Put safe seats to the tourist test and it's the Lib Dems all the way

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The Independent Travel
Although most people see travel as an opportunity to escape from having to think about the election, I am going to insist on dragging the subject of British politics into these pages at least once during the current campaign.

I have been looking at the psephological map of Britain and wondering how much interest there might be in this from the traveller's point of view.

How significant is it, for example, that John Major's seat is in the flattest, most featureless part of Britain? Or that Paddy Ashdown is within range of a mortar-bomb attack from Dartmoor? Or that Tony Blair represents a far, far place from Islington (Sedgefield)?

Rather more interesting, in fact, are the touristic characteristics of the safest Tory, Labour and Liberal Democrat seats in the country. What we learn here will confirm every political generalisation ever made.

Everybody knows the safest Tory seat in Britain, mainly because Alan Clark has been chosen to contest it. Kensington and Chelsea certainly has a ring of privilege about it: even the football team exudes an eternally foppish air, a certainty in its own class superiority - however often it gets trounced by its plebeian northern rivals.

For world-class museums alone (the Victoria and Albert, the Natural History Museum), Kensington probably attracts more foreign tourists in a day than most Labour or Liberal Democrat seats do in a year. The owner of Harrods himself may not be voting Conservative this time, but the fact that his shop happens to be located here certainly helps maintain the number of tycoons in the neighbourhood. It might be unfair for the Tories to claim credit for such touristic successes in their number one constituency, but that's their birthright.

On the basis of percentages of votes cast, the safest Labour seat in Britain is Blaenau Gwent, near Newport. Don't imagine this place isn't working hard to attract tourists: its tourism officer assured me that despite images of slag heaps and pit-head winding gear, visitors are always amazed by the greenness of the countryside - she even sent me a 25-page fax to prove it. Blaenau Gwent, it asserts, combines "unspoilt beauty and formal parkland with the colour and passion of a turbulent industrial past". This may carry echoes of Old Labour, but then it simply reflects the interest in "industrial tourism", by which an old pit-head is deemed just as important for posterity as some toff's stately home. The Blue Guide dismisses Ebbw Vale as "a crowded industrial town" which just shows what limited imaginations guidebook writers can have.

As for the Liberal Democrats, they may not have many seats but their safest seat (in terms of percentages) is the most exotic place in Britain - namely Orkney and Shetland. If parties could be judged according to the tourism-value of the seats they represent, I would have to be a Liberal Democrat. For sea birds, Pictish remains, Viking settlements, treeless, wind-swept landscapes and the last remnants of a rainy climate in Britain, the northern isles of Scotland are a winner all the way. Quite why puffins, seals, gannets and boobies have turned the islanders into political centrists is another question, but it seems to fit in with the above-the-fray attitude of anyone living north of the 60th parallel.

The most marginal seat in the country, by the way, is the Tory-held Vale of Glamorgan which - perhaps in punishment for political blandness - doesn't get a mention in any guidebook. It does contain beaches at Barry and even a vineyard at Llanerch, but apart from that the area is unremittingly dull and likely to remain so until it makes up its political mind.

I haven't touched on the political fringes, and it is true that the political landscape of Northern Ireland is rather more confusing than its geographical landscape. But both Banff & Buchan in north-east Scotland and Merionnydd Nant Conwy in Wales sound excitingly passionate places. The only generalisation I can make about them is that if you like exposed coasts far from London you will probably like places represented by minority parties.

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