Election 2010: The Wrekin

The story so far 1987 A three horse race saw sitting Tory MP Warren Hawksley pitched against Labour newcomer Bruce Grocott and the SDP's George Cook.

The story so far

The Wrekin1987

A three horse race saw sitting Tory MP Warren Hawksley pitched against Labour newcomer Bruce Grocott and the SDP's George Cook. While the Tories were comfortable winners nationally, Grocott overturned a Conservative majority of 1,331 to take the seat by 1,456 votes.

1992

Tory hopes rode on the shoulders of a well-known local "big name", Mrs Elizabeth Holt, but Labour's Bruce Grocott was again able to buck the national picture, and substantially increased his majority to 6,648. Tony West of the Lib Dems, and Green candidate Robert Saunders, were way off the pace.

1997

With the constituency having been substantially altered by boundary changes, nobody could be sure what was going to happen. Experts put it down as a notional Conservative seat - so when Peter Bradley romped home 3,025 votes ahead of the Tories' Peter Bruinvels, it was put down as a notional "Labour gain".

2001

Same again for Peter Bradley, who comfortably held off the Conservative challenge of Jacob Rees-Mogg, the son of former Times editor Lord William Rees-Mogg, with a slightly increased majority - 3,587. Ian Jenkins of the Lib Dems and Denis Brookes of UKIP were a distant third and fourth.

2005

The Tories broke back into The Wrekin, leaving Peter Bradley and his Labour supporters stunned. Mark Pritchard polled 18,899 votes, giving him a majority of 942. It was a four-handed battle, with the Lib Dems' Bill Tomlinson and UKIP's Bruce Lawson coming in with 6,608 and 1,590 votes respectively.

1955: Bill Yates (arms aloft) walking through the Square in Wellington following his being elected as the Conservative MP for The Wrekin.
1955: Bill Yates (arms aloft) walking through the Square in Wellington following his being elected as the Conservative MP for The Wrekin.

2010 overview

With a Tory majority of under 1,000 - the smallest majority in any Shropshire seat - there is everything to play for.

Expect to see some big-hitters from the major parties beating a path to the constituency to rally the faithful, stir up support, and sway perhaps the most important of all - the army of floating voters whose choice of allegiance will be decisive.

The Wrekin has historically been Shropshire's most volatile seat, swinging back and forth constantly.

Wrekin MPs only have to get their green bench warm at the House of Commons when they find that they're off - the last MP to enjoy the luxury of three unbroken terms of office was the Conservative Bill Yates, who won in 1955, 1959, and 1964.

1997: New Labour MPs Peter Bradley and Bruce Grocott celebrate their victories in the Telford and Wrekin constituencies
1997: New Labour MPs Peter Bradley and Bruce Grocott celebrate their victories in the Telford and Wrekin constituencies

Yet while it has been a marginal, it has not been a particularly reliable barometer of the national scene.

In the 10 general elections since 1970, The Wrekin has gone "with the country" on seven occasions. But of the last five elections, it has only predicted the national result twice. Consequently it is the sort of place where putting in extra effort and investment in a campaign can pay dividends at the ballot box.

Look at the roll call of politicians who made the trip to The Wrekin during the 2005 showdown. Tony Blair and Gordon Brown - they came together! Michael Howard for the Tories. And to add to the heavy artillery we also had a procession of lesser party figures on a mission to drum up votes.

It was at that time a Labour-held seat, with sitting MP Peter Bradley looking for a third term. He had what looked like a useful cushion of a majority of 3,587.

What then caused it to melt away?

Going head to head with him was Tory Mark Pritchard, who fought a vigorous campaign with a number of local issues to the fore.

Principal among them was something which is likely to be to the forefront once more this time round for candidates of all political persuasions - health, and in particular the Princess Royal Hospital in Telford.

Telfordians are worried about the future of the hospital, and the possibility that it will be downgraded, with some services switching to Shrewsbury. There have been meetings and protest meetings devoted to the issue, which continues to hang in the air.

There were some other things bubbling away in the background in 2005. At that time Telford & Wrekin Council was Labour-run, and had sparked protests in Wellington and Newport (both part of The Wrekin constituency) by introducing parking charges.

Although ultimately the administration did a U-turn, there was lasting resentment. And it was also the year that the controversial Hunting Act came into force, which was perceived by many country folk as an anti-country measure - and The Wrekin constituency includes a large rural swathe.

Apart from health and the future of the PRH, what else will "play" in the 2010 Wrekin campaign?

To borrow a phrase, the economy, stupid.

