Friday, 30 April 2010

Does Dave have the big mo?

Dave Cameron emerged as the winner from last night's television debate with an articilate, polished and positive performance. But does he have enough momentum to secure an overall majority or at least to be so far ahead of the Labour Party that he can govern effectively on his own given the fragmented nature of the opposition? For all Dave's relative success, it remains a three-way race, albeit with the Conservtaives in pole position. No one landed a killer blow.

Gordon Brown seemed nervous to begin with. He tried to defuse the issue of the gaffe, but responses from the 'worm' showed that this did not go down too well with viewers. He got better as he went on, but he often looked brooding and aggrieved. He floundered on defending his record. He kept returning to the issue of the Conservatives and the Lib Dems removing child tax credits for prosperous families, but if steps like this are not taken how is the deficit ever going to be reduced?

He managed to get his soundbites in on 'the same old Conservative party', which probably only plays with core Labour voters (although possibly that vote needs shoring up) and Dave Cameron and Nick Clegg both being 'a risk to the economy'. Although Dave Cameron over egged it when he talked of 'desperate stuff from a man in a desperate state', and there is evidence that voters don't like this kind of point scoring, I thought that it was an unimpressive performance by Brown.

Nick Clegg was once again personable and he held his own, although he came under some pressure on policy issues. The 'here they go again' comment addressed to his rivals didn't really work. I thought that he was right to emphasise the fairness theme as he has a real chance of picking up disillusioned Labour voters as their campaign risks imploding. Some Labour voters think that he is articulating the values that their party should be advancing.

The issue of immigration was discussed. Dave Cameron was able to convey the message that the Conservatives would be tougher on immigration, but he was still unable to specify the size of the proposed cap when pressed by Nick Clegg. As came out, 80 per cent of immigration is from the EU which created an opening for Nigel Farrage of UKIP in his post-debate comments.

I didn't really learn anything new from the debate and I certainly got no clear idea of how the deficit is going to be tackled, but then I didn't expect that. The debates have enhanced the campaign and aroused interest in the election, even if they tend to emphasise personality rather than policy. It looks as if Dave Cameron will be the next prime minister.

Thursday, 29 April 2010

Sam Cam in town

The importance of the Warwick and Leamington constituency to the Conservatives has been demonstrated by a number of visits by top Tories. But today Conservative candidate Chris White topped it off with a belated birthday present with a visit by Samantha Cameron. Sam visited allotments in Whitnash, a crucial swing area.

In the last of our candidate profiles, we will be looking at Chris White in the next day or two.

Was this Gordon's Ed Muskie moment?

Bigotgate is all over the media this morning. I have been on local radio and Gillian's nephew has been interviewed by Radio 5. Even local television stations in Delaware have been carrying the story and yesterday live media was focused on her front door while Gordon was inside for 40 minutes, giving the door 'a door of the day' award on the BBC's campaign show. Is this one of these 24 hour media storms that will soon subside or will it be seen as a defining moment in the campaign?

I was reminded of an incident in the 1972 presidential election campaign in the US. Ed Muskie was a front runner for the Democratic nomination and would probably have made a better job of challenging Nixon than McGovern. On the stump in New Hampshire he appeared to break down and cry over accusations that he had insulted French speakers and in response to slurs on his wife. He said that he had got snowflakes in his eyes, but the damage was done. Seeing Gordon Brown with his hands over his eyes as the damaging tape was played back to him brought back the memories of Muskie.

It seems to me that this is damaging to the faltering Labour campaign on two levels. First, Gordon Brown raised the issue of character himself and this brings to the surface once again issues about his personality which have been around for years. Andrew Rawnsley was milking the story to promote his book and its relevations about Gordon's temper tantrums on the BBC campaign show last night for all he was worth.

