Oxfordshire Election Diary: Week 4

Oxfordshire Election Diary: Week 4
Photo by Jaime Spaniol / Unsplash

This was the week of manifestos. In short order: Conservatives, Labour, Liberal Democrats, Green Party, Reform UK. Best have a coffee handy. Perhaps a flask. And a paper bag to breathe into.  

National polls have been coming thick and fast this week. Two have now found Reform UK neck-and-neck with, or even overtaking, the Conservatives, while the Liberal Democrats have been quietly gaining. The question is no longer who will win the election, but how big Labour’s majority will be – and who will be the official opposition.

This has coloured the campaigning, with sitting Conservatives nationwide asking if voters really want to write Keir Starmer a blank cheque and gift them a “supermajority“ (an American term gaining sudden popularity), or if they wish to return loyal constituency MPs. LibDems and Greens have been asking similar questions. The polls are not offering Reform much of a chance in Oxfordshire (they are stronger in Essex and the ‘Red Wall’), and nor are their local candidates, who have been conspicuous by their silence.

Almost every candidate has posted about the King, the Trooping of the Colour and the football. You don’t need us to report on that, even if we did receive an opportunistic press release from the LibDems calling for more free-to-air football.


In an age where print newspapers are old hat and campaigning is carried out via targeted advertisements on social media, TikTok videos desperately seeking virality, and the endless repetition of ‘cut-through’ messages (did you know Keir Starmer was the son of a toolmaker?), there’s one delightful throwback to 19th century campaigning – the hustings.

Often organised by churches or environmental groups, hustings are Question Time for your neighbourhood – a chance to fire questions at the candidates. Questions usually need to be submitted in advance. The events are free but you may need to register before attending.

Being empty-chaired is not a good look for any politician, so most will make the effort to turn up. It’s not a given, though: Conservative incumbent David Johnston is said to have declined the invitation to the wildlife and climate-focused hustings in Didcot this week.

Oxford East constituents have already had a chance to quiz their candidates in an environment/peace-focused hustings, held at the Town Hall on Tuesday 11 June: we report on that below. We’re not aware of any others in Oxford East, but every other Oxfordshire constituency has at least one in the coming weeks. If you know of events we’ve missed out, get in touch. If you're there, and want to report back, do send us some vignettes!


In our local election coverage, we have stressed the differences between what the County Council does (roads, education) and what the City/District Councils do (planning, housing, bins).

We didn’t think we’d have to explain the difference between what central Government does and what the County Council does but – with thanks to a Clarion correspondent – here’s Conservative incumbent Victoria Prentis campaigning on what is very definitely a County Council matter:

Maybe she’s planning to stand for election to the County Council next year?

Erstwhile Conservative MP and titan of politics podcasts, Rory Stewart, endorsed Victoria Prentis this week – perhaps not a surprise for a former colleague, but as listeners to The Rest Is Politics will know, Stewart has not always been complementary about the current Government.

Labour activists from around the county continue to be directed into Banbury as a top priority. Candidate Sean Woodcock has been pushing the tactical voting message, and tacitly the Liberal Democrats and Greens – who are not actively campaigning here – seem to agree. Our Banbury correspondent reports five Labour leaflets so far… and counting.

Bicester & Woodstock

There is everything to play for in the new constituency of Bicester and Woodstock. Calum Miller from the LibDems rolled out Layla Moran, who used to have Kidlington in her constituency but lost it in the boundary change. He also campaigned on farming and sewage, aired his views on green issues and has donated blood.

Anyone who passes through the constituency can’t fail to see the orange diamonds sprouting everywhere: if gardens could vote, there’s no doubt the LibDems would win Bicester & Woodstock. With little electoral history to call on in this new constituency, they’ve also been sharing seat projections to stake their claim as the main challengers to the Conservatives. But, repeating our refrain, projections are not constituency polls – merely one forecaster’s opinion.

Clarion correspondents in Bicester & Woodstock report Conservative leaflets arriving through the letterbox, and social media adverts featuring David Cameron, but a less energetic ground game. Their candidate Rupert Harrison has been unusually quiet on social media, his content almost exclusively focusing on Labour’s rumoured tax rises. Have you seen him out there? Or are we looking in the wrong places? Let us know.

Labour’s Veronica Oakeshott has continued with Saturday market stalls, this week in Kidlington, but otherwise we’ve seen little sign of ground activity from the campaign.

