ON election night itself it was a privilege to watch Steve Lake, the returning officer, at work. Just before announcing the result, he called all the candidates to examine the dodgy ballot papers, of which there seemed to be an unusually high number. One voter had used his ballot paper to express an unprintable view of all politicians. Another had drawn a series of enigmatic flowers. About 40 UKIP voters had also voted Conservative (which tells you something), so spoiling their ballots. One man had voted UKIP, and then crossed it out and voted for me, initialling his decision as if correcting a cheque. Steve Lake said that this rendered the vote invalid, since he was potentially identifiable. But the best ballot paper had a series of smiley faces in each box. I was about to claim it as a Tory vote, since ours was plainly the smiliest face. But then I thought that might look like gamesmanship.
IT probably happens to every sitting MP, but the day before the election – and for the first time in the campaign – I was suddenly assailed by The Fear.
It was lunchtime in Thame, and it was raining. We were meant to be doing our last walkabout, handing out leaflets and drumming up custom. But every time I accosted a potential voter, I seemed to be getting the brush-off, and they were getting ruder and ruder. ‘No!’ said someone, refusing to take my hand or make eye contact. ‘Go away! yapped another. But the worst was an old bird who shouted at me about the poll tax and blamed me for Black Wednesday. “What you did was evil,” she cried. It was no use pointing out that I had no involvement in either, and as the drizzle trickled down our cheeks, I felt the stirrings of alarm. What if this reflected a huge last-minute surge to Labour or the Lib Dems? What if the political map of South Oxfordshire was about to turn as yellow as the fields of rape?
As it turned out, of course, the election in Henley went far better than we could have hoped. I am very grateful to all the people who voted for me, and also grateful to the diminishing numbers of those who voted against me. It is very exciting to be in a new parliament, with a much stronger opposition, and there is a huge amount of work to do. Here are three key local priorities:
l. Keep working on the Townlands Hospital Redevelopment. We have hit a snag, but I do not believe it to be fatal, and I hope everyone who cares about the place will help keep up the pressure until the Thames Valley Strategic Health Authority gives the go-ahead.
2. Keep fighting for Oxfordshire to be given proper funding by national government. We face huge housing costs in this area, which has a direct impact on the cost of nursing, social services and all manner of other public services. Too much of Oxfordshire’s capital support grant is still being skewed away to the north of the country, and Labour ministers need to recognize that fact.
3. Keep the green belt clear of giant Prescottian developments. Once you breach the limit of Grenoble Road, for instance, where do you stop? That is why we have green belts. Of course there is a case for more affordable housing, but it should be constructed sensitively and in accordance with local wishes.