Second, it brings to the surface the East European immigration issue which is damaging to Labour. One could argue that the wave of immigration brought in cheap, hard working employees who gave an impetus to economic growth. But many voters see competition for jobs and housing and pressure on public services. Labour could have imposed transitional arrangements as other member states did: the fact that many of them did increased the pressure on Britain as a destination, although English as a widely spoken language would have been a factor anyway. Labour are open to the charge that they closed the stable door after the horse had bolted.

I am no fan of Harriet Harman but she made a dignified attempt to defend Gordon on the campaign show last night. Her argument was that all of us have said things in private in anger or irritation that we would have regretted if the remarks had been made public. No doubt some electors will be forgiving. Others have a negative view of Gordon Brown already and these events simply reinforce that.

Labour tried to retrive the situation as best as it could and those aides who recommended a personal apology were surely correct. Gillian has hired a public relations agency and the Sun interviewed her but decided it wasn't worth pursuing the story.

In order to stop Labour's campaign imploding, Gordon Brown needs to put on a stellar performance in tonight's debate. The economy is at least an area in which he can sound authoritative, while Dave Cameron is open to attack on VAT and Nick Clegg's grasp of economics is not as sure as that of Vince Cable. For undecided voters, this is likely to be the decision point.

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

A wake up call

The Institute for Fiscal Studies provided a wake up call in the general election campaign yesterday. It attracted considerable media attention when it pointed out just how big the task of tackling the deficit was. Hopefully the party leaders will be pressed on this issue in Thursday's televised debate on the economy.

None of the parties will say very much about VAT but it is generally recognised that it will have to be increased to at least 18.5 per cent after the election (any further increase would have to take into account the effect on inflation). There is no scope for further increases in income tax and the use of national insurance is politically contested.

As far as expenditure cuts are concerned, both parties talk about efficiency savings, but it is by no means clear that these can be achieved, certainly in the timescale required. Labour's list of cutbacks does not add up to a fraction of what is required. Gordon Brown has been attacking the Conservatives and Lib Dems for proposing withdrawing tax credits from better off families, but unless one takes measures of this kind one isn't going to get started.

David Cameron points to the plan to increase the retirement age for men to 66 by 2016 but this will have no impact in the required timescale. It is the kind of drastic measure that would have an immediate effect because it would reduce expenditure and also make those between 65 and 66 continue to pay national insurance. It's politically explosive, of course, but the whole benefits area cannot be left alone as it would bring big savings very quickly. There would be a case for freezing all benefits except the state pension.

Read more about what the IFS has to say here: The Big Hole

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

The Liberal Democrats surface

At last we have received a piece of election literature from the Liberal Democrats. Also, our next door neighbours have put up a Liberal Democrat signboard, the first one I have seen. It says something about the nature of their campaign in Warwick and Leamington that it does not have the candidate's name on it.

In their leaflet they try to big up their chances by suggesting that the last county council election results show that the contest could be a close finish between the Lib Dems and the Conservatives, but votes in a secondary election of that kind are no guide to a general election result. One could show similar results before 2001 and 2005 and the Lib Dems still came third.

The leaflet contains one picture of Nick Clegg and one of Clegg with Saint Vince of Cable. The candidate, Alan Beddow, emphasises that he is 'one of us', a local man, although he is not a 'townsman' as he is only lived in the area for 15 years. He promises to 'put local people first'. It would be odd if he put them second or pledged to be secretive and deceitful about his expenses rather than 'open and honest'.

He makes a great deal, as do all three candidates, about proposed fire service cuts which would involve the closure of Warwick fire station. They certainly are a major local issue as they came up on the BBC Midlands TV panel debate in the constituency. All three candidates are against them, but none can directly affect the decision as it rests with the Conservative controlled county council.

Another local issue mentioned is protecting the green belt against developers, while it is argued that 'Our NHS' is 'at risk with the Conservatives'. The candidate is pictured with a nurse at Warwick Hospital and an unspecified person who could well be one of the dread health service administrators (whose wages only account for 3 per cent of the NHS budget).

I didn't think the leaflet was as well designed as those of Conserative or Labour: it was over crowded with too much information.

