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Will it be bleak in the Peak for defending Conservative?

It looks like an uphill struggle for Robert Largan if he is to retain his High Peak seat for the Conservatives in this election.

The polls suggest the Tory will be bowing out after just one term as he faces challenges on all fronts.

Firstly, with Labour so far ahead in the polls and the predictions suggesting an historic Labour landslide, the general consensus is that Sir Keir Starmer will certainly be celebrating outside Number 10 tomorrow.

But here in the High Peak, Labour’s candidate Jon Pearce doesn’t need anything like a 20 per cent swing (which polls have suggested his party enjoys nationally) to make it first past the post.

For Robert Largan is defending one of the slimmest majorities in the country, let alone in the history of general elections in the High Peak constituency.

Winning the seat in 2019 by just 590 votes presently puts him in the top 20 of narrowest majorities to defend across the nation. In the last general election he polled 24,844 votes to former MP Ruth George’s 24,254.

So, it’s a tough call from the outset.

Secondly, it becomes even tougher with the High Peak a ‘bellwether’ constituency. So, generally whoever is in government has one of their own in the High Peak seat, and that government certainly looks like Labour this time. Plus, no party has ever won five general elections in a row - at least not in the modern era.

The High Peak historically has always been a two-horse race between Conservative and Labour. Only the Liberals have ever held the seat before - and that more than a century ago.

That said, the third challenge for the Conservatives this time comes from Reform UK, and who isn’t betting on them to upset the Tory vote? How many disenchanted right wing Conservatives will be lured away from their own party, disgruntled with how it has dealt with immigration, and betting on Farage to deliver a better Brexit?

Reform in the High Peak potentially represents more than a mere protest vote too. The Brexit Party (Reform’s forerunner) still finished ahead of the Greens in the constituency in 2019, even when their key purpose was essentially undone by Boris Jonson’s rallying call to ‘Get Brexit Done’.

Look a little further back before the EU Referendum, and UKIP were a clear third in the 2015 general election, ahead of both the Lib Dems and Greens.

High Peak Reform candidate Catherine Cullen cuts the part too, clearly capable of articulating the argument at the local hustings, no matter how unpalatable that argument might seem to some on certain contentious subjects.

Reform won’t win the seat here, but it’s another dent the defender could do without as they look sure to take precious votes at a time when every single one really will matter for Robert Largan.

Throw into the mix improved polling for the Greens and Lib Dems, the pressure is on for every vote cast with five candidates standing.

There are some mitigating factors however which could tilt the odds back in Robert Largan’s favour.

With the seat only ever going to be Labour or Tory, it’s generally always a close split and Tom Levitt only got across the line for Labour by 737 votes in 2005. Back then he polled 19,809 to Conservative Andrew Bingham’s 19,074. Bingham later went on to win the seat he held for seven years in 2010.

Then there’s the fact that although labelled a bellwether seat, Labour’s Ruth George actually bucked that trend and relatively recently, winning the constituency in 2017, but at a time when the Tories formed the government. So it’s not always clear cut. In that election though, there was only one other choice offered by the Lib Dems, the Greens allegedly agreeing a pact with Labour not to field a candidate.

Back to tonight and while Reform will take Tory votes, they will be counting on disenchanted Labour voters turning their way too, with accusations there is little to choose between the big two parties.

Finally of course Robert Largan can draw on his achievements after five years in the job.

But will any of that be enough to quell the winds of change blowing across the country, never mind though the foothills of the High Peak?

 

  • How they finished last time out in 2019, when Robert Largan took the seat for the Conservatives from Labour’s Ruth George. The turn out then was 73.14 per cent.

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