“We voted Tory and we got chaos anyway” – a report from the streets of Cheltenham

Not long ago a constituency poll put the Liberal Democrats on 58 per cent in Cheltenham, ahead of the Conservatives by a clear 28 per cent. That Blue Wall poll was published not long after the local elections, in which we defeated the Conservatives by 29 per cent in the Cheltenham constituency council wards.

Many people are assuming that this means we are strolling to victory next time. However, as one of the 2019 general election candidates, I remember all too well receiving similar MRP polling figures suggesting a comfortable victory. Those leads disappeared and many of us suffered heart-breaking narrow losses on the night after a campaign many will want to forget. That feeling in Cheltenham was compounded by the fact I received 27,505 votes – enough to have won every election as far back as 1997.

That’s why, since my reselection in early 2022, we have been speeding up the pace of our campaign. In Cheltenham, that means knocking more doors than ever. After the local elections in May, where we came within a whisker of a Conservative wipeout with our positive message on housing investment, addressing the climate crisis and looking after struggling families. I promised local activists we’d be back on the doorstep within a month. We were.

Canvassing is something I enjoy more than any other part of the political process. It is a real privilege to look somebody in the eye and hear what they really think about you, your opponents and the state of the world. And the conversations at the moment are extremely interesting.

People are angry, worried, annoyed or a combination of all of the above. And their reactions are visceral. Last week one householder answered the door with the immediate comment “I don’t have any time to talk, but obviously I’m changing my vote from last time”. When I checked, she confirmed that she was a lifelong Conservative but was switching away because of the “absolute ******* shambles”.

A few weeks earlier I’d been on a doorstep in another part of the constituency. We got onto the subject of chaos and people’s propensity to vote Conservative to prevent it. Her response was swift and to the point: “we voted for them and all we got was chaos anyway”. Another man who identified as a lifelong Conservative pivoted neatly from parking permits to the phrase “and if they drop the triple lock and put up taxes, that’s it for me”. Another eye-opening response came from a passer-by: “I won’t be voting for the Tories again – Sunak stabbed his boss in the back”.

The Conservative MP, seen as an affable constituency man by many, is also known to have been close to Johnson and a government loyalist as the Solicitor General. The Conservative party’s failures on the NHS and their baffling decision to vote down a ban on sewage dumping in rivers has been noticed by local people. Crucially for us, many 2019 Conservative voters are saying the key phrase: “time for change”.

However, regardless of the damage the Conservative party has done to its reputation, we cannot leave anything to chance – particularly given the recent change of Prime Minister. I’m heading off out canvassing soon after I finish this article. Click here if you’d like to help us in this tightest of marginal seats.

* Max Wilkinson is the Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate for Cheltenham. He’s also a local councillor and cabinet member for economic development, tourism, culture and wellbeing.

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  • James Fowler 10th Nov '22 - 6:38pm

    Good luck with your campaign Max, I think you’re right not to be complacent. Having said that, Conservative weakness is far more evident and there’s no Corbyn. I look forward to seeing ‘Cheltenham: LD gain’ in a few years time.

  • Great to hear this, Max. Let’s hope it is replicated across other blue wall seats. But, as you rightly suggest, the seat will only be won through hard work. Good luck to you!

  • Trevor Andrews 11th Nov '22 - 8:23am

    You are right in not sitting on your laurels. Also we can’t just use terms like we will make the NHS better, we need to say how it will be done.

    Good luck.

  • It is right not to assume victory just on the basis of what people say on the doorstep; I have learned that from experience. As to NHS, we must not forget social care and local public health services. It is right to point out the chaos and the lack of good leadership from the Conservatives generally, not just individuals. For example, the point made against Rishi forgets that Boris resigned from Theresa May’s government just because he disagreed with her Brexit approach. I respect people who choose to resign because of the behaviour or fundamental principle of their leader, but there needs to be a positive message at the same time from that action otherwise it just leads to chaos.

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