Thursday, February 24, 2005

Wantage - LAB HOLD?

Possibly the only merit in retaining Britain's manifestly unfair and imbalanced electoral system, as Billy Bragg is fond of reminding us, is the election night spectacles that are thrown up by the sight of an inanely grinning Stephen Twigg or suchlike, 'Enfield Southgate moments' if you will. Will 2005 be any different?

For a start, Blair's government, say what you will, is not as imperilled as that of the hapless John Major administration, which despite the sea change most of the country was seeking by 1997, even on humane grounds there was a case for taking it outside and putting it out of its misery. In this instance, sure, people might want to give Blair a bloody nose for Iraq or what have you but the economy's doing alright so perhaps the scope for booting out Labour hasn't quite so much momentum behind it.

So where could schadenfreude be had? As Andrew Roth suggests:

"As long as video footage survives, nobody will be allowed to forget the moment when a young, local, openly gay Blairite temporarily halted the career of Michael Portillo by taking the supposedly safe north London seat of Enfield Southgate from him. It was impossible to forget his shy sideways glance of triumph, or Portillo's attempt to conceal his utter surprise."

Will the middle classes of leafy North London suburbia give Blair a bloody nose by booting out Twiggy? Having increased his majority substantially in 2001, probably not.

No, it's Tory seats where the fun is to be had. Up in Haltemprice and Howden, Shadow Home Secretary David Davis' seat has a 1,903 majority and is number six on the Lib Dem target list. Much has been made of the Lib Dems' 'decapitation strategy' but Michael Howard's 5,907 majority will probably see him around to hand over to a successor at some point after the election, not least because of the 'local difficulty' the party are having there. On that point, the bumbling Oliver Letwin stands at Lib Dem target number five with his West Dorset seat's 1,414 majority, while kitten-heeled Theresa May's 3,284 majority could yet make for an amusing election night scalp by the Liberals.

Labour's difficulty lies in seats like Bethnal Green and Bow, where Oona King's recent performance has hardly done much to forstall the attempts of George Galloway in taking the predominantly Muslim but otherwise usually loyal Labour seat -- even a majority of 10,057 might not be considered safe for her. The sight of Galloway returned to Parliament and one of Blair's most loyal MPs given an electoral kicking will not rest easy in Labour lore for years to come. King's kicking is not likely to see her given first option on the next safe seat to come up -- she's hardly of equivalent standing in the party as Tony Benn was when he failed to hold Bristols in 1983 (spot the spoof election night programme gag there).

One thing we can be certain of is that Kilroy's decision to fight Geoff Hoon's PPS in Erewash (Liz Blackman - maj. 6,932) rather than Hoon himself (maj. 13,268) has deprived us of some sport. Rather inconsiderate of him, don't you think?

Well I had a drink with Mark McDonald the Wantage candidate , the Guinness must have confused me because he sounded very much like a smooth Tory barrister so is perfect for New Labour. Mark was likeable enough but he was not confident at all of holding the seat for Labour against, in his own words, "a likeable nice guy" like Ed Vaizey. His main hope was that the kerfuffle in the local Tory association over Robert Jackson's defection would undermine Vaizey's campaign. Maybe, but Guido reckons not.

David Davis losing his seat would be a relief to many Tories, since he is the most likely successor to Howard. Only problem being he has, as yet, little voter appeal.


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