2001: Shadow Defence Secretary Iain Duncan Smith and prospective parliamentary candidate Jacob Rees-Mogg in Wellington
2001: Shadow Defence Secretary Iain Duncan Smith and prospective parliamentary candidate Jacob Rees-Mogg in Wellington

Families up and down the land have been feeling the squeeze of the recession, and inevitably there will be a local take on the recession, the huge public debt, public spending and jobs.

Other hot topics will naturally emerge as the candidates cross swords.

Maybe housing, crime, immigration, the environment...? With both RAF Cosford and the huge Donnington military and civilian complex on the patch, the future of local defence jobs is likely to be on the electoral agenda.

Mark Pritchard's majority for the Conservatives is 942. Flying the flag for Labour this time round will be local man Paul Kalinauckas, who is chairman of Co-operatives West Midlands.

Standing for the Lib Dems is Alyson Cameron-Daw, a last-minute replacement for initial choice David Murray, who withdrew amid the revelation that he is the subject of a police investigation, while Malcolm Hurst is fighting the seat for UKIP.

We shall have to wait for the official close of nominations to see the full and confirmed line-up of candidates.

Although The Wrekin is a historic seat it is also, paradoxically, a fairly new seat in its current form thanks to boundary changes which took effect for the first time in the 1997 general election. The southern part of the constituency, comprising urban south Telford, was broken away.

Conventional wisdom was that these changes, by slicing off a large part of the urban area, would be of benefit to the Tories' prospects. Experience has shown however that The Wrekin remains a difficult one to call.

The main urban communities of the constituency are Wellington, Donnington, and Hadley. The patch also embraces Newport, Albrighton, and Shifnal.

Uniquely in Shropshire, The Wrekin constituency falls within the jurisdiction of two unitary authorities - Telford & Wrekin Council, and Shropshire Council.

2005 result:

  1. Mark Pritchard (Con) 18,899
  2. Peter Bradley (Lab) 17,957
  3. Bill Tomlinson (LD) 6,608
  4. Bruce Lawson (UKIP) 1,590

Majority 942 (Conservative gain from Labour). Turnout was 67 per cent

The Candidates

Mark Pritchard - Conservative

Mark Pritchard was elected to The Wrekin in 2005, the first time the Tories had taken the seat since 1983.

He has been involved in a number of local campaigns, including over the future of RAF Cosford and Telford’s Princess Royal Hospital, post office closures, and fighting coal mining plans near The Wrekin hill.

Mr Pritchard spent most of his childhood growing up in neighbouring Herefordshire, and was educated in Hereford, Surrey, and London.

He has had a home in The Wrekin constituency since first being chosen as Conservative candidate in 2002.

Before entering Parliament he was a company director of a marketing communications company, advising a wide range of blue chip companies, in Britain and Europe.

He is a founding member of the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission and was nominated as Parliamentarian of the Year (2009) for Animal Welfare.

He is joint secretary of the Conservative Foreign Affairs Committee and secretary of the Conservative Defence Committee.

He is also secretary of the All Party Group for Conservation and Wildlife.

Mr Pritchard likes taking long walks with the family miniature schnauzers Pebbles and Dill, watching cricket, and skiing.

Paul Kalinauckas - Labour

Paul Kalinauckas says he hopes that being “one of the people” will help him win over voters.

Mr Kalinauckas, who is also a member of the Co-operative Party, lives in Wellington and stood for election in 2005 and 2001 in South Staffordshire.

And having made the move to The Wrekin he now hopes to challenge Conservative Mark Pritchard for the seat.

He said: “I live in Wellington and I know the issues which affect local people. I plan to be a very active MP and that is what people want.”

The Co-operative Party is a sister branch of the Labour Party and has 28 sitting MPs already including Ed Balls, Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families.

Mr Kalinauckas – his name, incidentally, comes from his Lithuanian ancestry – is the chief executive of a community initiative that helps organisations which have been rejected by the banks to access finance.

As chairman of Co-operatives West Midlands he promotes mutual organisations with ethical values of honesty, openness, social responsibility and caring for others.

He is married to Helen with three grown-up children.

His hobbies include keeping an allotment, reading and running.

Alyson Cameron-Daw - Liberal Democrat

Businesswoman Alyson Cameron-Daw’s main passion in politics is education and as a mother of two she is keen to ensure each child can have a fair start and a genuine opportunity to realise their full potential.

She has worked in the London Stock Exchange as well as at Reuters and the Financial Times. She was also a teacher for 10 years during which time she was head of music at a large inner-city school.

