General Election 2015: Norovirus forces Clegg to canvass hedgehogs - but not many voters

Unbeknown to the police officers waiting for his arrival in Solihull, the visit had to be cancelled at the 11th hour – thanks to an outbreak of Norovirus

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Indy Politics

Having promised to make Nick Clegg the “most accessible party leader in electoral history”, it was unfortunate that the Liberal Democrat leader’s second outing of the election campaign should be a trip to a secluded nature reserve to meet some hedgehogs, a few toddlers and fewer than a dozen real voters in a must-win seat.

Mr Clegg had been due to visit a Solihull hospital to meet staff and patients in a constituency that the party held with a majority of just 175 in 2010.

But unbeknown to the police officers waiting for his arrival, the visit had to be cancelled at the 11th hour – thanks to an outbreak of Norovirus. 

Not only might Mr Clegg have been at risk but, more importantly, the big yellow notice warning visitors of the threat placed at the entrance, would have been every spin-doctor’s worst nightmare.

 

So, instead, it was off to a muddy nature reserve to meet a small group of children and their mums. At one stage, he was introduced to an injured hedgehog called Humpty – which had suffered a brain injury after falling from a wall.

Wearing a pair of suspiciously new-looking Wellingtons, and with Lib Dem Lorely Burt looking on stony-faced, Mr Clegg insisted that despite the party doing so badly in the polls, seats like Solihull were still winnable.

“In Lorely Burt we have an immensely popular local MP across the whole community,” said Mr Clegg. “I’ve heard people in Solihull – even if they are Labour or Conservative supporters – say they are going to vote for Lorely because she has done such a great job locally.”

Solihull will be a key test of the so-called Lib Dem incumbency advantage. Ms Burt has held the seat since 2005 and is well liked in the constituency. People you talk to on the street know her by name, and she’s a regular at community events.

This time she is up against Julian Knight, a financial journalist for The Independent, who has been living in the constituency since he was selected as Conservative candidate but has no long-standing links to the area.

An incumbency advantage was illustrated clearly in a constituency poll conducted last August by the Conservative peer Lord Ashcroft. When 1,000 local voters were asked how they intended to vote in May, just 18 per cent backed the Lib Dem compared with 41 per cent who were supporting the Tories. But when asked how they would vote “thinking about the candidates likely to stand in the constituency”, the Lib Dem vote rose to 28 per cent and the Tory vote dropped to 37 per cent.

But Ms Burt’s body language yesterday did not look like that of a woman confident of victory. And Mr Clegg needs to meet and convince as many voters as he can.

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