JANUARY 21, 2024

By Harry Mottram: The question in North East Somerset at this year’s General Election is will Jacob Rees-Mogg hold the seat for the Conservatives or will he succumb to the expected Labour landslide. Writing for Bristol Live senior journalist Tristan Cork has suggested it could be a ‘Portillo moment’. In the 1997 election Michael Portillo was a high-profile Government minister who at one time seemed certain to lead the Tory Party. When the votes were counted his once handsome majority in Enfield was overturned by Labour’s Stephen Twigg – in one of the those moments that few will forget due to the shock on both the faces: the victor and the vanquished staring in disbelief into the TV cameras.

Tristan reported on the battle to be the Labour candidate, as potential challengers line up to take on the Brexiteer, GB News figure and advocate of Australian beef imports. The well dressed and politely spoken MP is popular with many within the Conservative party but has become something of a hate-figure in opposition circles. Elected in 2010 he has held a number of high profile Government jobs including the role of Leader of the House of Commons.

With the Tories in the doldrums in the opinion polls his once safe seat with its 14,729 majority could be at risk if pollsters are correct in their predictions. The constituency surrounds Bath which has a Liberal Democrat MP in Wera Hobhouse, so you would imagine the Lib Dems would be the main challengers. However, in the last three elections Labour have held off the Lib Dems and so can claim they are the heir apparent – although the margins have not been huge. There is another factor however as the boundaries are changing to the new constituency of North East Somerset and Hanham – it is losing the Labour strongholds around Radstock and is gaining parts of South Gloucestershire including Bitton and Longwell Green. So, it is not so easy to predict as previously.

The three potential Labour candidates to throw their hats into the ring so far are: Dan Norris, Dr Rebecca Montacute and James Coldwell.

Dan Norris is the current Metro Mayor (until 2025) but has run into trouble over the bus services with some services cut and others replaced by the controversial ‘dial a bus’ scheme. However he is a familiar face and for many a still popular figure in the party having been a Labour MP for part of the new constituency back in the 1990s up to 2010.

Originally from Somerset James Coldwell lives in Keynsham and works for a London based charity to do with responsible and ethical investing. He was a councillor in London but fell out with the party as he was a Remainer – now in the west he has the backing of several Labour Party groups and trade unions and must be in with a shout to grab the gig.

Dr Rebecca Montacute went to school in Chew Valley and has a PhD in neuroscience and heads up research at the Sutton Trust. No stranger to TV and the media where her views are sought on health and mental health issues. She could be the dark horse in the race to be the Labour candidate who sees the end of Jacob Rees-Mogg as an MP. She is endorsed by Unite the union, Scientists for Labour, the Jewish Labour Movement, Labour Coast and Country and the Labour Campaign for Childcare Reform. 

Looking at previous results – and yes, the boundaries are changing – the Conservatives have benefitted from Labour and Liberal Democrats cancelling each other out. If they combined their votes with a single candidate then a win is possible – but that won’t happen. On past stats the Conservatives should hold but because of some huge byelection victories for both the Lib Dems and Labour in recent months then an upset is possible. For that to happen then voters will have to decide which of the two parties has the best shot at overturning the majority currently enjoyed by Jacob Rees-Mogg. And if it is a ‘Portillo moment’ then it will be interesting to see if Jacob dons the colourful trousers like Portillo and begins a career making documentaries about historic train lines. Elections are unpredictable so – I wouldn’t right off Jacob just yet.