Sky News were in town yesterday and suggested Loughborough was ‘Still all to play for in the marginal seat of Loughborough’ in its news coverage.
So where does we stand as we head into the last month (yikes another month of this!) of this campaign. Is it all to play for?
I have been ‘involved’ in the Loughborough seat since 1983 when I joined the Labour Party and Stephen Dorrell was fighting to retain his seat taken from Labour’s John Cronin in 1979. Little did I know as I found him canvassing and challenged him on his governments Thatcherite economic record that I would eventually replace him and he would now be fighting Buckingham for the Lib Dems.
Today’s seat is not the same Loughborough constitunecy boundaries as those in the 19080s so the camparisons are difficult even in normal times with ‘past performance’ As I have repeatedly said nothing is normal about politics at the moment and even trying to call Loughborough with a month to go is still too diffciult. So this is a quick historical look back to give context. I will do a proper analysis of what might happen this time in a couple of weeks.
Between 1992 and 1997 when I fought the seat at both General Elections the seat had changed dramatcially. In 1992 I enetered the race facing a massive 17,648 Tory majority! I was a youngster in it for the experience not with any ideas about winning. There were moments as we all know that we in Labour got a little excited about winning in 1992 under Kinnock, but that last week of the campaign we all knew as candidates it was over. I managed to reduce Dorrells majority down to just 10,883 and seen as quite a result! I honestly thought that was probably the highlight of my parliamentary activity – a young lad from Birstall at least being a candidate in a General Election.
However, before the 1997 election Boundary changes were needed in Leiecestershire to cater for the gorwing population and the introductoin of a 10th seat and 7th in the County. Whilst the Boundary commissions work is technical and at times boring it is deeply political and significant. We had a great team putting forward the Labour Party case – including one brilliant Willy Bach!
Effectively Willy Bach and the Labour lawyers were able to make a strong case for the creation of the new Charnwood seat across the top of Leiecster and thereby removing many of the southern villages from the old Loughborough seat (Mountsorrell and Rothley downwards) and adding in Shepshed from NW Leiecsetrershire. The seat makes perfect sense now as it is tightly fitted to Loughborough and surrounding villages but at the time it was controversial, because the Charnwood seat looked a little strange. But the Commission overturned their own plan and fully took on Labour’s proposal. The result on paper turned the new Loughborough seat into a very margial prospect for Dorrell to hang onto. He chose to follow one third of his constituents into the new Charnwood seat. Obviously a very sensible decision For him but one that gave us a couple of years trotting out the line that he had joined the ‘Chicken run’ along with other Tory MPs across the country following their majorities. I look back and think it Was all very childish. Who wouldn’t have done something similar?
As we know 1997 was the year of a landslide for Labour. During the campaign Loughborough was target seat number 55 for Labour – the point on election night when we had a majority of one if we took the seat. In the build up to Election Day there was plenty of interest in our seat and plenty of Key Seat visits from the front bench and natoinal journalists. It was a very different experience to being a candidate in 1992 and Labour was ruthless in its targeting. At times for those of us who has been 1992 we enver took anything for granted. It always looked like we would win but we were haunted by how we had lost in 1992. In the end I won Loughborough with a 9% swing and a 5,712 majority and just under 49% of the vote share.
As we all now know the early years of the new government were unprecedented. There was only a few weeks during the Fuel Protests that we were ever behind in the polls. In 2001 as we entered the election I don’t think I have ever been as calm and collected. I was confident from all our local and national knowledege that we looked ok to hold one. In fact I kept thinking we could increase the vote and majority but didn’t want to believe what our canvassing returns were showing. In fact they were right. We managed to increaSe the majority in Loughborough to 6,378 and the percentage share of the vote to just inder 50%.
As we all know the period 2001-2005 was dominated by Iraq. It still dominates our discourse about Blair and disfigures our international and foregn policy even today. Even though I resigned from the Government as a PPS to oppose the conflict and perhaps received a lot of support for doing so, the 2005 election campaign showed what a Liberal town Loughborough has always been. Our polling experts had always argued that if Loughborough had been elsewhere in the country it would have been a Lib Dem target given its demographics. And so in 2005 my Lib Dem opponent managed to lift their vote to around 18% The Tory vote remained fairly static at the 37% mark but mine had been reduced to 41%. From 2005 to the end in 2010 I had been reduced to defending the slim majority of just under 2000. I was now in the Tory target list! But most of this was down to a Lib Dem surge. Ironically my Lib Dem opponent in 2005 joined Labour later after being impressed the campaign and the fact that we agreed on most Issues! To be fair he has returned to the Lib Dems since.
