As big or small as we choose to make them.
Totnes has effectively been a Tory safe seat since the 1930’s! That said, 4 of the last 5 elections could have seen a Tory defeat had the left-leaning parties (Labour/Lib Dems and occasionally Green) joined in an alliance and endorsed just one candidate- most likely the Lib Dem option.
A brief boundary change for about a decade, saw Totnes constituency merge into ‘South Hams’, where it became an even safer seat, before returning to a Totnes boundary in the late 1990’s, when things began to change and the Tory grip became less tight…
With one of the closest Totnes elections to date in 1997, the somewhat infamous Anthony Steen won by a mere 877 votes. The start of the Tony Blair years, also saw the Totnes Labour Party polling well- in fact they haven’t polled higher ever since! Yet had labour stood aside and endorsed Rob Chave, the Lib Dems would have won Totnes- something surely in the interest of the Labour voters?
This theme continued into the early 2000’s. Steen increased his percentage of the vote, but had Lib Dems appealed to Labour voters and Labour officially or otherwise endorsed the Lib Dems, once more Totnes would not have a Tory candidate. UKIP began to become an established party locally…apparently.
You should be starting to see a pattern here…
2010 sees the Greens see their biggest turnout locally. BNP surface to arguably shave some votes of the UKIP vote. Here voter turnout has dropped from recent elections and for the first time LIB+Lab votes would not have been enough to secure a victory over, though an unrealistic grouping of all non-right leaning candidates would have been.
This saw the first election of Sarah Woolaston MP after the Anthony Steen expenses scandal. In a shrewd and very intelligent move, the Tories held a local primary election (postal) for their 2010 candidate. Woolaston won by a landslide and the primary likely worked well to establish her name locally and regain any mistrust from local Tory voters after the Steen scandal.
The 2015 election was arguably the most disappointing locally for any non-right wing candidate. The Green Party could have celebrated a small internal victory on more than quadrupling their vote. Arguably many of their votes may have come from previous tactical Lib Dem voters, now no longer holding out hope for a tactical win. Lib Dems suffered an unsurprising crushing defeat- not dissimilar to their national results. Heartbreakingly, UKIP became the second party, polling high than ever.
Sarah Woolaston’s 53% share of the vote, made it the highest Tory share since the 1950’s and Totnes began to appear as a “Safe seat” again across the media.
But it doesn’t have to be. 47,097 people turned out to vote in the last election. But with a total electorate of 69,000 there are many votes still to be won…
If the local left wing parties can come to an agreement to support one candidate, there is plenty to be hopeful for.
If we can persuade the mass of non-voters- I assume many Totnesians don’t vote assumign there is no way to remove a Tory MP locally- then that hope grows even more..
If we persuade young people, our kids, nephews, nieces, siblings, to vote- and then register to vote via proxy if away at university or traveling- then there is a real chance.