Witney was treated to a double dose of Green Party luminaries yesterday for the launch of their candidate in the upcoming by-election triggered by the sudden resignation of David “I’m no quitter” Cameron.
Green MP, and recently elected co-leader, Caroline Lucas appeared alongside newly announced candidate Larry Sanders, freshly returned from campaigning for his slightly more famous brother in his bid to become the next President of the United States.
Larry moved to the UK in 1968 after falling in love with a “beautiful Englishwoman”. He worked for many years as a social worker before retiring and devoting a good deal of his time to the Green Party. A former councillor and leader of the Green Group in Oxfordshire, Larry was recently appointed the health spokesperson for the Greens and has always been a strong advocate for a fully public NHS.
It was fitting then that his campaign launch took place just outside the Witney Community Hospital which last year saw ward closures due to what the local health trust called a “difficult financial environment”. Why just outside? Because the hospital refused to allowed filming in the car park. Go figure!
Quizzed on how his party would support the NHS he said:
Without additional funding the NHS is facing a £20 billion gap in its finances by 2020-21. We are already short of GPs, Hospital Doctors, and hospital beds. Severe cuts are being announced or leaked almost every day.
The Green Party is committed to providing that amount, half in the first year.
As one of the safest Tory seats in the country, the Witney constituency will be a difficult nut for the Green Party to crack.
The former PM’s stomping ground, it returned a stonking 25,000 vote majority for the Conservatives in 2015. The newly nominated candidate Robert Courts – yet another barrister and a man rumoured to have all the social skills of a vending machine – has reportedly been waiting in the wings since 2014 when it was expected the Conservative’s days in government were numbered. Seems like a couple of generations ago now!
Other candidates are similarly lacklustre, with Labour’s now running on almost empty, having come a very poor second in 2015.
Serial joiner Winston McKenzie will be continuing his recent swivel-eyed nationalist theme in standing for the English Democrats. As someone who’s been a member of virtually every political party in the country now I’m sure it won’t be long until his membership application plops on the doormat at Green Party Headquarters. Although I suspect the Greens may not be fringe enough for him now.
Lib Dem candidate Liz Leffman completes the runners.
Of his chances Larry was fairly sanguine. Like his brother he doesn’t trust or particularly care about poll predictions or punditry. As we’ve all seen recently, the world of politics has been turned upside down of late, and there’s now very little certainty in anything.
He urged constituents not to ‘vote by rote’ and to support the candidates based on what each stands for. Considering the savage attacks being made on the NHS and local health services in Oxfordshire and across the country, voters may decide that more Tory cuts are not something they relish.
As Larry himself said ““Witney elections are normally a coronation for the Conservative candidate, no matter how inexperienced. If cuts and privatisation of the NHS and Social Care continue as planned, millions of people will suffer. Will the Witney electorate vote for the NHS?”
Even though the local demographic is usually solidly conservative, there have been suggestions that voters wanting to send a message to the government may choose to put their X elsewhere on the ballot papers in Witney. Especially given it’s significance as the seat of a former PM, now widely criticised for his short-termism and lack of real connectedness to his grassroots constituents. Faced with the option of voting elsewhere it’s not an uncommon phenomenon to see former Tory stalwarts switch to a Green vote as less of a ‘nose-holding’ move than voting Labour.
So there is everything to play for in Witney and the Greens will be giving it a real shot. Not least because of the added publicity the Sanders brothers connection has earned them. On the day of Larry’s announcement he was splashed across every headline concerning the by-election. I doubt anyone outside the constituency party has even heard of the Conservative candidate.
In the wake of Jeremy Corbyn’s re-election as a progressive leader, standing on a platform of reforms which almost entirely echo the policies of the Green Party, perhaps this will be the first opportunity for people to give the new Theresa May administration a bloody nose.
At least with Larry as their local MP, they’ll have someone who’ll be fighting for a health service to staunch the bleeding!
Voting takes place on 20th October.