June 7, 2017 by Paul Goldsmith
I am lucky enough to live in Ealing Central and Acton, which is a (very) marginal constituency. It was prised away from the Conservatives in 2015 by a tiny majority of 274 votes. This made it the 2nd most marginal of all Labour seats. What’s more, it was only 56th on the list of Labour target seats. However, the combination of an incumbent Conservative MP with no links to the area up against a Labour candidate in Rupa Huq who had lived there all her life was enough to tip the balance in this highly mixed constituency towards turning it red.
It remains highly balanced today, so highly balanced that the Green Party have not put up a candidate, putting their support behind Huq, and UKIP have stood own their candidate, putting their weight behind Joy Morrissey, the Conservative candidate. Prime Minister Theresa May has visited the constituency, as has Labour Shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer (Jeremy Corbyn doesn’t ‘do’ marginals). Meanwhile, there is a Lib Dem candidate, John Ball, but he is an afterthought in this battle, although a very important one, as any votes for him gives Morrissey a better chance, something that Huq has been at pains to make clear in her election literature.
The human geography of the constituency is what makes it so marginal. Ealing is a hub of middle class suburbia, mostly Conservative voting. If you live in one of the large houses on its leafy roads you will have been bombarded with blue leaflets from Morrissey. Going east, Acton and the west side of Shepherds Bush is far more mixed, both culturally and income-wise, so Labour have painted that side of the constituency red. I live in the middle – but, it seems, more to the east, given I have had a tree’s-worth of literature from Huq and only one leaflet from Morrissey. Bear in mind I am a centrist, so I could vote either way, it must be my location that means Morrissey hasn’t paid me much attention. As for the Lib Dems? Nothing, for the second election in a row.
The words on the leaflets and letters I have received say a lot. Huq makes not a single mention of Jeremy Corbyn. She after all cast a vote of no confidence in him last year. She is a passionate Remain supporter in a constituency that voted 72% to stay in the EU, so she has made much of that. She talks of her life living in the area, and of her work as MP, which in my view has been very strong and committed. She will never be everybody’s cup of tea, but there is little doubt she has worked very hard as a constituency MP at a very difficult time to be a Labour politician.
Morrissey, unlike her predecessor Angie Bray (who she used to work for), lives in the constituency and has been an Ealing councillor. This is believed to have been a key factor in her selection as candidate. She voted Leave in the EU referendum, which, in a constituency so pro-Remain in an election so much about Brexit, makes her feel the need to keep quiet about Brexit in the candidate profile she has written. The leaflet I got barely makes mention of the candidate herself, presenting herself as a typical ‘Maybot’ – the nickname for the current breed of Conservative politicians who seem to have been programmed rigorously to parrot whatever the PM says. Her leaflet of course DOES mention Jeremy Corbyn, including all his links to the IRA and terrorism. I think it is a shame that Morrissey does little to present herself to me as a person. I also thought it was a shame that after Theresa May avoided face-to-face debates, so did Morrissey, refusing to turn up at a constituency hustings over the accusation that she supports the closing of Ealing Hospital (which isn’t apparently happening). Instead of turning up to refute the claims, she instead threatened legal action and refused a debate. Being a fan of debate myself, I am as impressed about this as I am about May’s refusal to debate Corbyn.
As far as Jon Ball of the Liberal Democrats goes, he is also an Ealing Councillor, and his statement makes great play of his opposition to Heathrow’s third runway and a ‘hard Brexit’. The problem for Ball is that senior Lib Dems have actually been agitating for Lib Dem voters to vote for Rupa Huq, and so he has been provided with little to no support in the constituency. I do not expect him to figure much, BUT if the vote is close, votes for him might swing it away, probably from Huq.
As to whom I should vote for, I am in an interesting position because under our election system the votes we have can be tactical and can be for an MP without being for a party, particularly in a marginal constituency.
I am wary of (but not completely against) Corbyn winning this election, for reasons I will write about tomorrow. A vote for Rupa Huq is theoretically not a vote for Jeremy Corbyn, as she is publicly not a supporter and he is still very unlikely to win. If I want to have a stronger opposition to the Conservatives in the House of Commons then I should vote for Huq as she has spoken over 400 times in the past two years, which is very high for an MP. If I believe that the higher Theresa May’s majority, the better her negotiating position for Brexit, because she can more or less guarantee any deal she makes will get through Parliament, then I should vote for Morrissey. But I like Huq’s independence and insistence on putting her case strongly and I think her presence in the House of Commons benefits our political culture. Morrissey shows little sign of independence from May, so I would only vote for her if I am particularly supportive of Theresa May’s vision for Britain.