In the pretty Devon town of Ottery St Mary, home to the Weasleys and Samuel Taylor Coleridge, an electoral storm is brewing among the cream teas. Independent candidate Claire Wright may be about to wrest the seat from long-time Conservative MP Hugo Swire. And it’s all down to people power.
With 700 active supporters and 400 publicity boards across East Devon, and leaflets delivered to 45,000 homes, Claire is taking on the might of the Conservative party with the backing of literally thousands of local people. Her crowdfunding appeal has raised over £12,000 in just 4 weeks: with 75% of donations being in small amounts of £50 or under.
At the 2015 General Election, Claire gained 13,140 votes from a standing start, winning 24% of the vote. Since then, she has been re-elected as County Councillor for Ottery, with a stunning 76% of the vote on a high turnout.
One of Claire’s team said “Claire stood up to Hugo in 2015, and despite a brilliant campaign got knocked back down. Instead of accepting defeat, she used that experience as a platform from which to fight even harder for the people of East Devon. If you’d asked me when I moved down here in 1995 that my vote could make a difference in this safe rural Tory seat, I would have laughed.” But now the team are quietly confident that the support they’re feeling on the streets will be translated into a massive vote this Thursday.
“It’s amazing” Claire said “after a recent hustings in Exmouth, people were queuing up to shake my hand, and telling me ‘you’re the only person who has bothered to try to win my vote’.
One of my team was stopped in the street by a man waving my manifesto who wanted more information: he will be voting for me. Young people voting for the first time, older people who are worried about the dementia tax, doctors, teachers, mothers with young children, students, the unemployed, a whole range of professions, all are uniting in a shared desire for a passionate, caring, hardworking MP for East Devon.’
‘A Sidmouth woman marrying an Exmouth man took time out from her wedding day on Saturday to have her photo taken with one of my boards. All her family are voting for me this time’.
Joshua and Jamie Anderson (aged 21 and 19 respectively) are from Exton on the river Exe. They said “We would prefer to vote for our own parties, but having read Claire Wright’s manifesto, we are happy to put our preferences aside and vote for her. For too long, the Tories have treated East Devon as a safe seat and Mr Swire has been neglecting us – and getting away with it. Whatever party you belong to, we need to rally now behind Claire Wright, our only hope in East Devon.”
West Hill resident and Claire’s team member Lisa Simpson said “I’ve been a Labour supporter since I was old enough to vote and never contemplated supporting another party, nor indeed tactical voting, but I was won over, not only by a realistic opportunity to unseat a Conservative MP but by Claire’s integrity and work ethic.”
But it’s not only Labour and Lib Dem supporters who are putting up her posters “There are disenchanted Conservatives, angry that their man did not bother to attend hustings, showing their support. The local Green party is backing me all the way.
But more importantly, people who’ve never voted before, young voters, people who abstained last time, are realising they can be part of a quiet revolution right here in Budleigh Salterton and Sidmouth. We’re demonstrating a new way of doing politics that responds to local people and seeks consensus rather than confrontation.”
Pollsters, bookies and tactical voting sites all agree that she’s offering a strong challenge. All the tactical voting sites endorse her: Best for Britain and Tactical 2017 see her as the best option to defeat the Conservative. Yougov polling shows Wright and Swire running neck and neck. And William Hill have been progressively shortening her odds over the last few weeks: she’s now at 3/1. Even Booker prize-winning writer Hilary Mantel has endorsed her campaign, saying ‘she is local, energetic and knowledgeable… Claire Wright is the candidate who will speak up for Devon East.’
The final word goes to a key member of Claire’s core team: “This campaign has been life-changing, energetic and electric. From the moment our voluntary core team was created and more than 500 people immediately offered to support Claire, it was clear that something extraordinary was taking place. Watching people rise up to support a person of genuine integrity, sincerity and morality through giving support, time and money, has been amazing and emotional.
“Democracy in its raw and rarest form is taking place right here in Devon and we are all a part of that story. The welfare of the people in this Constituency is finally being placed above the interest of the wealthy minority by a figure that people are willing to stand behind, protect and defend. But there is no aggression, no fear, no anger. What is taking place in East Devon is a considerate, positive and energetic revolution, with Claire Wright at the helm; our Devonshire darling.”
Can that darling, the most successful genuine independent in the UK in the 2015 election secure a historical victory in 2017? With the right amount of local support: Yes she can!
As Margaret Mead put it: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has”.
Or as local boy Samuel Taylor Coleridge said “Nothing is so contagious as enthusiasm.”
Photo: Door knocking at Westclyst last night in what seemed like a monsoon!