General Election preview: Lincoln

by Jackie_South on January 19, 2015

Lincoln iconFor the second in our series on seats to watch in this year’s general election, we turn to Britain’s oldest constituency: Lincoln.

Today, Iain Dale shared his predictions for the General Election in The Independent. Some of the individual outcomes may not pan out, but the overall numbers seem about right to me. In his view one seat that Labour will win from the Tories is Lincoln.

Earlier this month, regular reader Mike Killingworth expressed concern that the rise of UKIP could be sufficient to save marginal Lincoln’s Conservative MP, Karl McCartney. So I thought it would be worth checking out what would happen in what is the only UK constituency that has existed continuously since the days of Simon de Montfort.

First off, the 2010 results:

2010 result chart

2010 result pie


You’ll be relieved to hear I’m not going to go back to the reign of Henry III in looking at the politics of the constituency. Labour first won Lincoln in 1924, losing it in the national government landslide of 1931 and regaining it in 1945.

It was then fairly safely Labour, until the party’s divisions over Europe in the Seventies led to the local party asking their pro-Europe MP Dick Taverne to stand down. Taverne instead left the party, setting up his own Democratic Labour Party and resigned as MP to stand under his new colours. Taverne won that 1973 by-election and the subsequent general election in February 1974, but was defeated by Labour’s then Margaret Jackson (later Margaret Beckett) in the second election that year. Jackson lost in 1979, returning to the Commons four years later for Derby South.

Now, despite the demise of Taverne’s short-lived party, Lincoln became a bellwether: since the October 1974 election, the party that has won Lincoln has also formed the government. Conservative Kenneth Carlisle held the seat from 1979 until standing down eighteen years later. By then, a Labour return became inevitable with outer Tory suburbs being removed from the constituency, and Labour’s Gillian Merron won in 1997 and held it for the next thirteen years.

There were slight changes in 2010, principally the addition of Skellingthorpe ward. That helped the Tories a little, and with a further 5.9% swing Karl McCartney won.

For the elections between 1983 and 2010,

Lincoln 83-10 results

As percentages, see below.

Lincoln 83-10 percents

The constituency

The constituency takes in all of the cathedral city of Lincoln, but at around 65,000 electors this on its own is a little too small to justify a seat on its own so two additional wards are brought in from the North Kesteven district to the city’s south: Skellingthorpe ward to the west and Bracebridge Heath and Waddington East ward to the southeast.

Lincoln map

Lincoln surrounds a sharp bend in the River Witham, where it flows through a gap in the north-south Lincoln Cliff. The sharp bend forms the Brayford Pool, where the river is joined by Fossdyke, a man-made channel built by the Romans. The Lincoln Cliff forms a steep escarpment, on top of which are the city’s cathedral and castle. By the river are the city centre, university and railway station.

Labour is traditionally strongest in the inner areas closest to the Witham and Fossdyke, whilst the Conservatives are stronger in the suburbs to the south and southwest, and in the area north of the cathedral.

Neither of the wards outside the city boundaries have much support for Labour – indeed the party did not even stand in either when they were last contested in 2011. Bracebridge Heath and Waddington East is a safe Conservative ward whilst Skellingthorpe has Independent councillors.

The map below shows the current councillors for the eleven Lincoln and both North Kesteven wards.

Lincoln councillors

Whilst North Kesteven holds its elections only once every four years, in Lincoln a third of seats are up for election in each of every three out of four years. Looking at the differential between Conservative and Labour support across the local elections between 2011 and 2014, the average lead of one over the other across the wards is as follows. For the two North Kesteven wards, the 2013 county council results are used as both parties contested those elections there.

Lincoln ward votes


The pie chart below shows the average of the local election results by party across across the constituency between 2011 and 2014.

Lincoln 2011-14 pie

The UKIP factor

All these local council figures tend to show a two-party race (if you exclude the Skellingthorpe independents). But support for both the Liberal Democrats and UKIP also needs to be examined. In 2010, after all, a fifth of voters in the constituency voted Lib Dem.

Their support has plummeted since then: in the 2010 local elections (held on the same day as the general election) the Liberal Democrats won 23% of the vote within the city itself, but that has fallen in the local elections held each year since to less than 5% last year. However, in 2013’s county council elections, they did hold on to their county councillor for Skellingthorpe and Hykeham South (about 40%of this is within the constituency).

