Why voters are now getting to know Bernard in historic Harwich
THERE are no such things as certainty in life, especially in politics.
When I first took on the role of political editor of the EADT in 1996, I attended a meeting with Essex Tories in Colchester regarding election prospects and was told quite firmly: You don’t need to trouble yourself about North Essex – any constituency which includes Dedham will always elect a Conservative MP.
Well, perhaps not.
Decades ago, Dedham used to be in the former Colchester constituency and in the Labour landslide of 1945, it duly found itself represented in Westminster by Charles Smith, who later became Lord Delacourt Smith.
Smith’s election success was the Labour equivalent of Glasgow sending Tory Prime Minister Andrew Bonar Law to Westminster.
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But for the past 60 years, Dedham has nestled safely in the enfolding arms of the Conservative Party of Cuthbert Alport and then Sir Anthony Buck.
In 1983, to acknowledge the rapidly expanding population of Colchester and northern Essex, new constituencies were created – Colchester North and Maldon & Colchester South.
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Sir Anthony stayed on for two elections until standing down in 1992, when Bernard Jenkin was returned with a comfortable 16,492 majority (24.1%) over Liberal Democrat Dr James Raven.
A new set of boundary changes created Essex North in 1997, which Mr Jenkin won by 5,476, and yet more changes come into effect at this election with the creation of the Harwich & Essex North seat, which Mr Jenkin is contesting.
Should he win, Mr Jenkin will have completed a remarkable hat-trick – to represent the south bank of the River Stour in three differently named constituencies.
This election breaks the historic electoral ties of Harwich and Clacton. They go their separate ways – Clacton giving its name for the first time to a constituency while Harwich has given its name to an electoral division since 1603, except for the period from 1868 to 1885, when the Tendring Peninsula was to be found in the Essex North-East division with its place of election at Colchester.
Mr Jenkin has had a bruising few weeks over his parliamentary expenses and he has had to repay more than �46,000 which he claimed for renting a home from his sister-in-law.
“It it is not an issue on the doorstep,” says Mr Jenkin. “The sentiment I am getting is that people want to see the back of Gordon Brown. I am receiving encouragement from Labour supporters who think that Brown has been a disastrous Prime Minister.
“I am campaigning on ‘Labour got us into this mess, the Conservatives once again will rescue the economy.’
“Issues which are concerning voters are over-development of housing, the state of the NHS, lack of investment in the A12, and the railway service in the region.
“Some people are exercised about Europe, but I can give this pledge that if the EU continues in the wrong, federal, direction, the Conservative Party will hold a referendum to see if voters are happy with that.”
No one is more aware of the uphill task he has of winning the new seat when the Labour government is trying to see off the Tories nationally than Labour’s candidate Darren Barrenger. He is pinning his hopes on the 3,500 first-time voters on the electoral register. “Who they vote for will be crucial in this election,” he says.
Mr Barrenger, who works for BT near Ipswich, is combining old-fashioned electioneering with full use of new media. “I am fully conscious that older people are not new-media literate, so we have been targeting them with mail-shots emphasising what Labour has done for them since 1997 and not to jeopardise it by voting Tory.
“What has surprised us is that we have had a lot of responses through the post and I go out to see those who have replied. A lot of people have yet to make up their minds about which party to vote for – ‘not sure’ is message that has been coming across to us on the doorsetp.”
Mr Barrenger says the big issue facing whoever is elected will be to secure the dualling of the A120 from the Harwich International Port to the A120, which will be a catalyst for attracting new employers to the area.
He looks back with pride at what he sees as the achievements of the Labour government. “Since 1997, the most important things have been working families tax credit and the national minimum wage.
“I would like the gap between the lowest and highest paid workers in a firm put at no more than 10 times that of the average wage.”
For Colchester-born James Raven, this is the third time he has stood for Parliament – previously it was Colchester North in 1992 and Essex North in 2005, and all against Bernard Jenkin.
“This election will see a negative vote against politicians – trust in politicians is at a low ebb,” says the Liberal Democrat candidate.
“People are very upset with Mr Jenkin’s expenses and the huge amount he was told to repay.”
Mr Raven adds: “People are confused and upset with the state of politics. And the boundary changes do not help – voters do not understand why the changes have occurred and many do not know in which constituency they live. It all adds up to a democratic deficit. Meanwhile, the Liberal Democrats have come of age, have found a distinctive voice, and are no longer seen as a remote hope. We will do well at this election.”
Tendring is an area where there is a lot of opposition to the EU and Simon Anselli believes that will be translated on the doorstep into support for the UK Independence Party.
“It is a large constituency to get around but I am finding that voters are annoyed that they were not given the referendum they were promised on the Lisbon Treaty,” he says.
“UKIP are the heirs to Labour – in the early 20th Century, Labour was needed to help the working class. But today, the average working man has his own house, a nice car, flat screen television and goes on nice holidays which mean Labour is no longer needed.
“Britain needs a party not run by the political establishment. UKIP is a large group of ordinary people who have had lives before politics. If the euro implodes, that could be the end of the EU – fingers crossed. My personal goal is to get across to voters that we are not run by Westminster but by an undemocratic Brussels. The president of the EU earns more than the president of the USA, controls twice as many people as the American, and is appointed not elected. How can that be democratic?”
Because he could not find a candidate he felt confident of voting for, Peter Thompson Bates, of Mistley, is to stand as an independent – “at least, I can vote for myself,” he says. “I want common sense to be reclaimed and for someone interested in north Essex to be my MP. I don’t want petty personal attacks on each other, nor do I want knee-jerk reactions to policies.”
This election could see the Green Party winning its first seat. Caroline Lucas is odds-on to become MP for Brighton Pavilion and it has high hopes in a couple of other constituencies. But as the Green Party is to the left of Labour in most policies, it is unlikely it will make much of an impression in Harwich and Essex North. Candidate Chris Fox will be doing well if he saves his deposit.
The British National Party has entered the lists and has Steve Robey as its candidate.
Harwich & Essex North, from its connections with Samuel Pepys, as the home port of the new superferries on the Hook of Holland route, as the home of the University of Essex at Wivenhoe Park, and with its prime agricultural land, is as diverse as any you will find in East Anglia. If Bernard Jenkin doesn’t win, then the Conservative Party will be in real trouble.