General Election 2019: Is there everything to play for in Hitchin and Harpenden constituency?
PUBLISHED: 15:23 09 December 2019 | UPDATED: 16:52 11 December 2019
© MARK SYKES PHOTOGRAPHY
Could the traditionally safe Conservative seat of Hitchin and Harpenden see a surprise victory for another party?
Representatives from the Liberal Democrats and the Labour Party are both claiming to be in with a chance of taking the seat away from Tory Bim Afolami.
Feedback from the Liberal Democrats' canvassing team in the constituency has apparently seen a slump in Tory support and an increasing number of Labour voters choosing the Lib Dems as the best chance of getting them out.
Data compiled following the polling of 3,900 voters in the constituency suggests the Lib Dems are just 5.7 per cent behind the Conservatives, with Labour now in third place.
The Lib Dems claim to be running the most intensive campaign they have ever waged in Hitchin and Harpenden, even though Labour finished second in the 2015 and 2017 General Elections.
They claim the shift in support is the result of the EU Referendum in 2016, which saw 60.2 per cent vote to Remain.
A Lib Dem spokesman said: "The sitting MP is unpopular with many Remain voters, after he has backed both Theresa May and Boris Johnson's Brexit deals. A significant number of people are planning to change their vote this time for the first time.
"On the doorsteps we are finding very strong Lib Dem support in Harpenden, with more undecided anti-Boris Johnson voters in Hitchin. There is very little Labour support in Harpenden, but a bit more past Labour support in Hitchin.
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"People are still moving to us in both towns - we're picking up votes from people who have voted Conservative in the past but don't like Johnson or Brexit, and people who have voted Labour in the past but are being persuaded by the size and scale of our campaign that we're best placed to beat the Conservatives this time.
"Considering how open to voting tactically many Labour voters are on the doorsteps, the crucial question now is whether enough Labour supporters will lend us their vote to make sure we beat the Conservatives."
Labour candidate Kay Tart has hit back at any suggestion of a Lib Dem swing: "We've been working really hard in this seat since the election was announced and our doorstep data from canvassing shows nothing like the swing towards the Liberal Democrats that they have been suggesting, in fact what it has shown is a consolidation of Labour votes between Remainers and Leavers which is crucial to winning this seat.
"In addition, the LDs were a poor third in 2017 with Labour taking more than three times the number of votes that they won. If the LDs win this seat it will be by a swing that has never happened in General Election history - it can't be done.
"I have spent a great deal of time talking to both Leaver and Remainer voters because chasing the Remain vote alone is not sufficient to unseat Bim Afolami, contrary to the Liberal Democrat claims over the past few weeks.
"Canvassing data collected by well-intentioned volunteers is no substitute for professionally sampled data from reputable polling firms. Gina Miller's Remain United MRP shows Labour are ahead here.
"And the important thing to remember is that it isn't just about defeating the Conservatives. The Lib Dems unambitious climate targets leave us at risk of planetary disaster, and their treasury spokesperson has set out a plan that implies permanent austerity.
"The only party that has a credible, fully costed plan to address the climate crisis, cut rail fares by a third and resolve Brexit is Labour.
"The Liberal Democrats have tried to infer that the Labour Party have not been contesting this seat, which is utter nonsense. We're fighting here and we're fighting to win."
Conservative candidate Bim Afolami refuted any suggestion of tactical voting in the seat: "We've knocked on thousands of doors all across the constituency throughout the campaign and had a very warm response. The only tactical voting we've seen is from people voting Conservative because they know that a vote for the Lib Dems or Labour here means waking up to a Jeremy Corbyn government on Friday 13th."