Didcot & Wantage

Some classics of the electioneering genre from Tory David Johnston, who points to his record on campaigning for Grove station and a trip to the bowling green at Wantage. He's also continued his daily Facebook video diaries, including making a point of stopping to watch the England match. We would encourage you to watch them if this seat interests you – unscripted and unedited, they offer a more “real” view of the candidate than the polished graphics might.

LibDem challenger Olly Glover has taken a leaf out of party leader Ed Davey’s whimsical book and has been campaigning for cats (we are, of course, obliged to ask if they are Liberal Democats):

More seriously, he added his support to the Jo Cox Foundation who condemned the throwing of a milkshake at Nigel Farage, saying:

“The throwing of objects towards Nigel Farage is totally unacceptable. We must not allow these incidents to become a normalised part of our politics. Robust debate and scrutiny are essential to our democracy; abuse and attacks weaken it.”

The Clarion supports this view: if these incidents were less widespread, the Clarion would not have to remain anonymous. As ever, we take our hats off to any and all candidates that put themselves forward for election, regardless of their politics.

Labour’s candidate Mocky Khan is one of just three Labour councillors on South Oxfordshire District Council (there are none on Vale of White Horse), but has been campaigning with the energy of a larger group:

Henley & Thame

LibDem Freddie van Mierlo has, like his party colleagues, been campaigning on sewage – this seems to be a LibDem theme this week. And last week. And the week before.

Candidates often visit schools for a photo opportunity, but van Mierlo’s visit to Lord Williams’ Upper School to talk to A-level politics students had more substance. (We would like to see more candidates do this: they may not vote yet, but in a campaign where the pensions triple lock has been much discussed, someone has to start engaging our future voters?)

With incumbent MP John Howell stepping down, Conservative opponent Caroline Newton has the task of defending the current Government while campaigning as a new entrant. No one could accuse her of shirking the challenge, with a seemingly endless diary of doorknocking and a lot of different people on the doorsteps.

Oxford East

Eight of the 12 candidates showed up to the lively hustings held by CND and the Oxford Palestine Solidarity Campaign this week: Labour’s Anneliese Dodds, Theo Jupp from the LibDems, Sushila Dhall from the Greens, Zaid Murham from George Galloway’s Workers’ Party of Britain, Brandon French from the Workers’ Revolutionary Party, independent socialist Jabu Nala-Hartley, David Henwood from the Independent Oxford Alliance, and Katharine Longthorp from the Party of Women.

Several correspondents from the Clarion network were in the audience – though with very different backgrounds and who (likely) don't know each other. Nonetheless their reports broadly agreed. All correspondents reported that (as perhaps expected from the theme) the audience was very left-leaning, and Anneliese Dodds was on the defensive. Most questions were directed at her, specifically Labour's record on Palestine. The LibDems’ Theo Jupp was keen to position himself as the main challenger to Dodds: he said he wouldn't defend the party’s record in the 2010-15 coalition, and seemed to try to outflank Dodds from the left on Palestine.

The question on the European Union was the most divisive for both candidates and audience. The WPB and IOA were both generally eurosceptic in their answer, with Greens and LibDems much more positive. Given the absence of a Tory candidate there, our reporters suggested the IOA were the closest thing to a serious right-wing challenge – but even they seemed to at least be trying to sit to the left of Labour on Palestine.

So who came out best? Our correspondents said there was no clear victor: “For some Jupp is completely unpalatable, but to others may seem like the most realistic alternative. Friends who have been out on the doorstep seem to generally report that Dodds seems guaranteed another comfortable win, with Greens perhaps second place. Some enthusiasm for independent and minor-party candidates, but not enough to sustain eight of them!”

The polls would agree with our correspondents’ assessment of a Labour win and Oxford’s formidable Labour campaigning machine is in full effect. This frees up the candidate herself to campaign the length and breadth of the country – from Oldham to Worthing. Dodds’ win is so certain, in fact, that other candidates have been positioning their campaigns as “you can vote with your heart“. Here’s newly elected Green councillor for St Clements, Alex Powell, supporting Sushila Dhall:

As the parties scrap over second place, LibDem Theo Jupp has been setting out clear lines of difference from the Greens: taking them to task on housing, burnishing the LibDems’ own green credentials, plus (inevitably) campaigning on sewage with Layla Moran and appearing on comedian Matt Forde's podcast.

