“The MP for Somerset North East will either be Jacob Rees-Mogg or Todd Foreman – boy, that’s choice!” says Todd Foreman, the Labour candidate for this corner of the West Country, to conclude our conversation. And if what he said in the previous half hour is anything to go by, it’s certainly true that the voters in this constituency will have a lot to choose from next May.
Somerset North East is a crucial battleground for the Labour Party if it is to win enough seats to form a majority government after the election. Indeed, the 5% swing which is needed for the party to win the constituency from current Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg marks the exact national swing required for Labour to achieve a one-seat majority in the House of Commons. Created in 2010 out of the Wansdyke constituency, the current seat and its predecessors have always gone with the Government since 1979. No pressure on Todd, then!
Selected as the Labour candidate in 2013, Todd has been working full time on the campaign since May this year. For him, the “cornerstones” of his campaign are going out on the doorstep and learning more about local charities. In addition, he says, housing, economic development, and concerns about fracking are at the top of the list of voters’ concerns. “We need to build more homes in North East Somerset and preserve greenfield areas. That is a difficult task,” Todd tells me.
The increasing demand for houses is in part due to economic growth in nearby Bristol and Bath, yet Todd wants to encourage companies to know that Somerset North East is also a great place to do business. The economic landscape of the constituency is varied: as well as enjoying the growth driven by its proximity to Bristol and Bath, the constituency also contains towns that were once dominated by the coal mining industry. Those mines are now closed, but the area’s ties with energy have continued, as fracking has been suggested for sites in the Chew Valley and on the Mendips. However, Todd was clear that he believes the proposed sites should not be used for fracking.
Todd‘s background is as a lawyer working on banking and financial services regulation. He is keen for the Labour Party to have more people who have experience of the financial sector. He welcomes Ed Miliband’s remarks that banks should not be too big to fail, saying, “I don’t want to kill the industry, but tax payers shouldn’t bear the risk of the financial services sector” and was adamant that more could be done to ensure that “bankers breaking the law should go to prison.” He was appreciative of Ed Balls’ Labour Party Conference speech in which he apologised for, as he saw it, New Labour’s overly light touch on the banks.
Turning to his opponent, the current Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg, Todd says the MP is “widely known, and not widely liked.” On issues such as climate change, Europe, the minimum wage, and same sex marriage, Todd berates Rees-Mogg for taking “extreme right wing positions.” Todd himself will be marrying his civil partner in December, and says that Rees-Mogg let down LGBT people in the constituency when he voted against the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act last year.
Born in the US, Todd reflects that he would not consider running for office in America because of the “unappealing” extent to which money forms a backbone to political campaigning. It is the time on the doorstep, rather than courting donors, that Todd particularly enjoys. Indeed, in this “fascinating contest,” as Todd describes the match-up between himself and Rees-Mogg, it is hard to imagine that anything other than face-to-face campaigning will be the way for him to reach that required 5% milestone swing to win the seat.