Taken together the results of North Norfolk Parliamentary Seat and the Glaven Valley District Council seat were pretty much what was expected.
The Parliamentary result was in line with my prediction in yesterday’s blog. Norman Lamb’s majority fell to 4043 and Denise Burke increased the Labour vote from 2896 to 5043. This was a really impressive performance on a dismal night for the Labour Party. In Glaven Valley I secured only 78 votes with the LibDem elected. This was a disappointment and I can offer two possible explanations. The first is that the LibDems have built up an effective organisation, particularly in the harbour town of Blakeney and worked hard, with a very ambitious candidate, to win the seat from the incumbent Conservatives. It was the only LibDem gain of the night. The second is that my popularity increases the further the distance from my home, especially when I cross the Equator. My lecturing has always proved to be at its most effective in Australia, New Zealand or South Africa. On this basis I doubt if I could ever be elected to anything in Norfolk.
One way and another I’m battered if not bruised and want to take time to recover. I will be able to do that in this in our village – at times like this rural tranquility has its attractions. It was not like that when I worked in the City in the 90s. The election that really hurt was when Neil Kinnock lost in 1992. One of my colleagues at NatWest Bank, who was certainly a Tory, rang me at home the following evening and hummed the death march down the phone. He was genuinely disconcerted when I told him he was intruding and his call was not welcome. Still worse, when I narrowly lost a close Parliamentary election myself in 1974, was the colleague who offered ‘congratulations on saving your deposit’. Fortunately our closest friends in the village understand that my political values matter greatly to me, indeed that they are part of my identity. Although they don’t share my politics they treat them with respect.
This forecast was made before nominations closed on 9th April.
My guess is that Norman Lamb, the retiring LibDem MP will hold his seat but his 11600 majority will drop to less than 5000. Going forward a lot will depend on whether the Conservatives beat UKip into second place. If they do Norman Lamb will certainly lose the seat next time round. It is natural Conservative territory. Our Labour vote of 2896 in 2010 will increase to 5000 and our percentage of 5.8% will double. Anything above that will be a remarkably good result. I will not be elected to the District Council from Glaven Valley and will be pleased if my vote exceeds 120 (from the 95 Labour recorded last time). I will be upset if I am outpolled by UKip but expect this to happen.
My hopes for a tranquil run up to election day in my home village in rural Norfolk were shattered over the last weekend. I no longer receive any LibDem leaflets through my letterbox: the Labour posters in my front window act as a deterrent. However one or two friendly neighbours pass them on to keep me informed. I was therefore shaken out of my complacency when I read, in a LibDem newsletter specially produced for the occasion, the following headline: Result in Glaven Valley: Too Close to Call. As the Labour Candidate this came as a surprise to me.
Some background may assist. There are 48 District Council up for election in North Norfolk with polling on the same day as the General Election (May 7th). We in the Labour Party had decided to fight all of them though we are only likely to win a few – in our best year we held ten. My main responsibilities are to act as agent for our excellent Parliamentary Candidate, Denise Burke, but I was happy to let my name go forward as a District Council candidate on two conditions: first, that the seat I was allocated was not too far from my home (distances are vast here in North Norfolk); secondly that there was no prospect of me winning. I have no desire to attend meetings in winter evenings at the Council offices in Cromer.
There was no problem in meeting these conditions. The Glaven Valley seat fits the bill admirably. It includes my home village of Sharrington and is probably the safest Conservative seat of all 48. At the last contest in May 2011 the winning Conservative polled 500, the LibDem was in second place with 232, Labour secured 95, the Greens 84 and UKip 83.
This time round the LibDem candidate is pleasant enough young man who works in the office of the local MP. He is obviously taking the campaign seriously but has experienced some difficulties. On his leaflet he has reproduced a telephone number with the qualification that: I have had some problems with this line recently but it is now fixed. This is the first time that I have seen such statement on a candidate’s promotional literature and can only assume that it is a way of demonstrating his ability to solve problems.
His main tactic seems to be to try to squeeze my vote. Again to quote: But the Conservatives will still win if people vote of Labour or the Greens: this time the result will probably be within a few dozen votes. He may be right in his prediction, but he has no way of knowing: the area, with the exception of the small harbour town of Blakeney (pictured above), is impossible to canvass as the properties are too dispersed. I don’t blame him for his tactics; however I have to report that my soundings suggest that they are not working. I have spoken to the six people who have said they will vote for me (this figure includes myself) and they are standing firm. We shall find out what happens when the result is declared on Friday.
