Oxfordshire Election Diary: Week 5

Oxfordshire Election Diary: Week 5
Photo by petr sidorov / Unsplash

The Clarion hasn’t endorsed an election candidate since 1907 and we’re not planning to start now. We know we have Conservative, Labour, LibDem and Green readers, plus independents of all stripes (albeit not always our biggest fans).

Many of you will be voting with your heart for your favoured party. But for those who are considering voting tactically, as election day nears, we believe it’s now possible to call who’s in contention.

Don’t believe everything you read

This election has seen a profusion of projections and tactical voting websites. The projections purport to say who will win in your constituency. The tactical voting sites make a similar call for those who want to vote against a particular party.

Most voters know not to trust everything they read in the newspaper – whether the Guardian or the Sun or, indeed, the Oxford Mail. Each paper has an editor with an agenda, and a proprietor with a business model. Should you apply the same scepticism to projections and to tactical voting sites? We say yes, and for two reasons:

  • Do you know who runs the tactical voting sites? Who funds them? Who designs their undisclosed algorithms?
  • Projections, and tactical voting sites, are desktop research. They take no account of local conditions. Their Oxfordshire forecasts may have been written by someone who has never set foot in the county. Is a candidate a well-known local, or parachuted in from HQ? Is their party campaigning hard, have its members been diverted elsewhere, or has local organisation collapsed entirely? Projections can’t take account of this. As one of the polling companies puts it:

Our judgements in this week’s diary are, in contrast, coloured by “the complexities of local campaigns”: our knowledge of Oxfordshire, reports from Clarion correspondents, and off-the-record chats with campaigners. You can make your own mind up whether to believe our findings. You may well disagree, and we’d love to hear your reasoning if you do.

Our sources

In preparing this article we have drawn on sources including: Facebook advertising library; Labour’s online campaigning prioritisation tool; data on campaign events; tactical voting sites (tacticalvote.co.uk, tactical.vote, getvoting.org, stopthetories.vote); MRP projections (YouGov, Electoral Calculus, Survation); plus social media activity, our team’s own observations around Oxfordshire, local government strength, and reports from Clarion readers. The array of projections at this election is bewildering, but we have chosen those with a track record and which use a more detailed MRP model vs the simpler UNS.

We have also consulted the current odds available from bookmakers, in particular Betfair Exchange and Betfair Sportsbook. Political betting is a fascinating art and often calls results well ahead of the national projections. As we’ve seen in recent weeks, it’s a good way to leverage your insider knowledge to make a profit. Until you get caught.


Clarion call: Banbury is a two-horse race between the Conservatives and Labour. The other parties are nowhere in this seat.

Banbury is an easy race to call. Only two parties, the Conservatives and Labour, are actively pitching for votes. Labour posters are everywhere and the party is campaigning relentlessly. The three projections (Electoral Calculus, YouGov, Survation) have only these two parties in contention, though they disagree on how close it is. Labour is the odds-on favourite at the bookies.
Data: Betfair Sportsbook Lab 2/9, Con 5/2, Reform 66/1, LibDem 100/1, Green 100/1. All tactical voting sites: Lab. Projections: Electoral Calculus Con 31.5, Lab 41.3, LibDem 9.1; YouGov Con 28, Lab 41, LibDem 10; Survation Lab 27.8, Con 28.5, LibDem 17.7.

The town of Charlbury hosted a hustings this week and several Clarion correspondents contacted us (who knew we had so many readers in Charlbury?). Incumbent Conservative Victoria Prentis presented as a professional and experienced MP, but Charlbury is not natural Conservative territory. Labour’s Sean Woodcock was rigorously on-message, sticking to party lines rather than wowing the audience. The LibDems’ Elizabeth Adams didn’t attend, with county council leader Liz Leffman standing in. More than one correspondent told us the standout performance was independent socialist Cassi Bellingham.

Labour challenger Sean Woodcock has had many, many large teams out including Labour MPs and councillors. We could have pictured any of them. But no, we thought you ought to see this instead.

Cute posters aside, his campaign has relentlessly stuck to Labour’s national policy lines. Leaflets we’ve seen have majored on Starmer’s six pledges, with the obligatory Horton Hospital mention on the flipside. But the endless supply of volunteers and the stream of red selfies suggests that, for Labour at least, this is a battle that’s being fought on the doorsteps.

Victoria Prentis achieved Peak Tory this week by attending a WI coffee morning and has also continued to campaign for the Horton Hospital in Banbury. As with sewage, this is a courageous topic given that the Conservatives have been in power for 14 years – but perhaps facing it head on is the best tactic? (We are reminded of the words of Yes Minister's Sir Humphrey Appleby that a “controversial” decision would lose you votes, but a “courageous” decision would lose you the election.)

