Is Winchester a lost cause?
If the so called political ‘experts’ are to be believed then the Liberal Democrats might as well give up trying to hold Winchester, thanks to the Oaten effect. The latest debate comes as a result of the Liberal Democrats apparently trying to get Sandi Toksvig selected for Meon Valley – the seat that is largely in the current Winchester seat but also taking in bits of (I think) East Hampshire and Havant – on the basis that only a popular celebrity can now hold it.
Despite being an eternal pessimist, I don’t see Winchester as a lost cause at all. Indeed, I think the party must stand a pretty good chance of holding the seat.
- The new Winchester seat has a notional majority of more than 7,000. By any reckoning that is a pretty decent majority, and unless there is a huge swing from Lib Dem to Tory at the next election, (which there doesn’t seem to be any sign of yet), then the seat should be safe. The bits of the constituency lost to Meon Valley are fairly Tory, and the bit gained from Romsey – Chandler’s Ford – is quite Liberal Democrat.
- Mark Oaten may have embarassed himself and his family, but that doesn’t stop him from having been a very popular and hardworking MP. Even those who do not approve of what he did, cannot take that away from him, and will not necessarily turn against the party.
- The often cited proof of Winchester turning away from the Liberal Democrats is the Tories gaining the local council this May. However this doesn’t prove anything. The Liberal Democrats on Winchester Council have been losing seats to the Conservatives for the last few years. Indeed they lost more of those seats before the Oaten affair, than afterwards, it is simply that 2006 was the year when the council finally tipped from No Overall Control to Conservative. Indeed with the Tories running the council, it could be a distinct help to the local Lib Dems who will no longer be held to blame for what the council does.
- My understanding of the situation in Winchester is that after the Oaten affair the local party suffered in the local elections from the uncertainty of his future and the continuing publicity surrounding what he did in magazines like Hello. It also meant that Oaten, who had always taken a leading role in running local campaigns, was not able to perform his usual role. With that issue now settled they are in a good position to put together a new campaign team with the determination to hold the seat.
- Due to selection rules, and the fact that I don’t know the full list, I won’t go in to who is on the short list for Winchester, but the names I’ve been told about are very strong candidates. Any of these people would be an excellent candidate and would be determined to win the seat.
- Winchester also has the profile of what has become a typical Lib Dem seat. It is affluent, but still contains areas that are not rich. It has a student population, that is currently growing. It’s population is quite liberal in its attitudes and is a fairly compact urban seat. OK, so the party has many seats not like this, but Winchester sits quite naturally alongside the likes of Cheltenham, Cambridge, Oxford West & Abingdon, Bath and so on, all of them now fairly solid LibDem constituencies.
OK, I accept that this is partly gut feeling and partly fact, but whatever way you look at it, it is clear that the Liberal Democrats are very much in with a chance of holding Winchester. Indeed, I would say it was a strong likelihood. This isn’t just to spin the party’s chances, as I don’t believe in using this website as a promotional tool for the party. But I am getting increasingly fed up with so called experts saying that because of Mark Oaten, the Lib Dems have no chance of holding Winchester next time around.
What those who promote the cause of Sandi Toksvig also don’t understand is that the Liberal Democrats have very rigorous procedures on approving and selecting candidate. The party’s hierarchy cannot simply override the usual rules to ensure a particular candidate is picked, except perhaps in a by-election. Whilst Sandi Toksvig may make a very good candidate, she needs to go through the same procedure as anyone else. Indeed, knowing what the Liberal Democrats are like, party members are more likely to reject someone if they think the leadership is interfering rather than select them.