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The region that will decide the Tories’ fate

Liz Truss is one of the South East-based Tory MPs whose seat is in danger. Credit: Getty

July 1, 2024 - 1:00pm

What will be left of Tory England by the end of the week? Forget the once-and-future Red Wall: the 50 northern seats that the Tories took from Labour in 2019 have been abandoned. And unless the pollsters are very wrong indeed, the Blue Wall (made up of Conservative-held seats in the Remain-voting south) is also set to collapse. Where, then, will the nail-biting results be on election night?

The best bet would be to look east. Together, the counties of Norfolk, Suffolk, Cambridgeshire, Bedfordshire, Hertfordshire and Essex form the bluest part of the country. In 2019, the Tory vote share here was an overwhelming 57.2% — enough to win all but six of the region’s 58 constituencies.

Some of these Tory seats are to be found in the rural depths of Eastern England, away from Cambridge, Norwich and the coast. One could call this the Blue Refuge — or perhaps the Blue Panic Room, because if the Conservatives aren’t safe here then they aren’t safe anywhere.

It’s no coincidence that so many senior Tories, including most of the leadership contenders, have their constituencies in this area. There’s Kemi Badenoch in Saffron Walden (now North West Essex), James Cleverly in Braintree, and Priti Patel in Witham. Another set of neighbours are Steve Barclay in North East Cambridgeshire and Liz Truss in South West Norfolk. Grant Shapps is standing in the region, as is Tory chairman Richard Holden. Then there are some of the party’s brightest hopes for the future — for instance, Nikki da Costa in North East Hertfordshire, Nick Timothy in West Suffolk and Will Tanner in Bury St Edmonds.

The Tories haven’t quite placed all their eggs in one basket, but there’s no comparable concentration of potential party leaders anywhere else in the country. To put it bluntly, if the Conservatives can’t hold on to the Blue Refuge, then they’re done for.

On the edges of the region, rival parties are already breaking through. For instance, the three constituencies that border Labour-held Cambridge are likely to fall to the Lib Dems, who’ve exploited the Nimby vote for all it’s worth. To the east, there’s Waveney Valley, which should be solidly blue but where the Greens are on the verge of a stunning upset. On the Essex coast, Nigel Farage looks a dead cert in Clacton.

The perimeter, therefore, is crumbling, but what about the Blue Refuge itself? Truss is reportedly in trouble in her constituency, and even candidates who don’t have a calamitous record as PM to defend are fighting for their political lives. There’s a reason why we haven’t heard much from Badenoch, Cleverly and Patel during the national campaign, and that’s because previously safe seats have been turned into knife-edge marginals.

Of course, the East of England isn’t where the next government will be decided. Labour could miss most of its targets here and still be sure of victory. But this region will determine the future of the Conservative Party. At the very least, the loss of key Tory constituencies would change the course of the next leadership contest, removing frontrunners before nominations even open.

For the Tories of the Blue Refuge there is therefore a cynical advantage in seeing their colleagues lose their seats. Then again, the more this happens, the less of a party there’ll be left to lead.


Peter Franklin is Associate Editor of UnHerd. He was previously a policy advisor and speechwriter on environmental and social issues.

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Michael Cazaly
Michael Cazaly
24 days ago

Nick Timothy is a Tory “bright hope”? In that case there never will be a Tory recovery.

Prashant Kotak
Prashant Kotak
24 days ago

Parking the content of this article, there is something really odd going on with the polls – as in, there *haven’t been any new ones* over the last several days. I’m comparing with the last election when new polls kept coming out every day. Opinium, Survation, YouGov and others, all seem to have dried up.

If I was in a conspiratorial mood, I might surmise, they are all seeing something truly odd in their data which is forcing them to go back and recheck (rather than publish) if what they are seeing is in fact true. Also, Matt Goodwin, once of this parish, seems to have disappeared off the face of the earth these last few days. Do you think the Tory party ‘Black Ops’ division have kidnapped him and are holding him in a safe house for um, questioning?

