Sunday, 23 August 2009

Wish you were here. Are they all swingers in Great Yarmouth?

There are seats, “bellwether seats”, that always seem to elect an MP of the Governing Party and Sunny Great Yarmouth on the Norfolk Coast is one of those. In this article I want to focus on this single seat in a part of the world I know well.

I hope that other PB’ers will write other ‘seat profiles’ in other areas over the coming months.

Do you remember back in 1990 when Thatcher was giving her final PMQs to the Commons and some loudmouth MP heckled to say that ‘she was the best man they’d got’. Yep, it was the then MP from Yarmouth, Michael Cartiss. He held on in 1992 but he was ‘out’ in 1997 when Labour’s Tony Wright got home. But will Yarmouth swing back to Tory Brandon Lewis next year? Let's see.

Yarmouth’s current MP might kindly be described as a lucky ‘Good Constituency MP’. Lucky because he shares his name with the high profile Chairman of the Public Administration Committee and MP for Cannock Chase. And a ‘good constituency MP’ because he’s never going to rise above back-bench anonymity.

Whereas Cannock Chase’s Tony Wright is always on the national TV & Radio, his Norfolk country cousin doesn’t even benefit from Radio Norfolk or Eastern Daily Press coverage. We certainly haven’t seen any of the loudmouth antics experienced under his predecessor. And it’s a bit of a shame really because Yarmouth needs a strong voice in London…. even if many voters in the town think they have one in that nice man from Staffordshire!

Now, one of the strange things about Yarmouth is that it’s had an effective Conservative controlled Council with a large majority for the last 8 years or so but has returned a Labour MP in the meantime. But that’s because the traditional Labour vote has been piled-up in a few really quite deprived wards whereas some of the suburbs such as Gorleston-on-Sea, Bradwell & Caister-on-Sea as well as outlying villages like Rollesby & Martham have been solidly Tory… but not quite enough to outweigh Labour’s heartland in the town in a borough-wide poll. The LibDems tried hard at a by-election last year to break out from their North Norfolk stronghold [Norman Lamb MP] and got nowhere and there hasn’t been a LibDem councillor in the town for years, if ever. They won’t feature next year.

There’s been a lot of investment in Yarmouth recently. The seafront is looking really spick-and-span and a multi-million pound outer harbour capable of taking the largest ships is taking shape. A health centre is being extended but it’s been difficult for Labour to take the credit for these. And where a lot of effort was expended trying to get one of the super-casinos, Labour screwed it up, whilst the local business that makes all the fruit-machine glass just folded. For somebody who theyworkforus tells us has a keen interest in gambling, Wright seems to have been severely handicapped by the stewards in London.

Local Labour activists have been split over the MP’s expenses, where Wright escaped relatively lightly, but even before that they’d taken the core vote for granted and at this year’s County Elections, the most deprived division, Nelson, which includes the ONS’s 106th worst SuperOutputArea on the Index of Multiple Deprivation measure in the whole country, returned a UKIP councillor. The Conservatives need 3.5% swing to win the seat at the general. In the June 4th County elections, nationally the Tories enjoyed a 9% swing but in Great Yarmouth they got 13.8% with Labour only holding its core Magdalen Division by 56 votes (was 1200). It’s not looking good for Tony.

If you have a look at ElectoralCalculus, it seems to agree with Labour’s majority of 3.055 being converted into a Conservative one of about 5,000 depending on turnout. Unusually for a Norfolk seat, boundary changes do not apply to Yarmouth this time.

Electorate 68,886 Turnout 60.06%
Top 2005 Votes 2005 Share 2010 Prediction
LAB 18,849 45.56% 34.76%
CON 15,794 38.17% 45.46%
LIB 4,585 11.08% 8.76%
OTH 2,148 5.19% 11.02%
LAB Majority 3,055 7.38% Pred Maj 10.71% CON Gain

Over on Anthony Well’s UK Polling Report, Yarmouth comes in at 62 on the Conservative’s list of targets. It’s no secret that the Tories have been investing heavily in the top 70 targets and local people have seen Brandon Lewis’s face staring down at them from billboards for months. It’s a must-win for them if they’re to have any sort of majority to work with.

So, who is this Brandon Lewis? I bumped into Tony Wright’s sister some months back and she was complaining that the Tories had chosen ‘some lawyer from London’ to fight her brother. But I’m not sure that characterisation is accurate. Yes, Brandon is a lawyer but he does have local connections: His father owned the Yarmouth’s famous Docwra Rock Factory and he’s been living locally for a while. He’s certainly been seen canvassing hard in the constituency, which is why the Yarmouth outperformed nationally on June 4th.

And then there’s Brandon’s secret weapon. He has just given-up the leadership of Brentwood Council in Essex to concentrate on winning the seat. Brandon became the protégé of the local MP when he took the Tories from 8 seats to control of that Essex Council in short order… and who is the MP for Brentwood & Ongar? Step forward Eric Pickles, Chairman of the Party.

There’s been evening racing at Yarmouth this week and the town has been full to bursting as people holiday at home and enjoy a flutter on the course. And in the national race, whoever the runners and riders may be, it’s Yarmouth that backs the winner every time. It’s Brandon to win by a distance. Nail it on.

Bunnco – Your Man on the Spot


Anonymous said...

That's 'bellwether.' Look it up on Google. Does Yarmouth still reek of rancid chip fat?

Antenna Brandenburg said...

Thanks Bunnco - great analysis and nicely written too. Certainly the collapse of Labour support in the other previously held county divisions in Yarmouth also bodes very ill for the incumbent.

David H said...

Excellent article again.

I can't really see any reason why this should be anything other than a Tory gain if the national polls stay as they are.

Norfolk, like various other parts of the country, is one where 'local' does matter so there may have been some traction in Labour's 'London lawyer' theme, had Labour run with it strongly and early - that message has to be got across before the opposition campaign starts. They've probably left it too late now.

Anonymous said...

Ive seen Brandon twice in my area and he had quite a large young team with him too, looks good for them.

Peter from Putney said...

Great piece, thanks Bunco. Sadly though, no betting opportunities here.

RodCrosby said...

Only been to Great Yarmouth once, in 1982, but I arrived by sea, aboard SV Golden Hinde II with Robin Knox-Johnston. We had a party aboard ship with local characters including a guy who claimed he was "Monty's double." Turned out later that he was a fraud. He wasn't even "Monty's double's double!"

Matthew Smith said...

Think you will find Michael Carttiss MP shouted '' You can wipe the floor with these people!''
which was acknowledged with a bow by Mrs Thatcher.

OddJob said...

Interesting article and nicely balanced. I wonder, though, whether Tony Wright really has 'escaped' the expenses scandal? £10,000 payout over his London flat which he pocketed? He even got a trouser press courtesy of the tax payer!