Although the next general election may be over two years away, it has come to ConservativeHome’s attention that the first three seats have opened applications for candidate selection. Those first three seats are:
– Chesham and Amersham – applications by 8th April
– Bath – applications by 19th April
– Oxford West and Abingdon – applications by 29th April
These three seats all have several features in common. To start, they are all currently held by Liberal Democrats, but were Conservative within the last five years. Chesham and Amersham was lost last year in the by-election following Dame Cheryl Gillian’s death, whereas Bath and Oxford West and Abingdon both turned yellow at the 2017 general election.
Additionally, each voted to Remain in 2016. According to Dr Chris Hanretty’s estimates, Chesham and Amersham did so by the smallest margin of 55 percent to 45 percent. Oxford West and Abingdon, on the other hand, did so by 61.9 percent to 38.1 percent, and Bath by the even more substantial margin of 68.4 percent to 31.6 percent. That might explain why the latter two proved immune to the exhortation to ‘Get Brexit Done’ last time around.
Finally, each have employment rates, average incomes, and house prices above the national average. Economically, each appears natural Tory ground. However, there is a significant difference between Chesham and Amersham and the other two. In Chesham and Amersham’s case, the swing to the Liberal Democrats last year has been attributed to local factors: the unpopularity of HS2 and local building plans.
But Bath and Oxford West and Abingdon are constituencies that appear to have been isolated from the party’s embrace of leaving the European Union. Wera Hobhouse saw her majority grow in Bath by 12.1 percent, from 5,694 to 12,322 votes at the last election, whereas Layla Moran saw hers in Oxford grow from 816 to 8,943, or by 13.9 percent.
Although the 8,028 (or 21.2 percent) majority in Chesham and Amersham may be attributable to the unique circumstances of by-elections, each therefore poses a significant challenge for whomever is chosen as the candidate. Hence why, one imagines, the party is so keen to get a candidate in so early.
The e-mail notifying the closing date for applications also contained some interesting information on the party’s approach to selecting candidates for seats affected by the ongoing boundary review. The Conservative Party Board has decided to select candidates on a case-by-case basis, and on the basis of using the existing boundaries. Although all three of these seats lack Conservative incumbents, current MPs will be able to exercise their territorial rights if new constituencies overlap with their old ones, and the selected Parliamentary Spokespeople for these current constituencies would be asked to step aside.
Furthermore, if a displaced Member of Parliament claims their rights as an incumbent, then the selected candidate and the displace Member will have to undertake a further selection procedure after the Boundary Commission have released their updated proposals. After this, if the constituency has been abolished, then there will clearly be no vacany.
With all available noise coming out of Number 10 suggesting that the next election will not be until 2024, and with the Chancellor’s Income Tax cut last week judiciously targeted for two years away, boundary changes will likely be in place by the time voters next go to the polls. What that means for candidates chosen on existing boundaries is unclear.
But it is a testament to the party’s bravery that it seeks to have candidates ready for an election in the near future, before the changes, even in spite of spiralling inflation, a cost-of-living crisis, and war in Ukraine.