Last week I received an unsolicited telephone call. Normally these are from desperate call centre sales staff trying to sell us services that we don’t want, ignoring the fact that we have signed up to a telephone preference service designed to stop such calls. This caller opened by asking: “is that Martyn?” I didn’t recognise the voice and I thought at first it was my thirteen-year-old niece from Cardiff. In fact the young woman told me she was ringing on behalf of the Labour Party nationally and wondered if I would like to help in the campaign. I told her that I was the Parliamentary Agent but I’m not sure she understood what this meant. However I was very gentle, as I didn’t envy her the task. It is hard to get people to commit to give time – I’m sure it must be easier to raise money.
On this occasion I was able to assure the caller that I was already helping and told her that this week I would be delivering leaflets round the Georgian market town of Holt. This is a traditional Tory stronghold dominated by the public school of Gresham’s. The main retailer in the town is owned by the Ukip Parliamentary candidate: he parks his patriotically decorated van prominently in the entrance to the car park.
However the town has some less affluent areas and, like the rest of Norfolk, experiences a high level of youth unemployment, a problem exacerbated by low wages in the service industry. There should be Labour votes there. We have an excellent local District Council Candidate and I will be taking my daily exercise delivering alongside him for several days over the next fortnight. It will be nice to get away from inputting canvass returns into the computer.
If I am honest I entered the election in a spirit of dogged determination rather than excited optimism. I thought we would be up against it with the double Tory message: Labour are responsible for our economic problems; Ed Miliband is not Prime Ministerial material. If both were repeated unceasingly, with some superficially good economic figures appearing, enough voters would be prepared to overlook the total lack of concern and compassion for the weak that characterises the modern Conservative Party. I’m delighted to say that I now think that I was wrong. First Ed Miliband is weathering the personal assaults. I voted for his brother in the Labour leadership election and, at times, have questioned the direction in which Ed has taken our policy. It has seemed piecemeal in approach when what was needed was an overarching vision. However the main basis for the increasingly personal attacks seems to be that he is an intelligent North London geek who lacks charisma. In my view there are far worse types of people wandering our planet. There is nothing wrong with intelligence nor indeed North London where I lived for many years. It now appears that the Tory ‘shout a bit louder, bully a bit more’ is failing to achieve movement in the opinion polls and, certainly in North Norfolk, it is failing on the doorstep. We are doing well in Fakenham, North Walsham, Stalham and Sutton. Sadly this new mood is unlikely to carry me to District Council victory in Glaven Valley. At close of nominations on April 9th it transpired that there will be five candidates: myself for Labour, a new Conservative candidate (the unpopular sitting councillor has retired), LibDem, Green and UKip. However only myself and the Green appear to live in the ward, so I am the local boy. Given my complaints about the maintenance of footpaths and the anti-social behaviour of some dogs I doubt if this will prove to be an advantage.
Our candidates on the doorstep in North Walsham West
Yesterday my most important job as Parliamentary Agent was satisfactorily completed. Three sets of nomination papers, together with the necessary consent form and party approval, were delivered and accepted as valid by the returning officer. At 1100 Denise Burke became the Labour Parliamentary Candidate for North Norfolk. Two of the three sets of nomination papers were security back-up only, needed in case our first set was declared invalid for any reason. Each form required ten signatures. The thirty signatures were secured without difficulty.
What is more difficult is obtaining ten signatures for the forms required in the District Council elections. This must be completed before the closing date of April 9th. There are 48 separate District Council seats in North Norfolk and the Labour Party intends to field a candidate in all of them. Some, like my home seat of Glaven Valley are pretty hopeless for Labour and we are putting up candidates solely to give Labour voters the opportunity to express their preference. Some of these candidates have little time even to gather nominations and the rest of us are helping them out.
Accordingly early this week I spent a day trying to secure signatures for our candidate in the very rural ward of Chaucer. I have no idea why it carries this name since the Canterbury Tale Pilgrims would have been completely lost if they passed this way. We had the names of a number of people who had contacted Denise electronically at one time or another and, to my delight, several of them were prepared to sign. What they had in common was not that they were avowedly Labour – they weren’t – but they shared a dislike at the self-satisfied and hedonistic campaign that the Conservatives are waging. The form was completed.
This was hard work. It will be interesting to see how the other parties get on with the task of putting candidates in the field. If an elector signs more than one candidate’s nomination paper only the first set of papers received is valid. Already we in the Labour Party have had one set returned for that reason. A LibDem in a neighbouring seat naively asked the Labour candidate to sign his nomination papers. However, the prize so far must go to the individual in our nearest town who asked someone to sign his papers by saying: ‘I’m not at all political but I’m standing for UKip’. The request was declined.