The West’s “free spirits” challenge the “old order” at Westminster

And guess who the most popular “free spirit is. Claire Wright – of course and isn’t old Hugo rattled!

Claire Wright, one of the surprises of this campaign and the bookies’ favourite “indie” in the UK, says the inner “urge” is too strong to resist.

The former NHS worker from Ottery St Mary has been backed down from odds of 33/1 to 4/1 to win East Devon, a true blue bastion of Conservatism.

Claire, already a town, district and county councillor, came face-to-face with her target – Foreign Office Minister Hugo Swire – in the Devon new town of Cranbrook, venue for the final hustings in the seat on Wednesday night.

She claims the “huge momentum” generated – with hundreds leafleting, more than £13,000 donated via her website and fresh calls every day for photo boards – shows her locally-focussed, anti-austerity manifesto can really win.

“Lots of people are sick of politics and are looking for someone who is going to fight for them,” she told the Western Morning News, outside the newly built St Martin’s school.

“I am very much a free spirit and I just want to be completely free to represent people without having any kind of party line to worry about.

“Politics can be very entrenched but people feel they can vote for me without betraying their parties.

“If I can galvanise enough votes from all those groups then it is possible I could win.”

But what of Hugo, a heavyweight candidate almost from Tory central casting who arrived at the Commons via Eton, Sandhurst and the Grenadier Guards.

In 2010, he was elected with a 9,114 majority, a massive 48% of the vote.

Overturning this is a tall order. But it wouldn’t be the first shock.

In 2011 as a town councillor, Claire ousted local Tory district council leader Sara Randall Johnson from her Ottery St Mary seat, a victory that secured her status among the local ruling elite as “public enemy number one”.

Two years later she claimed the biggest majority in the South West – 74% – in the election to the county authority.

If the three-time veteran Hugo is rattled, as many say, then it is not apparent from his performance at the stump.

During the 90-minute Q&A session, the former Sothebys auctioneer – now famous for overseeing Tory fundraisers – never misses a chance to remind the audience of his credentials.

There are plenty of persuasive statistical sound bites and at the end of a 90-second introduction, he casually mentions “juggling” his campaigning with efforts to deal with the disaster in Nepal.

In response to a partisan question about Cranbrook he reminds the audience of his unwavering support for the new community since day one.

This scores well in the gym. Claire initially opposed the soon-to-be-thriving town as a fresh-faced councillor.

The following day, on the campaign trail in Sidford, Hugo views the new challenge as part of an orchestrated anti-Tory movement in the area, the newly formed East Devon Alliance (EDA).

The group registered with the Electoral Commission this year and is backing 37 candidates in the district election poll, 15 of them independents.

“There is no doubt that Claire Wright and the EDA are one and the same – I don’t know how they manage to say they are independent when it is a registered party,” he told the WMN.

“She is very good at PR and spin and is always going on about her odds being 6/1 but you can manipulate these just by getting 20 people to put on a tenner.

“This is a serious election to see who will be the governing party in Westminster. I am more than happy to be judged on my record and what we have achieved over the past five years.”