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Demand for Voting Overhaul as One in Six Commons Seats ‘Haven’t Changed Hands for a Century’

Over eight million voters live in ‘one-party fiefdoms’ as over 100 parliamentary seats have been held by one party for a century or more

The ITV Leaders Debate between Labour leader Keir Starmer and Rishi Sunak on Tuesday night. Millions of voters in ‘safe’ seats will feel they have little choice. Photo: ITV

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More than 100 parliamentary seats have been held for a century or more by only one party, according to new research. 

It means that one in six (111 seats) have been held by the same party since at least 1924, with 8.1 million potential voters living in these seats, analysis by the Electoral Reform Society shows. The research takes into account so-called ‘predecessor seats’ where the boundaries broadly overlap with previous incarnations of the seats.

More than a quarter of seats in the Commons, 179 (28%), have been held by one party since the end of World War II. Around 13 million potential voters live in these seats, out of around 48 million people who are registered to vote in this upcoming election.

Meanwhile, 247 seats (38%) have been held by one party for 50 years or more, with 18.1 million potential voters living in these seats. 

The Conservatives hold 94 of the seats which have not changed hands for 100 years or more, whereas Labour hold 17 seats, according to the ERS analysis. 

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And while the average time since a UK parliamentary seat last changed hands is 45 years, though the figure varies significantly by UK region. In Northern Ireland, the average is just 17 years. But in the traditionally Conservative-voting South East the figure is 75 years. 

Those figures could be about to change as Labour maintain a 20-point lead over the Conservatives with just four weeks to go before the General Election. Previously ‘safe’ Conservative seats are likely to be thrown into contested territory. 

However, even with the Blair Government’s landslide 1997 victory, 104 Conservative seats have still not changed hands since World War II (1945), as well as 75 Labour seats.

The rise of the Reform UK party – particularly under returning leader Nigel Farage – has also thrown a hand grenade at many Conservative candidates’ already-waning chances of re-election. 

The findings come amid reports that senior Conservative party figures tried to settle a deal with Reform to avoid splitting the vote in at-risk Conservative seats. Reform UK stood down for the party under Boris Johnson in hundreds of seats in 2019, helping to hand the now-disgraced ex-PM a large majority. Rishi Sunak can no longer rely on such a deal. 


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In Numbers

Top four longest held Conservative seats: 

Top three longest held Labour seats:

‘Safest’ region: 

Darren Hughes, Chief Executive of the Electoral Reform Society, said millions of people have not seen any change in representation in their lifetime. 

“Huge swathes of the country are effectively competition-free zones, with ‘safe’ seats leaving voters feeling ignored and left behind by politics.

Calling for a switch to proportional representation over First Past the Post, Hughes added: “Elections should be about the whole country. But under the rotten First Past the Post system the focus is reduced to just the handful of ‘swing seats’ that change hands between parties. With trust in politics at rock bottom, it is imperative that we address the distrust and alienation being caused by the current unfair Westminster voting system.”

Find out when your seat last changed party hands here.

Parliamentary constituency boundary reviews occur periodically, every 10-15 years or so, to take account of the changing size of the electorate in different places. Where constituencies have changed over the years, the ERS have sought to find previous constituencies that best match the area covered by the current constituency. Sometimes that involves subjective judgements. 

Byline Times is relaunching our VoteWatch project to monitor disinformation, dodgy campaigning, and dark money during the 2024 General Election. Get in touch if you have a tip off or any insights:

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