The Non-Battleground Election: Millions of voters are ignored

Ian Simpson, Research Officer

Posted on the 18th December 2023

Last week, the Labour Party started the process of selecting their general election candidates for 211 ‘non-battleground’ constituencies in England. The description of these seats as being ‘non-battleground’ is telling, implying that Labour will not be joining the electoral fight in these areas in a meaningful way. These 211 seats represent 39% of all the seats in England.

These are constituencies that Labour HQ think that they stand no chance of winning, or already hold and think they have no chance of losing.

It is a pretty shocking state of affairs when one of the two major UK parties effectively writes off two-fifths of the seats up for grabs in the biggest country of the UK. From Aylesbury to Westmorland and Lonsdale and vast swathes of England in between, Labour voters will be effectively ignored.

Non-battleground seats are not just a Labour issue

This is not just an issue for Labour voters, however. It is safe to assume that the Conservative party will be putting very little effort into the approximately 200 seats that Labour won at the last general election. After all, that election saw the Tories win their highest number of seats since 1987 and the Tories have suffered a big fall in support since 2019, meaning their efforts will be focused on defending seats they already have, rather than looking to make gains.

This means around 400 of the 650 UK seats will see very little, if any, local campaigning from either of the two major UK parties.

Battleground seats set the agenda

It’s not just local campaigning that residents of non-battleground seats are missing. Political parties write their manifestos based on winning over people that live in the battleground seats. Once in power, they rule in the interests of people in battleground seats to keep them on side. Our whole political system is shaped around appealing to the specific interests of people who live in between Labour’s safe urban seats and the Conservative’s safe rural seats.

The Battleground is even smaller for the smaller parties

The situation is even worse for supporters of smaller parties. The Greens have identified four seats they will be targeting at the general election. It is little surprise they have chosen to focus on such a small number of seats, when at the last general election it took 865,697 votes to elect just one Green MP. Similarly, the Liberal Democrats got 336,038 votes for every MP they elected last time and even at their high water mark of 2005, when they got 22% of votes, they only got 62 seats, meaning they will apply a highly targeted strategy at the next general election.

The reason why so many places will be ignored by different parties at the next general election is Britain’s First Past The Post (FPTP) voting system. There are hundreds of seats that are regarded as ‘safe’ for one party or another, places where seats have not changed hands for decades and where the votes of thousands of people are ignored. Prior to the 2019 general election, the Electoral Reform Society was able to correctly predict the results in 316 seats (half of all the seats in Great Britain) before a single vote had been cast.

We desperately need a change to a Proportional Representation (PR) voting system for UK general elections, so that voters in all parts of the UK receive the attention they deserve from our political parties.

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