Thursday, February 16, 2023

Nick Cohen visits Mike Martin in Tunbridge Wells and sniffs a political earthquake

Nick Cohen takes us to Tunbridge Wells in his latest substack Writing from London:

Mike Martin is the sort of chap who used to be a natural Tory.  He served in Afghanistan, where the army put his knowledge of Pashto to good use, and is a visiting fellow at the Department of War Studies at King’s College, London. ...

His grandmother was a Conservative constituency chairman. His parents met at a dance at the Richmond-on-Thames Conservative Association, and his father went on to be a Conservative candidate in the 1983 general election.

Unsurprisingly, Martin has taken up the family tradition of going into politics. This hard-headed realist, however, is fighting to remove the Conservatives from power.

He will be the Liberal Democrat candidate for the Royal Town of Tunbridge Wells at the next election.

But does he stand any chance at the next election?

Cohen clearly thinks he does, citing the flight of the liberal middle classes from London and its property prices that is turning the town of Tunbridge Wells 'progressive'.

And if the Tories think the surrounding villages will save them, they may be disappointed:

Martin canvasses them as well. He walks up the long drives of country homes worth between £1 and £2 million, and thinks “I’ve no chance here”.

Only when he notices that the cars parked by the double garages are electric, does he think again.

Their owners cite climate change as the issue that worries them most. “It has really surprised me how much it has come up,” Martin told me.

The Tories, Martin says, can't tackle the climate crisis "because they are trapped by their libertarian fringe".

That's true and, more generally, being Tory MP, even a Tory minister, is today more about striking absurd 'anti-elitist' attitudes than it is about solving the problems voters face in their everyday lives.

Meanwhile, opinion polling suggests that Conservative voters are embracing the environmentalist agenda more and more warmly.

And why shouldn't they? Good stewardship used to be at the heart of Conservative thinking.

Cohen quotes Mike Martin's own grandmother as asking, when he renounced his family's commitment to the Tory party, what will happen to the Conservatives if they carry on losing educated and public-spirited young people like her grandson.

And he concludes:

In Tunbridge Wells, and in many other formerly safe seats, the Tories will soon find out. I doubt the verdict will please them.


Anonymous said...

Interesting. There was a low grade piece of anecdotage about Newbury/West Berkshire in the 1970s and 80s, when the town and surrounding villages were expanding fairly rapidly. It held that incomers from London were changing the political dynamics of the area, and making it increasingly difficult for the local Lib Dems, who had to constantly remind voters that the area was special, and different, and had its own political environment that was different from the metropolis. (That was before David Rendell's spectacular by election success in 1993.) The theory (or, perhaps more accurately, prejudice) was that Londoners were moving to the area and bringing their entrenched Tory/Labour voting habits with them.

If the Tunbridge Wells experience is correct, and widespread, then there might be many more Home County commuter seats where enlightened metropolitan types will bring their sophisticated habits with them to the benefit of the Lib Dems. I for one hope so.

nigel hunter said...

An article on todays Sky news by Ian King ,to me, reinforces the thought that a seed change is beginning to happen.It referred to a survey that Unilever did re environmental issues that people are now more interested in saving the planet than having more money. It was followed by a construction company 'investing' in an area for thr RSPB.Both good vibes for the future.Conservative ideology out and an area for us to campaign on.