Fight for '24: The seats Labour must win to tread a path to power

If Labour is to win on July 4, it needs to regain red wall seats, but it also needs to make in-roads into the Conservative heartlands. What do the voters in these areas think? UK Editor Paul Brand hears from the people who will decide the General Election

“There’s no dreams, there’s no hopes, there’s nothing for anyone,” Taz tells me.

He’s sitting on a factory floor near Sedgefield – once part of the seat Tony Blair held as prime minister.

It was here that another prime minister, Boris Johnson, made his first visit after breaking the ties that had bound this region to the Labour party for generations.

Demolishing the so-called ‘red wall’ was key to the Conservatives constructing their majority in 2019.

They persuaded voters to take a punt on the Tories for the first time.

But we are here to see if the party will get a second chance.

At EBAC – a factory making white goods - all but one of the voters we spoke to had voted Conservative in 2019.

Yet not one of them is certain they’ll vote that way again.

Boris Johnson promised levelling up in 2019. Credit: ITV News

But why?

Throughout the election, our Fight for '24 series will analyse the people and places that are key to this election.

We’ll draw on data exclusively analysed for us by the British Election Study (BES).

And found in the fascinating detail of that data are the answers to many of the trends we are seeing in this campaign, including the change in Conservative fortunes.

Polling pulled together by BES shows the plummeting polling suffered by the Tories due to a series of ‘electoral shocks’.

The pandemic knocked 10 points off their polling numbers, partygate around another 10, before the Liz Truss mini budget delivered a third brutal blow.

All of those issues come up with voters in Sedgefield.

“I think it started off with Boris Johnson, partying during Covid. It then went on to Liz Truss, she nearly broke the economy,” one voter tells me.

Another suggests that things have at least calmed on the economic front.

But there hasn’t been the levelling up that the red wall was promised.

“We all got excited in 2019. We got promised in this region the levelling up, that’s the bit that you sort of question and ask what’s actually been delivered in terms of levelling up?”

Some of the people I spoke to told me they’ll turn back to Labour.

“I don’t know if they’ll do a better job. Surely they can’t do any worse,” one told me.

A couple will consider Reform UK.

But the bigger challenge for Sir Keir Starmer lies further south, in the so-called blue wall of Conservative heartlands.

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Professor Jane Green, co-director of the British Election Study, sums it up.

“The Labour Party actually has a huge mountain to climb in terms of the number of seats they have to win just to get a majority. They have to win the red wall back - that looks pretty likely. Now they have to win support in towns, in rural areas, in coastal areas, precisely the sort of areas where the Conservatives were doing better last time.”

Many of those seats haven’t been won for 15 or 20 years, including Dover and Deal (which is a slightly different constituency this time following boundary changes).

There, we met voters who’ve found themselves at the heart of one of the biggest issues in this election – immigration.

And while we encountered some of the same frustration with the governing record of the Conservative Party, we found limited enthusiasm for Labour.

There hasn’t been the levelling up that the red wall was promised, workers at EBAC said. Credit: ITV News

“Do you think Labour would be tough on immigration?” I asked one woman.

“No. I think they’ve let the floodgates open,” she replied.

“There are not enough schools, we’re all complaining about the NHS. It’s all going to pot,” she added.

Others though, were attracted to a quality that others have suggested is Sir Keir Starmer’s weak point.

“I don’t want him to be exciting,” one woman told me.

“We have suffered so much from charismatic leaders. What we need to do is get the charisma out of it!”

Voters in the blue wall were frustrated with the governing record of the Conservative Party, but were not enthusiast for Labour. Credit: ITV News

Another man who’s voted Conservative all his life said he might be persuaded by Keir Starmer’s more centrist politics.

“I quite like Keir Starmer because I don’t regard him as a particularly strong Labour man,” he told me.

Parts of the blue wall will be more vulnerable to the Lib Dems of course, who in other seats in the south are the main challenge to the Conservatives.

But in general, we encountered little enthusiasm for politics in general.

On our journey, voters knew what they were cross about, but they didn’t always know what they planned to do about it.

Have you heard our new podcast Talking Politics? Every day in the run-up to the election Tom, Robert and Anushka dig into the biggest issues dominating the political agenda…