By Harry Mottram: The Prime Minister Rishi Sunak caught many on the hop by announcing a General Election for Thursday, July 4th, 2024, as he explained his reasons from a rain soaked Downing Street. He rubbished Kier Starmer and the Labour Party as having no plan for the country and said he would fight for every vote to be returned to power. He began by reminding voters of his policies during Covid that had saved the economy and how he had now helped the UK economy to grow quickly. With the war in Ukraine, terrorism in the Middle East, China’s expanding economy and small boats bringing hundreds of immigrants to the UK he said the country was safer with him rather than Starmer. Since then he has been on a whistle stop tour of the UK by air and coach hoping to ‘get on the front foot’ and shift the public’s view of his Government.

Cynics might point out that the opinion polls haven’t shifted in months and Labour looks a shoe in to win an election so he might as well bite the bullet and get the pain over with now. After all the economy isn’t in great shape and Labour will have to pick up the pieces and could soon be unpopular as they try to turn things around. Other cynics may also say that American-phile Rishi Sunak has chosen July 4th as the day he moves back across the pond and leave rain soaked Britain behind for the sunshine of California. Despite some disquiet in Conservative ranks the recieved wisdom is that things may not improve this autumn and with sunny weather, England doing well in the Euros and Wimbledon giving a feel-good factor the tables could turn in his favour.

In Axbridge voters will have a wide range of candidates to choose from but they won’t be able to vote for James Heappey, the Conservative MP until today (Friday 24 May) as he is stepping down. In a post on X formerly Twitter he wrote: “A sad day as I take my seat for last time here in House of Commons. It’s been an incredibly busy 9 years & I’ll be forever grateful to my constituents for giving me this opportunity to sit as their MP. It has been a huge honour to be here & to represent our wonderful community.”

A supporter penned this tribute on line: “Thank you for being a fine MP for me, you won me over by always answering my letters, your impressive media appearances, and all you have done for defence and Ukraine. You will be a hard act to follow.”

The question is now who will step in for the Conservatives in a constituency that has had most representatives since the late 19th century when parliament become more democractic as reforms came in to increase representation. From 1885 to 2010 it’s been a blue strong hold with only the old Liberal Party succeeding in the 1906 and 1923 elections in prevailing. Older residents will recall the Tory MPs Lynch Maydon, Robert Boscowen and David Heathcoat-Amory until Tessa Munt ousted the latter in 2010. James Heappey has held the seat since 2015 and the general concensus has been he has had ‘a good Ukraine war’ as Armed Forces Minister fielding questions from the media on the UK’s role in supplying weapons to the beleagued nation in its war with Putin’s Russia. However, it’s fair to say he’s not enjoyed that level of support locally if you go with what is written on social media – but that counts for nought now he is stepping down. David Heathcoat-Amory was undone by the Expenses Scandal while today the collapse of support for the Tories in opinion polls over The Cost of Living Crisis and Party Gate will mean Heappey’s successor has an uphill battle.

Tessa Munt for the Lib Dems

The Liberal Democrat Tessa Munt must be installed as the potential winner having maintained a high profile locally and winning a Somerst Council ward in Wells in local elections. The constituency as my colleagues note below is different from the last election as essentially Burnham-on-Sea has been cut while Yatton has been gained. A back of the envelope calculation would suggest the constituency has fewer retired older voters but more working families as a result – but that is speculation – and it is not known how that will affect the result.

Helen Himms, Reform UK

So far, we know that Helen Hims is standing for Reform UK and will be hoping to inherit the votes of UKIP and disgruntled Conservatives; Abi McGuire is standing as an Independent and represents the antidote to party politics she says and is a town councillor in Shepton Mallet; Tessa Munt for the Liberal Democrats I’ve mentioned; and Peter Welsh is the Green Party candidate will be encouraged by the success of the party in recent local elections in Bristol.

Abi McGuire Independent

Last time Labour chose Kama McKenzie from Bristol who came in a poor third in 2019 while Andy Merryfield did better in 2017 but the party has never won here or come close except in 1945 when Cyril Morgan came within less that 2,500 votes of beating Dennis Boles. It may be a surprise to some that Labour in the 1950s and 1960s were consistently second in the elections in Axbridge and district. Their candidate has yet to be announced but they will hope the national swing to Labour will benefit them.

Peter Welsh. Green Party

Whether others will join the contest is yet to be seen but I will update residents on my website of developments purely out of interest – and I will do my best to be objective. I cover proefessionally Bath for a newspaper which has not dissimilar dynamics to Wells – although the current Lib Dem MP Wera Hobhouse will have to do spectacularly badly to lose.

Wells and Mendip Hills by Daniel Mumby and Johm Wimperis, of the local democracy service

James Heappey has held the old Wells seat since 2015, but the new Wells constituency will bear little resemblance to the current one.

While it still includes Axbridge, Cheddar, Shepton Mallet and Wells itself, the new constituency loses the coastal towns of Burnham-on-Sea and Highbridge to the new Bridgwater seat.

Interestingly, the new constituency also includes Yatton and other settlements which currently form the eastern part of the Weston-super-Mare seat held by John Penrose since 2005.

Mr Heappey has already confirmed he will not be standing for re-election – and the local Conservative branch has yet to announce a new candidate.

The Lib Dems won heavily in this neck of the woods in the 2022 local elections, and former MP Tessa Munt will be relishing the chance to return to parliament.

However, the seat remains largely rural with an ageing population – characteristics which would traditionally point towards a Tory victory.

Candidates currently expected to stand for the seat are:

  • Reform UK: Helen Hims
  • Independent: Abi McGuire
  • Liberal Democrat: Tessa Munt
  • Green: Peter Welsh

Axbridge News is edited by Harry Mottram for his own interest and those of residents.

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