Lancashire Lad
Lancashire Lad
24 days ago
Reply to  Prashant Kotak

They’ll have him tied to a chair and force-feeding him cake.

David McKee
David McKee
24 days ago
Reply to  Prashant Kotak

Do you know, that’s a very good point? It might be that it’s dawned on the pollsters that the result will be largely determined by differential turnout – who can enthuse supporters to come out and vote. So Thursday night and Friday morning could be full of surprises.
It is possible that, by Friday lunchtime, quite a few pollsters’ reputations will have been shredded beyond repair.

Phil Day
Phil Day
23 days ago
Reply to  Prashant Kotak

Re: Matt Goodwin – he’s still very active. Check out his substack if you want regular posts and updates.

Andrew D
Andrew D
24 days ago

Here in Suffolk Coastal a Starmer apparatChick is predicted to unseat the underwhelming Therese Cvofee. The Reform candidate has been parachuted in at the last moment, doesn’t seem to be making inroads. No SDP candidate alas. I’m afraid it’s going to be a case of ‘none of the above’.

Andrew McDonald
Andrew McDonald
24 days ago
Reply to  Andrew D

You could do a lot worse than lend your vote to the very well-informed and sensible (but very very angry) Julian Cusack of the Green Party, who got a standing ovation at the Aldeburgh hustings while Coffey and the Labour apparachutechik sat silently by (the Tory looking at her phone all the while)…

Martin M
Martin M
23 days ago

You lost me at “Green Party”.

Andrew McDonald
Andrew McDonald
23 days ago
Reply to  Martin M

Poor old you. The GP have no chance of winning any political power, but in the main they have good local politicians who like to answer questions, and if you ignore their top leadership they’re attacking the right problems. But I understand UH is not fertile ground for this line of argument.

David Lindsay
David Lindsay
24 days ago

Liz Truss may be known only for a speech about pork markets and cheese, but she was and is a disciple of Professor Patrick Minford, who wants Britain to have no agriculture, as would be the “free” market in action. Truss and Minford ought to be made to defend that position on the stump in South West Norfolk.

j watson
j watson
24 days ago

The key question is what reflection might this prompt? The danger for the Right is a lurch further Right.
What they have to understand is whilst that may play to some who think everything is about migrants and woke there is something much more fundamental going on. Inequality is growing and more of the traditional middle class is feeling it. The Right needs a massive re-think about why wealth is inexorably flowing into the hands of an evermore concentrated minority. A focus on Growth will miss this because in aggregation we can have growth but folks won’t feel it if the distribution of the dividends continue to slide us towards an ever greater imbalance. When you start to lose the Shires the wake up call has to happen.

Andrew R
Andrew R
24 days ago
Reply to  j watson

That’ll be the thirty two years worth of failed technocratic paternalism that supplanted represenative democracy JW. Nice bit of bait and switch.

John Hughes
John Hughes
23 days ago

The article fails to mention the largest local, or actually regional, issue in East Anglia. This is the controversial and very unpopular Norwich to Tilbury 400kV pylon line, 90 miles long. It affects numerous constituencies and all the Tory MPs in the corridor, now candidates, are opposing it, as are LibDems. Labour’s unwise and hamfisted ‘we are the bulldozers’ policy makes it look arrogant and perhaps unelectable in the region.
The already partly approved electricity substations and tranmission lines from the Suffolk Coast inland to serve offshore wind arrays in the North Sea have caused uporoar in Sufolk and Therese Coffey (Con Suffolk Coastal) is a loser as she failed to stop these. But Labour are going to get no votes there for supporting such developments.
And there is Sizewell C PWR which has only partial approval and is not popular either. Labour supports it too.
It will be interesting to see whether some Conservatives retain their seats on these grounds because of voter dislike of the Starmer-Miliband energy and housing policies.