Defending a small majority and being in the oppositon target list is an uncomfortable place. The Tories selected my 2005 opponent again – Nicky Morgan, so I had no respite from the end of one election and onto the next. Usually you get a couple of years before elections without an opponent sniping from the sidelines. At the same time the majority in Parliament was reduced (to about 60+ a massive majority by today’s standards of course) which meant having to be in Westminster more to get legislation through the House of Commons and a little less time in the constituency! Not a good combination to defend a marginal seat. It is not pleasant having somebody telling all and sundry why you should lose your job in the local press week in week out!
I had always been able to follow the polls and our own canvassing quite carefully to predict what would happen at election time. I think we would have won Loughborough in 2007 when Gordon took over and nearly called an election. It maybe difficult to remember now but after a good start, Gordon was actually pretty popular as PM probably as an antedote to the Blair years. But once he didn’t call the election he never really recovered and I could see unless something turned up we would lose Loughborough. I always thought it was going to be very tight though.
Boundary Changes and the Lib Dems
As we hit the campaign in 2010 I thought the election could literally be 1500 votes either way between us and the Tories. Even during the campaign I never gave up fully because the figures looked good and ironcially on the ground it was one of the best campaigns we fought and with such enthusiasm. You can read a mood on the doorsteps. But then the mood changed. The Lib Dems tuition fees promise saw our student vote slip away. The “I agree with Nick” fever started taking hold. In 2010 the LIb Dem vote rose to just under 10,000 from their previous 8000 and 5000 in 2001. The seepage of votes to the Lib Dems as we will see in 2015 and 2017 can determine a seat like Loughborough. I was pretty angry at the betrayal of Clegg on tuition fees when it probably cost us the seat in 2010. The other major issue was that Gordon Brown was now deeply unpopular. As it got nearer polling day even good friends would say – “we would love you as our MP but we just can’t put Gordon back into Downing Street”. You realise how little a personal vote counts against the national picture. You fool yourself as an MP to think a personal vote will save you against the tide of a massive national swing.
There had also been another Boundary change ahead of the 2010 election where part of Mountsorrel was added to the southern part of the constiteuncy. We estimated that this probably reduced my notional majority to less than 1000. The job had been even harder!
In the end Nicky Morgan won with just over 41% of the vote and only a 3,744 majority. Even though before I suspected it could be 1500 votes either way I had realised by that last week it could be a lot worse. In the end I had predcited losing by 2500 votes on election night as I arrived at the Count. At least I had time to prepapre myself for losing my job, career and role in Loughborough life. I’ve done plenty of talks to local groups about the process of losing so publicy but I will try to write more of this up on these blogs over time. I have helped other MPs since 2010 in the transtion from Westminster to the new life that awaits the other side.
The Labour Party decided to select candidates early for the next general election after the 2010 loss. In hindsight there didn’t need to be a rush as the Parliament ran the whole 5 years because of the coalition agreement. There were planty of us who got it wtong and didn’t believe it could last a full term. Therefore, it was right the Party was in a position to fight a snap election. Soon after losing after having fought 5 elections and needing to find a job it was not the time to commit myself to another 5 years of unpaid campaigning. I don’t think people realise how much time, effort and expense it takes to be a candidate. I also decided to take a break from politics and serve Loughborough in a different way, through voluntary roles and local Boards. I had given over most of my adult life to the Labour Party – over 20 years by the time I was 45.
Throughout the period Labour was generally ahead in the Polls against the coalition. It did look possible that Ed Miliband could lead Labour back into government quite quickly. But the polls you always need to understand is who is trusted ont he economy and who will make the best leader/PM. These are much better predictors of the outcome. They always have been and always will be. They are the figures I look for in 2019 – not the headline ‘who will you vote for’!
