United Front?

The count for Bournemouth West in 2015.

Death, taxes and a Conservative in the Bournemouth West seat. A lot can change in 67 years, but since the constituency was created in 1950 the Tories have dominated the vote in BH9 and the surrounding areas. As the 2017 general election looms ever closer, it seems inevitable that Conor Burns will again claim a majority in the seat he has filled for seven years.

This has perhaps been made even more likely by the fact that in 2017, UKIP have decided not to stand in the seat where they came second in 2015. The far-right group accumulated 7,745 votes in Bournemouth West two years ago, beating the sorry Labour Party and a dismayed Liberal Democrats by 59 votes and 4464 votes respectively. Burns already had a 12, 410 majority over UKIP, so if the majority of Kippers lend their support to the anti-EU Tory, his majority on June 9 could look even healthier.

UKIP moving aside for the Conservatives has been a common theme across the country this general election. It is a trend which some pundits have called a ‘regressive alliance’, the antithesis to the liberal-left’s somewhat fabled ‘progressive alliance’. Almost as soon as the election was called in mid-April, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and the Liberal Democrats’ Tim Farron moved to dismiss the possibility of a Labour-Lib Dem-Green-SNP national super-pact to take on the Tories.

However in some areas the Lib Dems and Greens have willingly stepped aside to help Labour beat the Conservatives, and a similar idea was floated by Bournemouth West resident Harvey Taylor in a campaign he called ‘United Front Bournemouth’.

“The idea was to get Labour, Lib Dems and Greens to put up a single candidate. Not to stand aside for each other, but to have a single candidate because there’s no possibility of them winning in any other circumstance. That was the basic intention, to have a chance of someone other than the Tories in Bournemouth.”

Despite the historical Conservative monopoly in the seat, Taylor’s idea was not beyond logic. In 2010, the Liberal Democrats were 5,584 votes from a majority amidst the Clegg-mania hype of seven years ago. Excruciatingly for centre-left leaning voters like Taylor, Labour accumulated 6171 votes that year, which of course would have been enough for the aforementioned Lib Dem victory had Labour stepped aside.

Taylor also stood in Bournemouth West in that election as an independent candidate and received 456 votes. Having been born in Bournemouth, 60 year old Taylor was born in moved away aged 20 but then moved back 20 years ago. Since returning to Bournemouth, he has spent the  last 13 years living in Burns’ constituency and despite not holding a personal grudge against the politician, he would still like to see him unseated on June 8.

“It’s not a vendetta; I will have the occasional dig at Conor Burns because it’s healthy to do so, but he’s not a bad bloke and I’ve met him in the gym and he seems like a reasonable human being, he just supports unreasonable policies.”

It seems a fair amount of Bournemouth West’s residents support Taylor’s idea; at the time of writing, 259 people have signed a petition backing United Front. The campaign’s posters have caught the eye of locals and those who have liked the Facebook page, which depicts a fish about to swallow Conor Burns and Bournemouth East Conservative Tobias Ellwood.

Keen artist and fish-fan Taylor explains the image: “I traced a picture of Conor and Tobias and mostly what I draw is fish, so I drew a picture of a fish but I made it red (indicating Labour), yellow (Liberal Democrat) and Green with the idea that this is a United Front attacking the Tories. I’m pushing this line of being more respectful and promoting positive policies. It’s really important to look for where you can build alliances and get things done.”

Unfortunately for Taylor and the 259 signatories, the campaign has not seen results despite open-mindedness from both Bournemouth Green and Bournemouth Lib Dem parliamentary candidates. The former is councillor Simon Bull – someone who Taylor thinks is “a genuinely incredible, authentic bloke”. Regarding a United Front in Bournemouth, he said “we were open to talking, we wrote and invited Labour and Lib Dems to talk. We got silence back.” Lib Dem candidate Phil Dunn echoes Bull’s claims, stating “I am always open to pluralism and cooperation in politics but it’s hard to work with parties that don’t share that approach.”

It seems that the Bournemouth Labour Party are blocking any potential progressive alliance in Burns’ seat. The party is spearheaded by David Stokes, the same parliamentary candidate who ran unsuccessful campaigns in the 2001 and 2015 general elections. Taylor suggests: “If you talk to him (Stokes) he will claim that he was open to discussion but the Labour Party candidates weren’t. I went to a Labour party meeting a month ago and they were very hostile when me and a couple of friends floated the idea. There’s a lot of enmity based on what happened in 2010 (the Lib Dems creating a coalition with the Conservatives) and there’s been local feuds over agreeing to stand aside and then ‘welshing’ on the deal. For me you just have to rise above all that. I think there was an opportunity here but I think they’ve missed it.” Bournemouth Labour Party nor David Stokes replied to questions from Nerve about United Front.

In light of this, Taylor has changed his Facebook page’s name from ‘United Front Bournemouth’ to ‘Intelligent Voting’. So what’s the goal now?

“If you want to make a difference, go and campaign in a town where there’s a chance of an alternative progressive candidate winning. So go to Southampton Test, where Alan Whitehead’s defending a fairly slim majority. That’s something you can do positively.”

Taylor himself has turned his attentions to campaigning for Labour in his constituency. He has been leafleting outside Bournemouth University, where nearly 17,000 students could dent Burns’ majority. But because a lot of students will travel home to vote, Taylor is only cautiously optimistic: “I would say (of the students who have told Taylor how they’re going to vote) it’s about 65-70% Labour and the rest UKIP, Conservatives or don’t know. But I don’t think it’s going to be enough votes to swing it. David Stokes got 7000 votes last time for Labour in Bournemouth West and he would need at least another 11-12000 votes, which is a big ask and I don’t know where they’re going to come from.”

Even if Labour do not prevail in Bournemouth West, Taylor is hoping for a victory on a national scale. “I didn’t think Corbyn could win but I think he’s got this political sense that he is offering something different and you’ve got to give it a really good go.”

When the Conservatives won Bournemouth West for the first time in 1950 it was in vain as Clement Attlee secured a slim majority for Labour. The polls are suggesting a tighter race than Theresa May perhaps expected when she called the election, so 67 years on there just might be a silver lining for Harvey Taylor after all.

Words by Oliver Sirrell