Inside the battleground in David Cameron’s ex-seat Witney

Lib Dems predicted to make historic, shock win in the former Prime Minister's safe seat

David Cameron

Witney is symbolic of just how crushing a defeat the Conservatives could be dealt in the general election. A Tory heartland in Oxfordshire, Witney is now predicted to make a historic swing to the Lib Dems. 

The area has typically been a safe Conservative seat, and one of the 140 the Tories were forecast to hold in YouGov’s first MRP poll, with an 8% advantage. David Cameron represented the area from 2001 until 2016, although his base of Chipping Norton is no longer in the new seat due to the recent boundary changes. 

However, the dial has now shifted rapidly over the campaign period, as the latest YouGov poll released on Wednesday was even more damning for the Tories. The Lib Dems are now on course to take Witney with 38% of the vote, while the Conservatives are predicted to get 31%, Labour 16%, Reform 13% and Greens 2%. 

It’s a significant poll swing in only two weeks, and would represent a devastating loss for the party in a constituency that has been Tory for 102 years. 

Robert Courts is the Conservative candidate hoping to cling on to the position as MP, which he has held since it was vacated by former Prime Minister David Cameron. 

Tactical voting could play a key role in Witney, as the Lib Dem candidate Charlie Maynard said people on the doorsteps were telling him, “it’s ABC, Anything But the Conservatives.”

“They’re just so miserable about the government,” Maynard told LFF. “That’s the overarching factor, that this government is letting down individuals and the country, and voters are desperate to find a solution out of that predicament.”

“They ask, ‘demonstrate to me why you are the challengers’ and it’s a pretty easy case because every single tactical website is now calling it for us,” he added.

Formerly the co-founder of a global investment banking advisor, Maynard only got involved in national politics after feeling “completely dismayed by the state of our country.” Having never run in a general election before, he said most surprising so far was the support for Reform UK. 

“It feels more like a protest vote,” said Maynard. “I think it’s the people who were promised sunny uplands and we obviously don’t have them, and they’re thinking where to go next.”

He added: “You feel Witney is more middle of the road by nature, so it’s a bit of an eye-opener to see it coming out as much as it is.”

Speaking to voters in Witney, a concern that came up repeatedly was sewage which has affected the local River Windrush. Along with public services, particularly the NHS, and immigration. The majority of those who would vote Labour said they would tactically vote to get the Conservatives out in the area. 

A 31-year-old voter who works in the military said he would not be voting Conservative this year, despite getting his vote in 2019. He was inclined to vote Labour for the first time, as he reflected that the last five years had been a “mess”. 

As a recent first-time home buyer and given his occupation, the voter said policies around defence, the NHS and interest rates were important to him. Commenting on the economic he said, “it is getting better, but is that them?” 

He also brought up the emphasis on immigration during the campaign but thought, “it’s not as big an issue as they make it out to be.”

Sheila Logan, a retired 75-year-old said she would still be voting Conservative, although she had considered not voting at all this year. Rishi Sunak’s campaign had been going “badly” she admitted, but blamed “biassed” reporting painting the party in a bad light.

Undecided voter, 51-year-old lorry driver Darren, said his concerns were around immigration and the NHS. Having paid attention to the debates so far, he said he would be evaluating the leaders’ performances over the next two weeks.

“Is it a case of better the devil you know? Rishi Sunak is trying to do the job, it can’t be done overnight, maybe now he knows what’s wrong,” said Darren.

John Wilson, a 75-year-old socialist, said he’s not sure yet if he’ll vote tactically to get the Conservatives out of government, adding that “the country always does better under Labour.” 

While another Witney resident, who had joined the Reform Party just the day before, said he was swayed by Nigel Farage who he said “speaks inconvenient truths”. Retired voter Gordon, who had previously voted UKIP and for Brexit, said he could be swayed to vote Tory if Boris Johnson was leader.

Meanwhile a younger voter, 24-year-old Hannah who is unemployed, said they are thinking of voting Labour. When asked about tactical voting, the young person said, “I don’t vote for people I don’t believe in.”

Robert Courts was contacted for comment.

(Image credit: Flickr / Number 10)

Hannah Davenport is news reporter at Left Foot Forward

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