Sean Fear’s Friday slot

Sean Fear’s Friday slot

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    Focus on Watford

Last night, I attended the Primary which chose the Conservative candidate for Watford, at the next election. Ian Oakley was chosen by a huge margin, on the first ballot. Ian is a friend of mine, and was Ali Miraj’s campaign manager in 2005. He worked enormously hard at the last election, and in my opinion, Watford made the right choice in selecting him.

Watford incorporates all the wards on Watford Borough Council, together with five wards from Three Rivers. It is unusual in being a three-way marginal seat. At the last election, only 2,000 votes separated Labour in First place, from the Conservatives in Third place. The Liberal Democrats, who were a distant third in 2001, leap-frogged the Conservatives, to run Claire Ward very close indeed.

As is so often the case, the Liberal Democrats have built their success at Parliamentary level on success at local level. Watford is now a mighty stronghold for them in local elections. In both 2002, and this year, they won the Mayoralty comfortably, and in the local elections, in the wards making up the seat, they won 44% of the vote, compared to 26% for the Conservatives, 19% for Labour, and 11% for the Greens. Out of 51 seats in the constituency, the Liberal Democrats hold 42, the Conservatives 4, the Greens 3, and Labour (amazingly) 1 seat, with another seat held by an independent.

Unless the government’s popularity recovers dramatically, by the time of the next election, Claire Ward’s defeat must be regarded as a virtual certainty in this seat. Labour’s local collapse, from controlling the council until recently, to being reduced to one seat, has been sudden and dramatic.

Their activist base has been depleted, and Claire Ward has the added misfortune of being a Blair loyalist. It is hard to see how she can count on any significant personal vote. Sal Brinton, for the Liberal Democrats must be considered the favourite to win this seat. They now have the strongest organisation in the constituency, and dominate politics at every level, apart from the Parliamentary.

However, the Conservatives cannot be written off. Ian Oakley is a very strong campaigner, and he has one added advantage. Watford is surrounded by very safe Conservative seats, such as Hertsmere, South West Hertfordshire, and Ruislip/Pinner, where he is a borough councillor. This should ensure a steady supply of Conservative helpers, who can match Liberal Democrat numbers in the constituency.

Yesterday’s by-elections brought mixed results:-
Barnsley MBC – Worsborough: Labour 615, Barnsley Independent Group 510, BNP 310, Lib Dem 137, Respect 91 . Labour hold. Although this was a Labour hold, the result showed a strong swing to the Barnsley Independents, who are inching ever closer to depriving Labour of control of Barnsley.
Cambridge CC – Trumpington: Lib Dem 858, C 618, Lab 109, Green 85.
Lib Dem hold. Although the Conservative vote share rose slightly, the Liberal Democrats have shown themselves adept, here as elsewhere, at squeezing the vote of other non-Conservative parties down to vanishing point.
Reading UA – Tilehurst: Lib Dem 919, C 586, Lab 317, Green 79, Roman Party 21. Lib Dem hold. As in Cambridge, a small improvement in the Conservatives’ share was outweighed by other parties’ supporters switching to the Lib Dems.
Salisbury DC – Downton and Redlynch: Conservative 907, Independent 311, Labour 127. Conservative hold. This is a shockingly bad result for Labour, who actually won one of the seats in this ward in 2003. It may point to the disappearance of residual Labour groups in safe Conservative areas, next May.
Slough UA – Langley St Marys: Conservative 805, Labour 682, Independent 107. Conservative gain from Independent. An excellent Conservative result..
Stroud DC- Cainscross: Labour 489, Conservative 407, Lib Dem 238 . Labour hold. Labour will be delighted to hold a seat in a ward in which the Conservative hold one seat. Stroud is a key marginal constituency, and simply has to be won by the Conservatives if they are to come close to winning the next general election.

Sean Fear is a London Tory activist and regular contributor

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