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Jeremy Hunt Used Autumn Statement to ‘Channel Funds to Marginal Conservative Seats’ Analysis Suggests

EXCLUSIVE: The Chancellor is lavishing cash at areas under significant threat from Labour

Jeremy Hunt is accused of using public funds to prop up at-risk Conservative seats. Photo: Xinhua / Alamy

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Chancellor Jeremy Hunt is targeting funds and investment at Conservative marginal seats, according to analysis of his Autumn Statement shared with Byline Times.

Ten of 12 MPs and seats mentioned by the Conservative chancellor in his major economic intervention last week had majorities smaller than the UK-average. And eight of the 12 had majorities of less than ten per cent. 

Sarah Atherton, the MP for Wrexham, and Simon Baynes, the MP for Clwyd South, both of whose seats would be lost by the Conservatives at the next election based on current predictions, were given specific mention by the Chancellor, while other seats received bungs including Moray, represented by Douglas Ross MP (majority of 1%) and Bury North (James Daly MP) with a majority of just 0.22%. 

The Chancellor said: “Having listened to my hon. Friends the Members for Wrexham (Sarah Atherton) and for Clwyd South (Simon Baynes), I can announce a second investment zone in Wales in the fantastic region of Wrexham and Flintshire, which I will visit tomorrow.”

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The twelve MPs or seats referenced in the Chancellor’s speech with regard to a policy decision he had taken were:

The average MP’s majority at the last general election was 24.9% or 12,527 votes, while seats with a majority of under 7,000 votes represented just 14.15% of the country as a whole, according to House of Commons data. 

Yet of the twelve MPs identified by name by the Chancellor as beneficiaries of his policy decisions, only two represent constituencies that are more safe than the average seat at the 2019 election, analysis by pro-PR campaign Make Votes Matter reveals. 

Eight of the remaining ten MPs would lose their seats at the next election based on current polling.

Campaigners point to the Chancellor’s targeted generosity as a symbol of the pork-barrel politics with which First Past the Post is associated.

Last year, the New Statesman found that each Conservative MP constituent received an average of £64 more from four major ‘levelling up’ funds than those represented by another party.   

Analysis in 2020 by the Guardian showed that opposition Labour councils have borne the brunt of local government cuts over the past decade. And research in 2019 by the BBC found that Conservative-held constituencies were overwhelming beneficiaries of the government’s increase in schools funding. The BBC’s Newsnight also found that Labour-Tory marginal seats were overrepresented when it comes to the government’s promises of money for “left-behind” towns.

In 2019, it emerged that money from the government’s £3.6bn Towns Fund was being spent in richer areas where Conservative MPs were fighting to keep their seats, at the expense of some of the UK’s poorest towns. Out of 61 areas picked by government ministers for the new Towns Fund, 60 were in Conservative-held seats or Tory targets with an average majority of just 3,000, according to The Times. Byline Times found similar bias. 

For electoral reform backers, the figures show that Westminster’s winner-takes-all voting system causes politicians to prioritise leafy swing seats over super-safe constituencies – which are disproportionately Labour held and in urban areas. 

Make Votes Matter’s Chief Executive, Klina Jordan, commented: “With levelling-up funding and now with this Autumn Statement, the government is playing politics with people’s lives.

“By any other name, this is surely an attempt by the government to shore up its vote in areas it just so happens to be more electorally vulnerable.

“As long as we’re stuck with the current voting system, politicians of all stripes will keep doing this. That’s why we need a simpler, proportional voting system where the opinions of voters in Manchester Gorton matters just as much as those in Moray.”

Make Votes Matter is a single-issue campaign for Proportional Representation in the House of Commons. The Treasury was contacted for comment.

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Josiah Mortimer also writes the On the Ground column, exclusive to the print edition of Byline Times.

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