In a General Election of widely varying swings and some unlikely results, the political landscape of Nottinghamshire bucked the national trend by staying almost completely unchanged since the last election.
Within the city, Labour’s triumvirate of Heppell, Simpson and Allen held their seats fairly comfortably, as was expected. Graham Allen’s win in Nottingham North gave him very nearly exactly the same majority as he entered the campaign with (down by 69 votes to 12,171). Allen is one of Britain’s tallest MPs and has been both a Labour whip and an Iraq War rebel during his parliamentary career.
Alan Simpson has always been considered something of a rebel, having been a thorn in Tony Blair’s side ever since he led the campaign to keep Clause IV. His share of the vote was down slightly from previous years, though he managed to win a still-respectable majority of 7,486. There was some excitement in Nottingham East when the Guardian mistakenly reported that Labour whip John Heppell’s majority had been cut to under a thousand. In actuality, the party enforcer had won by 6,939 votes but his majority was down by more than 3,000 since 2001.
Whilst it may have seemed like business as usual for the winners, with neither a threatened Tory ‘resurgence’ nor the Lib Dem’s positive campaign and opposition to the War managing to trouble Labour’s vote too much, the fight between the two losing parties was much closer. In Nottingham East, the Liberal Democrats even managed to leapfrog the Conservatives and take second place by just 22 votes. They improved their performance in the other constituencies whilst the Tory vote actually fell, with the result that all three seats will be definite three-horse races in the next election.
South of the River, Nottingham’s most senior politician, Tory grandee and former Chancellor Ken Clarke, won his ninth straight election in Rushcliffe and nearly doubled his majority, now up to 12,974. At the time of writing, the Jazz-loving, Europhile friend of tobacconists was suggesting he might stand for the leadership of his party when Michael Howard steps down in the autumn. Howard, who claimed he would be too old to fight the next election, is a year younger than Clarke but the Old Nottinghamian is still one of the most respected and well-liked Tory MPs. Don’t put too much money on it, but it’s just possible that Cuddly Ken could be Britain’s next Prime Minister.
Notts’ other Tory MP, Newark’s Patrick Mercer (who, incidentally, recently claimed to have never purchased a CD) also increased his lead over Labour with a majority of 6,464 but the Conservatives failed to take either of the region’s two key marginal Labour seats. Gedling’s Vernon Coaker and Broxtowe’s Nick Palmer, both strong constituency MPs, retained their seats but saw their majorities slashed, making them major Tory targets for the future. That may prove a tall order though, with former TV personality Anna Soubry failing to increase the Conservative vote in Gedling and the Lib Dems showing the most improvement in both constituencies.
Amongst the smaller parties, the Greens seemed to have had the best election, generally coming fourth (often just ahead of UKIP) in the seats they contested, with Green candidate Ashley Baxter keeping his deposit in Nottingham East. UKIP themselves managed to keep a deposit in Nottingham North, although the prediction of their candidate, spiritualist medium Irena Marriott, that she would unseat Graham Allen proved false. She lost by more than 16,000 votes but vowed to return.
Robert Kilroy-Silk’s most public humiliation since the infamous ‘bucket of shit’ incident took place on Election night in Erewash. Liz Blackman held the seat comfortably for Labour from the Tories, but the Veritas founder proved to be an irrelevance. He kept his deposit but took less than 3,000 votes. With his new party performing as badly or worse across the country, it looks like George Galloway (who won Labour’s Bethnal Green and Bow seat in London from Blairite Oona King) is once again Westminster’s favourite maverick pantomime villain. However, it remains to be seen whether the public at large think the War in Iraq is still a more important issue than immigration. Thankfully, very few BNP candidates stood anywhere near Notts, although the party did have some relatively significant results in London and the North West
The local results reflected the national picture, with the Conservatives mounting a small challenge, but not enough to change anything – most of their apparent gains were really Labour losses, with the vast majority of Labour defectors switching to the Lib Dems or smaller parties. In 2009 (or whenever the next Election comes) Labour will have to defend their Nottingham seats to stay in Government, whilst the Conservatives must successfully gain seats here to have any hope of returning to power. With the Liberal Democrats increasing their share of the vote considerably at this election they will need to build on their results in Nottingham, especially in the three city seats, to prove they are a real alternative and not just an anti-war protest party. Although turnout was up slightly on 2001, the apparent predictability of results here could end up breeding further apathy. This would be a shame, since constituencies in Notts, which is geographically about as ‘Middle England’ as you can get, will prove crucial in future elections.