Bicester & Woodstock

Clarion call: Bicester & Woodstock is a close battle between the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats.

For an all-new constituency with no track record to consider, the situation in Bicester & Woodstock is not complex. LibDem orange diamonds are carpeting the constituency, with Labour posters a long way behind. The Conservatives’ Rupert Harrison is working it hard and has the backing of some highly experienced Oxfordshire political operatives.

The three projections show the LibDems in the lead, albeit with Survation as an outlier in the Lab/Con share; the LibDems are favourites at Betfair Exchange and are backed by the tactical voting sites (with one still to decide). Labour’s online campaigning tool recommends Bicester residents campaign in Banbury instead. We have been impressed by the campaigning of Labour’s Veronica Oakeshott who, unlike other areas, doesn’t have a historically strong CLP behind her – but she’s unlikely to win here.
Data: no odds available at Betfair Sportsbook, LibDems favourites at Betfair Exchange. Tactical voting sites: 3x LibDem, tacticalvote.co.uk TBC. Projections: Electoral Calculus Con 30, LibDem 33.7, Lab 19; YouGov Con 29, Lab 16, LibDem 33; Survation Lab 28.1, Con 24.9, LibDem 28.5.

Is Bicester & Woodstock a bellwether for the Blue Wall? The Guardian thinks it could be, in an insightful, charts-laden visit to the constituency:

Both the LibDems’ Calum Miller and the Conservatives’ Rupert Harrison have upped their social media game this week. Calum Miller’s slick video – the first we’ve seen from him – visits Bicester Market to talk about the the cost of living.

Rupert Harrison has been calling in stellar endorsements – colleague Michael Gove and former candidate for party leader Rory Stewart gave their support.

Finally, he took a night off to take his child to see Taylor Swift. We didn't see that coming. The Clarion swapped Swiftie puns with him during the concert – thanks for playing, Rupert!

’80s singer Feargal Sharkey may not have quite the star power of Taylor Swift, but in his new guise as a clean rivers campaigner he endorsed Labour candidate Veronica Oakeshott:

Didcot & Wantage

Clarion call: This is between the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats.

The LibDems’ role as challengers here is no great surprise to anyone who has followed local elections on Vale of White Horse or South Oxfordshire councils. Sure enough, the bookies, tactical voting sites, and projections (with Survation once again an outlier) have rowed in behind this being a straight fight between Olly Glover for the LibDems and incumbent David Johnston for the Conservatives.

Local campaigning intel is that voters have “lost count” of the number of LibDem leaflets delivered, though with a creditable showing from Labour. Again, Labour’s online campaigning tool is directing volunteers away to other battleground seats. In such a rural area you would be brave to bet against the Conservatives’ David Johnston, but there’s no doubt this is a straightforward LibDem/Con battle.
Data: Betfair Sportsbook Lab 10/3, Con 4/1, LibDem 3/10, Reform 40/1, Green 100/1. All tactical voting sites: LibDem. Projections: Electoral Calculus Con 25.7, LibDem 37.8, Lab 18.9; YouGov Con 23, Lab 16, LibDem 43; Survation Lab 29.5, Con 27.8, LibDem 28.4.

The LibDems’ Olly Glover has been hammering the tactical voting message all week, both on the doorsteps – sharing posts of those lending their postal votes to him – and at hustings in both Didcot and Wantage:

Conservative incumbent David Johnston has been playing offence not defence, taking the fight to LibDem-run councils on roads and special education needs. The councils, in turn, lay the blame on underfunding by the Conservative Government. Regardless, there is no denying his passion for the issues as his excellent Facebook daily video diaries show – and his frank admission of “difficult conversations” on the doorstep.

(Are we alone in thinking that elections are an excellent way of having MPs of all parties connect with real people’s issues rather than the famed Westminster Bubble? Perhaps we should have them more often? On second thoughts...)

Labour’s candidate Mocky Khan might be a long shot but continues to campaign with energy – perhaps with future council elections in mind? Note this artfully crafted tweet which doesn’t actually say Keir Starmer was in Didcot: we suspect Khan was at a candidates’ rally elsewhere, but that all-important pic with Starmer may help sway wavering voters.

The Greens seem to have abandoned the seat in favour of Bristol:

Reform UK’s outsize media presence has barely touched down in Oxfordshire. However, their Didcot & Wantage candidate David Beatty was this week the subject of an investigation by the Daily Express (thank you to a Clarion correspondent who drew our attention to this one). His social media posts claim that climate change is a hoax; that Rishi Sunak and Keir Starmer are representatives of the World Economic Forum; and that Sir Keir Starmer is being “installed” as Prime Minister to “take the country to war and implement Agenda 2030” (a conspiracy theory). All unsurprising fringe views, but Reform voters returning to the Conservative fold could save several blue seats across the South.

