In the former Tory stronghold of Witney, it is all too clear why loyal supporters shunned the party | Politics News

It’s a gloomy and grey morning in Witney town centre.

Raindrops pour down Cotswold stone and bounce from the pavements.

This dismal July scene provides the perfect metaphor for Conservative sentiment here.

Witney, in Oxfordshire, has been a Tory stronghold for 102 years – including as the constituency for former prime minister Lord Cameron – but is now officially no longer a safe seat.

A “Liberal Democrats Winning Here” sign, visible from the roadside, is a nod to the town’s newly elected MP.

Charlie Maynard took the seat from the Conservatives, winning 20,832 votes to Robert Courts’ 16,493.

Finding someone who voted Conservative in the election, who wants to talk about it, isn’t easy.

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The first willing to chat is Mark Doig, standing outside the butchers, who describes the Tories as “in a bit of a mess”.

“Too many prime ministers”, he tells me. “Boris Johnson, Liz Truss – they all did their bit to put the nail in the coffin.”

He also says he “might vote Lib Dem” next time.

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He adds: “I think the Tories have really blown it, it’s going to be difficult to get back.”

Another Conservative voter, on her mobility scooter outside Waitrose, is Joan White, who again has always, mostly, voted blue.

“They’ve got a lot of work to do haven’t they?” she says. “Immigration – they all need to work on it.”

And then: “I liked Rishi Sunak – he’s a gentleman of politics – but perhaps not tough enough.”

It’s something a few people have said here – that they like Mr Sunak, but he wasn’t a leader.

Witney
Image:
Patricia Harvey-Thompson

“Rishi Sunak was too weak,” Patricia Harvey-Thompson agrees. “Decent but weak.”

She goes as far as to say she felt sorry for him, so gave him “one vote”.

“I should have voted Lib Dem”, she adds, “but I thought well, at least get one vote”.

I ask her how she feels as a Conservative voter right now.

She replies simply: “Disappointed.”

Beyond that, she admits that she will “never forgive them for partygate” after her relative died of COVID.

It seems, for Patricia, and others I speak to, that the Conservatives have failed on most fronts.

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Jack Treloar, a 19-year-old Conservative councillor for Witney, agrees people “wanted change… nationally and locally”.

Jack Treloar
Image:
Jack Treloar

That’s why, he says, they voted tactically against the Tories.

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So where do the Conservatives go from here in Witney?

Jack says the Reform party “split the vote” and that’s where the Tories will need to work hard to convince people to return.

But there’s clear disenchantment with the Conservatives in this town and the ballot box was ultimately their protest.

The next Tory leader will need to do something significant to bring back voters.

Even those who remained faithful this time around appear to be slipping away.

malek

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