UK election: Conservatives take fight to the West Country

Prime minister David Cameron to focus on economy for final 10 days of campaign

David Cameron  at the village hall in Norton-sub-Hamdon in the Yeovil constituency, Somerset. Photograph: Matt Cardy/Getty Images

David Cameron at the village hall in Norton-sub-Hamdon in the Yeovil constituency, Somerset. Photograph: Matt Cardy/Getty Images

 

For five years, David Cameron has made great play of a letter left by a Labour minister for the Liberal Democrats’ David Laws on the latter’s first day in office as chief secretary to the treasury.

In it, Liam Byrne had apologised, jocosely, saying “there’s no money left”. The letter quickly became the motif for the Conservatives’ and Liberal Democrats’ charges that Labour had bankrupted the country.

Politics being politics, all unions are temporary. Yesterday, Cameron came to a village hall in the idyllic Norton-sub-Hamdon village in Somerset to take Laws’ seat.

The Yeovil seat, which Laws is defending with a 14,000 majority, is “one of the 23 seats” the Conservatives need to win on May 7th, Cameron has told supporters.

The Conservatives’ interest in the West Country – Cornwall, Devon, Somerset – is explained by the belief that nearly a dozen Liberal Democrats seats in the region could fall their way.

The “one of the 23 seats” claim is being used in far more than 23 constituencies. “Sometimes, it feels like they are saying the same thing in 150 constituencies,” commented one campaign-watcher dryly.

Precious slots

Having struggled to craft his message to voters, Cameron has decided to focus on the economy in the final 10 days of the campaign – partly in reply to critics who believe he has not spoken enough about it.

“If you want political theatre, go to Hollywood,” he told supporters. “If you want political excitement maybe you could go to Greece. That’s an exciting country, I am told. I don’t think that’s exciting, I think that’s terrifying.”

Shirtsleeves rolled up, Cameron, with more passion than he has often managed up to now, declared: “You want risk, you go with the other guy. I’m not going to put the economy at risk.”

Lib Dems in trouble

Relentlessly, Cameron zeroed in on the Scottish Nationalist Party: “Do you think that Alex Salmond knows anything about Somerset? Do you think he cares about Somerset?”

Politely, the Conservatives in front of him shouted, “No!”. Speaking to The Irish Times later, Texan-born Judith Robinson said the prospect of the SNP holding the balance of power in Westminster after May 7th was not pretty.

The message has been pushed heavily by the Conservatives. Home secretary Theresa May said a Labour/SNP deal threatened the biggest constitutional crisis in Britain since Edward VIIIth’s abdication.

The message has clearly reached into deepest Somerset, leading David Laws earlier to rule out – at first glance, at any rate – supporting Labour if it is dependent upon SNP numbers to win a majority.

Having ruled out Ukip, Laws said the SNP’s agenda was “to pull [the UK] to pieces”, adding, “We can’t contemplate being in coalition or doing deals with either of these parties.

“I think it is fair and straightforward to say that to the British people, so that they have a clear idea of what a Lib Dem vote will deliver in the next parliament,” he told the BBC’s Andrew Neil.

Standing outside the village hall later, councillor Peter Stein, who is fighting for a seat in Dorset, said he enjoyed Cameron’s passion on the economy, believing more of it was needed in the coming days.

However, Stein believes the Scottish message can be put on the back-burner: “It is coming up on the doorsteps. People know what SNP influence means. The Conservatives don’t have to keep hammering it home. People understand.”