The Conservatives could have won Barrow and Furness if they hadn't selected a candidate so late.
Before May you’d have been mad to put money on the Conservatives doing well in Barrow and Furness*. This seat in the North West contains large areas of countryside, but the majority of the population live in the town of Barrow. Most people work in heavy industry. BAE systems is based here, indirectly employing one fifth of the population.
Barrow and Furness in 2010 had a Labour majority 5,208. Not a safe seat, but one you’d have thought Labour would hold comfortably.
The Conservative candidate, Simon Fell, got the shock of his life when he decreased the majority to 795. This seat is now target number nine for the Conservatives!
Why did this happen? Simon told me that “the genuine threat of the SNP in government with Labour was really hitting on the ground.” Barrow in Furness is where Trident was constructed. People rely on nuclear weapons for jobs. The threat of Alex Salmond carrying his CND badge into Number 10 with Ed Miliband was enough to switch Labour voters into Conservatives.
It would have been impossible to predict that Barrow and Furness would end up being so marginal. The issue of the SNP only began to appear in October 2014. This was far too late for any target seat status.
But what shocked me and should shock you is that Simon wasn’t selected till December 2014! He had only five months to fight an election. Only five months!
This limited what Simon could do. Somehow he managed to give out four different leaflets to the whole constituency. He also convinced CCHQ to send out targeted letters about Trident from the Defence Secretary. But because his selection was so late there was no chance of him winning.
Every general election there is a surprise win in a non-target seat. In 2010 Aiden Burley surprised everyone with a swing of 10% in Cannock Chase. Hard work for years beforehand got Aiden a seat in parliament and annoyed Jeremy Vine’s otherwise perfect virtual target seat board.
But there is no chance of winning a seat if a candidate is selected a mere few months before an election. Labour selected almost all of their candidates one and a half years before the general election.
The problem stems from the disorganised mess of the boundary review. It was happening and then not happening all of a sudden because of the treacherous Lib Dems. It was very hard to plan candidate selection. No one knew the seats that would be fought.
Effort should be made to make sure with the new boundary review this problem doesn't occur again. It is likely that Lord Feldman and Robert Halfon have already or will soon started planning how to select candidates.
With a lot of leaflets and some vigorous canvassing, Barrow and Furness could be painted blue. With a broad and optimistic message from the Conservatives the chances increase even more. With anti-nuke Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader the seat could end up with a 20,000 majority.
*This is not a mistake as some of the more eagle eyed of you may complain. Despite the seat being ‘Barrow in Furness’ the Electoral Commission randomly decided to use an ‘and’.
Elliott Johnson is the Political Editor of Conservative Way Forward.
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