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Witney is a safe Tory seat was made ultra safe by the relatively equal division between Reds and Yellows plus the bonus of having the PM as MP. Last time out Labour thumped Lib Dems in the undercard. In the referendum Remain won 54-46.
The constituency can be divided into three rough blocks
Witney and Chipping Norton – Con v Lab
The fringe of Oxford (Woodstock, Charlbury) Con v LD
Carterton (Armed Services) and the villages – solid Tory
This geographical division partly explains why neither Labour or Liberal Democrats have successfully squeezed the other’s vote. Labour has recovered in Witney since 2010, bucking the trend and holding 2 council seats with increased majorities earlier this year.
One of these councillors, Duncan Enright is Labour candidate having stood in 2015. He has a good reputation locally for campaigning. Liz Leffman for the Yellows stood in Witney in 2005 and in a target seat in 2010. She also has a good reputation for dogged persistence and getting results once she adopts a cause.
With such strong local campaigners standing the Tories responded by also fielding a local councillor, barrister Robert Court. All his predecessors had been head office apparatchiks – Douglas Hurd, Shaun Woodward and Cameron. The Green candidate is Larry Sanders, brother of Bernie. UKIP are very weak and were unable to get their candidate to the one hustings being held.
The Lib Dems have drafted in the full election team and have been helped by not being distracted by national conferences. Labour are relying on a local effort. Duncan Enright’s Twitter feed shows mainly friends and family out with him whereas the Lib Dems have come from all over the country. The Tories seem to be doing their usual thing – apparently unimpressive and yet still the clear favourites.
The scale of the Lib Dem effort means they are likely to regain second place. After years of not being heard, it is clear they are being listened to once again by the voters. However, they have not gained ownership of the key local issues – the closing of a surgery in Witney, Doctor’s waiting times and traffic on the A40. They are doing the playbook but it lacks emotional connection.
Witney is not posh, much of the constituency and the town itself is lower middle class Tory. The Chipping Norton set don’t live in Chipping Norton, but in the villages, where it is very select – plenty of celebs, too many to list.
The likely outcome? The Tories remain clear favourites. The Lib Dems by virtue of the scale of their effort are likely to regain the silver medal spot, but will be prevented from making a major challenge by the residual strength of Labour’s support in Witney town itself. Duncan Enright is a strong local candidate and it is difficult to win the constituency without winning the town of Witney where the Lib Dems are historically weak.
John Wheatley who has been a regular poster to PB.com in the past and lives there