Traditionally Dorset has been a Tory heartland and till the dissolution of Parliament at the end of March, seven out of eight of Dorset’s MPs were Conservatives. The exception was a lone Liberal Democrat constituency, Mid Dorset and North Poole, where Annette Brooke was MP. The constituency of Poole is a particularly safe Tory seat, which the party has kept in their hands since it was created in 1950.
This time around UKIP is predicted to snatch some of the Tory votes, which could shake up the picture. Could this pose a challenge to ‘safe’ Conservative seats?
Conservative Robert Syms represented Poole in Parliament since 1997. In the 2010 General election Syms gained 47.5 % of the overall votes leaving him well clear of the next closest challenger, Liberal Democrat Philip Eades, who only received 31.6 %. Following that triumph, and owing to the long tradition of Tory support in Poole, it seems like the seat might be one of the safest for the Conservatives in Dorset.
The Electoral Reform Society (ERS) estimates that over half of the 650 Parliamentary seats are very unlikely to change hands on 7th of May. In the 2010 general election ERS was able to call the winners in nearly 400 of Britain’s safe seats. Out of a list of 382 MPs they only got two wrong.
Whereas the next general election on 7th of May might be hard to predict, many candidates in so-called safe seats can already be confident they will lose. What drives prospective candidates to spend months on campaigning just to get thrashed on polling day?
“When you look at the past records you would say I don’t stand a chance”, admits Mark Howell, the leader of an independent political party called Poole People, which he founded in 2010. Howell is standing as a candidate in Poole and thinks he could challenge Syms, due to Poole’s strong UKIP reducing the size of the Conservative majority.
The reason behind Howell’s optimism is that he believes people are realising they need to take more of an interest in the individual candidates, not just elect somebody because they are Conservative or Labour. Above all, his mission is to try to undermine the traditional party system and he’s hoping to do so through the local support his party has gained. “I think somebody needs to show that it is possible to break through as an independent candidate. It would be great if Poole could lead the way,” Howell says.
Standing in a safe seat will unlikely bring a seat in Parliament; however it can be a stepping stone. For aspiring politicians it can be a valuable opportunity to gain more experience in media and public meetings. Above all it makes sure that there’s a voice for people who desire an alternative to the main political parties.
Britain’s first-past-the-post electoral system does indeed create challenges for smaller political parties to get their prospective candidates elected. In the past the system has favoured the two major parties and partly because of this the battle of the votes is brutal for the smaller parties. Currently UK Parliamentary Election Forecast predicts that UKIP and the Greens are estimated to only get one seat each.
As a result only a minority of constituencies are likely to change hands in May and voters in marginal seats play a critical role in determining the outcome of elections. However this does not mean that the so-called safe seats could not be challenged. Perhaps the safe seats remain, but there’s still a chance to undermine the problematic nature of first-past-the-post system and make the voices of the smaller parties heard.