What is interesting is whether the lack of any substantial Liberal Democrat campaign in the constituency will undermine their local vote. National poll evidence suggests that the Lib Dem vote is softer than that of the two main parties and more reliant on younger voters who tend to be less reliable in terms of turning up and voting (despite a late surge in registration).

Monday, 26 April 2010

Choose your own cuts

The phoney election goes on and pundits study the range of permutations in a hung Parliament. But whoever eventually holds office, they will have to make some brutal cuts in public expenditure and some tax increases as well if they want to halve the deficit. For example, they would have to cut public sector pay by 5 per cent, freeze all benefits for a year, means test child benefit and stop all school building. And that's just for starters: Cuts

Choose your own cuts using the FT's interactive deficit-bsuter tool here: Deficit

Sunday, 25 April 2010

An incumbency effect?

The conventional wisdom is that personal votes don't count for much in British elections, although they might matter more in Northern Ireland or for incumbent Lib Dem and Nationalist MPs.

However, in the latest Economist Bagehot suggests that it may matter more in the wake of the expenses scandal. 'More than in previous campaigns, it seems, Britons want to know who, precisely, is asking for their vote ... this campaign is uniquely presidential and intensely local.'

James Plaskitt was elected as MP for Warwick and Leamington in 1997. He was educated at Oxford and was a politics lecturer there and at Brunel. He subsequently worked for consultants Oxford Analytica for whom many academics (including myself) undertake work.

He became leader of the Labour group on Oxfordshire County Council and contested the safe Conservative seat of Witney in 1992.

James Plaskitt has been an assiduous constituency caseworker and this is reflected in his campaign literature where he claims to be 'the stronger voice'. A strong Labour loyalist, he was eventually rewarded with a post on the lowest rank of the ministerial ladder as a 'pussy' in Work and Pensions. He was given something of a bed of nails with responsibility for the Child Support Agency and he was eventually let go in a reshuffle. There was some vague talk in one of his columns in the local press about some other post which would require legislation but nothing ever came of it. Some constituents have expressed disappointment to me that a Warwick and Leamington MP has not made a greater impact.

The literature I have seen emphasises the need to 'Secure the Recovery'. On the cover are a picture of the MP with what are presumably two apprentices, emphasising the skills building element of the Labour approach. Most of the internal matter is about the economy and public services, but a constituent also gives a testimony to Plaskitt's hard work. Voters are urged not to let Dave Cameron endanger a fragile recovery.

James Plaskitt has not been tarnished by the expenses scandal. He has issued a series of regular letters to constituents on policy areas in which they are interested, but I found these rather uninspiring. They were essentially long lists of legislative measures undertaken by the Government. Passing a piece of legislation does not solve a problem, indeed one could argue that there is too much legislation and we need to move away from the legislative factory approach (which the EU has tried to do, admittedly with limited success).

I think that voters expect constituency casework as a given these days. Plaskitt has not been high profile enough to generate a big personal vote, but he may pick up some votes from grateful constituents whose problems have been solved. But not many.

Saturday, 24 April 2010

Dave in lead as Lib Dems lose big mo

The latest YouGov poll puts the Conservatives on 34 per cent, Labour on 29 per cent and the Lib Dems on 28 per cent. This suggests, not surprisingly, that the Lib Dem surge has ended and that it may start to fade, although some of the boost will remain. However, this lead would not be enough to give Dave Cameron an overall majority, although it would create a difficult situation for the Lib Dems after the election. Would they deny office to the party with the largest number of votes and seats?

Friday, 23 April 2010

Tories may fall short by 48 seats

An interesting report here which suggests that the Conservatives will end up as the largest party in the Commons after the general election, but 48 seats short of an absolute majority with the Lib Dems on just under 100 seats: Election

It's a very fluid situation and there's everything to play for. Lib Dem support may turn out to be very soft. But there is a slight touch of panic creeping into statements from some Conservatives with talk of 'two weeks to save the Conservative Party'. The fear is that a hung Parliament could lead to a change in the electoral system which would permanently disadvantage the Conservatives.

