Oxfordshire Election Diary: Week 6

Oxfordshire Election Diary: Week 6
Photo by Karsten Füllhaas / Unsplash

The winner of the General Election might be a foregone conclusion, but in Oxfordshire, it’s going down to the wire.

Only two of the county’s seats – Oxford East and Oxford West & Abingdon – are (probably) safe. In the other five, from Henley to Banbury and all points in between, it’s still all to play for. It’s going to make for a frenetic last week of campaigning and a tense election night.

In this, our final election diary, we’re not going to rehearse the latest in the endless round of polls and projections. But we will pause for a nod to Survation’s latest MRP projection, not so much for the winners it’s forecasting, but for the extreme closeness of the races. Survation are calling Banbury as 33% to 31.4% (Lab/Con), and Witney as 32.9% to 32.2% (Con/LD). It could go either way.

The campaigns

At this stage in an election, the main parties are hammering home their key messages. They are inescapable, but just to recap:

Candidates are making their final appeals to voters based on policy, personality, or both. Some are relentlessly on-message; others prefer to “do it their way”. Some are continuing to play the ball, not the man; others are getting more economical with the actualité as polling day approaches. Some are concentrating relentlessly on their own constituency; others are travelling to where their party really needs help. We’ll see all this, and more, in these week’s roundup…


Shy Tories” are the pollsters’ nightmare – and the Conservatives’ last hope. The blue posters that once adorned Oxfordshire fields have been rarer this time. But we’re starting to see a few more, and incumbent MP Victoria Prentis was also keen to highlight them. Could these shy Tories be nailing their colours to the mast in the final week?

This week Victoria Prentis made a pitch to Banbury businesses, pulling in an endorsement from a local business owner, and talked about education. Instead of focusing on the Conservatives’ national tax messaging, she chose to take the fight to the County Council about the spare seats scheme. It increasingly looks like Oxfordshire’s Conservatives are following their own strategy of attacking the LibDem/Green (and formerly Labour) County Council.

Labour’s Sean Woodcock is the main challenger. As regular readers of this diary will know, he is leaving nothing to chance with crowds of activists daily. As regular readers also know, Woodcock excels at delivering Labour HQ messages, so it will be no surprise to see that ‘Change’ figures heavily in his campaigning this week – even down to the garden posters. Gold star for Banbury Labour: this candidate is on message.

Surprise guests this week were Witney Labour. For why this is a surprise, read down to the Witney section. (Perhaps we need to draw another map?) Hook Norton is in Banbury, not Witney. It does have an excellent brewery, though. Note, again, the ‘Change’ sign in the middle of this image: gold star once more for Woodcock and for Witney CLP.

Socialist independent Cassi Bellingham gave an interview to the left-wing Canary with a scathing takedown of Labour, saying she is “deeply underwhelmed” with Sean Woodcock: “The Tories won’t win. So nobody should be voting tactically.” Clearly this is her plea for votes, but she does seem to believe the victory is firmly within Woodcock’s grasp. Could votes for candidates like her gift the seat to the Conservatives? This one will be fascinating to watch.

Bicester & Woodstock

Last week we reported on rumours that Tory activists were being shipped out to shore up what would usually be super safe seats. It looks like Bicester & Woodstock is firmly on this list. Here’s Cllr Eddie Reeves, leader of the opposition on Oxfordshire County Council, campaigning with Vinay Raniga, candidate for Oxford West and Abingdon, in Bicester & Woodstock. Cllr Liam Walker, whose Hanborough division falls into the new seat, has also been campaigning here. Top-flight campaigners putting in the hard yards for what, in any other year, would have been a safe seat.

And there were hustings, of course. If you couldn't get to them, here is Rupert Harrison’s opening speech. Again, his campaign has majored on local rather than national issues, here accusing the County Council of being “asleep at the wheel” by not getting a new surgery in Woodstock after large scale developments were built. We’re starting to sense a theme from Oxfordshire’s Conservatives, but it isn't tax.

