Saturday, 9 January 2010

Our election coverage

As has been promised before, this blog will follow the campaign in Warwick and Leamington. This is a key constituency: if the Conservatives win it, they will have an overall majority of 2. It is therefore a 'must win' constituency for them, something emphasised by the recent visit of David Cameron.

Up until the 1966 general election, the Nuffield election studies of each general election used to have constituency case studies. They were dropped in favour of more analytical material, and arguably they had become rather superficial. Nevertheless, there is an interest in following the campaign from the perspective of a particular constituency. Rather than being retro, it gives a 'bottom up' perspective on the national campaign.

The broad plan of attack will be as follows. We will start by reviewing the history of the constituency which is quite unusual given the role of the Countess of Warwick as the first Labour candidate and the long tenure of Sir Anthony Eden in what became known as the 'Garden of Eden'.

Subsequently, we will look at the demographics and composition of the constituency. Despite the 'Royal Spa' image, historically Leamington and Warwick were manufacturng towns with an emphasis on the motor industry. They were broadly prosperous communities, but they had and have substantial pockets of real deprivation.

I have lived in Leamington for 35 years, but I am not a 'townsman', someone born and bred in Leamington. The numbers of such people are higher than one might think. It is quite a heterogeneous and unusual place and I wouldn't claim that I understand it fully.

At a later stage, when they are known for certain, we will look at the candidates. The contest is interesting in that it involves a re-match between sitting Labour MP (since 1997) James Plaskitt and Conservative challenger Chris White. There will certainly be Liberal Democrat and Green candidates, almost certainly UKIP and possibly BNP. In a close fought contest, the share of the vote taken by these candidates could be significant.

We will also be following the campaign. In one sense, that has already begun. For example, this week Chris White has revealed through Facebook that he has been discussing Conservative proposals for the NHS with local health service professionals as part of a broader outreach effort to various groups in the community.

As for the electorate, they are probably preoccupied at the moment with the icy conditions on the streets and pavements and the interruptions to services such as refuse collection. Even in such a marginal constituency, perhaps a third of them will not vote at all, reflecting in part a disllusionment with the political process.

I have recorded a podcast on the (national) election which will be available in a week or two. I did refer to James Callaghan's remark before the 1979 election that every so often there is a sea change in politics which one can't do much about. In 1979 the Conservative secured office for 18 years, helped in part by disarray in the opposition for much of that time. Labour will have been in office for almost 12 years by the time of the election and it took some time for the Conservatives to get their act together as a credible opposition.

One must be careful of assuming, however, that long tenures in office are necessarily typical. Between 1959 and 1979 we had a Conservative government, then Labour, then the Conservatives again, then a Labour government which eventually became dependent on other parties to stay in office (before it was brought down by a usually absent independent 'abstaining in person'). There were four elections in the 1970s and that turbulent period has some parallels with today.

In any event for anyone interested in politics it will not be a boring election, not least in a constituency at the heart of England.

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