LETTER: Norman Baker to all Lewes people

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If the polls are even half accurate, it seems nationally we are heading for a big Conservative majority at the General Election, now less than a month away.

And of course that is why Theresa May has called an early election, despite vowing that she wouldn’t. The temptation to capitalise on her huge opinion poll lead, was just too tempting.

But let me be clear. A big Tory majority would be a disaster for this country.

At this Brexit time when scrutiny of the government is more important than ever, she will have marginalised not just the opposition but the moderate voices in her own party. She will have a blank cheque for a hard Brexit, something which even many who voted Leave feel uncomfortable about.

It is no surprise that the UKIP vote collapsed at the local election. The Conservative party has simply replaced them, and become Blue-KIP. Truly, the lunatics have taken over the asylum.

What can be done in the face of this bleak vision? Here in Lewes, the answer is very clear. The priority must be to remove the present hard-right Tory MP who voted for Brexit against the wishes of the majority of local people, who seems to regard local casework as a chore rather than as an essential part of the job, and who doesn’t even live in the constituency.

And yes, that means if you are Labour or Green supporters, voting tactically for the Lib Dem candidate, Kelly-Marie Blundell, who is actually already doing the casework that the present MP has neglected.

The results from 1997 onward in this constituency show a clear pattern. In 1997, the Green Party stood aside for me, and many Labour supporters publicly urged a vote for me. The result was a Tory majority of 12,175 in 1992 was turned into a Lib Dem majority of 1,300, ending 123 years of Tory MPs in Lewes. And tactical voting helped me get re-elected in 2001, 2005 and 2010.

But in 2015, many Labour and Green supporters, unhappy with the coalition, voted Labour or Green. They may have been drinking champagne on the day to celebrate voting for their party of choice, but they have had a pretty bad hangover ever since. The result was a Tory gain, by just 1,083 votes – less than the increase in either the Green or Labour votes. The Tory vote actually stayed roughly the same, but the switch from Lib Dem to Labour and Green let in Maria Caulfield.

It is vital that the Tory majority in Westminster is not a runaway one, something even many Tory voters understand the sense of. A one-party state is not good for this country. But that means some difficult decisions.

The Green Party, to its credit, stood aside in the Richmond by-election, thus helping a Lib Dem gain. In the last fortnight, my Lib Dem colleagues in Brighton agreed unilaterally not to stand against Caroline Lucas, to help ensure she is re-elected.

It is in the interests of the Greens to give Kelly-Marie a clear run. She has a tough fight on her hands as it is, as will become apparent when the Tory tens of thousands come pouring in from their hedge fund backers, as they did last time, and the Tory posters go springing up across the constituency, from Wivelsfield to Newick, from Falmer to East Dean.

Only the Lib Dems can beat the Tories here, but recent history shows we can only do so with the help of Labour and Green supporters. Their teams cannot win here, but they are kingmakers. How they react determines whether we have a Tory MP or a Lib Dem MP.

Across the country, both the Green Party and the Lib Dems have been setting aside narrow party positions in the face of this desperate situation.

The same, unfortunately, cannot be said for the hierarchy of the Labour Party, which is proving to be the most useless opposition in decades and is facing meltdown next month.

Their uselessness is of course the reason why Theresa May has called this election.

And yet still they display in their North Street window a big board saying “Labour can win here”, a sick and self-indulgent joke.

For the record, Labour has never won this seat, always comes third, and did not even come close in the Labour landslide of 1945. Furthermore, they have not even managed to have a single councillor elected at any level in Lewes since the 1970s. Their parliamentary candidate in 2015 also stood for the town council and came 7th in the Lewes Castle ward.

And they trailed in 4th behind the Greens in this month’s county election. Will they now have the decency to take that sign down before they face prosecution under the Trade Descriptions Act?

The next Parliament will be hugely challenging and we need as many MPs as possible to try to stem the hard-right trend that has taken over the Tory party. I urge local residents, including the many sensible, moderate Conservatives who live locally, to help return Kelly Marie Blundell as the Lib Dem MP here next month.

Norman Baker

Former MP for Lewes