He's also campaigning against Botley West Solar Farm. This, at least, is a national issue, with the decision set to be taken by central Government rather than local planners.

LibDem challenger Calum Miller welcomed leader Ed Davey this weekend. They took to the Oxford Canal at Thrupp to campaign on (what else?) sewage dumping. His public statements focus more around “fresh starts” rather than the national Fair Deal slogan. He also campaigned on climate change and visited Eynsham Market.  

LibDem campaigns across Oxfordshire have been decidedly traditional, heavy on garden posters and light on glossy videos. But as election day draws near, Calum Miller set out his stall on camera:

There truly has been a poll or a projection to suit every narrative this election, and this week Labour has seized on one of the few showing Bicester & Woodstock as a three-horse race, published by the Economist. Labour’s Veronica Oakeshott has been continuing with a grassroots approach of street stalls and personal appearances – rather than the Banbury tactic of bussing in dozens of activists in to get a full canvass, which is what you would expect of a concerted effort to win this seat. (It is technically still possible between now and Thursday, of course.)

We suspect this seat may come down to the “get out the vote” operation on polling day – but that only works if your footsoldiers have gathered enough data to get said votes out, and Labour may have left it too late for that. Could this too be a seat where a split opposition gifts the seat to the Conservatives?

Didcot & Wantage

No celebrity endorsements or VIP visits here – or, that we can see, any mention of tax. Sitting MP David Johnston has been knocking on doors and just putting in the hard graft every day since the election was called. It’s been a very community-focused approach, calling on his background running charities, and pulling in endorsements of locals based on casework delivered. In contrast to his Conservative colleagues elsewhere in Oxfordshire, attacking the County Council has not been a strong theme, though we did notice mentions of special educational needs and (inevitably) 20mph limits.

Liberal Democrat Olly Glover is asking voters to vote tactically for him, pointing to site after site of tactical voting advice and MRP projections that put this seat as a two horse race. He’s also been campaining to build Grove railway station, and to improve cancer care for the constituency. No mention of a Fair Deal.

Labour challenger Mocky Khan has been on-message with Labour’s ‘Change’ slogan while hosting street stalls and attending hustings. He also tweeted out this picture. We are not a fan of defacing signs, regardless of party, and there's been a rash of it nationwide. If you can't win fair and square you don’t deserve to be elected. You’re better than this.

Henley & Thame

Henley is the bluest of blue seats. It has had Boris Johnson and Michael Heseltine as MPs. It has chocolate box villages with expansive homes in the north. Henley itself is home to Philip Schofield, Liam Gallagher and Orlando Bloom. The very air feels Tory. Even less wealthy Berinsfield is traditionally blue-collar Conservative – UKIP used to score well here – but in a sign of the times, it now has a Green councillor.

It is indicative of seismic political shock that this is being considered as a battleground seat. Bloomberg visited the constituency to look at “Ed Davey's Liberal Democrats gaining in Conservative strongholds”. The Lib Dems certainly seem to think they have a chance, and Davey visited to have a go at paddleboard yoga:

On the ground, LibDem candidate Freddie van Mierlo has been helped by activists from across Oxfordshire including MP Layla Moran. On social media he called out warehouse developers who “keep on coming back with new applications”, and, of course, posted on sewage.

With the retirement of former MP John Howell, the Conservatives’ Caroline Newton doesn't have the incumbent advantage. Will that count against her? This week she was leveraging Tory star power to woo voters, campaigning with former Prime Minister Theresa May – famously a “doorstep campaigner”.

Like her colleagues elsewhere in Oxfordshire, she took firm aim at the LibDem-run county council and their spending priorities: roads, trees, and vegan lunches. We can’t fact-check every leaflet, but some of the claims in this one are a little tenuous. The £8m spending it cites on 20mph limits was, in reality, £4.2m: the project came in £3.8m under budget. The £51m Eynsham Park & Ride was conceived and designed by the previous Conservative administration on Oxfordshire County Council, and mostly funded by the Conservative government. (The LibDems’ Dan Levy has said: “I do not intend to spend Oxfordshire taxpayers’ money on the [P&R] junctions… In hindsight, it was a mistake to carry on with a scheme we inherited, and to trust that the government would deliver what it had promised.”)

