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Wednesday 18 March 2009

Crewe and Nantwich: Not Really Momentous

After the last departure of the politicos, hacks and hangers-on, and the settling of the dust, the question remains unanswered: just how exceptional a victory was this for David Cameron’s New Model Tory Party, and its candidate Edward Timpson (the man with marginally more charisma than a Burton’s dummy)?

So I’ll answer it. And my short answer is that it wasn’t exceptional at all. I’ll go further: for the Tories not to have taken the seat would have been exceptional.

But, hang on, the average hack might say, we saw the terraced houses and the cheap takeaways – this is a solid working class constituency, right?


The Tory campaign painted it that way, and with good reason: if they fouled up, it could be spun as an unwinnable seat. In charge of the opposition was the circumferentially challenged Eric Pickles, the Karl Rove of the Tory party. Fat Eric would not have even thought of pitching in to the fight without doing his homework properly.

Pickles would have ventured beyond the area between the railway station and the town centre – all that many hacks saw – to see that there was plenty of natural Tory support, and most significantly, plenty of potential swing votes. The hacks could have figured this in one: turn left outside the station on to Nantwich Road and keep straight on. The shops and terraces give way to larger houses within a kilometre. Or, having reached the town centre, carry on northwards. Again, the terraces give way to larger housing, much of it recent build. Or visit Nantwich, or one of the outlying villages.

How many did that? Michael White of the Guardian didn’t even check out all of the town centre. I figured this as he said, hearing that its partial redevelopment was a potential issue, that it didn’t look at all bad. This meant that he didn’t go near the bus station, although to avoid Crewe bus station is a sensible move. Parts of some towns you would do well to avoid at night; Crewe bus station you should avoid period.

But, as Clive James might have said, I digress. Let’s look at some figures.

The Crewe and Nantwich constituency was first contested in a General Election in 1983 (Gwyneth Dunwoody had previously been MP for Crewe). Labour won – but only just: the majority was 290.

Dunwoody got the majority into four figures in 1987 – but, again, only just. By 1992 she had increased it to almost 2,700. Not exactly rock solid.

Only in 1997 did Labour score a five figure majority, and here the Tories were caught in the perfect storm: not only did they lose badly all over the country, in Crewe the selling off of the rail industry and the effect on the Railway Works had hit the town hard.

In 2001, and again in 2005, Gwyneth Dunwoody’s majority declined. And, of the just over 7,000 2005 majority, there may well have been some who voted for her, but might not be natural Labour folk.

Still wavering? Consider these numbers.

In 1983, the Tories’ national share of the vote was just 42.4%; Labour got 27.6%. Labour scraped Crewe and Nantwich by 290 votes.

The week before the 2008 Crewe and Nantwich byelection, a YouGov survey gave the Tories 45% versus 25% for Labour.

As I said, the result of the byelection wasn’t exceptional at all.

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