Up to this point, I have largely looked at constituencies by geographical region. This is how everyone else does it, and for good reason. It is undoubtedly the case that different regions have a different sense of place. The South West is very different from Yorkshire, the West Midlands are very different from the North East.
But there are different ways of bunching constituencies and some of these may prove more fruitful than mere contiguity. The eight largest cities in England after London have banded together to form a group which calls itself the Core Cities. These are Birmingham, Bristol, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle, Nottingham and Sheffield. I have noticed that constituencies in the Core Cities often behave differently from others in the same region but behave similarly to each other. So I decided to have a proper look at this.
Here is the Core Cities website:
As you will see, the Core Cities boast that together with their surrounding urban areas they are home to 16 million people, generate 27% of England’s wealth (more than London), are home to half of the country’s leading research universities and contain 28% of highly skilled workers (graduate level or above). But with the exception of Bristol, all of them have below average GDP per capita, Sheffield and Liverpool especially so.
These cities look quite different from much of the rest of the country. They have much higher levels of public sector workers (25.7% of all employees, as compared with a GB average of 21.4% in 2011), so would have been much worse hit by government cuts. The Core Cities also had greater private sector job losses in the recession than the GB average. Gross disposable household income of residents in the Core Cities is 20% lower than the GB average. There is evidence that the Core Cities in aggregate have been growing more slowly than medium sized cities. It is important to recognise that the different Core Cities have had different experiences. For example, Nottingham had very severe public sector job losses in the recession, but equally grew much more rapidly than other Core Cities in 2012. While the grouping is convenient and meaningful, it is not the be all and end all.
When looking at the seats, we face is a definitional problem. Where city boundaries are drawn is often a matter of historical accident. What most people would regard as Manchester is far bigger than Manchester City Council: Manchester United play home matches within Trafford Council. I have therefore decided to look at this first using narrow definitions of the extent of cities and then looking at looser definitions (so for this I've also included seats in Greater Manchester, Merseyside, Tyne & Wear and the old West Midlands county). This will not fully satisfy anyone, but the underlying picture is, I think, clear, either way. It's worth bearing in mind that some other seats may be formally outside the metropolitan area but may behave in a similar manner to those listed below.
Here are the constituencies in these seats:
Under the strict definition of Core Cities, there are 43 seats. Of these, 35 are Labour held, 4 are Conservative and 4 are Lib Dem. There are a further 59 seats in the rest of Greater Manchester, Merseyside, Tyne & Wear and the West Midlands. Of these, 9 are Conservative, 5 are Lib Dem and 45 are Labour held. Out of 102 seats in the core cities, Labour hold 80. Labour is nearly as dominant here as the Conservatives are in the East and South East (neither of which region contains a Core City). Labour also holds all seven Glasgow seats and four out of five Edinburgh seats (both would be of Core City stature, had they been English). If we treat these as Core Cities also, over a third of all Labour seats are to be found in Core Cities.
This is not just a north/south thing. It's a big city thing. Of the 33 seats in the North West that are not Core City seats, 19 are held by the Conservatives, two by the Lib Dems and 12 by Labour. Of the 40 seats in Yorkshire & The Humber that are not Core City seats, 17 are held by the Conservatives and 23 by Labour. The Conservatives hold 26 of the 31 seats in the West Midlands that are not Core City seats and 31 out of 43 of the East Midlands seats that are not Core City seats. Only in the North East and Scotland do we see a different story.
Oh, and London. London is a big city where Labour don't have it all their own way. Once again, London is the exception.
It makes no sense to present these seats as a Conservative battleground, so I have presented them as a Labour battleground here, listed by odds:
Note how many seats have no markets as yet (and they aren't going to be interesting markets if and when they appear). If the bookies and punters are correct, Labour are poised to gain another seven Core City seats. They have respectable chances in at least another five seats too.
Given the difficult times that many of the Core Cities have gone through, we might expect to see gains ahead of national swing for Labour here (or losses restricted). So the 1/4 on Labour in Walsall North looks sound.and I'd rather be on the 11/10 on Labour in Elmet & Rothwell than the 10/11 on the Conservatives.
Elsewhere, the expectation of Labour outperformance seems fully priced in. But this is as much about not thinking that there are bargains on the other side of the fence. The Conservatives are likely to find these seats heavy going.