Fifteen former MPs out to settle a score in the election

Written by Mark Leftly on 17 May 2017 in Features
Features

Some familiar names will be facing off against each other when the country goes to the polls next month.

Theresa May’s surprise early general election meant few candidates had been even selected in many seats across the country.

This is one reason there will be an unusually high number of rematches between the 2015 intake and the MPs they replaced. The Liberal Democrats, long suspecting a post-Brexit poll was possible, drew up an emergency election candidate list that included many of MPs from the 49 seats they lost two years ago. With a larger membership to draw from, Labour have drafted in a greater proportion of fresh candidates, though old hands still abound.

This, then, could prove to be an unusually vengeful election, particularly between Lib Dems and the Conservatives who so spectacularly targeted their seats last time around.

Here are some of the most fascinating rematches on 8 June.

 

CONSERVATIVE v LIB DEM

 

James Berry vs Sir Ed Davey
Kingston & Surbiton
Conservative majority: 2,834

Davey, the former energy secretary, lost this South-west London seat by 2,834 votes after 18 years as MP. He tells us responses “are already better on the doorstep this time around” and believes convincing natural Conservatives who voted to remain in the European Union in last year’s referendum is key to his hopes. Berry, however, was opposed to Brexit prior to the referendum and has also adopted Lib Dem ground by speaking in favour of lowering the voting age to 16. Bookies Paddy Power cannot separate the candidates, offering odds of 5/6 on both.

 

Tania Mathias vs Sir Vince Cable
Twickenham
Conservative majority: 2,017  

Berry’s neighbour, Remainer Mathias, is well liked among Conservative colleagues and has been unafraid to take on her own party in opposing expansion of Heathrow airport as “a terrible decision”. One senior Brexiteer warns to “not rule out Tania, she’s an extremely good candidate”, as proven by her defeat of the popular Cable.  But the former business secretary is still considered one of the Lib Dems’ greatest electoral assets and leader Tim Farron has made him the party’s general election ‘chancellor’ to boost an already extremely high media profile. The 73-year-old points out his record in the constituency stands at four wins and only one loss.   

 

Peter Heaton-Jones vs Sir Nick Harvey
North Devon
Conservative majority: 6,936

Harvey took back the seat of the late Liberal leader Jeremy Thorpe in 1992, but in 2015 his vote collapsed by nearly 18% to give Heaton-Jones a majority of nearly 7,000. Heaton-Jones, a 52-year-old former journalist, says he is “not complacent” but argues “the difference this time is that I’m the incumbent and can run on my record”. He helped secure £1.5m to develop the business case for upgrading the A361 in the 2015 budget and, this year, £2m in grants for projects in Ilfracombe and Barnstaple. Harvey, a former armed forces minister, tells The House his former constituents have had two years “to look at what having both a Conservative government and a Conservative MP means”. He says this has “not done North Devon any good in the past nor now” and that voters would be better represented by a “rebellious opposition MP than “a loyalist backbencher”.

 

Caroline Ansell vs Stephen Lloyd
Eastbourne
Conservative majority: 733

Eastbourne is number two on the Lib Dems’ target list, with Lloyd needing a 0.69% swing to overturn Ansell’s 733 majority. Lloyd believes he lost in 2015 because of the Conservative’s strategy of arguing that a vote for anyone but David Cameron would mean a Labour/Scottish National Party coalition. He claims Eastbourne Conservatives went even further, pushing a line that Alex Salmond, not even the more popular and actual SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon , would end up “running the country”. He also claims “Green and Labour voters are telling us it’s obvious only Lloyd can win”. Eastbourne voted for Brexit, as did Ansell, who has argued secession negotiations mean “this is no time for protest voting”.  

 

Sarah Olney vs Zac Goldsmith
Richmond Park
Lib Dem majority: 1,872

Ok, so this is not a re-run of 2015, when Goldsmith cruised to a majority of more than 23,000. But it is arguably the most high profile rematch of 2017. Olney, a political novice, edged home by barely 2,000 votes in last year’s by-election, caused by Goldsmith resigning in opposition to a third runway at Heathrow. He stood as an independent, though the Conservatives did not put up a candidate. Given that failure and his earlier defeat to Sadiq Khan in the London mayoral election, many thought Goldsmith’s political career could be over. However, he has been re-adopted as Conservative candidate, a risky move given he is a Brexiteer contesting a heavily Remain seat.

 

Derek Thomas vs Andrew George
St Ives
Conservative majority: 2,469

If the Lib Dems are to push back the blue tide that overran their former South-West heartland, George must take back the party’s number one target in the region. Thomas’s majority is only 2,469, or 5.1%, but the Conservatives remains a slight favourite with the bookies. The battle has quickly become bitter. Thomas claims that in 2015 George had “made a big thing” of his faith, with his supporters saying “we don’t want a Christian representing our views”. George has countered the allegation is “disgraceful”, adding “dishonesty is something he is very good at”.

 

LABOUR v LIB DEM

 

Daniel Zeichner vs Julian Huppert  
Cambridge
Labour majority: 599

"It’s round three!” declares Zeichner, who surged from fourth to first in Cambridge in 2015. Huppert had only been Cambridge’s MP since 2010, but was already touted by many on the Lib Dem left as a potential future leader. Despite clashes during the Coalition years – Zeichner accused Huppert and his party of misleading voters on tuition fees and rail fares – this is shaping up to be one of the more convivial rematches. Zeichner speaks well of his opponent, even when talking up his own chances: “Incumbency is huge in a place like Cambridge, which has a particularly engaged electorate. That’s what made it so difficult to win in 2017. While you, in a sense, have two incumbents now, because Julian is still well regarded, he doesn’t have such a big advantage.”

