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Comment: Election already too close to call, with two years still to go
This week, Labour picked the man they hope will retake Watford for them at the General Election in 2015. Matthew Turmaine, a borough councillor for Holywell, was selected at the weekend to challenge the Conservative incumbent Richard Harrington.
On paper these are the two most important names in the upcoming struggle to represent the town in the House of Commons.
According to the political form book, Watford is solidly a two-horse race. Since 1945 the constituency has swung back and forth between Labour and the Conservatives six times.
The last time Watford could have been called a safe seat was back in 1935 when the Conservatives held the town with 65 per cent of the vote.
Then, in 1945, Labour took the seat on the post-war surge that swept Clement Atlee to power and the constituency has been a dogfight with the Conservatives ever since. After this week’s announcement it would seem voters now know who the principal combatants will be in the 2015.
We are yet to learn who the Liberal Democrat candidate will be for the seat. Again, on paper, it should be a formality.
Since 2005 the party has surged from around 17 per cent of the Watford vote at General Elections to just over 30 per cent, making the seat a three-way marginal.
But if the party could not capture the parliamentary seat in 2005, in the wake of Iraq, or in 2010, on the crest of Cleggmania, it is hard to conceive how they will do any better in 2015 as the junior partner in a Coalition that has exacted years of austerity on the electorate.
However, in Watford, the Liberal Democrats have a well-developed local political apparatus. One which has helped them take and maintain control of Watford Borough Council over the last decade. It is a political operation that dwarfs anything Labour or the Conservatives have locally.
Recent council election results in the town suggest their local operation has managed to hold up the party’s core vote, even during the party’s lowest ebb in 2011.
And although, come General Election time, the two larger parties’ superior national presence and resources come into play, the person the Liberal Democrats eventually choose to stand in Watford could be the most critical factor in deciding the constituency.
With neither the Conservatives nor Labour making any decisive headway in the polls, the Lib Dems still have a realistic shot at the parliamentary seat. Even if they are unable to take the seat in 2015, a strong showing from the Liberal Democrats will have ramifications for the other two main parties.
I am sure Mr Harrington will be hoping for a strong Liberal Democrat candidate who can retain some of the voters they took from Labour in 2010. Yet 2015 is still a long way off. If a week is a long time in politics, two years is an aeon.
The only thing that looks certain at the moment is that the Watford constituency will remain a close-run affair.