Election aftermath: did St Albans MP Anne Main lose touch with her constituents?
- Credit: Archant
In the hours prior to her devastating election defeat, former St Albans MP Anne Main could be found in the lobby at Batchwood Sports Centre, watching the television on her own. It was an image perhaps indicative of a politician who had become increasingly more isolated from her constituents during her 14 years in Parliament.
With the Conservatives seizing a huge majority in Parliament after capturing constituencies across the country, she was just one of a handful of Tory MPs to lose their seats.
The local result saw a swing of 12,000 votes from her comfortable victory in 2017, and has left her political career in tatters.
During her time as MP she narrowly survived a de-selection attempt in 2009 after becoming embroiled in the MPs' expenses scandal. She claimed on the public purse to provide a flat in St Albans for her adult daughter, who lived there rent-free and paid no household bills. Mrs Main also broke Commons rules by claiming for food consumed when she was away from home, including evening meals in Westminster. She was ordered to repay £7,100 and apologise in writing.
Despite this controversy, she was successfully re-elected in 2010 and 2015, with the opposition parties splitting the centre and left-wing votes in 2017 to grant her a majority of 6,109.
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But political analysis in the run-up to last week's General Election suggested the hardline Brexiter had grown out of touch with local residents, who had voted by 62 per cent to remain in the European Union.
She provoked anger by suggesting in a Commons speech on Brexit that she would not be "cowed" by her constituents, and was mocked for launching a campaign encouraging people to flick dog mess into the undergrowth.
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Unlike Daisy Cooper, Mrs Main never moved to St Albans, retaining her Beaconsfield home instead, and her voting record away from Brexit was often at odds with the attitudes of St Albans residents.
This included voting against gay rights and same-sex marriage, supporting a reduction in welfare benefits and an end to financial support for 16-19 year olds in training or further education, and voting against measures to prevent climate change and slow the rise in rail fares.
But she was a strong advocate against the Radlett rail freight development, joined the Save St Albans Pubs campaign calling for a reduction in business rates, and opposed the expansion of Luton Airport.
Asked why she thought the local result was in contrast to the party's performance elsewhere in the country, the leader of the Conservative group on St Albans district council, Cllr Mary Maynard, said: "Given that St Albans is a heavily Remain area, the real surprise of the night is that Anne's vote share only reduced by 3.9 points, which is roughly comparable to Conservatives in other Remain constituencies."
Dr Thomas Dunk, programme leader for LLB (Bachelor of Law) at the University of Herts, attributed Mrs Main's defeat to the Brexit divide: "The St Albans constituency reflects the night's events from across the country. By this I mean that the divide between Leave and Remain voters was as striking as it was in 2016.
"St Albans had been represented by a Brexiteer yet voted for remain in the EU referendum, demonstrating a clear disparity between voters and the MP. Further, the work undertaken by Daisy Cooper to build and engage with the local community within the constituency was in contrast to Anne Main who during her time as the MP who never lived within the constituency. That powerful mix of a strong community base and support for the Liberal Democrats pro-Remain position proved a tonic for victory in St Albans."
St Albans and District Chamber of Commerce President Alastair Woodgate added: "I thank Anne Main for supporting the work of the Chamber over the years but in any role it is important to reflect and represent the society we serve and in this election the people of St Albans have identified the person they feel is best placed to meet that challenge."