Conservative Louise Brown was notably absent from the hustings, and has been out campaigning in Wantage (not in East Oxford last time we looked) while continuing to take the fight to Anneliese Dodds on “the definition of a woman”. If you want to know how the four main parties stand on this, see our explainer here.

The Independent Oxford Alliance’s David Henwood has been campaigning on Low Traffic Neighbourhoods – not really a parliamentary matter but very much the issue de jour in Oxford East. Another independent, Amir Steve Ali, has been campaigning on the same subject and has got in touch asking us to share this video, which talks about LTNs and the residents of Oxford East’s Divinity Road.

The campaigning doesn’t end on July 4th in Oxford East. A by-election has been called for Marston on July 18th thanks to the resignation of a sitting Green Councillor (the other incumbent is Labour).

Oxford West & Abingdon

Layla Moran seems to be making up for lost campaigning time following her recovery from illness. She has been campaiging on the LibDem policy of a European youth mobility scheme, sewage in Port Meadow, and homelessness: our inbox is constantly full with her issues-driven press releases. She’s also been around Oxfordshire supporting other LibDem target seats.

In this campaign we’re seeing increased use of video content by candidates. There’s only so many doors you can knock in a month: shareable video content can potentially reach far more voters. If it helps less engaged voters to understand the issues, and encourages more people (of any political persuasion) to get involved, what’s not to like?

Some candidates are video naturals while others need to work at it. Vinay Raniga, the Conservative candidate for Oxford West & Abingdon, is clearly one of the naturals: check out the latest in his video series below, promoting the Conservatives’ record on apprenticeships. In contrast, although Oxford Labour activist Luke Akehurst has a fearsome grasp of policy and politics in the raw, his campaign video lands awkwardly despite its drone shots and post-production.

(That notwithstanding, Luke Akehurst is a dead cert in his North Durham constituency, while Vinay Raniga is a long-shot outsider in Oxford West & Abingdon. A slick video can only go so far.)

As the one Conservative candidate in Oxfordshire actively playing offence rather than defence, Dr Raniga has been free to champion policy over personality, campaigning this week on his own specialist subject of dentistry.


Here’s an interesting exercise in electoral positioning:

There are two reasons for a candidate to push the “three-horse race” message. One, they have a narrow lead and they want to split the opposition. Or two, they’re in third place and want to talk up their prospects. You will never find the candidate in second place claiming it’s a three-horse race.

So Tory incumbent Robert Courts will not be sorry to hear Labour describing it as a three-horse race – a divided opposition helps his chance of hanging on. He has been out and about in the constituency with the usual round of schools, day centres and local businesses. Once more, his messaging seems heavy on personal appearances but light on policy announcements, even in this manifesto week. Given the electoral climate, perhaps candidates are counting on a personal vote?

LibDem challenger Charlie Maynard has not been pushing the three-horse narrative – draw your own conclusions. He was also at the sewage protest on Port Meadow with Layla Moran, and picked up an endorsement from Oxford professor and doctor Trisha Greenhalgh OBE while he was at it. His campaign this week majored on key LibDem messages: carers, sewage and climate change.

Tales from elsewhere

Oxford is a net exporter of candidates, with several Labour parliamentary candidates elsewhere in Britain – plus the LibDems’ John Howson – having cut their political teeth in the city. (And that’s before we get onto the inevitable PPE graduates.) Who knows, maybe a candidate in 2028’s election might be reading this roundup.

Coming up

There are just over two weeks to go. Expect the squeeze narratives to amplify this week, as undecided voters are bombarded with “Only we can win here!” messages. How will this pan out in Oxfordshire? Next week, we’ll be bringing the data together to call the situation in each constituency.

Dear Clarion reader, if you might indulge us in this final section for a moment. We know, from DMs and emails from people who have never contacted us before, that you find this interesting. These diaries take a long time to write, but we love your feedback, and we hope this adds a useful dimension to local journalism.

Our aim is to be part of the Oxfordshire conversation. In this series, we are genuinely attempting balance rather than a covert party political broadcast – despite occasional green-penned accusations to the contrary. But councillors and other political partisans are, understandably, not keen to share an article that gives their opponents a fair hearing. If you find it useful and interesting, do re-share: we are hoping that balance may serve democracy and help elect people committed to our county, whatever their party. Thank you.