Steep Hill For Labour To Climb in Cumbria

by Jackie_South on November 5, 2011

Regular readers will recall that I have written two posts previously on the Boundary Commission proposals: one on London and another on Northern Ireland. This is the first instalment of the third of the series, covering the North West. I’ve broken it down into the five sub-regions used by the Boundary Commission (Cumbria, Lancashire, Greater Manchester, northern Merseyside and Cheshire & the Wirral) to make the posts a bit more manageable, ending in a summary post.  I’ll be rolling the rest of the posts out over the weekend.

The map below shows the proposals for Cumbria, with the current boundaries shown in green. There are currently six seats in Cumbria: 3 Labour (Barrow & Furness; Copeland; Workington), 2 Conservative (Carlisle; Penrith & The Border) and 1 Lib Dem (Westmorland & Lonsdale).

With the larger constituency sizes, Cumbria is entitled to five seats. It is possible to do this and not divide any town, although the options are constrained by its two largest settlements: Carlisle in the north and Barrow in the southwest.

Given the position of Barrow on a peninsula, there are really only two options available to the Commission.

First: extend the Barrow seat northwards across the Duddon Estuary to include the area around Millom in Copeland, and then follow clockwise round the county (combining the towns of Whitehaven and Workington; extending Carlisle eastwards; linking Penrith with the east of the Workington seat as far west as Cockermouth; extending the Westmorland seat westwards into rural Copeland).

Second: extend the Barrow seat eastwards to Grange-over-Sands and then follow anti-clockwise round the county. The Boundary Commission have opted for the latter and this probably makes more sense.


Barrow was a Tory seat between 1983 and 1987, but was won by John Hutton in 1992 and is now the safest Labour seat in the county, with John Woodcock as the new MP.  The current Barrow and Furness seat includes all the Barrow-in-Furness district and the towns of Ulverston and Broughton-in-Furness from South Lakeland district together with some surrounding fells. 

The proposal ditches Broughton and instead stretches eastwards along the Morecambe Bay coast to Grange-Over-Sands.  Broughton is probably the most Tory part of the current seat, so this will be no loss to Labour.  However, as the Westmorland & Lonsdale seat has been a Tory-Lib Dem tussle with little Labour strength, the extension is less good news, and the new wards are strongly Tory.  This will eat into Labour’s majority, removing about a third of it, and making Barrow marginal again.

My projections of the 2010 result on the new boundaries:

  • Labour: 21,226 (44.8%)
  • Conservative: 17,466 (36.9%)
  • Liberal Democrat: 6,243 (13.2%)
  • Other: 2,455 (5.1%)


The current arrangements have the city of Carlisle itself and the west of the Carlisle district forming the Carlisle seat, with the rural eastern parts of the district forming the Border parts of the Penrith & The Border seat.  The current seat is too small (less than the 72,810 minimum) whilst the entire district is, just, over the maximum of 80,473.

The Commission have therefore opted to create a Carlisle seat with all but one ward from the district, handing Dalston ward to Workington & Keswick.

Carlisle was a Labour seat from 1964 until last year, when the Tories won it with a slim 853 vote majority (thanks in part to boundary changes).  The proposals help the Tories massively, with the safe rural border wards stretching that majority to over 5,000.  This would put the new seat beyond Labour’s reach in all but landslide elections.

My projections of the 2010 result on the new boundaries:

  • Conservative: 23,093 (43.5%)
  • Labour: 17,446 (32.8%)
  • Liberal Democrat: 8,881 (16.7%)
  • Other: 3,727 (7.0%)

Copeland and Windermere

The current west Cumbrian constituency of Copeland is a Labour-held marginal over the Tories, although it and its predecessor seat (Whitehaven) have been Labour since 1935.  Labour won last time with a 3,833 majority, equivalent to 9% of the vote there.

The proposed seat includes all the Copeland district, with 59,446 electors.  The balance comes from two places, both somewhat controversially.