So if you followed the right polling the outcome in 2015 should not have been such a shock. We ended with a small Tory majority and Ed Miliband actually losing seats on our 2010 result yet was still a shock when the exit polls came out. I hadn’t been close enough to the campaign locally, as I tried to step back and not be a back seat driver for our new candidate matthew O’Callaghan. However, towards the end I worked with the agent, and it was clear we would lose. I really felt for everybody involved because the hope was so high. However, I was not prepared for the size of the loss. Nicky Morgan had made a good local impression being pretty active and increased her majority to 9,183 and receieving just under 49% of the vote.
Both Labour and the Lib Dems went backwards in 2015. In fact the Lib Dems were punished most for being in coalition and saw their vote collapse to around 2000 votes and 4.1% Labour saw its vote fall to 16500 and just 32% of the vote. In reality 2015 was very poor for Labour. I have written about my thoughts on why this happened on this site.
Probably the most turbulant time in poliitcs in the UK was a brief period between 2015 and the 2017 election. Labour saw the election of Jeremy Corbyn as leader and Cameron made the decision to hold the Referendum on Europe. There will be plenty more blogs on Corbyn the Referendum Cameron and Prime Minister May before the end of this campaign but we certainly weren’t expecting another unnecessary election in 2017.
At the start of that campiagn the Tories had a massive lead in the Polls and May was deemed to be popular. We now know the outcome nationally and May lost her majority. Labour did better than expected – but still lost the election with about the same number of seats that it held in 2010. You would be led to believe by Corbynites sometimes that we won! But that’s for a different day!
In Loughborough I agreed to the Agent for the candidate Jewel Miah who had been so helpful to me. Given we were not prepared for the campaign we fought what I would describe as a safe competent campaign doing nothing very special, going through the motions. We set out on a damage limitation campaign!
The end result? Well it depends which statistic you want to lead with. Nicky Morgan increased her vote share and total number of votes. So the Tories had reason to be pleased. However.
On the other hand Labour increased its vote share back to 2005 levels (but nowhere near 97-2001). So the Tory majority was cut to 4,269 but still larger than the 2010 loss under Gordon Brown. The difference was that the Lib Dem vote was squeezed even more in 2017 reducing to 1937 and just 3.6% down form its high in 2010 of 18.3%
It’s important to remember that during the whole time whilst the constituency boundaries may not have changed the profile of the constiuency has. New housing in the town, and across Shepshed, Quorn, Sileby and Barrow has significantly changed the profile of the seat. The Council seat of Sileby I won in 1995 is unrecongnisable to the two wards covering Sileby now.
So what do all thes figures mean for 2019. Well not a lot. We know its generally a bellwether seat – one that normally decides who is in government. Take Loughborough and the Party normally runs the country. But this time is different. Brexit splits party loyalty in different ways. Although we have had the rise of the far right before to fight off in Loughborough like the BNP and then UKIP, Brexit is different and cuts across parties.
Loughborough was a 50/50 remain/leave constituency. That makes it tough.
The decision of Brexit Party to stand down this week in Loughborough does make things a little more interesting when we understand a little more about how their potential vote will split. I think from reading some of the early polling and some excellent wortk from fomer constituent Matt Singh that this favours the Tories more than Labour.
I will have a proper look at the candidates and polling figures next week once the nominations have formally closed and we know for sure who is standing. With Nicky Morgan standing down there will be no incumbency factor and all candidates are starting from a standing start.
The main lesson to take away is simple. Loughborough is complex and requires the winning candidate to build a coalition of voters not simply to appeal to one exterme or the other. The candidates so far announced are all likely to understand this – but their Party leaders are deeply divisive. Let’s watch if the local campaigns can break through. From the several hundred conversations I have had over the last few weeks it does seem its the national narrative that dominates around the issue of Brexit, Leadership and public services. No party dominates all 3 issues so there is more to come in this election!
We can also have a look at the issue of tactical voting and alliances as this debate is heating up since the withdrawal of the Brexit Party. Will there be some form of Remain Alliance. For remainers like me what promise would I require from a Labour candidate to convince me they wont deliver Brexit? And will people be willing to vote tactically? However, the LibDem and Green vote – been it it all switched – would not be enough to see Labour win. So as the Sky headline says it not a done deal and there is quite a bit to play for!
Percentage of the Vote in the Loughborough seat by Party