More interesting from that election though was UKIP’s support: they had one of their best results in Lincolnshire and took the normally Conservative-inclined Lincoln Hartsholme division. But despite that good result, Labour still took 8 of the other Lincoln seats on the county and the Tories took the other (Bracebridge) along with the Bracebridge Heath and Waddington seat. The map below shows these (NB – the boundaries for these divisions differ from the city ward boundaries).Lincoln CC results

The split boundaries for the two North Kesteven wards make the calculations a little imprecise, but across the constituency the vote in those country council elections broke down as 39% Labour, 28% Conservative, 23% UKIP, 7% Lib Dem and 3% for others.

UKIP did better in the 2014 European elections, topping the poll in both the city and North Kesteven. In Lincoln, they just beat Labour: 30.1% to Labour’s 29.8%. The Conservatives were third (22.9%), Greens fourth (7.4%) and Lib Dems fifth (4.9%).

Lincoln euros

The outcome?

Those European results, and a decline in Labour’s vote on Lincoln council between 2012 and 2014 has led some to speculate that the UKIP surge may be enough to prevent Labour from winning Lincoln back in May.

However, Labour did remain the most popular party in Lincoln in the local elections held the same day as the European elections. Although there is evidence that UKIP benefited in those elections too, they remained third (on 23.3%), behind both Labour and the Conservatives. It is clear that last May some voters in Lincoln voted UKIP in the European elections but for other parties in the local elections, which tend to be a better indicator for general election voting.

UKIP did take more votes from Labour than the Conservatives in the local, relative to 2012. But 2012 was a very good result for Labour: the shift since 2010 shows that Labour is still doing better than then (almost 4% more), and the Tories are doing far worse (almost 7% less). That swing of over 5% in Labour’s favour still leaves room for comfort, given that they only need one of 1.2% to regain the seat in this year’s general election.

The graph below shows the local election percentages for the four local elections between 2010 and 2014.

Lincoln LE percent 10-14

These figures still exclude the North Kesteven wards (indeed, if people voted the same way in 2010’s local and general election, Labour marginally still led within the city itself). But there is no reason to assume that Labour’s vote in those two wards will have been squeezed more than the Conservative vote, given that there was not much of a vote there in the first place.

Below we return to the first graph, showing the 2010 general election results, but this time overlaid with the total votes for each party in the city itself in the 2010 local elections. The darker block for each party show the local election results, the lighter the difference between those and the general election results. The lighter blocks can therefore act as a proxy for the North Kesteven voting in the constituency, together with capturing any national versus local differences.

Lincoln 2010 split chart

If we assume that (1) that difference does not change for the three main parties last time and that (2) the BNP and English Democrat votes in the general election not matched with local election votes go to UKIP, we can put these differentials together with the 2014 local election results. This is an assumption that probably slightly over-states the Conservative vote, given that it assumes that this has not decreased in the North Kesteven wards.

Lincoln 2014 proj

So, these figures project a 6.7% lead for Labour’s Lucy Rigby: a fairly modest swing of 4.5% but still a majority almost three times hat currently held by Karl McCartney.


Barring a massive Conservative rally in the polls, Lincoln looks like a Labour gain in May.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Mike Killingworth January 19, 2015 at 9:04 am

I’m still not convinced. May I suggest that a lot will depend on the campaign – which, I assume, will, like much of England, be a case of Tory cash vs Labour ground troops. And how hard UKIP fight: much of the city consists of sold-off Council housing and Victorian terraces which ought to be Kipper-friendly (except for the terraces that are now student digs, of course). Indeed, I think UKIP could even win with a celebrity candidate.

As to “the oldest constituency in England”, this is pure PR, although the place does go back to the Romans, of course.

Anyway: many thanks, Jackie: hope you enjoyed researching and writing this up as much as I did seeing again so many place-names from my childhood…


Jackie_South January 19, 2015 at 2:04 pm

Thanks Mike.

As you say, the outcome in this seat will depend on the battle between Labour’s ground operation and Tory money.

Since writing this, I’ve found a Lord Ashcroft poll taken just a few days ago (7 January) in the seat that is not too far of my prediction:
Lab: 39%
Con: 35%
UKIP: 17%
LD: 6%
Green: 3%
Others: 1%


Mike Killingworth January 19, 2015 at 9:11 am

I should have added that a 30-year-old lawyer from Islington is exactly the wrong sort of candidate for Labour, however photogenic she may be…


Geoff Elliott January 19, 2015 at 1:32 pm


And there in a nutshell is evidence for those who believe that Labour are saddled with the problem of being a London centric elitist party.

Good piece Jackie, a very interesting read on what is going to be a constituency to keep an eye on.


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