Henley & Thame

Clarion call: This is between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats.

Few seats have such an illustrious Conservative history as Henley & Thame, formerly host to Boris Johnson and Michael Heseltine. John Howell standing down means there’s no “incumbency bonus”, and the LibDems have more than a fair chance here.

We don’t believe YouGov’s projected margin (LibDem 47%, Conservative 32%), but nonetheless, the bookies, projections, and tactical voting sites all agree who’s in contention here. Of all the Oxfordshire county seats, this is where Labour is making the least effort, as measured by Facebook advertising spend, campaign events, and candidate presence.
Data: Lab 14/1, Con 5/4, LibDem 8/13, Reform 100/1, Green 200/1. All tactical voting sites: LibDem. Projections: Electoral Calculus Con 31.2, LibDem 35.8, Lab 14.9; YouGov Con 32, Lab 8, LibDem 47; Survation Lab 18.7, Con 29.9, LibDem 33.7.

National political journalists are starting to notice the upheaval in Oxfordshire. After the Guardian visited Bicester & Woodstock, Politico visited Henley & Thame. They spoke to Conservative candidate Caroline Newton and the LibDems’ Freddie van Mierlo, about, inevitably, sewage:

“The rivers define the whole constituency,” says Newton, who admits the Conservatives have “failed” to communicate effectively with voters on the subject, opening themselves up to attacks from the Liberal Democrats and Greens.

Henley Women’s Regatta was this weekend and, happily, dry weather means there were few sewage outflows into the Thames. The Conservatives are making a big deal out of Caroline Newton having rowed in it previously. (Cambridge though?)

LibDem Freddie van Mierlo has been campaigning on pre-school funding this week, with a slick video at Whitchurch Pre-School, which has a broken roof.

Oxford East

Clarion call: Oxford East is a safe Labour seat.

We don’t need to marshal any data for this one: you know what’s going to happen. It is so safe that the opposition (generally) isn’t even pretending to oppose. Nor is the incumbent pretending to campaign. Anneliese Dodds, according to her Twitter feed, has been in Bristol, Banbury, Finchley, Fulham, Imperial College London, Redcar and Hartlepool this week alone. We have not seen her in Oxford East. Though this week there is a crop of hustings – will she be there?

Now let's look at the opposition. Take the Tories and look at this image... hiding at the back here? That’s Louise Brown, Oxford East candidate, campaigning in Didcot & Wantage. Not Oxford East.

Right at the back is Louise Brown. Wantage is not in Oxford East.

The Green Party’s East Oxford councillor base were out campaigning this weekend… in Bristol. Bristol Central does have a good chance of electing the second Green MP. But there’s no sign of Oxford East campaigning.

The LibDems won’t be winning Oxford East, but have nonetheless sent people out across the constituency. They have some councillors in Oxford East and of course, there is an imminent Oxford City Council by-election in Marston. Even so, this level of campaigning is a surprise.

Oxford East has independents and small parties standing in abundance. We’ve not seen much ground game for any of them, but Jabu Nala-Hartley is building a strong profile on social media. Can social media love convert into votes on the ground for her to take a left wing chunk out of Dodds’ very solid Labour base?

Amir Steve Ali has been delivering leaflets (thank you again, Clarion correspondents) with messages including ‘No to LTNs’, ‘An honest approach to climate change’, ‘Support Businesses’ and ‘Immediate ceasefire in the War in Gaza’, though there is little detail beyond the headlines either here or on his Facebook page.


Oxford West & Abingdon

Clarion call: Oxford West & Abingdon should be a straightforward Liberal Democrat hold.

In contrast to Oxford East, we have seen a lot of activity from the incumbent Layla Moran in Oxford West & Abingdon. She’s been campaigning on Oxfordshire's housing crisis, clean water, and attended a hustings at Matthew Arnold School along with other candidates. We at the Clarion are fans of hustings in schools: young adults may not have the vote yet, but they will do soon. She also made a plea for Labour and Green supporters to lend their votes to the Liberal Democrats on the BBC’s Politics South.

Labour have little to no chance of winning in this seat, which puts them in the unusual position of asking voters not to vote tactically:

Conservative Dr Vinay Raniga is encouraging “shy Tories” to come out and vote for him. He's also continued with his series of videos, covering the NHS, roads, education and the high street, housing, countryside and defence in just 35 seconds. A whirlwind of campaigning also took in the triple lock pension, taking the fight to Reform over Ukraine, and Morris dancing in Abingdon. This is a lot for a long-shot outsider, and we wouldn’t be surprised to see him snapped up as a candidate for a future, more winnable election.


