Tories in trouble in Devon

‘Strong liberal tradition’ here says politics expert

Ollie Heptinstall, local democracy reporter www.radioexe.co.uk 

The Conservatives are likely to be “in real trouble” in Devon based on current polling, according to an expert from the University of Exeter.

Liz Truss this week announced her resignation as Tory party leader and prime minister, less than two months after defeating Rishi Sunak in a leadership contest that lasted longer than her premiership.

Her reign was blighted by turmoil, with Tory MPs revolting after Ms Truss was forced to abandon much of her tax-cutting economic plan following a negative reaction from economic markets.

Opinion polls reacted badly to her government, with support for the Conservatives nosediving during her time in Downing Street. The Politico website’s poll of polls gave Labour a 32-point lead as of midday on Friday [20 October].

Dr Hannah Bunting, lecturer in quantitative British politics at the University of Exeter, remarked: “The Conservatives are definitely going to be in trouble all over the country, but particularly in Devon and the south west overall.

“I think one of the more cautious projections that we’ve seen recently has the Conservatives losing half of the seats that they have in the south west at the moment at the next general election.”

The Tories currently hold nine of the 12 seats in Devon. All but one has a majority less than the 24,000 successfully overturned by Liberal Democrat Richard Foord to defeat the Conservatives in June’s Tiverton & Honiton by-election.

“I don’t think that Labour would win with the 400-odd seats [nationally] that are being projected at the moment,” Dr Bunting added, “but they are still likely to win with what we would call a landslide. And certainly, there are many areas in Devon and the south west where those members of parliament who are Conservatives are in real trouble.

Describing the Liberal Democrats as a “viable alternative” to the Tories, Dr Bunting added: “There’s a strong tradition of liberalism here, so when people in Devon and the south west turn against the Conservatives, they tend to go towards the Lib Dems unless you’re looking at cities such as Plymouth and Exeter.”

“So, for certain, the Conservatives are definitely going to be in trouble in Devon and Cornwall, and that’s just indicative of how unhappy people are with what’s happened over the past nine months plus.”

On whether the Tories could recover before the next general election, which does not have to be held until January 2025 if a new prime minister can command a majority in parliament, Dr Bunting believes there could be some respite for the governing party.

“If somebody such as Rishi Sunak, for instance, who was the MPs’ favourite ahead of the membership vote in the last leadership election, has some government experience … and seems to have quite a coherent plan and would hopefully be able to work with Jeremy Hunt in the chancellor’s office quite well together.

“If somebody like him wins this contest and becomes prime minister, and Jeremy Hunt’s budget goes quite well on Halloween, 31 October, then we could see some stability heading towards Christmas.

“But that doesn’t really do much to help a lot of the crises that are happening at the moment. There is a health care crisis, the cost-of-living crisis, people’s mortgages are more expensive, energy bills.

“There are so many things that that we need a government for at the moment, that if it’s not a kind of holistic plan, then even if they do manage to hang on until Christmas, they’ve then got the May local elections coming up and it’s probably going to be a pretty disastrous result for the Conservatives there.”

While Dr Bunting is “certain” that the Conservatives “will try and hang on as long as possible,” she believes the next general election could be held next September.

“I think whoever [takes over] is really going to try and keep things together until Christmas and then after those May local elections perhaps they’ll have to start taking stock again.

“But there’s so many variables and so much going on at the moment that it’s really, really difficult to predict.”

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