The Battle for Bedford

Since 1997, the party which has won Bedford has won the country. Matt McCarthy looks at the contest in 2017.

Bedford is a marginal constituency with a majority of only 1,097. This perhaps explains why it is thirteenth on Labour’s target list of seats to win from the Conservatives at this election, and why Jeremy Corbyn has visited the town twice already. Everything points to a tight race again this time around, and why it is all hands on deck for the respective campaigns.

Having canvassed and delivered extensively across the town in the past few weeks, engagement levels vary widely on the doorstep. You can sense some are not keen on having to go to the polls so soon after the referendum and the elections in 2015 – some in Bedford were asked to cast as many as 5 ballots for different elections including the General Election, mayoral and borough councillor elections, parish council elections, and a very unpopular referendum on raising the police precept triggered by the then Police and Crime Commissioner. In short, it’s not hard to understand why there is some voter apathy.

That said, those that are engaged have grasped the significance of this election and are giving their vote careful consideration in a key seat. A lot of people remain undecided, especially in the Labour heartlands of the town. This may sound positive for the Tories; however there are few signs of support switching from the red corner to the blue corner. Instead what this indicates is a general feeling of discontent with Jeremy Corbyn and the direction of the Labour Party.

This may not necessarily translate into votes for Theresa May, but could mean some traditional Labour voters stay at home. Regardless, the core support for both Labour and the Conservatives on the whole remains strong; meaning that UKIP voters from two years ago could have a telling impact, with no candidate this time around.

Bedford was a ‘leave’ constituency, and while it is an important national issue playing on voters’ minds, it is not the only one influencing people. Bedford hospital has survived a proposed downgrading; and changes to education have seen Academies and Free Schools opening in the town. Public services remain a concern for those I have spoken to, but people will not be fooled by a blank cheque – they want to know if they will pay more tax and if we can afford it.

Both parties’ manifestos seem to have had a modest impact on people’s voting intentions. For those undecided, what it may come down to on the day is the incumbency factor for the Conservatives, whether the electorate believe Corbyn is fit to by Prime Minister, and which leader is perceived to be capable of negotiating a good deal with the rest of Europe.

It’s generally accepted that the Conservatives will win a majority at this election, and Labour have only won the seat when it has secured working majorities in General Elections. What happens this time? We will soon find out.

You can also read my colleague Lincoln Hill’s twin piece, The Battle for Bermondsey, here.