David Cameron went into the 2015 General Election daring to dream of a Conservative majority and ready to settle for five more years of coalition with the Lib Dems as a last resort.In Yorkshire, that translated into a largely defensive strategy looking to cling onto marginals won from Labour four years earlier.Resources went into seats including Pudsey, Colne Valley, Calder Valley, Elmet and Rothwell and Keighley.Visits to Yorkshire by the Prime Minister and then Chancellor George Osborne went from being scarce occasions to routine parts of the election campaign. So often was he in the region that Mr Cameron took to finishing briefings with Yorkshire media with the phrase “I’ll be back”.The strategy paid off.Labour’s major success in the region was taking back Dewsbury, a seat many Conservatives had privately conceded weeks before polling day. Its only other gains were in Bradford East, where the Lib Dems had a tiny majority, and Bradford West where the momentum which had propelled George Galloway to victory in the 2012 by-election had long-since fizzled out.In many marginal seats, the Conservatives not only held off Labour, but saw their MPs’ majorities rise.And there was a surprise bonus for Mr Cameron as the people of Morley and Outwood threw out Labour’s then shadow chancellor Ed Balls.Promises to keep the economy on track, narrow the North-South divide and deliver major transport projects like HS2 combined were enough to persuade Yorkshire voters to put Mr Cameron back in Downing Street.Two years on, the men who made those promises to Yorkshire have gone and have been succeeded by a Prime Minister and Chancellor who seem less enthusiastic about the Northern Powerhouse concept and the drive to give regions like ours more powers over their own affairs.Labour’s fortunes have plummeted under Jeremy Corbyn and, unusually for the main opposition party, much of their efforts will be focused onto hanging onto seats rather than winning them.And Brexit will now compete with the economy as the major theme of the coming campaign.
The Liberal Democrats will hope to win support in York and Harrogate which, along with Leeds, were the only Yorkshire districts to back Remain in last year’s referendum. However, Conservative MPs Andrew Jones and Julian Sturdy, Harrogate and Knaresborough and York Outer respectively, have significant majorities.A more realistic target might be Bradford East, given the party held the seat before the last election and only have to overturn a 7,000 majority.Labour will be worried about hanging on to Halifax which only just remained red in 2015 in the face of a determined effort by the Conservatives.And with the Conservatives likely to focus on Jeremy Corbyn’s uncertainty over Brexit, seats held by pro-Remain Labour MPs in areas of Yorkshire which voted to leave the EU could become surprise targets. The UK Independence Party went into the 2015 election hoping to add to its sole MP with Rotherham among the seats in its sights.But the party struggled to turn large numbers of votes nationwide into seats and achieving Ukip’s goal of Britain leaving the EU has robbed it of momentum.The election of Paul Nuttall as party leader was supposed to improve Ukip’s appeal to northern voters but its by-election performances in recent months have not signalled a major revival.The coming election will test the party’s continued appeal to traditional Labour voters in parts of Yorkshire.