Clarion call: The Conservatives are strong favourites to hold this seat but the Liberal Democrats have the best chance of winning it off them. Labour is a respectable third but unlikely to take the seat.

Witney is the least straightforward seat in Oxfordshire. We think the bookies have it broadly right here: incumbent Conservative Robert Courts is likely to hang on, with the LibDems 2/1 to score a win. At 12/1 Labour are outsiders but not completely out of the picture.

The projections give the LibDems a strong chance (YouGov and Survation put them in the lead, Electoral Calculus put them second) and tactical voting sites agree. On the ground, more than one Clarion correspondent has reported seeing orange diamonds in places with no history of voting LibDem locally.

Our take is that the LibDems have enough of a headstart to retain their challenger status, and their candidate Charlie Maynard has a campaigning advantage as a district councillor and local resident: Labour’s Antonio Weiss is a councillor for Harrow in London. But the split opposition could make this the Conservatives’ best chance of retaining a seat in Oxfordshire.
Data: Betfair Sportsbook: Con 2/5, LibDem 2/1, Lab 12/1, Reform 50/1, Green 100/1. Tactical voting sites: 3x LibDem, tacticalvote.co.uk TBC. Projections: Electoral Calculus Con 37.4, LibDem 28.0, Lab 19.1; YouGov Con 31, Lab 16, LibDem 38; Survation Lab 24.1, Con 28.5, LibDem 38.3.

The Clarion has a rule that we leave Jeremy Clarkson stories to the Oxford Mail, but even he has noticed the LibDem diamonds suddenly sprouting in what was once true blue territory, as he writes in the Sun. (Clarkson’s Farm itself is just over the border in the Banbury constituency.)

LibDem Charlie Maynard has been pushing the tactical voting message while campaigning on the hardy perennials of flooding and sewage. Constituency visits included a brave appearance in the stocks:

Labour’s local activists have been leafleting in Witney town, and while most projections are calling it for Charlie Maynard, that naturally doesn’t stop Labour publicising those that give them a chance. Their candidate Antonio Weiss released a high quality, drone-assisted video setting out his stall:

Conservative incumbent Robert Courts has been racking up personal appearances – a different approach to his colleagues’ crowds of activists (Henley) or issues-driven campaigning (Banbury, Didcot & Wantage), though he did take aim at Labour’s policies on farming.

We would not be surprised to see an influx of Conservative activists to Witney in the final week to win over former Tory voters – or even LibDem or Labour campaigners from across the border. Get the popcorn in for the count. Or possibly the coffee.

Around the country

Oxfordshire candidates fighting elsewhere in Britain do seem to be relishing campaigning life. Labour’s Luke Akehurst has discovered he gets more impressions by posting pictures of his dinner than policy statements:

Tom Hayes, fighting for Labour in Bournemouth East, has been campaigning on sewage in waters. He resigned as a Labour councillor in Oxford in order to campaign for this seat, and Electoral Calculus suggests he is likely to win.  

Marie Tidball in Penistone & Stockbridge, another former City councillor, has been campaigning bus cuts and also, you guessed it, sewage. This should be a straightforward win for her. Labour’s Perran Moon, formerly of Banbury, looks likely to take Camborne & Redruth thanks not least to tactical voting, with the LibDems concentrating on St Ives instead. John Howson of the LibDems is a very long shot in Weald of Kent, but is already pre-empting #DogsAtPollingStations:

And finally...

Postal votes dropped on the doorsteps this week. (You may take a selfie with your postal vote and share it, though you can’t in a polling station.)

Might the situation change in the last week-and-a-half? It’s certainly possible. Newspapers are reporting (such as the Telegraph, above) that the Conservatives are pulling troops out of the Red Wall to shore up their southern defences, while a buoyant Labour party is campaigning in places it would never have considered before. 9% of voters have still to decide. Still, the defining feature of this election is how slowly the polls are moving:

Opinion polling for the 2024 election. Ralbegen at Wikipedia, CC-BY-SA 4.0.

Over the next week, expect the Conservatives to double down on the Labour “supermajority” message in an attempt to shore up wavering Tory voters. A concerted effort in any given seat could swing the balance. We would not be surprised to see Conservative HQ pick two Oxfordshire seats to retain on July 4th and swing all their activists there (Witney and…?).

It’s been an intense campaign. We have several articles cued up for the final week, and the morning after the night before (mainly so we don’t have to write them with matchsticks propping our eyes open).

We love to hear your feedback. A record number of you have been in touch this week – thank you all. Since our last diary, Elon Musk has made ‘likes’ on Twitter private, but they do continue to help visibility. So you can like our diary and no one will know. Except us. It'll be our little secret.