 

Jess Phillips vs John Hemming
Birmingham Yardley
Labour majority: 6,595

Outspoken and known for hilarious Twitter put-downs, Phillips has been one of the stars of the 2015 intake. She has won fans for her outspoken criticism of a perceived lack of women in Jeremy Corbyn’s top team and written a well-received book on her own experiences, Everywoman. However, Hemming, who lost by 6,595 after a decade as MP, believes this media profile is a weakness, arguing she is not “a full-time MP”.

 

Neil Coyle vs Sir Simon Hughes
Bermondsey & Old Southwark
Labour majority: 4,489

Hughes is one of the Lib Dems’ battalion of returning knights and the former justice minister is strongly fancied to regain a constituency he had held since 1983. Coyle, who won by nearly 4,500 votes in 2015, has gone on the attack early, telling the BBC voters must judge Hughes by the Coalition and his voting record. He argued: “I hope my electors don’t have too short a memory and remember that there was a Lib Dem before who voted for things like the bedroom tax, the hike in tuition fees and didn’t vote for equal marriage.” Hughes says Coyle, a critic of Corbyn, has wasted “huge amounts of time fighting internal battles”.

Labour v Conservative

 

Ruth Cadbury vs Mary Macleod
Brentford & Isleworth
Labour majority: 465

Labour took 45 of the capital’s 73 Parliamentary seats in 2015. Even then, MacLeod only had a majority of less than 2,000 votes to defend, but came within 400 votes of holding on. Macleod is telling constituents this election is primarily about Brexit. “What I’m finding on the doorstep is that people want someone who will be strong at the negotiating table, whether they voted remain or not,” she says “This election is all about Corbyn vs Theresa May. My key message is who do you want to fight for this country and negotiate? That’s got to be Theresa May – Labour’s in chaos with a leader who’s frankly weak.” Cadbury argues her hard work locally and the government’s welfare record will help her win again. “Since 2015, I and my team have responded to 20,000 requests for help and support, while people on low incomes have seen their quality of life get dramatically worse with the roll out of universal credit and benefit cuts.”

 

Joan Ryan vs Nick de Bois
Enfield North
Labour majority: 1,086

This is the fifth time Ryan and de Bois have squared off, the latter having won in 2001, 2005, and 2015. De Bois did have a majority of nearly 1,700 in 2010 and is another who believes Corbyn is the Conservatives’ trump card. “If I do win it will be because voters recognise a vote for my Labour opponent is a vote for the chaos of a Corbyn government,” he argues. Ryan is chair of Labour Friends of Israel and has been critical of Corbyn, who many MPs feel has not done enough to tackle antisemitism in the party.

 

Wes Streeting vs Lee Scott  
Ilford North
Labour majority: 589

Streeting, a former National Union of Students president, has been one of Corbyn’s most vocal opponents within the Parliamentary Labour Party. This led to suggestions of deselection, but Streeting is turning his criticism into a virtue in defending  his slender majority of 589 against old foe Lee Scott. “No one is in any doubt that I’m independent-minded and willing to speak truth to power – whether in Number 10 or my own party,” he argues. Scott says he is “over the moon” that Ukip will not field a candidate; he is expected to be the beneficiary of much of that party’s 4,355 votes in 2015.

 

James Davies vs Chris Ruane
Vale of Clwyd
Conservative majority: 237

The Conservatives are seeking gains in Wales at the expense of Labour, which holds 25 of 40 seats. But Davies’s majority in Vale of Clwyd is just 237 after a victory that Ruane described as one of the “shocks” of his life. Ruane had held the seat for 18 years and admits to having missed being an MP “a lot”. Davies says he “really wants to carry on” after less than two years in the role.

 

Amanda Solloway vs Chris Williamson
Derby North
Conservative majority: 41

While many Labour candidates look to distance themselves from Corbyn, Williamson and his leader share something of a love-in. Corbyn described Williamson’s 2015 defeat to Solloway as “the worst result of that night”. Williamson says Corbyn has “given Labour back its true values”. Defending a majority of just 41, Solloway says she is being “judged on my time a little earlier than I anticipated”, but was boosted when home secretary Amber Rudd visited to launch her 2017 campaign.

 

SNP v LIB DEM

 

John Nicolson vs Jo Swinson  
East Dunbartonshire
SNP majority: 2,167
 
Swinson, the former employment relations minister, is the Lib Dems’ best hope for a gain in Scotland. Still only 37, Swinson had racked up a decade representing East Dunbartonshire before John Nicolson edged her out by 2,167 votes in the SNP’s near sweep of Scotland.  Senior Lib Dems are hopeful – “Jo will be back,” says one MP – which will please the many activists who view her as a long-term successor to Tim Farron. Nicolson, a former television presenter, has unsurprisingly proved himself one of the SNP’s most assured media performers and recently told voters “they can’t trust the Lib Dems”.

 

 

This article first appeared in The House magazine.

 

Photo credit: Press Association.

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