'Chipping Norton set' desert the Tories
The Conservative heartlands of Witney and Chipping Norton, home to the Prime Minister and its attached "set" that includes Rebekah Brooks and Jeremy Clarkson, was the scene of an unlikely Labour gain in three wards. But it isn't pasty tax, granny tax or even phone hacking that has turned the electoral tide: it is the divisive matter of the Cogges Road link.
The £20.5m road, designed to ease traffic congestion, has caused a stir among once-dependable Tory voters because of the party's support for the controversial plans. By contrast, the three new Labour councillors elected yesterday are against the new thoroughfare. The turnaround bears all the hallbarks of a classic local protest. Resident Nick Wilcock, 61, explained that people were "fed up" with the Conservative-dominated council "who were only prepared to toe the party line".
"Labour has always opposed the road link and as a direct result people are switching from blue to red," said David Condon, 61, a company director who is also leader of Witney First, an anti-Cogges Road link campaign group. "David Cameron is quite liked here and people are proud to have him as the MP, but there is a much bigger local issue."
Labour won seats in Witney Central, Witney East and Chipping Norton. The party still only controls four seats to the Conservatives' 41, but local members were pleased with their modest gains. "I think people are displeased with the national politics, especially since the Budget, that helped us to get a hearing," said Chris Johnson, chair of the Witney Labour Party. "The dominant party stopped listening to people on the doorstep."
The Conservative mayor of Chipping Norton, Chris Butterworth, said that the Labour gain of one seat in that area was not surprising, especially after the huge gain the Conservatives enjoyed four years ago. Mr Cameron has been the MP for Witney since 2001. The so-called "Chipping Norton set", a grouping of powerful Cotswold neighbours, includes former News International chief executive Ms Brooks, her horse trainer husband Charlie, and Mr Clarkson.
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