Conservatives turn marginal seat blue

In the 2019 general election, the constituency of Corby and East Northants saw a significant turnout for the Conservative Party, with Tom Pursglove winning a majority of 10,268, more than double the majority of 2017. His vote share of 55% was a significant increase from 2015 and 2017 when he won 43% and 49% of the vote.

Given the turmoil which Britain has been under over the past four years, this show of support for the Conservatives was likely due to their strong stance on Brexit. In the 2016 referendum, Corby voted 64% in favour of leaving, with a turnout of 74%. Mr Pursglove has always held an anti-EU position, and was one of the founding members of the Grassroots Out, a pro-Brexit organisation largely supported by Conservative and UKIP politicians.

In an interview, Mr Pursglove acknowledged that his commitment to the result of the 2016 Brexit referendum had helped him gain support.

“It was undoubtedly a factor,” he said. “People like to know where they stand with their politicians.

“What we have seen across the country is this real frustration about politicians, saying they will do one thing and then not living up to those promises that have been made.”
Mr Pursglove also attributes his success to his ready engagement with the public, which sees him actively walking through neighbourhoods, knocking on doors to hear people’s concerns and to let them know he is listening.

Besides Brexit, which until recently seemed to completely dominate the political landscape, there are also issues involving housing growth, NHS, education and police funding which the Conservatives have addressed, appealing to multiple demographics.

The focus on the need to move these issues forward is also what drove voters to the Conservatives, Mr Pursglove said: “There is a general feeling that you need a decisive government, because our system only really works properly with a majority, and people wanted to see things happen.”

The Corby and East Northants constituency contains parts of traditionally Conservative East Northamptonshire that balance the traditionally Labour town of Corby, leading to an historically unpredictable constituency.

At the 1997 election, former Labour MP Phil Hope took Corby and East Northamptonshire from the Tories with an overall majority of 11,860. In 2005, he won a majority with a mere 1,517 and Corby and East Northants became a knife-edge marginal. In 2005 the decline of the Labour vote was attributed to the out-sized spending of Michael Ashcroft, the longstanding Tory donor who played a role in “the Tory target seats operation” and who helped to fund Conservative candidate Louise Mensch, who won the 2010 election with a margin of not quite 2000 votes. Her early resignation led to a 12% swing to Labour once again in a 2012 by-election, before Pursglove swung the seat back to the Conservatives three years later at the age of 26.

So one concern is whether these former Labour voters are borrowed; will they swing back to the left in the next general election. After months of political turmoil and unrest over Brexit, will the Conservative government maintain its political grip or will a newly-led opposition come fighting back in the next election?

Mr Pursglove was not worried. “The traditional Labour vote is very similar to the values I would argue I have.

“It’s the values of hard-working, patriotic Eurosceptic.”

Gwyneth Angel
May 2020