In 2010, James Duddgridge MP won re-election to his seat of Rochford and Southend East with 46.9% of the vote, and a majority of 11,050. A House of Commons Library study found this seat to be 458th out of 650 in terms of marginality of seats, and 173rd out of the 306 Conservative held seats.
What a difference four years has made then. Because despite what statistical analyses of election data from 2010 might suggest, Mr Duddridge is in rising trouble.
The 2014 local elections, just gone, showed something remarkable. Of the eleven local government wards which make up Rochford and Southend East ten had elections; and how many did the Conservatives win? None.
|No of Wards|
I’m sure better psephologists than I will be able to confirm or refute this — but has a sitting MP ever been returned with his party not having won a single seat in the preceding local elections? It has to be an extreme rarity, if it has happened.
There are a number of possible reasons for this blue retrenchment in the east of Southend
- Blue fatigue: the Conservatives have run Southend for the past 14 years, and arguably not terribly successful.
- UKIP surge: UKIP did well, but this was concentrated in south Essex. All three UKIP wins were gains from the Tories.
- The price of being in government: it’s always easier to be the opposition in an election, especially when the government is as poor as this one has been.
- A “free hit” protest vote: The european elections/local elections don’t really matter to people, so they can use it to kick the Tories. They will swing back to the Conservatives in 2015.
That last point is the
excuse reason which Mr Duddridge gave to me on the night of the election count. He didn’t appear terribly worried, going around with a big grin as if his team had cleaned up. Perhaps that was a mistake; on that same night I was told independently and unprompted by three Tories that they couldn’t stand him and wouldn’t be voting for him.
Which leads me into another of Mr Duddridge’s problems. I hear rumours that Rochford and Southend East Conservative Association may have only as 150 paid up members. I hear rumours that the true figure may be far lower — less than 100. And I am sure that the demographics don’t particularly favour long days pounding pavements and knocking on doors to get the vote out.
Also, Mr Duddride does seem to have alienated his own people rather a bit. I have some sympathy here; one of the reasons seems to have been his voting for equal marriage, one of the few things on which we are in agreement. But another factor is his attitude; purely on what I witnessed at the count, he seemed aloof and distant from the reality of the slaughter unfolding. At least the MP for neighbouring Southend West, David Amess, had the good grace to look sombre.
James Duddridge has a majority of over 11,000, and this constituency — in all its shifting guises — has been Conservative for almost 100 years. That’s a tough situation to overturn, but a perfect storm seems to be brewing. Ian Gilbert, Labour’s candidate, would make an excellent MP, and from this weekend I will be out with him back on the campaign trail.
As for Mr Duddridge himself, I can only conclude that he doesn’t realise his own vulnerability, or doesn’t know what do about it. The perceived “safeness” of his seat means that CCHQ won’t be keen to divert resources from other target areas to help him. He may well end up as the MP who turned Rochford and Southend East from a safe Tory seat into a marginal — or even the MP who lost it.