Thursday, 22 April 2010

Still a 3-way race

Polls following last night's television debate show pretty much a three-way split in terms of who won. Some put Dave Cameron ahead, others put Nick Clegg in front. All of them put Gordon Brown in third place, although he improved his ratings from the previous debate. No one delivered a knockout blow and there is still everything to play for in the last debate.

Dave Cameron was more relaxed and focused than in the previous debate, although sometimes his attempts to sound prime ministerial put him on the sidelines a little. He was probably at his strongest in Europe, although the inability of the Conservatives to deliver a referendum on the Lisbon treaty was a weak point. He also clearly felt a little awkward about some of his allies in the European Parliament. However, he scored some points against Labour making false claims about Conservative policies in leaflets (one of these distributed in Gordon Brown's own constituency according to Alex Salmond later). Brown said that he had not authorised the leaflets and the Conservatives are clearly going to press on this question today.

Nick Clegg held his ground well, gave a confident performance and once again addressed members of the audience more directly than the other two. He was perhaps in greatest difficulty over Trident where Dave Cameron said 'I agree with Gordon' and Gordon Brown urged Clegg to 'get real'. It was not clear what the Lib Dem policy was, other than to have a wide ranging defence review after the election which any party could and should hold. He managed to put Dave under some pressure over immigration by pressing him on what his cap actually was.

Gordon Brown managed to get in his soundbite about Dave being 'a risk to the economy' more than once. He also referred to Cameron's policies being a 'big society at home, little Britain abroad'. (Once again we heard little from Dave about the 'big society' except in his opening statement). Brown's charge that Clegg was 'anti-American', repeated twice, was a little odd: what Clegg is asking for is a different kind of relationship with the United States. At times Brown sounded a bit clunky, as when when he addressed a pensioner questioner on the lines of 'women, and you are a woman.'

One of the trickiest questions was about the Pope's visit to Britain and the failings and policies of the Catholic church. I thought that all three leaders answered this well, but also it was the point when Gordon Brown came across most authentically when he talked about his Presbyterian values. This is much more effective than reciting figures or listing the policies put in place.

The Lib Dems have failed to get the momentum which get them towards 35 per cent in the polls and the chance of winning a really significant number of seats. At the moment Labour is losing the campaign but the Conservatives are not really winning it or brushing off the Lib Dem challenge.

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

The Lib Dem surge

Is it a shooting star or an asteroid that will wipe out the dinosaur 'old' parties (leaving aside the fact that the Lib Dems have one of the longest histories of any party)? Much depends on the two remaining television debates which will be the defining events of the general election.

I think there will be some slippage as Lib Dem policies become widely known, but most voters are influenced by overall images rather than detailed proposals. However, much of the additional support will be retained. They seem to be doing particularly well among young people so if they can mobilise them to vote overall turnout could go up. It will also be boosted by the closeness of the contest.

The volcanic ash cloud has not contributed to Labour's reputation for competence. Naval aramads have turned out to be one ship and fleets of coaches have proved hard to organised. The Lib Dems could get more votes than them, but far fewer seats.

Monday, 19 April 2010

Dissolution of Parliament

In case you missed the formal announcement, you can watch it here: 59th year of our reign

Sunday, 18 April 2010

Gilt edged strike fear

An article in this morning's Financial Times raises the prospect of a gilt edged strike should there be a hung Parliament after the general election: Gilt edged

The markets favour either a Conservative or Labour government with a clear majority over a hung Parliament.


With Nick Clegg being compared to Winston Churchill in the Sunday press, it is perhaps time for a bit of calm reflection. Here is one admittedly anecedotal antidote to the 'zero to hero' theme from the BBC: Clegg

Here is another corrective from Sussex University politics lecturer Tim Bale: Bale

Much more scrutiny is now being applied to the Liberal Democrats' policies and some of them don't stand up to much scrutiny. A predominantly Europhobic electorate is also likely to find out they are the most Europhile party, although they have toned that emphasis down in recent years.