Ali has been active in Lib Dem politics at many levels for more than 20 years and is used to being involved in big campaigns – helping to galvanize local people to save proposed closures at a hospital in Chichester.

She is a governor at Chichester FE College and has been chair of governors at Chichester High School for Boys, appointing a new head in the process.

Ali is also co-founder and director of an animal welfare organisation, working in partnership with the major national pet charities.

Her hobbies include singing in bands, coastal rowing, theatre and dance, skiing, swimming, literature, and socialising with family and friends.

She said: “I feel strongly about empowering local people.”

Malcolm Hurst - UKIP

Malcolm Hurst has lived in the Stafford area for more than 30 years.

He is a chartered engineer and has owned and run companies in nuclear engineering and healthcare in both Lancashire and Staffordshire for 30 years. As a result he has a wide experience of business and finance both in the UK and abroad.

He is married with three children and three grandchildren. He has been a parish councillor and in the last election he stood as a parliamentary candidate for UKIP in South Staffordshire.

Mr Hurst firmly believes the United Kingdom should be run by a Westminster Parliament and not, he says, an unelected, unaccountable European Parliament in Brussels.

“Unless we leave the European political system and take back control of our own country we will have no recognisable country to leave to our children.”

He added that farmers would benefit from the reduced bureaucratic demands and controls of the EU and Defra. Many of the expensive quangos would also be abolished.

“Many of our institutions such as local pubs and post offices are being destroyed,” he charged.

“We would also expand our armed forces and restore the military covenant.”

Susan Harwood - BNP

As a mother herself, Susan Harwood believes that child issues could be the key to securing votes.

A relative newcomer to politics, the birth of her first son led to her becoming more involved in the subject and eventually she joined the BNP.

She has previously worked for the probation service and completed a law degree at university.

Susan became increasingly involved in politics as she sought an alternative career to law after the birth of her children.

“Law had now lost its lustre and when I resumed work I did so in the classroom, working with children who had special needs.”

She said: “It’s no cliché that children are our future, it’s a fact.

“Future generations of children will want jobs.

“How are they going to get work when employment is given to foreigners entering the country and outsourced abroad?

“I have the feeling that I can do more, and want to do more. That’s exactly why I am a member of the BNP and proud to be standing for them.”

As well as three children, Susan also has a mongrel dog and describes herself as an animal lover.

    Some notable constituency MPs

    Edith Picton-Turberville

    EDITH PICTON-TURBERVILL (1929-31)

    Shropshire's first woman MP has also, so far, proven to be the last.

    She was elected for Labour in 1929 at a time when women were just beginning to make the breakthrough into public life, but lost her seat in 1931.

    Miss Picton-Turbervill was a noted campaigner for women's causes, including the right for them to become Anglican priests.

    She died in 1960.

    COLONEL JAMES BALDWIN-WEBBCOLONEL JAMES BALDWIN-WEBB (1931-1940)

    Had a rare and unhappy distinction of being one of the few MPs killed by enemy action. He drowned when the liner City of Benares was torpedoed in the Atlantic in 1940.

    During the 1930s Webb, a Conservative, organised a number of trips in which thousands of constituents had a day out to places like London, Southampton, and Bournemouth.

    Some older Salopians still have happy memories of these "Baldwin-Webb outings".

    Bill YatesBILL YATES (1955-66)

    An outspoken maverick on foreign affairs who ruffled feathers within his own party, both locally and nationally.

    He is the only Wrekin MP of modern times to serve three consecutive terms.

    Defeated in 1966, comments about the Arab-Israeli conflict in 1967 proved too much for local Tories.

    Yates emigrated to Australia and later became an MP there.

    He died in Australia in April 2010.

    Gerry Fowler

    GERRY FOWLER (1966-70, and 1974-79)

    Fowler was a university lecturer who went into politics and rose to gain office in Harold Wilson's Labour administration. He was Minister of State in the Department of Education and Science.

    After defeat in 1979 Professor Fowler was rector of the Polytechnic of East London and chairman of the Council of Directors of Polytechnics.

    He died aged 58 in 1993.

    Bruce GrocottBRUCE GROCOTT (1987-97, then 1997-2001 as Telford MP)

    This former television journalist was one of Tony Blair's most trusted lieutenants - he served as his Parliamentary Private Secretary - and as such was a key figure in the rise of New Labour.

    Wrekin MP for 10 years, then a term as the first Telford MP, before being made a life peer  ( Lord Grocott of Telford) in 2001, and subsequently being promoted to Chief Whip of the House of Lords.