A two-horse race in Oxford East

by Stephen Tall on April 24, 2007

Excitement-a-plenty today at the news that Peter Tatchell is to contest Oxford East at the next general election.

Indeed, to read BBC News’ giddily breathless report a casual reader might imagine that the constituency is his for the taking from New Labour’s Andrew Smith. In reality, the Greens polled 4.3% at the last general election, and lost their deposit, while the Lib Dems’ Steve Goddard came within 963 votes of unseating Mr Smith.

Of course, it is true that the Greens have a solid local base in East Oxford (just one part of Oxford East). In the ward where I live, St Mary’s, Green city councillor Craig Simmons was re-elected with 65% of the vote last year. However, what is also true is that votes for the Greens in the local elections have never translated into national votes.

By chance, I watched the votes being verified for St Mary’s at the 2005 general election count – and the Lib Dems recorded one of their best results there. If the Greens really thought they stood a chance in Oxford East, I imagine one of their more prominent local councillors would have run for, and won, the nomination.

It’s hard to know exactly how Mr Tatchell’s candidature will play out. The celebrity-fetishising media will certainly give him a lot of free publicity – which might translate into extra Green votes (though I don’t think the voters are swayed quite that easily).

What it will certainly do is help shine a spotlight on the constituency, highlighting just how close the contest here is between New Labour and the Lib Dems – it really is two-horse race! (Nothing on earth will induce me to dare suggest that it’s a straight choice between Andrew Smith and Steve Goddard.)

I have a lot of time for Mr Tatchell’s human rights work, and it’s impossible not to admire the bravery of his denunciations of Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe at personal risk to himself.

His forte is outspoken campaigning. Whether that will stand him in good stead for the coming election contest – the grit and determination of pavement politics – only time will tell.

He has, incidentally, promised to move into the constituency, to London Road, half of which is in my Headington ward. So I might soon have the pleasure of canvassing him. Or, at the very least delivering a leaflet with a bar-chart prominently displayed. Something like this, maybe…?