Since the age of 18 when I wrote an account of the 1974 General Elections as a sixth former at Colyton Grammar School, I’ve found elections fascinating. Apart from the battle for votes between the main political parties which were then Conservatives, and the Labour and Liberal parties there were umpteen contests of all types across the country. Like the football results, the results of the ballots came from towns and regions that might not usually be in the spotlight of the national media: The Wrekin; Birmingham Ladywood; Calder Valley; South Holland and The Deepings; Na h-Eileanan an Iar; Ynys Mon; and Upper Bann.

Places that on election night become incredibly important as the results point to who may or may not become the tenant at 10 Downing Street. But elections are more than whether the next Government is Labour or Conservative as the so-called minor parties make up the complex mixture of British political opinion and regional diversity as well as revealing how things might be if there was some form of proportional representation. Most Western democracies have a form of proportional representation – while in the United Kingdom, Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland have been allowed to use this system of representation for regional assemblies but not in England. The reason is simply the two main parties would never be guaranteed a majority and have thus opposed to it. Of course the smaller parties are very keen as they would gain more MPs. Will it change? Only if either the Tories or Labour continually lose elections and feel their best interests is to change the system.

Remember the Member of Parliament for a constituency is there to represent all the residents – including those who voted for someone else or can’t vote as they are too young. So when making a choice it is best to read what candidates say – are they local, do they know the area or have made an effort to know it? Even if you are a candidate who lives in Croscombe you might never have set foot in North End – so someone who gets around is always going to do well if they take up local issues like a lack of buses and get behind a local campaign like Banwell’s bypass. National issues can come to dominate an election – but I would hazard a guess that most voters here will not be swayed by Gaza or small boats – but will be interested in more NHS dentists and GPs if they are promised – along with more funding for schools, special needs education and an increase in the level of benefits for working people. Food banks should not be needed in a wealthy country – is the feeling of most people – but a commitment to help the lower paid and those with larger families would I’m sure get more votes for the various candidates.

Back to Axbridge and the General Election on July 4th, 2024. Judging by the literature I’ve seen Labour score well on the NHS, the Conservatives on the state pension, the Lib Dems on the Cost of Living Crisis, the Green Party on public transport, Independent Abi McGuire on not voting on party lines, Helen Himms of Reform on immigration and as for Craig Clarke – no idea.

The constituency of Wells has been around since the 13th century but the area it covers has changed many times. For this election it has seen the Highbridge and Burnham-on-Sea areas dropped but Yatton included in the ward – all created by the Boundaries Commission whose job is it is to try to make all the constituencies around the same size in population.

The last Member of Parliament was James Heappey for the Conservatives who decide to stand down. His place has been taken by London based Meg Powell-Chandler who is a Downing Street consultant living in Chiswick. Meg has her work cut out to win the seat with its 2019 Tory majority of 9,991 as inevitably she will be seen as a last-minute newcomer with no ties to the area. She may be new but already has a strong presence online (an essential 21st century addition to publicity) and has appeared at some of the hustings and on the radio. In normal times she would expect to win comfortably – with a reduced majority – but these are not normal times as Rishi Sunak’s Conservative campaign has been dogged by one disaster after another – I’ll mention just one – the betting scandal.

If as is expected the Conservatives do lose the election on July 4th I hope the party moves back to the centre ground of politics – the one nation politics of Benjamin Disraeli, Ted Heath, Rab Butler, Rory Stewart and Tobias Elwood. And ideally select future candidates with an experience of life in agriculture, industry, manufacturing, medicine or education. The idea of moving the party to the right to meet Reform would be a dead end politically.

Meg is up against Tessa Munt for the Liberal Democrats who has served as the MP before and is hoping to live up to her poster: Tessa Again. When I was on the Cheddar Valley Gazette as a reporter and sub-editor we used to cheekily call her ‘ten minute Tess’ as she turned up to every event. To be fair she has become something of a fixture as the MP in waiting serving food at harvest homes, campaigning with rugby player Lawrence Dallaglio for extra millions for cancer care and of course being elected as the County Councillor for Wells.

