The arrival of a posse of Conservative campaigners in my village has alerted some of us to something we’ve missed: we’re not in North Devon any more. We’ve been switched to Central Devon. Damn. The only elections in which I have ever managed to vote for the winner have been the last two, in North Devon, the seat that the Liberals snatched in the late fifties by 369 votes, courtesy of Jeremy Thorpe, the now long-forgotten, but still extant Liberal leader. When the wheels fell off his wagon, the Conservatives promptly snatched the seat back, only for it return to Liberal (Democrat) hands a few elections later.
The Liberals face a real problem in Devon, which is respectability. They are quite capable of winning seats in Devon, which, in the eighties, they could not do (in 1985, there was not a single non-Conservative seat in Devon, with the exception of one seat in Plymouth, held by the SDP’s David Owen). But now they have held and recently lost the Devon council, they are no longer seen in the same way as the alternative choice: more like part of the establishment.
So I am now on the extreme edge, in constituency terms, of ‘Central Devon’, rather than just inside North Devon. There is a notional Conservative advantage in Central Devon. But perhaps my imminent flight to the North will take place soon enough for me to register in another marginal, this time a Labour/Conservative one.
Why have I missed this? I have to say that I suddenly and absurdly feel land-locked, since nothing has changed other than the lines on a map. But when people say ‘Where do you live?’, I will all of a sudden have to stop saying ‘North Devon’, which sounds wild and windswept, and answer ‘Central Devon’, which sounds dull and indecisive.
During my continuing clear-out, I came across a school project from when I was about eleven. I had – always wanting to be the odd one out – produced a Liberal Party manifesto. This was based on some rather historical reading. The teacher, offering his commendation, had written ‘I hardly think the issue of Free Trade has the same importance these days’. Ah.