What is most worrying about this election campaign is that it is not educating the electorate about the scale of the measures that will be needed once it is over. There will have to be some difficult decisions about tax rises and public spending cuts. The electorate are being given the impression that it can all be dealt with, say, by cutting the number of administrators in the National Health Service.

It can't be and if whatever government is in office is not prepared to do more, the likely consequence is a cut in the UK's debt rating, pushing up the cost of servicing the debt and a run on sterling.

Friday, 16 April 2010

Yo it's Nick

In my view, and that of all other commentators I have heard, Nick Clegg was the clear winner in last night's leaders' debate. I am not a great fan of Nick Clegg: I think he is rather lightweight. He does not perform well at Prime Minister's Questions, although it is not an easy situation for him as he has to struggle to be heard and as a result can seem to hector. In this format he was much better: he had an opportunity and seized it.

He tried to answer the question that the member of the audience had asked. He also looked at the other leaders when they were speaking. Of course, both of them were aware that they might need his support after a general election, hence the repetition of 'I agree with Nick'. A good point made on Radio 5 this morning was that it's rather like a newly promoted team in the Premiership. They often do well in their first season, or at least the first half of it, because no one knows how to play them. The other leaders will have to work out how to deal with Clegg before the next two debates.

I thought that Dave Cameron's body language was a bit problematic. His facial expression was a mixture of puzzlement and petulance when he wasn't speaking. But his answers were relatively straightforward and clear and focus group evidence suggests that he did well on the subterranean issue of immigration.

I thought that Gordon Brown was stiff and wooden to start with and gave too much detail in his answers. He gained in confidence when he started to talk about the economy and it was here that Dave was in most difficulty in explaining how he was going to pay for everything he planned to do and cut the deficit.

I didn't learn anything new about the stances of the parties and I wonder of 90 minutes may have been long for most voters. It's a shame that members of the audience aren't allowed to come back and say their questions haven't been answered.

There was no deal breaker here between the two main parties. No one made a gaffe or gave a really memorable soundbite. Nick Clegg increased the chances of the Lib Dems holding most of their seats and winning one or two more.

Thursday, 15 April 2010

Facing up to reality

As the Financial Times points out today, there is a big hole in the plans of the political parties to deal with the deficit: Hole

The FT points out that in terms of defined spending cuts, the Conservatives and Labour has each outlined less than £10bn, far less than the minimum £40bn needed in the first three years. There has been much talk of 'efficiency savings', but much vagueness about how these will be secured, particularly on the timescale required. It gives voters the impression that a few bureaucrats in back offices may lose their jobs, but there will be no broader impacts.

As the FT also points out, none of the projections taking account of the likely rising costs of servicing the debt which may well go up by 50 per cent over the period. Social security also faces pressure from rising pensioner numbers.

What no one is saying but is very likely to happen is that VAT will have to go up, at least to 18.5 per cent, if not higher. There should also be serious thought about securing an earlier reduction in the pensionable age.

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Where are the Liberal Democrats?

We have had a visit from a Conserative canvasser and more than one piece of Labour literature. Labour signboards urging voters to 'Re-elect James Plaskitt' are sprinkled around. Last night we received a piece of campaign literature from the Greens.

But nothing so far from the Liberal Democrats. They are practically invisible. Now it may be that they have decided to concentrate their limited resources on the nearby seat of Solihull where they are defending a narrow majority. That would make tatctical sense.

However, that begs a bigger question. The Liberal Democrats have done reasonably well in local elections, at one time joining governing coalitions on the county and district councils. Admittedly, there are people who would vote for them in a local election but not in a general election. Nevertheless, in constituencies with a not dissimilar demographic to Leamington such as Cheltenham they have built on this to win the parliamentary seat.

