Election Street View

Local council candidate Matt McCarthy writes about one of the closest races in the country and voter fatigue

We know from Weber Shandwick’s Election Engagement Index that this is not the social media election some had predicted, and that parties are still heavily reliant on traditional forms of campaigning and traditional media channels. Lord Ashcroft has shown in his polling in key marginals Labour have more activists on the ground, with voters receiving more election literature from Labour and knocks on doors than rival parties.

In my home constituency of Bedford and Kempston, currently held by the Conservatives and a target seat for Labour, it could go either way and be one of the key seats that decides #GE2015. With a majority of only 1,353, the incumbent Conservative Richard Fuller is fighting hard.

Voter fatigue?

On May 7, the electorate of Bedford and Kempston will not only be deciding who will be the next MP. There are five votes in total happening on the same day!  Bedfordians are electing a Mayor of Bedford, Borough councillors, Parish councillors and voting on a referendum on a rise in the police precept of 15.8% in their council tax. As a Conservative Council candidate, I had hoped this smorgasbord might boost voter turnout. However, there is no guarantee that people will make a mark on every ballot paper, or indeed know the detail of all these different votes. Many I have spoken to on the doorstep are understandably somewhat confused about the number of ballot papers, and some are fed-up.

Undecided

TV may still be king when it comes to informing people’s voting intentions, but traditional forms of campaigning such as leafleting and canvassing have been vital in my experience of campaigning on the ground. Certainly to explain the five elections that are taking place, speaking to voters directly on the doorstep is a better opportunity to engage with them and get across your message than is possible via the media.  Having knocked on doors for 18 months, I know the issues and concerns of local residents. What is striking is that, even this close to polling day, many people tell me they have still not made their minds up. For both the Labour Party and the Conservatives, this means there is all to play for in the last days of the campaign.

Local situation

I have read analysis from various polling companies and their predictions on whether Bedford will remain blue or turn red. In my mind, there is one thing that pollsters have not grasped and that is how the substantial Liberal Democrat cohort will vote. Bedford has pockets where Liberal Democrat support is strong, and the party performs well locally. Bedford’s current Mayor is a Liberal Democrat for example. Commentators have assumed that this Liberal Democrat vote will swing to Labour. While I concede some of it will, it will not be so clear cut. While most Liberal Democrat voters will vote with their heart on a local level, a sizable proportion will split their vote for the national poll, and something that has not been recognised is that a good chunk of this goes to the Conservatives in Bedford.

Needless to say Bedford is one to watch and a tough seat to predict. With the plethora of elections taking place on the day, it will be interesting to see what local people plump for in the end, and whether my theory that door-knocking is what will decide it in the end proves correct.