UPDATE: Gordon Ingram is no longer the Green Party candidate for the seat. Katy Boyce is the new Green Party candidate.
Somerset North East is what Gordon Ingram describes as “naturally, a three-way marginal.” He is also quite prepared to admit that the likely best outcome in the seat for the Green Party, whom he will represent in this corner of England next May, is to overtake the Liberal Democrats. Why is he putting himself through the work of running an election campaign?
“I wanted to get involved in politics – I’m thirty-eight now, I spent most of my twenties and thirties just whinging about politics, as a lot of people do, and I thought it was time to get involved and actually do something,” he tells me over the phone. “I considered joining the Lib Dems for a while, but then I saw what they were like in government and that knocked that on the head.”
Describing himself as a “long-term thinker,” Ingram points to the strength of the Green vote in Bristol, where recent local elections saw three Green councillors returned. In one ward, Bishopston, the Greens secured 47% of the vote, far outstripping Labour, their closest rivals, who got just 25%.
“We’ve got a real fighting chance in Bristol West, and what I’m hopeful for is that if we can get an MP in Bristol, then in the whole region people will be saying the Greens can actually get in, and that diminishes the tactical voting angle.”
Currently, Ingram says, many who vote Green in council and European elections switch to voting Labour at general elections. “The MP, Jacob Rees-Mogg, is not very popular with left-wing voters, as you can imagine,” he chuckles. “I’ve had comments from several people saying they normally vote Green in other elections, but they just really want to get Jacob Rees Mogg out. That tactical voting angle is a difficult one for the Greens, until we can build momentum in an area so that we’re seen as realistically challenging for the seat.”
A colourful character, it’s perhaps not hard to see why Rees-Mogg gets under the skin of lefties. It was not very long ago he told Andrew Neil, “I’m a man of the people – vox populi, vox dei.”
Somerset North East, created in 2010 as the successor seat to Wansdyke, was won by Rees Mogg with a majority of nearly 5,000, which makes it considerably less marginal than many of 50for15’s other seats. However, the swing needed for Labour to take Somerset North East is approximately equal to that needed for Labour to form a government in 2015. It comes 72nd on Labour List’s roll-call of target seats for Labour, and the party needs to win back 68 constituencies for it have any sort of majority at all, let alone a working one.
And in this corner of the West Country, it’s the Green vote that Labour is most worried about. “UKIP gains were matched by an increase in the Left vote, which is split. This is an issue for Labour to confront,” a Labour party activist in Bath wrote after the European election. “We should aim to attract Green voters on a Socialist platform – Green policies are arguably more Socialist than Labour’s right now.”
Is Ingram worried that his party could cause a split in the left-wing vote and thus cause Somerset North East to be held onto by the Conservatives? Presumably he’d rather see his community return a left-wing politician than a right-wing one? “If there were only a choice between two parties, I would prefer Labour, but it’s an illusion that people need to vote for the status quo. And I’m not personally worried about what effect we’ll have – if the Conservatives only win by one seat, the government isn’t likely to last very long anyway.”
Ingram attributes the marginality of Somerset North East to the fact that the place can be divided into three quite distinct kinds of community, each of which would traditionally be likely to vote for, respectively, the Conservatives, Labour, and the Liberal Democrats. There are places that are primarily rural, but there are also relics of mining communities, which are “economically more disadvantaged.” Further north, many towns have become commuter-oriented, centred around Bath and Bristol. Keynsham, where Ingram lives, is just six miles from the centre of Bristol. Once home to a Cadbury’s factory, which got closed in the Kraft takeover, the town suffers from the “leeching of jobs to big cities” – convincing employers to return to the towns of Somerset North East will be one of the focuses of Ingram’s campaign over the coming months.
“An integrated transport system is important, too,” Ingram says, referring to the 1996 break-up of the County of Avon, which formerly comprised Bristol, Bath, and the surrounding parts of Somerset and Gloucestershire. “In terms of transport, they’re all one area. And First Great Western practically have a monopoly on train and bus services – people have a lot of complaints about them.”
Unsurprisingly, another focus of Ingram’s campaign will be the environment. He is particularly keen to preserve the Green Belt: “There are only a few little isthmuses of green space left between Bath and Bristol, and we can’t have them built over.” He is also opposed to fracking, which has been proposed for sites in the Mendips and the Chew valley. The local council has voiced opposition to the idea, too, although Rees Mogg, Ingram says, is “quiet but supportive – I’ll be bringing the issue up a lot over the coming months.”
As our conversation wraps up, we both face the unhappy recognition that the end of the weekend is only a few hours away. Back to work for us both – although for Dr Ingram, despite being a lecturer in psychology at Bath Spa University, this still means politics. “We had an event in freshers’ week with representatives from all the local parties – though UKIP didn’t show up, which perhaps tells you something about the demographic they’re aiming at.”
Gordon Ingram also keeps a WordPress blog, which you can read here.