Why have they not done this in Leamington? I don't have a straightforward answer, but it may be that the Labour vote in Leamington was too solid for them to chip away at and Labour was able to establish itself as the main challenger to the Conservatives. The Liberals have not managed to take second place away from Labour and build from there. They just managed to come second in the Alliance high tide of 1983, but only with a quarter of the votes.

The contest is essentially one between James Plaskitt and repeat challenger Chris White. That does not mean, however, that the votes for the Liberal Democrats, UKIP and the Greens will not be important in influencing the outcome.

Sunday, 11 April 2010

The constituency of Warwick and Leamington

Continuing our series featuring on the highly marginal constituency of Warwick and Leamington, we look at its social make up. In terms of geography, it should be noted that the two towns form one urban area, but with two distinct town centres. The shopping centre of Warwick is very much focused on tourism, something which draws some complaints from locals. Leamington has a well served and attractive town centre, but one that faces retail competition from centres like Solihull.

In the 1970s there used to be a billboard on the outskirts of Leamington proclaiming 'There's a part of Leamington in every car.' Leamington was also known as the brake and clutch capital of Britain and the local football team are still known as the Brakes.

In the run-up to the Second World War, manufacturing industry was decanted out of Birmingham. Leamington became the home to Automotive Products, a specialist manufacturer of brakes and clutches. At one time it employed 6,000 people. Today there are just 200 working for a rump firm.

Another big employer was the Ford Foundry, but that has now closed and its site is awaiting re-development. One or two specialist motor manufacturing firms survive making airport fire engines or refuse collection trucks. Volvo has a substantial office facility in Warwick, but the IBM facility across the road is shuttered.

At one time the gas appliances industry was important and the town was the headquarters of the Society of British Gas Industries. But Pottertons which made boilers has been closed and replaced by a housing estate (where the apartments are not selling too well). However, Aga still operates in the town.

There are plenty of smaller factories, but some of those are downsizing, e.g., a former Heinz factory. Nevertheless, unemployment has been relatively low. When someone visited the town for the first time in many years, they remarked how many Mercedes and other expensive cars there were on the road.

There is what in the 1980s would have been called a 'yuppie' element in Leamington. Down by the old Pottertons site, the old Rock Mill has been converted into some very stylish 'loft' style apartments.

So what do these professionals do? Although the Law Society is phasing out its complaints headquarters in the town as work is transferred to the Legal Ombudsman Service in Birmingham, there are some quite big law firms in Leamington, not least the appropriately named Wright Hassall which has moved into out-of-town premises formerly occupied by the Cheltenham and Gloucester Building Society.

There is quite a lot of public sector employment with the offices of Warwickshire County Council in Warwick and Warwick District Council in Leamington. Many employees at the University of Warwick live in Leamington, particularly on the more up market north side.

There are also some very successful fee-paying schools, of which Warwick School and the Kings school for girls in Warwick are the best known.

However, there are also some areas of real social deprivation, for example parts of Lillington in Leamington but also significant areas of Warwick. The older parts of South Leamington face challenges with drugs. Some of these deprived areas are quite close to more prosperous areas. The town also has quite a strong nighttime economy which leads to tensions with the considerable number of residents who live in the central area.

One of the most interesting areas from an electoral point of view is Whitnash. In effect Whitnash is a suburb of Leamington, but it was at one time part of Warwick Rural District Council and thus has its own town council. The town council, the seats on the district council and the county council seat are controlled by the Whitnash ratepayers led by Bernard Kirton, who at one time in the distant past was a member of the Labour Party. They are very much a 'Whitnash first' party.

Whitnash for a long time functioned as a dormitory suburb for workers at AP close by. Today it has a relatively ageing population, but a predominantly white one. It is the sort of area which probably saw a switch of votes to Labour in 1997, but could be fertile territory for UKIP today.