Such is the cut and thrust of local politics. Intriguingly, Caroline Newton’s chosen message is one of ‘Change’ – the very same slogan Labour are fighting on. It’s a brave slogan for a party that’s been in power for 14 years.

Oxford East

Oxford East voters complained this week they hadn’t received their postal votes. If you are affected by this, the advice from Oxford City Council can be found here.

In last week’s diary we remarked on candidates Louise Brown (Conservative) and Anneliese Dodds (Labour) campaigning outside the constituency. Our crack production department broke out the crayons and produced a map:

Oxford East Labour campaigners were exceptionally eager to respond that they are pounding the streets of the city, with a stream of images that has continued, to our amusement, through the week. We were still on the hunt for a candidate sighting in Oxford East, but after visiting Kettering, Northampton, Penrith, Carlisle, and (inevitably) Banbury, Anneliese Dodds pulled through this weekend:

(Thank you too to the Clarion correspondent who’d spotted Anneliese Dodds checking tickets on the door at Flo Fest last Saturday!)

As befits party chair, Dodds is of course on-message with ‘Change’. Activist photos are so similar across the country that the Clarion can only imagine Labour HQ sent out a style guide. Something like this, perhaps?

Activist photos must contain at least 7 boards. Central to the image should be the ‘Change’ board. The board with the candidate’s name should be on the right-hand side of the ‘Change’ board as you look at the image.

The Independent Oxford Alliance wrote a four-page open letter to Labour activists that covered a trifecta of Palestine, Low Traffic Neighbourhoods and J.K. Rowling, a combination we suspect appeals to a fairly niche demographic.

Last week was hustings week all across Oxfordshire. Several focused on one subject, such as this one on education in the Wesley Memorial Church which we are reliably informed was “lively”.

There are 12 candidates standing in Oxford East. As the Headington News points out, it was much easier to choose a candidate 120 years ago:

Oxford West & Abingdon

LibDem incumbent Layla Moran is another candidate who’s been travelling this week, though the party’s targets are a little closer than Penrith or Carlisle. She’s campaigned on safe legal routes for refugees, insulating homes to combat climate change, and a fair deal for carers. As the lone LibDem MP in Oxfordshire and a seasoned operator, she is absolutely on-message.

But she's still been campaigning in her constituency – spot the Oxfordshire flag on her T-shirt – and we thought you would like to see this handmade sign.

Conservative challenger Vinay Raniga has been in Bicester & Woodstock, attending hustings in Oxford West, and representing the Conservatives on BBC Politics South.

As the sole Tory playing offence not defence in Oxfordshire, his content has always been a little different. In the latter part of the week he pivoted from his usual robust content of policy around the NHS and education, unleashing a series of tweets promising to stop traffic filters and Low Traffic Neighbourhoods – which are, repeat after us, a county council matter. Don’t be surprised to see his line that “July 4th is our last democratic chance to end the chronic gridlock in Oxford & Abingdon” quoted back by supporters of the scheme in future months.


Boundary changes make military personnel particularly key to the marginal Witney constituency, with RAF Brize Norton now being joined by the Defence Academy at Shrivenham. To coincide with Armed Forces Week, incumbent Conservative MP Robert Courts and his campaigners put out a special ‘Armed Forces Matter’ leaflet, delivered to residents in Shrivenham and Carterton.

In common with most other Conservative candidates across the county, his focus switched to attacking the County Council this week:

We’re a little puzzled by his focus on Hanborough station, which is no longer in the Witney constituency – it’s transferred to Bicester & Woodstock. Wouldn’t reopening Witney or Shrivenham station be more relevant to his electors?

