Safe Seat

Safe seats have become a normal part of electoral politics in the UK. This is partially due to the way constituency maps are drawn up. But how do safe seats affect political campaigns in the UK and why do some voters in constituencies that contain safe seats often feel ignored? 

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Table of contents

    Safe Seat: meaning

    A safe seat refers to a constituency in which the current MP, current political party, or both are secure. This means that the possibility of the seat being lost during the election is very low even when swing votes are factored into the equation.

    Swing votes: votes that have the potential to be cast in favour of any of the political parties or candidates by voters who are undecided or 'sitting on the fence'. These could also be cast by voters who previously voted for one candidate or party in a previous election but could change their vote in the next election.

    Swing votes are highly coveted as they can make or break an election.

    Today, a sizable portion of the 650 seats in Westminster Parliament is considered uncompetitive or safe. In fact, nearly 200 seats have been represented by the same party since World War II. Therefore, it is often the remaining competitive or marginal seats that are the deciding factors in election outcomes.

    Safe Seat Map of the UK's 650 constituencies and corresponding party seats StudySmarterFig. 1 - Map of the UK's 650 constituencies and corresponding party seats

    The importance of Safe Seats

    Safe seats are very important in elections as they allow parties and candidates to decide where to focus their campaigns. If seats are considered safe or uncompetitive, parties will often direct their campaign energy and resources on seats in constituencies that are competitive in order to win elections. However, there are times when candidates and parties may attempt to flip their opponent's safe seats, especially if these seats are perceived as vulnerable.

    Safe Seat example

    Now let's take a look at the major safe seats for the UK's two major parties: the Conservative Party and the Labour Party.

    Conservative Safe Seats in the UK

    The safest seats for the Conservative party are often located in rural or affluent areas like Buckinghamshire, Lincolnshire, Surrey, and areas in London such as the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea and the Fulham area. These safe seats correspond with the Conservative party's political ideology and history, as the Conservative party has long been associated with the middle-class.

    The safest conservative seat in the 2019 election was South Holland and The Deepings in Lincolnshire. For example, in the 2019 election, Conservative candidate John Hayes was elected MP for South Holland and The Deepings after taking 75.9% of the votes. This was the largest majority percentage for the Conservative party in the 2019 general election.¹

    Labour Safe Seats in the UK

    Labour safe seats are often located in urban and working-class regions in cities like Manchester, Liverpool, and Newcastle. These seats also correspond with Labour's political ideology and history, as the Labour party has traditionally been viewed as the party of the industrial working class.

    The safest seat for the Labour Party in the UK is the Liverpool Walton constituency. A Labour party MP from the Liverpool Walton constituency has been elected consistently since 1964. In the 2019 elections, Labour candidate Dan Carden was elected as MP for Liverpool Walton after taking 84.7% of the votes. This was the largest majority percentage achieved not only for the Labour Party but across the country in the 2019 general election.²

    Safe Seat in politics

    The existence of safe seats in UK politics has been widely criticised. Let's take a look at some of the most common criticisms of safe seats.

    Limited voter impact

    The existence of safe seats and, in particular, safe seats that have been held for multiple decades, has left some voters feeling as if there is a lack of choice when it comes to elections. Voters who reside in a constituency where a particular party has traditionally always won, feel as though their vote has little or no impact on the election outcome. This negative perception can lead to voter apathy and decreased voter participation.

    Decreased engagement

    As discussed previously, the existence of safe seats can result in candidates and political parties focusing their campaign efforts elsewhere in other more competitive constituencies. Whilst this may seem logical from the campaigning perspective, it often leaves voters in safe seat constituencies with the perception that MPs and political parties are not engaged in their communities, that their vote is being taken for granted, and that they aren't appreciated. We could argue that safe seats disincentivise MPs to engage in their communities.

    MPs with second jobs

    MPs in constituencies that are considered safe are perceived by voters to take the security of their position for granted. In fact, in the UK there is a documented link between safe seats and MPs who hold second jobs. This has become a hot-button issue among the UK electorate, as MPs already earn good salaries compared to the majority of the population.

    Furthermore, voters in these constituencies expect their elected officials to be accountable and to represent their concerns in parliament. Naturally, having a second job could take away from the time that should be spent fulfilling these responsibilities and engaging in the communities that elected them.

    Safe Seat Portrait of Conservative MP Geoffrey Cox StudySmarterFig. 2 - Portrait of Conservative MP Geoffrey Cox

    Geoffrey Cox is a Conservative MP for Torridge and West Devon. Cox was criticised in November 2021 for holding a second job, which earned him £1 million per annum. Many of the voters in his constituency expressed disappointment upon learning that Cox had a second job as an advisor in the British Virgin Islands.

    Critics considered it impossible for someone to undertake two full-time jobs without making sacrifices, and many felt those sacrifices were at the expense of the voters who elected him.

    Cox's second job in the role of advisor saw him spending a significant proportion of his time in the Caribbean. Voters expressed disappointment as this meant he no longer spent enough time focusing on his constituency and helping the people who elected him.

    Despite these views, many voters still support Cox. Not only had Cox not broken any rules, but he also said that it would be up to the voters to determine whether or not they would continue to vote for him in the next election.

    Safe Seat - Key takeaways

    • A safe seat is a constituency in which the current MP, current political party, or both are secure.
    • Swing votes are votes that have the potential to be cast in favour of any of the political parties or candidates.
    • Safe seats are important in elections as they allow parties and candidates to decide where to focus their campaign resources.
    • The safest seats for the Conservative party are often located in rural or affluent areas and Labour safe seats are often located in the industrial and urban regions in cities like Manchester, Liverpool, and Newcastle.
    • Safe seats can leave voters feeling as if their vote doesn't count.
    • Safe seats can result in the perception that MPs do not take their duties and responsibilities to their constituents seriously.

    References

    1. Fig. 1 - 2019 UK general election constituencies map (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:2019_UK_general_election_constituency_map.svg) by Bellezzasolo (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Bellezzasolo) licensed by MIT license (https://opensource.org/licenses/mit-license.php)
    2. Fig. 2 - Official portrait of Rt Hon Geoffrey Cox QC MP (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Official_portrait_of_Rt_Hon_Geoffrey_Cox_QC_MP_crop_1.jpg) by Richard Townshend licensed by CC-BY-3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/deed.en)
    Frequently Asked Questions about Safe Seat

    What is a safe seat?

    A safe seat is a constituency in which the current MP, current political party or both are secure.

    Why are safe seats bad?

    Safe seats can leave voters with a lack of choice when it comes to elections. 

    Examples of a safe seat.

    South Holland and The Deepings in Lincolnshire are Conservative Party safe seats. 

    What is the importance of safe seats?

    Safe seats are important in elections as they allow parties and candidates to decide where to focus their campaigns. 

    What is a labour safe seat?

    Liverpool Walton is a Labour Party safe seat and is the safest seat in the country. 

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    What is the safest Labour seat according to the 2019 general elections?

    What is the safest Conservative seat according to the 2019 general elections?

    What consistency is Geoffrey Cox the MP of?

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