Today Theresa May shocked many by announcing her intention to hold a snap general election on June 8th.
According to electoral law, two-thirds of MPs would need to back her plans for the election to take place, but as Labour have indicated that they will not oppose her intentions, a June election looks highly likely.
How would such a snap election affect the north east? Are the Tories likely to poach any seats off Labour and could any party steal one of the few seats in the north east that are already blue?
Current nationwide opinion polls show that the Conservatives are set to win about 42% of the vote with Labour polling at around 26%, the Lib Dems at 11% and UKIP at around 9.5%.
If the polls are accurate and things don’t change significantly before the election, this would see the Tories gain between 40 and 45 seats from Labour. The government currently has a working majority of just 17 seats.
Such a swing may not necessarily be replicated in the north east, however. The region perhaps has stronger Labour loyalties than many other parts of the country and a recently announced raft of policy ideas from Labour – such as free school meals for all primary school children and a £10 an hour minimum wage – seem popular with the region’s voters.
There is also the unknown factor of the north east’s UKIP supporters. UKIP got 17% of north-east votes in the last election but – with the party struggling with internal conflicts and both Labour and the Tories prepared to push ahead with Brexit – the party may lose votes this time.
It is not clear how many UKIP votes would go to each major party or how many ex-UKIP voters would choose to stay at home.
Three north-east Labour seats are likely to be vulnerable to the Tories: Darlington, Bishop Auckland, and Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland.
Labour’s majority in Darlington – currently held by shadow Europe minister Jenny Chapman – is 3,158. The party’s majority in Bishop Auckland is 3,508 and in Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland it is 2,268.
All these seats could go blue if the expected nationwide swing to the Tories is replicated in the north east.
Currently, Labour holds 26 seats in the north east, the Lib Dems and UKIP have none, and the Conservatives have three: Berwick-upon-Tweed, Hexham and Stockton South.
Of these, Berwick may be vulnerable to the Liberal Democrats. The Lib Dems held the seat before the 2015 election and – with the current MP Anne-Marie Trevelyan a strong supporter of Brexit – the votes of disaffected Remain supporters may be enough to turn the seat from blue to yellow.
Triggering the election today, Mrs May said, “We need a general election and we need one now. I have only recently and reluctantly come to this conclusion, but now I have concluded it is the only way to guarantee certainty for the years ahead.”
Mrs May had previously insisted numerous times that she would not be holding an early general election.
North East Labour MP Nick Brown responded, “It’s Theresa May’s choice to hold the election, but my response is bring it on.”
“It’s important to vote and to vote for those who want a decent working relationship with the European Union rather than a complete break.”