The first is to take 2,545 electors from Allerdale district’s Harrington ward to the north.  This is problematic as the ward includes some of the outskirts of Workington.

The second addition is even more difficult.  The remaining 15,721 electors come from South Lakeland district, mainly from Lib Dem president Tim Farron’s Westmorland & Lonsdale seat.  This stretches the seat across the Cumbrian mountains to take in Windermere, Ambleside and Coniston from Farron’s seat, together with Broughton from the current Barrow seat.  This makes an unwieldy seat with little connection between Windermere and the coastal areas where most of the Copeland electors live.

Labour doesn’t really figure in Westmorland and Lonsdale: it got only 2.2% of the vote in that seat last year.  This will of course be depressed somewhat by tactical voting, but given that the Lib Dems are similarly sidelined in Copeland (on 10.2% in 2010) it all helps the Tories.  Overall, this is enough to transform the seat into a Tory marginal.

My projections of the 2010 result on the new boundaries:

  • Conservative: 20,647 (37.7%)
  • Labour: 19,097 (34.9%)
  • Liberal Democrat: 12,352 (22.5%)
  • Other: 2,692 (4.9%)

Kendal and Penrith

With the Border part of Penrith & The Border going to the new Carlisle seat and the western parts of Westmorland and Lonsdale joining the Barrow and Copeland seats, what is left of both are joined together to form Kendal and Penrith.  Despite not being linked previously, this is a relatively coherent seat linked by the M6.

Slightly more of the seat, 53% of the electors, comes from Westmorland and Kendal is the largest town, hence its primacy in the name of the seat.

Rory Stewart’s Penrith & The Border and Tim Farron’s Westmorland & Lonsdale are currently the two safest seats in Cumbria.  This makes for a fascinating contest between the Tories and Lib Dems, or at least it would if the latter can regain their level of support at the last general election.  By my maths, the Tories have the slight edge, which presumably will be a lot less slight next time around.

My projections of the 2010 result on the new boundaries:

  • Conservative: 23,385 (40.3%)
  • Liberal Democrat: 22,631 (39.0%)
  • Labour: 10,009 (17.2%)
  • Other: 2,026 (3.5%)

Workington and Keswick

Labour’s Tony Cunningham currently holds the Workington constituency with almost a 12% majority.  This seat is made up of the majority of the Allerdale district, although there are also some rural parts of Allerdale in the current Copeland and Penrith & The Border seats, around Keswick and Wigton respectively.

The proposed seat takers in all of Allerdale, minus the rather odd exception of Harrington ward (see Copeland and Windermere above).  To make up the numbers, 4,824 voters come in from Carlisle’s Dalston ward (see Carlisle above) and 4,576 voters from the Eden district around Ullswater.

These additions are to Labour’s detriment and reduce its majority by 75%.

My projections of the 2010 result on the new boundaries:

  • Labour: 20,290 (40.0%)
  • Conservative: 18,791 (37.0%)
  • Liberal Democrat: 7,758 (15.3%)
  • Other: 3,942 (7.8%)


The changes in Cumbria look mainly to help the Tories, potentially turning their current two seats - one safe and one marginal - into three – one safe and two marginal.  Labour loses a seat and one of the two remaining becomes very marginal and the changes rob the Lib Dems of one of their safest seats in the country.

Next time, Lancashire…

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

George_East November 5, 2011 at 10:43 am

Good stuff as ever Jackie. One of the interesting take aways from this is the effect on Farron. Conventional wisdom has him as favourite for the post-Clegg leadership of the Lib Dems. Part of this has been predicated on him having a safe seat and therefore being less vulnerable to a Lib Dem collapse. Yet on these figures he loses his seat even if the Lib Dem vote is at 2010 levels next time, something which is all but inconceivable. Of course he may buck a trend but the task assuming a significant national drop in support looks difficult.


A Brown November 13, 2011 at 8:44 pm

Where on earth did you get a 17% Labour vote for Kendal and Penrith from?

The 5.3% from the UKPR notionals is close to the mark instead.


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