LibDem leader Ed Davey made a visit to Carterton this week in support of their candidate Charlie Maynard. Were we disappointed not to see Davey jump out of an RAF Brize Norton plane on Armed Forces Day? Maybe just a little.

Witney Labour have been out canvassing Earley. Not as in a 6am start, but as in the suburban Reading seat which is a key Labour target.

Candidate Antonio Weiss put out a hard-hitting attack ad that claims Witney “isn’t a LibDem target seat – they are diverting resources elsewhere” and that “Witney has only ever had a Labour or Conservative MP”. We find it hard to square “not a target seat” with a visit from the LibDems’ party leader (as best we know, Keir Starmer hasn’t been sighted in Witney), while “diverting resources elsewhere” is a little cheeky from a candidate who has been off campaigning in Reading.

But it’s true, Witney did once have a Labour MP. Briefly. This was Shaun Woodward, not to be confused with Sean Woodcock. Elected as a Conservative in 1997, he defected to Labour in 1999 before doing the chicken run to St Helens South in 2001. At that election, a Conservative was once again elected in Witney, a little known politician by the name of David Cameron.

So Witney has never elected a Labour MP, and we don’t see that changing this time. The bookies rate Robert Courts as the Oxfordshire Conservative best positioned to keep his seat, and a divided opposition makes that all the more likely.

Meanwhile, this week’s celebrity endorsement came from Labour supporter Steve Coogan, who backed LibDem Charlie Maynard as a tactical vote. This isn’t the first LibDem candidate he’s endorsed, but perhaps says something about the relative position of the parties.

Around the country

We are delighted to report that Luke Akehurst is continuing to post pictures of his dinner amongst all the ‘Change’ posters.

Oxford’s Tom Hayes, standing in Bournemouth East, appeared on BBC Politics South opposite Vinay Raniga. ‘Change’ is all over his social feed, including this from Fatboy Slim at Glastonbury. Gold star for Hayes. (We were briefly surprised to see what looked like a personal endorsement from Elton John, but it turns out that Tom Hayes is simply a doppelganger for David Furnish, Elton's husband. Just us?)

Marie Tidball, standing in Penistone & Stocksbridge, was profiled in a compelling Observer feature on the Red Wall: “I’ve been out in the wind, rain, sun, snow. We very much haven’t just been out when it’s election time, and people appreciate that.”

Two Oxfordshire LibDem councillors are standing elsewhere, though mostly as paper candidates. Tim Bearder, standing in Gosport, released a light-hearted clip which we feel sure will be the only campaign video to mention “tractor porn”. John Howson has posted more pictures of (we presume) his dog. Weald of Kent is one of just 11 seats that every projection so far agrees will stay Conservative, but who needs to be an MP when you have a dog that can play Scrabble.

The final countdown

Three days to go. Expect all parties to throw the kitchen sink, the oven, toaster, kettle and some of the tiles at these seats.

Speaking to those involved in party campaigns this week, we’ve heard many reports of voters disengaged with the process. How voting doesn't matter, or “isn’t for them”. How they don’t believe their vote will count, how they feel unlistened to and unloved. We can understand that. Few politicians have covered themselves in glory in recent years. But now is not the time to give up.

To the winners on Thursday (and the losers, for there will be another election one day): don't forget your voters now you're elected. Engage, listen. The passion shown on the doorsteps should guide your actions in Parliament, even if sometimes it’s tough to hear.

To our readers: tell your friends and colleagues to vote. No matter who they vote for, or even if they spoil a ballot paper. We have a cost of living crisis, a war on our doorstep, an NHS on its knees, a special educational needs emergency… and a planet in existential crisis. Who we have representing us matters. Whether you are voting tactically, or with your heart, or just holding your nose even to turn up, vote.

And thank you for staying with us through this series. Some of the more outrageous and borderline desperate claims in this final week have sorely tested our resolve to remain even-handed, so a special thanks to our cross-party sounding boards (you know who you are) who give us feedback before publication.

See you on Thursday night.