MP: Jess Phillips, Labour
Labour-Lib Dem semi-marginal
Once again, Labour’s Jess Philips will face John Hemming of the Liberal Democrats. A Lib Dem seat from 2005 – 2015, Yardley returned to Labour last time. Although the Lib Dems have been polling slightly higher since, and Labour considerably lower, Hemming and the Lib Dems face a major task if they are to overcome a Labour majority of 6,595 in a constituency that voted, in keeping with Birmingham as a whole, to leave the European Union.
As a former Lib Dem constituency, the seat is a target for the party, although fairly low down on their list. Yardley has been a two-way race between Labour and the Lib Dems since 1997. The latter may of course be helped by the current unpopularity of Jeremy Corbyn, but they would have to rely on a much bigger swing than is expected, and probably some Conservative votes falling their way as well. The other factor that may work against them is the popularity of Yardley’s incumbent MP.
For a new MP who has never been in the shadow cabinet, Jess Philips has become remarkably well-known, appearing on Have I Got News for You and publishing a book, ‘Jess Phillips: Everywoman’. This will increase her name-recognition going into the campaign, but it may also enable her to distance herself from the Labour leadership, should she need to. Phillips has frequently shown a willingness to confront the Labour leadership, infamously stating: ‘The day that it becomes you are hurting us more than helping us, I won’t knife you in the back, I will knife you in the front.’
Nonetheless, the West Midlands recently (narrowly) voted for a Conservative Mayor and several other constituencies are under threat. Conservatives were in fourth place here last time, but will expect to pick up support from the 16.1% of voters who backed UKIP last time. A Leave seat like Yardley could go some way to helping the Lib Dems understand how far they are able to compete outside their Remain comfort zones.
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Jack Bridgewater is a doctoral researcher in English party politics and identity at the University of Kent. He tweets @JLBridgewater