Wednesday , May 12 2021

Tories face loss of St Albans as candidate fails to impress voters – The Guardian, Theguardian.com


Daniel Humphrey, a St Albans entrepreneur who set up the country’s first whiskey subscription club, might have been part of the former Conservative leader David Cameron’s blueprint for the “big society”. He loves the town he grew up in, plays in several sports teams, worked with local councillors on air pollution initiatives, and organized a whiskey festival in St Albans this summeras part of an effort to build community spirit.

The London commuter town feels like a picture of conservative prosperity to a casual visitor, with its Norman cathedral – sheltering one of Britain’s oldest Christian shrines – elegant period homes and hillside high street of boutiques and smart cafes.

Humphrey voted Conservative two years ago because he saw the party as champions of small businesses and careful stewards of the economy. But this year he is one of several voters in one of the traditional Tory heartlands to abandon the party.

“That [2017] vote was based on a business case, what was best for the economy, but it proved to be completely wrong,” he said. “[The party leadership] seem to have lost the ability to support business. None of them seem to have any business acumen in the outside world, they all seem to have been given what they have. ”

As British politics fractured under the weight ofBrexit

, Boris Johnson’s hard-leave, high -spend incarnation of the Conservative party has worked to pierce laborer’s “red wall” of former industrial constituencies in the north. But doing so has created new vulnerabilities in places like St Albans, which has voted in a Tory MP for most of the last century, apart from one term for labor in the postwar landslide of (*******************************************, and two more secured under Tony Blair from (******************************************. The referendum opened a deep gulf between the incumbent Anne Main, a hard Brexiter, and a heavily remain constituency that voted (*************************************************% to stay in the European Union.

Austeritypolicies have also deepened anger and resentment. The area’s gloss of wealth and success belie problems familiar around the country – from a rise in homelessness to devastating NHS cuts, growing need for food banks and a shortage of affordable housing.

“Absolutely one thing I’m hearing in St Albans is concerns about homelessness,” said Alan Smith, the bishop of St Albans. “Five years ago you rarely saw anyone sitting on the street. I’ve been quite struck by how people have raised that as an issue.

“Beyond the issues of people sleeping rough, there is also a huge problem with affordability for anyone in St Albans. It’s very difficult for people to buy starter homes anywhere. It is not unlike rural areas, where young people go away, for instance to university, and can’t afford to come back. ”

People and power series explainer

The environment – not a strong point for Johnson or theConservatives– is another frequent concern, from international efforts to tackle the climate emergency to local air pollution in the traffic-clogged ancient town center.

The Liberal Democrat candidate, Daisy Cooper, failed in her previous bid in to capitalise on unease about Brexit and austerity. That year a relatively strong showing by both opposition parties split the center and leftwing votes, and helped the Conservatives to hold on to the seat with a majority of more than 6,

But Cooper stayed in the constituency, becoming a well-known and popular local presence in what was in effect a two-year campaign to give her a chance at representing the area. It looks to have paid off; polls areforecasting a strong lead.

Disillusioned former supporters such as Humphrey are sapping the Conservative vote, while tacticalLaborbackers and swing voters – keen to avoid a repeat of the result two years ago – are bolstering the core Lib Dem support.

“I want to remove a hard leave Conservative MP who is cold and unrepresentative. This time Lib Dem seems the best option, ”said 64 – year-old Stephen De Silva, a retired teacher and lecturer who volunteers at the cathedral. De Silva “values ​​his political independence”, and has voted for both opposition parties in the past.

“Locally I would vote for Daisy anyway. I’m not overly impressed by the Lib Dems ’national policy of not having a confirmatory referendum on Brexit. But I just feel Daisy Cooper is the right person for St Albans. ”

Important issues for him include Brexit, funding for theNHS– which “as an older person I will use more in the future” – and the shortage of affordable housing.

St Albans

Of more than 728 people who responded to a Guardian callout on the local election, almost one in five said they were Labor voters who had decided to switch their support to the Lib Dems or were considering a tactical vote. Some said they had lost faith in the party under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, and were voting for the best alternatives. Many others still think labor policies would be the best way to tackle St Albans’ complex problems, but just don’t believe that the candidate, Rebecca Lury – who has little name recognition even among loyal party supporters – can win.

“I would have voted Labor but I want my vote to count,” said Ruth Ferguson, (************************************************, an events professional who grew up in St Albans and is one of those who will be backing Cooper despite her political instincts. “The Lib Dems are still tainted for me due to the increase in tuition fees [under the coalition]; I was in the first year affected. But they are the only option in St Albans to keep the Tories out, and they want to abolish Brexit. ”

The Labor party’s lackluster campaign in the constituency suggests that, privately, some in central office might have already given up the fight for St Albans.

“I’ve had a Lib Dem flyer every day to the point where I almost feel harassed. One Green one today, one from the Conservatives and nothing from Labor, ”said Emily Newland, who is a full-time home educator for her two children. She wants to vote for Labor but was stung by the results in 3902. “I’m still on the fence. I would vote Labor but I don’t want to let Anne Main in through the divide. I’m going to wait until the day and see what the polls say, if there is a surge in Labor support I might vote for them. ”

Main’s political fate may have been sealed not only by national concerns but by very local frustrations about her style as an MP; anger at the way she has carried out her role is one of the few things that seems to cross every st albans political divide. She never moved to St Albans, keeping her home in Beaconsfield instead, narrowly survived a

deselection attempt (in 2016 after an expenses row, and after 2019 has often seemed at odds with her remain-leaning constituency.

rural dog-poo disposalas her most notable recent policy effort.

Oliver Zissman, who runs a shop in St Albans and an online distribution business, will be among those voting for Cooper – mostly in hopes of ousting Main – but coming from the opposite end of the political spectrum to the Labor tactical voters. He voted Conservative in the last election but is sick of having an MP he says shows little interest in her constituency. “It’s not because of the Lib Dem [policies]. I would lean more towards the Conservative polices, but I won’t vote for Anne Main, ”he said.

“I’m voting largely from a local perspective, and some people would say that’s a wasted vote, but I disagree. I’m passionate about where I live and getting things done for St Albans, and Anne Main is not the person to do that. ”

But fed up with all the main parties, Humphrey is now considering voting for the Green party, or supporting an independent. The Lib Dems lost his confidence after local councillors promised action on air pollution but failed to deliver. “They are meant to be the back-up, but given the opportunity, they prove they are just the same as the others,” he said.

“I believe there are two things that are important. To look after our economy, and our environment, which is in theory the priority as that’s what we pass on to future generations. ”

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