Leamington has seen successive waves of immigration. In the immediate post-war period it was the Polish and the Irish. In the 1960s there was a small but significant Afro-Caribbean community but that has largely disappeared. The biggest immigrant group is made of Sikhs. The Mayor of Leamington is a Sikh and they recently opened a new gurdwara which cost them £12m to build which they raised themselves. It's an attractive addition to the skyline and I enjoyed a tour of it when it opened. More recently, there has been a wave of Portuguese or Portuguese-speaking immigrants.

For all the waves of immigration, there is still a substantial proportion of the local population who were born in Leamington or in one of the nearby villages. The 'townsmen' as they are known are a social force to be reckoned with.

What this adds up to is a very diverse and heterogeneous constitunecy which in many ways is reflective of modern Britain. It has in many ways a relatively sophisticated electorate which means that it requires the right kind of candidate, particularly for the Conservatives.

As the campaign develops, we shall be looking at the candidates.

Friday, 9 April 2010

Labour off on wrong foot

The argument about increasing National Insurance has set Labour's election campaign off on the wrong foot. Having a number of CEOs of companies, some of them household names, criticise the policy is not helpful to say the least, particularly given that Labour tried to present itself as 'the natural party of business'. Indeed, it had some initial success in doing so, but there has been growing resentment among business people in recent years about what they see as the growing burden of taxation and regulation.

Labour is trying to recover by saying that the Conservative figures don't add up. This is, however, quite a complicated argument for voters to follow. What is emerging is a more traditional and clearer choice between Labour as a 'tax and spend' party and the Conservatives as a party with a mission to reduce taxes.

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Election under way

The election campaign is under way: I have already done three radio and one press interview today. This blog will be following the campaign in the marginal constituency of Warwick and Leamington and the picture shows Conservative candidate Chris White campaigning in The Parade, the main shopping street.

Sunday, 4 April 2010

The Garden of Eden

We start our series on the marginal constituency of Warwick and Leamington by looking at the electoral history of the constituency and in particular the first contest won by Sir Anthony Eden. He then held the constituency, often uncontested in the inter-war period, until his retirement following his resignation as prime minister.

I have been told that on visits to the constituency Sir Anthony, accompanied by his wife Clarissa, would progress through bunting bedecked streets in an open-topped car. Such was the Garden of Eden.

In his first election, what was originally going to be a by-election contest in 1923 (but became a contest in the 1924 general election), Sir Anthony faced as a Labour opponent the Countess of Warwick. She was a colourful character who had had what might be called an adventurous sexual life. One of her lovers for several years was the Prince of Wales, King Edward VII. It is said that she took him to meet agricultural workers leader Joseph Arch in the nearby village of Barford (his name is now on a pub there). There was not a meeting of minds.

When the election campaign began, The Times speculated whether the Red Flag would be raised over Warwick Castle. It was not. The constituency had been a Liberal seat and the Liberal candidate was a former agricultural labourer, George Nicholls, who had been a MP since 1906.

The Labour organisation in the constituency was comparatively weak. However, the woman who gave her name to the song 'Daisy, Daisy, give me an answer do' was not going to be daunted. Sporting the red and gold Labour colours, she drove a phaeton with a team of white ponies.

The Countess had a number of family connections with Sir Anthony. Her first son's wife was Eden's sister. Her daughter Queenie was married to a Conservative MP and her stepdaughter married Sir Antony as the campaign was about to begin.

Captain Eden played to his strengths, claiming that his party understood farming better than its rivals. With good looks and a commendable war record, he represented what was then 'middle England'. In hunting country, he was a supporter of hunting whereas the Countess was an opponent. He also declared that he would resist any attempt to disestablish the Church of England and would oppose any move to make divorce easier. This was somewhat ironic given that he got divorced in 1950/

The day before polling, the Countess addressed five open-air meetings, ending up in Warwick market place. Her Daimler was dragged through the streets by her supporters.

Eden's win with 16,357 votes was hardly a surprise. Nicholls came second with 11,134 votes. Lady Warwick came third with just 4,015 votes. It was a disappointing result, but it marked the beginning of a Conservative hegemony in the constituency that was to last until 1997.