I wrote recently about the LibDems‘ hopes for Surrey and Kent voting to gain at least local council votes. If not, then votes for parliamentary representation based on their list of key target seats where a swing of less than 10% would win them seats in Westminster.
Ward won by the LibDems
Well, a test was sprung on the Molesey East ward with the minimum legal notice (voting on 4 November 2023) as the very long-standing incumbent in Molesey East (a strangely named Ward adjacent to Hampton Court), a councillor from the Molesey Residents’ Association, stepped down for “personal reasons” and thus opened his seat for a challenge. It became a swing to the Liberal Democrats and gained them a new seat in the Elmbridge Borough Council.
“Hooray,” they may cry, and indeed it was a victory although potentially pyrrhic as the turnout was only some 28% (in dark wet weather) and the winner only won by 67 votes from a total of 1,921 votes cast. Newly elected Councillor Kevin Whincup’s nearest rival was a Conservative, followed by a new Molesey Residents’ Association candidate, so, LibDems 694, Conservatives 627, MRA 523. A few coughs and colds holding people back from voting on an autumnal night might have swung the vote to the Conservatives but probably the postal vote which was canvassed a few weeks ago might have snatched it for the LibDems.
The seat will have to be contested again in May 2024 – them’s the rules – , so the newly elected Councillor will have it all to do between now and then.
LibDem hopes for Raab’s constituency
Why ‘pyrrhic’? Well, I’ve written previously here about making assumptions or predictions concerning election prospects. Notably, Esher and Walton, which is currently held by the former Justice Secretary and Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab, who is standing down at the next General Election. The presumption of the local LibDem Party is that a mere 2.5% swing will deliver their prospective MP, Monica Harding, with ease, come the next election. They’ll hope so. But the low turnout on 4 November doesn’t help predictions. So, such a small local victory could easily be overturned before next May when Councillor Whincup stands again.
Careful now! This last surprise local election revealed a three-way split between the local candidates. Not much of a swing there to count on when the big national one happens. By the way, I am not a betting person but a source very, very close to one of the major party leaders revealed to me that the General Election is expected on Thursday 17 October 2024, a date later confirmed (speculatively) in a Sky Politics Podcast by a Westminster ‘bubble’ insider, Sam Coates, last week. So, not much more than 50 weeks for the other parties to turn around a 15–20% Labour lead in the national polls which may boot out Rishi Sunak and his team. So could it be predicted that the Conservatives still might be returned with a working majority? Or will it be a coalition?
Will Jeremy Hunt stand down in Godalming?
These speculative observations were prompted by a discussion concerning the immediate future of Surrey MP, The Rt Hon Jeremy Hunt, Chancellor of the Exchequer, who was rumoured to be thinking of standing down before the General Election. A rumour loudly denied by a Treasury Spokesman who told The Mail On Sunday that the Chancellor was fully committed to delivering his plans for the Economy and will not stand down.
The MP for South West Surrey won his present seat with a majority of 8,817 in 2019. But he is listed very high on the LibDem list of ‘targets’ in the hope that a swing of at least 10% will gain them his seat. But which seat? The Boundary Commission has redrawn the Surrey constituencies and given Jeremy Hunt the challenge of fighting for Godalming and Ash next time around. Hunt claims to be happy as he was born and brought up in Godalming.
So, apparently, he’s happy to fight on in a shiny new (and likely to be a very Conservative) constituency. But, if the Conservatives lose the next election and he nonetheless wins his prospective Surrey seat, will Mr Hunt be happy to sit on the back benches, in Opposition, as a Shadow Chancellor whose economic plan failed to deliver a Conservative Government? Or would he prefer to go after the Autumn Statement but before the March Budget which he would be compelled to present and defend before the next Election which may be lost by his Leader, Rishi Sunak? After all, his March Budget would only give him and his Prime Minister six months or so to turn the polls around to favour a Conservative electoral victory.
Who knows – but the newly elected Molesey East Councillor, Kevin Whincup, may still have a mountain to climb in next May’s local elections, which may still be a three-way contest between LibDems, Conservative and Local Residents candidates (Labour being insignificant in this affluent ward). However, it is widely believed that local votes will be significantly influenced by sentiments concerning the National Government and this week’s King’s Speech didn’t seem to spark renewed excitement about another five years of Conservative Government which may result in a protest vote for Labour.
And the hopeful Surrey – Esher & Walton candidate, lined up to replace Dominic Raab, Monica Harding, may unexpectedly have her own three-way hill of party votes to climb.