If you believe the opinion polls she has a good chance of winning our constituency of Wells and the Mendip Hills – but elections can throw up some odd results. I am always sceptical of polls as they are so often wrong, as people say one thing to a pollster and vote another way in the polling booth. The idea that the Tories will have fewer than 100 seats on July 5th seems unlikely. The Conservative Party is a formidable machine and is a past master at ‘getting the vote out’ – literally picking up the elderly and carless and driving them to the voting station on the day. They also have a core of voters who are loyal to the party and are elderly, well-heeled and educated – and the idea they will vote en masse for Reform is fanciful. There’s a social divide that hasn’t been factored in – they will be horrified by Nigel Farage’s pro Putin comments and some of those of his colleagues.

The Lib Dems have the added bonus for fed up Tory voters as being the acceptable alternative – although the Conservative and Lib Dem parties will dispute this – but most Lib Dem MPs win elections against Tories – not Labour. And they have been in Government with them – so some truth in the idea.

Aside from the Meg V Tessa battle the other candidates – all five of them – may have an effect on the result – tipping a few hundred votes either way could be decisive. Will ex-RAF man and sheep farmer Joe Joseph for Labour retain the 4,304 votes Kama McKenzie got in 2019 or will he increase the share inline with the national swing to Kier Starmer’s revitalised party? With Yatton and North End now in the constituency he may well poll a few more votes which would likely hit Tessa’s vote – although judging by the national polling Labour have been taking votes from the Conservatives.

And then there is the high profile Independent campaign of Abi McGuire of Shepton Mallet. Judging by her views and profile you’d think she was a natural Liberal Democrat but perhaps there’s something else. She’s got a big following in Shepton where she is a councillor, but I am not giving away a state secret to say she’s not a fan of Tessa – could her vote take a chunk out of the Lib Dem challenge? Yes – probably. Which of course plays into the hands of Meg – especially as the Green Vote although small locally could see Labour and the Lib Dems losing some support. With tactical voting though those fears in the Tessa camp may not be realised.

However, Meg has her own concerns about leaking votes – this time to the Reform candidate in the shape of Helen Himms of Winscombe – although her leaflet’s main concern is about small boats and immigration – hardly an issue in Winscombe you would imagine. Nationally with their leader Nigel Farage so often on TV and radio Reform (yes, it is a limited company owned by Tice and Farage and not a political party) is polling around 17%. Will those disgruntled Brexiteers all vote for Reform and send scores of MPs to Westminster? Probably not – but their votes will drain some of the oxygen out of the Conservatives. How that will affect Meg’s vote – I suspect it won’t be too big a hit but Helen is local and has a personal following so she may do better than some Reform candidates.

That leaves the other independent Craig Clarke who is unlikely to have much of an effect on the votes for the main candidates but in a tight contest a couple of hundred votes can win or lose an election. In 2019 the Conservatives won Bury North from Labour with a majority of just 105 while in 2017 the SNP had a majority of just two when they won North East Fife. So, make sure you vote on July 4th – you could tip the balance one way or the other.

So who will win? Please note every prediction I have made in the past (as my family always reminds me) has been wrong. Neil Kinnock as PM no. Bristol City to win the FA Cup, no. Brexit vote to lose, no. But I will be a hostage to fortune and say I think Tessa Munt will win by a very small majority – like she did last time with around 800 votes ahead of the then Conservative MP David Heathcoat Emery. But don’t bet on it. Politics like football throws up some odd results – just like back in 1974 when Harold Wilson became the Labour Prime minister for the fourth time. No one expected that. But what I do expect is Labour to come third in Wells and the Mendip Hills – which I know is not really sticking my head out!

Harry Mottram

Axbridge News is edited by Harry Mottram and is published for the interest of himself and fellow residents.

Harry is a freelance journalist. Follow him on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube etc