General Election 2024: The Essex town that always decides who will be next Prime Minister

There are very few constituencies where the result is often seen as being symbolic and there are even fewer where the party elected typically goes on to form the next Government. Harlow, however, is one of those constituencies.

The town's constituency, which also includes the villages of White Roding and Hatfield Heath after a boundary review, has a population of over 105,000 and is mostly agricultural. Sir Robert Halfon has been the area's representative in the House of Commons since 2010 but, regardless of the outcome on July 4, there will be a new face due to his standing down.

Harlow is a bellwether town. The party chosen by its constituents typically goes on to form the next Government. In 1997 it swung from Conservative to Labour before returning to the Tories in 2010.

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"Harlow has always been something of a bellwether seat," said John Bartle, Professor of Government at the University of Essex. "It switches between Labour and Conservative pretty regularly.

"It was a new town established in the post-war period. It's a working-class seat and therefore it has always been a seat that both parties wanted to win.

"That's not because they needed another seat in the column in the seat tally but because it was symbolic of 20th-century Britain. It was a little microcosm where society was broadly represented of the country as a whole and who won there generally formed the government afterwards."

Since 1983 the majority in Harlow has consistently been below 15,000. It's been as low as just 97 votes in 2005 and was at 14,063 in 2019. It's no surprise, therefore, that it is getting plenty of attention from Labour as they try to take control from the Conservatives in 2024.

The party's local candidate, Chris Vince, was joined by leader Sir Keir Starmer and deputy Angela Rayner at Harlow Town Football Club on May 4, the day before the local elections. Ms Rayner has also visited the area since the General Election was called by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.

Whilst the 2019 election was fought over Brexit, the 2024 election is likely to be fought over immigration but in Harlow, the key issues relate to the future of a new Princess Alexandra Hospital, potholes and housing.

Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer with deputy leader Angela Rayner addressing party activists at Harlow Town Football Club
Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer with deputy leader Angela Rayner addressing party activists at Harlow Town Football Club -Credit:Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire

The latest predictions from Electoral Calculus say the seat is likely to swing to Labour (72% chance of winning) whilst YouGov said the result could be close but also more likely to turn red than remain blue.

Most of the polls suggest it could be a devastating election for the Tories. Essex is somewhere they tend to rely on for key support, but if Harlow changes colour then the Government is likely to do so too.

The candidates standing in Harlow are Hannah Ellis (Cons), Yasmin Gregory (Green), Chris Vince (Labour), Riad Mannan (Lib Dem), Malcolm Featherstone (Reform UK), and Lois Perry (UKIP). Click here for a full list of General Election 2024 candidates standing in Essex.

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