Guildford, Surrey. The heart of Tory Britain. It has just elected a Liberal Democrat-the left-wing party, right?by James Purnell / July 20, 2001 / Leave a comment
I grew up in Guildford. My grandparents have lived there for over 60 years. They have never missed an election, always voting Labour, and always seeing a Tory elected. It takes a certain kind of masochism to head to the polling booths for over half a century, knowing your candidate will lose.
As a child, I could never understand why Guildford kept on returning Tory MPs. My family was horrified by Thatcherism, and I couldn’t grasp why anyone else would fail to see what she was doing to the country. Then, one day my grandfather sat me down to explain Surrey psephology: the Tories would win Guildford even if they stood a donkey with a blue rosette.
But Surrey psephology was over-turned on 7th June. Guildford now has a new MP in favour of higher taxes and investment in public services. What has happened? I used to argue with class mates about the drawbacks of Thatcherism. But being left-wing in Guildford was a bit like being an Arsenal supporter representing a seat in Greater Manchester (which is what I now am, having just been elected as the Labour MP for Stalybridge and Hyde).
So, has Guildford miraculously swung to the left? Has the land of Audis, private swimming pools and tennis courts suddenly read Tawney and seen the light? Is the red flag flying over Guildford High Street?
Well, no, they’ve elected a Liberal Democrat. It’s probably difficult for someone who doesn’t know Guildford to understand quite how extraordinary even that is. And it seems even more extraordinary given that the Liberal Democrats are now widely perceived to be to the left of the Labour party.
That is the Guildford enigma: how can a party that is supposedly more left wing have succeeded where Labour has failed for the last century? Part of the explanation is that this was still an election in which people were voting anti-Tory. But there’s also a more interesting lesson to be drawn-that the Lib Dems may appear left wing in their presentation, but they rely on the fact that in most places they are still seen as the non-left alternative to the Tories. Moreover, notwithstanding their new leftist image, the Lib Dems appear to be carefully targeting the middle-class vote.
They would abolish student tuition fees-which would only benefit richer families. They opposed the windfall tax on the utilities-which funded the new deal.…