Why the eyes of the nation are on Northampton on polling day

Certain seats set the heartbeats of politicos beating a little faster when the Election Night count is due.

Thursday, 8th June 2017, 4:21 pm
Updated Tuesday, 13th June 2017, 3:28 pm
Tomorrow's Prime Minister will be watching how we vote

These are the bellwethers: named after castrated rams (wethers) whose clunking bell would indicate the direction of the flock, these areas have a special place in election night lore, for by watching the right ones you can pretty much see who will be PM before most of the seats are declared.

Two of these magical seats are in Northampton, with both the north and south of the town pretty reliable indicators of who will hold the keys to Number Ten by Friday lunchtime.

Northampton North and Northampton South were created for the General Election of February 1974, when the old town-wide constituency of 'Northampton' was retired.

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Ever since, the MP that the residents of each side of our town elect to Parliament is virtually guaranteed to be wearing the same rosette as the new First Lord of the Treasury.

For this reason, these type of constituencies are known as 'swing seats' and are thus avidly watched by political journalists up and down the land, as well as sweaty-palmed aides.

Northampton South could be described as fairly reliable. It has only failed to 'predict' the new Government twice in 11 elections.

The first was in its inaugural year, when people in the likes of Far Cotton and St James (very narrowly) elected Tory Michael Morris despite the prevailing feeling towards Labour across UK constituencies.

They went on electing Mr Morris too, for six successive general elections, until his (narrow) defeat in the Labour landslide of 1997. Northampton South was well into the national groove by then and, having taken a good sniff of the political winds, went with the majority of seats in the UK again, voting for Tony Clarke.

Pollsters were briefly surprised in 2005 when Clarke was usurped by Conservative county councillor Brian Binley, despite another cosy Tony Blair victory.

But, apart from those two aberrations, Northampton South has been almost as dependable as it gets for predicting the overall victor in the Prime Ministerial race.

Northampton North, however, has been even more reliable, never once deviating from the national majority since its creation. A prize, thoroughbred bellwether.

But does this mean we should be surprised that every single party leader has given our town a wide berth during the campaign (not even one visit this time around)?

Well, no, actually. Just because we here have an almost telepathic insight into the mind of the majority doesn't mean that capturing Northampton with a rousing Market Square rally will do your chances of waking up in Downing Street any good.

You might well argue that politicians spending time on the doorsteps of Abington or Kingsthorpe actually listening to the ordinary folk in our very political town BEFORE a manifesto is drawn up would pay them dividends today, June 8. But that is not the way the brains of election gurus work.

Indeed, the fact it is has two swing seats may even mean Northampton isn't worth touching at all as - strategists may think - the national mood will out no matter what.

Far better, they may think, to topple candidates in 'key marginals' (or totem figures such as cabinet or shadow cabinet MPs for that real kick in the guts) whose sad faces at 2am on the BBC would herald a properly significant Election Night moment.

Still, although changing Northampton minds will probably not automatically bring them victory, you can be assured that Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn will nonetheless be looking extra keenly at the exit polls and results in this part of the world in the early hours of Friday.

The initial glimpses of victory or defeat, the decision to begin writing the conciliatory speech or the congratulatory one, may well be triggered first by viewing through bleary eyes, in appropriately-coloured pyjamas, the results of Northampton's bellwether seats.

And whatever happens, at least it's a fair bet that most Northamptonians will be pleased by the final election result come Friday. Historically, we generally are satisfied.