats where they are the incumbents. And now if we accept the FT's analysis we can add in a group of another 29 "must-win" marginals where the Tories are not making the headway they should.
When you go through the list of 117 in order it is also clear that generally the Northern marginals are tougher nuts to crack than the southern ones. The front end of the list includes a lot of Kent seats and New Towns around London, the difficult end of the list includes a lot of Lancashire and Yorkshire seats.
The problem for the Tories is that if they are doing disproportionately well in the south to compensate for their comparative weakness in the north, this won't help them form an overall majority. To win a majority without taking all their first 117 targets they need to take "deep attack" seats further down the list. And these hardly exist in the south - Labour doesn't have many southern seats and those in does have are almost all already in the list of the first 117 marginals. Just as Labour can't form an overall majority without taking a fair number of seats in the south outside London, the Tories can't form an overall majority without taking a bunch of seats in a broad corridor between Wakefield in the east and Bolton in the west.
The social characteristic of these seats is that for historic reasons they have far higher levels of inexpensive owner-occupied housing than similar seats would in the South, Scotland or Midlands. They therefore have voters who have mortgages when they are on lower incomes than in other parts of the country and are a lot more vulnerable to housing-related adverse economic conditions such as negative equity and high interest rates. If these voters lose their jobs they also lose their homes, which social housing residents don't. So my hunch is they have taken a look at a Tory economic policy which would increase their chances of being both homeless and jobless by prematurely switching off the stimulus package and decided they can't risk it.