Voting For A New Britain: Hague finds little comfort in wavering heartlands

Local Elections

THE PARTY grandees may have set William Hague the target of making a net gain of at least 1,000 seats in tomorrow's council elections if he is to have a future as Tory leader, but the omens do not look good in Hertfordshire, one of the Conservatives' traditional heartlands.

There is evidence of a move back to the Tories but not so much in the marginal seats and there is little to suggest that the Tories will get the kind of swing back they need for Mr Hague to start regaining councils.

Labour and Tory strategists agree that the Conservative vote is coming back where it has been strong in the past. "The Conservative impact is in their heartlands," said Andrew Dodgshon, the Labour Party area organiser, while the Conservative area campaign director, Marion Little, said: "The existing Conservative vote is hardening." She said the party had hopes in the marginals: "I think we have everything to play for in Hertfordshire. Labour is going to find it hard to get their vote out."

The county is a good barometer because all seats are up for election after boundary changes. One of the 10 district councils is now held by the Conservatives - Broxbourne. Of Labour's six, the Tories must win three and two more that are effectively "no overall control" but with strong Liberal Democrat groups, to re-establish the pre-1995 status quo.

The Labour strongholds of Watford and Stevenage are hopeless causes for the Tories as is the Liberal Democrat stronghold of St Albans. Mr Hague's best hopes will be in Hertsmere, East Herts, North Herts and Three Rivers.

But the real acid test will be Dacorum, which straddles the urban mix of Hemel Hempstead, the towns of Berkhamsted and Tring, and a tract of rural villages. The scenic Grand Union canal bisects the borough. Home Counties it might be, but this is not a stronghold of unthinking Tory support. The political balance of socially diverse Dacorum is on a knife edge. The Conservatives held the borough for 19 years from 1976 with a comfortable majority. Then in 1995, in a precursor of the swing to New Labour, the borough went to Labour who then held 31 seats leaving the Conservatives 20, the Liberal Democrats 4 and one Independent.

On 6 May it will be almost a straight fight between the Conservatives and Labour in Hemel Hempstead which has 60 per cent of the borough's population.

In the more rural areas the battle will be between the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats. It will be a close run thing. One Labour insider admitted privately: "Whether Labour wins control of the council depends on how many seats the Lib Dems win from the Conservatives outside Hemel."

Interviews in Hemel Hempstead and in Berkhamsted suggested that errant Tories were beginning to return to the fold. "That Tony Blair is a bit smug for my liking," said one middle-aged woman, "I'll be voting Tory this time."

But the Tories are up against a Labour council that has made a mark. It has pioneered a number of anti-poverty and economic development strategies that appear to work. There have been rumours of a Liberal Democrat/Labour pact as the Liberal Democrats are not fighting some Hemel Hempstead seats. But both sides deny any agreement and Labour is fighting in every seat.

Paul Lashmar

Ken Livingstone, Review, page 4

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Environmental Adviser - Maternity Cover

£37040 - £43600 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The UK's export credit agency a...

Recruitment Genius: CBM & Lubrication Technician

£25000 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides a compreh...

Recruitment Genius: Care Worker - Residential Emergency Service

£16800 - £19500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Would you like to join an organ...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Landscaper

£25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: In the last five years this com...

Day In a Page

The long walk west: they fled war in Syria, only to get held up in Hungary – now hundreds of refugees have set off on foot for Austria

They fled war in Syria...

...only to get stuck and sidetracked in Hungary
From The Prisoner to Mad Men, elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series

Title sequences: From The Prisoner to Mad Men

Elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series. But why does the art form have such a chequered history?
Giorgio Armani Beauty's fabric-inspired foundations: Get back to basics this autumn

Giorgio Armani Beauty's foundations

Sumptuous fabrics meet luscious cosmetics for this elegant look
From stowaways to Operation Stack: Life in a transcontinental lorry cab

Life from the inside of a trucker's cab

From stowaways to Operation Stack, it's a challenging time to be a trucker heading to and from the Continent
Kelis interview: The songwriter and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell and crying over potatoes

Kelis interview

The singer and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell
Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea