Hendon has a special place in my heart. No really. My parents met there. I mourned when my favourite childhood adventure playground, Kidstop, was burnt to the ground. We even took a primary school trip to its RAF museum and wondered at the marvels of the Battle of Britain.
So I felt somewhat nostalgic at the Chancellor’s announcement of £2.5 million to secure the museum’s future.
The RAF Museum does, of course, lie in a constituency with a Conservative majority of just 106 votes, where former Labour MP and now local GLA member Andrew Dismore seems one of his party’s most likely candidates in the country to take a seat from the Tories this May.
I am not for a moment suggesting that Battle of Britain Hall is in any way undeserving of the money, but that doesn’t make the funding, at a time of austerity, any less what it is: pork.
There is a wide pattern here. Which marginal seats were singled out for special mention by the Chancellor this week?
Lewes, Norman Baker MP – Liberal Democrat – 7,647 majority
The hotly contested Sussex seat received funding for a study into the reopening of the railway lined Lewes to Uckfield, potentially providing locals with a route into London that doesn’t go via Brighton. While both Norman Baker and his Conservative opponent Maria Caulfield have been keen to welcome the plans, the Chancellor cited the latter as having made ‘a strong case for this study as the prospective Conservative MP for Lewes’.
Filton & Badley Stoke, Jack Lopresti MP – Conservative – 6,914 majority
Kingswood, Chris Skidmore MP – Conservative – 2,445 majority
These seats were won by the Conservatives from Labour in 2010, along with neighbouring Bristol North West and North East Somerset. They received a boost this week with £2 million for an Aerospace Centre, the planned ‘Concorde Museum’ in Filton. Construction will also start in April on Bristol’s metrobus extension into these constituencies. George Osborne was at pains to congratulate the local MPs, describing them as ‘tireless campaigners for improvement in transport around the Bristol area’ who have ‘made a compelling case to support public transport in the area’.
Plymouth Sutton & Devonport, Oliver Colvile – Conservative – 1,149 majority
Plymouth Moor View, Alison Seabeck – Labour – 1,588 majority
CCHQ will be delighted with the editorial in the Plymouth Herald, that declared ‘it was a Budget with plenty for Plymouth, and plenty for Plymouth people’. The hyper-marginal city will get a new enterprise zone and a study into the reopening of its airport. George Osborne, unsurprisingly, credited the local Conservative MP: ‘Oliver Colvile told me we needed to look at the case for supporting the reopening of an airport at Plymouth.’
North Devon, Sir Nick Harvey MP – Liberal Democrat – majority 5,821
This seat, heavily targeted by the Conservatives, also got a postcode included in Danny Alexander’s Rural Fuel Rebate extension, but the Budget also included funding to develop a business case for improvements to the North Devon Link Road.
Croydon Central, Gavin Barwell – Conservative – 2,969 majority
The South London constituency will be one of the most difficult for the Conservatives to hold in the country, and has received £7 million in funding for the Croydon Growth Zone, creating 4,000 homes and 10,000 jobs. Osborne described the scheme to the Croydon Advertiser as ‘proposed and championed by Gavin Barwell’.
Hendon, Matthew Offord MP – Conservative – 106 majority
Finchley & Golders Geeen, Mike Freer MP – Conservative – 5,809 majority
As well as the aforementioned £2.5 million from LIBOR fines going to the RAF Museum Hendon, £97 million will go towards the regeneration of Brent Cross, including a new Cricklewood Overground station with a 12 minute route into London, 27,000 jobs and 7,500 new homes. Those who grew up locally will no doubt hope for the return of the Brent Cross fountain. Mike Freer, as the MP representing Britain’s largest Jewish community, also won £11 million in new funding for security outside Jewish schools (including private ones), synagogues and two museums. This is to be delivered by the Community Security Trust, headquartered in Hendon.
EAST OF ENGLAND
Ipswich, Ben Gummer – Conservative – 2,079 majority
Local MP Ben Gummer can genuinely claim credit for the £2 million Ipswich Wet Dock Crossing scheme, involving two swing bridges he claims are reminiscent of Amsterdam. The moderate MP took many by surprise when he gained the seat in 2010 and hopes to be the first Conservative to serve the town for more than five years since before World War II.
Waveney, Peter Aldous – Conservative – 769 majority
The most marginal Tory seat in the East of England, where former MP Bob Blizzard is standing again for Labour, is to receive a third river crossing over Lake Lothing in Lowestoft. Intriguingly Transport Minister Robert Goodwill appeared to throw the plan into the long grass just last week, responding to Aldous’ pleas in the House of Commons that funding was ‘a competitive process and the process is not a bottomless pit.’ Someone may have looked at the realities of a 769 vote majority since then.
Castle Point, Rebecca Harris MP – Conservative – 7,632 majority
Great Yarmouth, Brandon Lewis – Conservative – 4,276 majority
Both the Norfolk Tory/Labour marginal of Great Yarmouth and the Canvey Island based Castle Point seat are to be pilots for £17 million of new flood defence funding. Ukip are heavily targeting both constituencies, with Lord Ashcroft’s polling showing the purples making strides and the news will be welcome to both incumbent Conservatives, trying to avoid being washed away.
Watford, Richard Harrington MP – Conservative – 1,425 majority
One of England’s truest three-way marginals and perhaps the closest thing to a realistic prospect of a Liberal Democrat gain this May (popular Mayor Dorothy Thornhill is their candidate) will get the long-sought-after linkage of Watford Junction to the London Underground at Croxley via Vicarage Road and the town centre. George Osborne described the £280 million project, saying: ‘Richard Harrington’s hard work as a Conservative MP ensured I was aware of this project and its importance to the area.’
Pendle, Andrew Stephenson MP – Conservative – 3,585 majority
The Muni Theatre in Colne will receive £56,000 towards its refurbishment. The Chancellor told Pendle Today that ‘Andrew Stephenson is a fantastic local MP for Pendle and I am delighted’.
Blackpool North & Cleveleys, Paul Maynard MP – Conservative – 2,150 majority
Blackpool will receive a new enterprise zone, which could create up to 3,000 jobs in the airport area.
YORKSHIRE & HUMBER
Sheffield Hallam, Nick Clegg MP – Liberal Democrat – 15,284 majority
Sheffield’s Olympic Legacy Park at the former Don Valley Stadium in Attercliffe, is to receive £14 million for a Wellbeing Research Centre. Really quite remarkably, former Labour Sports Minister and Legacy Park Chair Richard Caborn credited the embattled Liberal Democrat leader with the funding, saying that ‘the investment Mr Clegg has helped to deliver from the Coalition Government will improve the health and wellbeing of thousands of people across the city’.
Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch & Strathspey, Danny Alexander MP – Liberal Democrat – 8,765 majority
Ross, Skye & Lochaber, Charles Kennedy MP – Liberal Democrat – 13,070 majority
Argyll & Bute, Alan Reid MP – Liberal Democrat – 3,431 majority
Caithness, Sutherland & Easter Ross, John Thurso MP – Liberal Democrat – 4,826 majority
Oh, what it is to be Chief Secretary to the Treasury in a marginal seat. Danny Alexander has managed to get £30 per year off electricity bills for households in the North of Scotland and the much vaunted Rural Fuel Rebate extension will begin in 17 postcodes five weeks before polling day, 13 of which are in Liberal Democrat-held Highland seats – all, by definition, SNP targets. Rothiemurchus Lodge, a centre for current and former servicemen in Danny Alexander’s seat, got £250,000 for its refurbishment, Inverness got a fast-track City Deal – and there was even a 2% duty cut for Scotch whisky.
Cardiff North, Jonathan Evans MP (standing down) – Conservative – 194 votes
Cardiff Central, Jenny Willott MP – Liberal Democrat – 4,576 majority
The bookies currently expect both these seats to return to Labour hands, and both Coalition parties are eager to keep representation in the Welsh capital. The Budget proposed a City Deal for Cardiff, potentially bringing £1 billion in investment, and will benefit from cuts to the Severn Bridge crossings fee to £5.40 for cars and vans. The Severn deal is likely to have an effect in the large numbers of marginals along the estuary, including Kingswood, Bristol North West, North East Somerset and Filton & Bradley Stoke.
ALSO WORTH NOTING:
- Changes to planning rules for geothermal energy has the potential to benefit Cornwall the most – a county where every seat is a marginal.
- Councils in Cambridgeshire, Greater Manchester and Cheshire East will retain all of their additional business rates growth, potentially allowing millions to be poured into their coffers – this would affect the Conservative-held marginals of Peterborough, Bury North, Crewe & Nantwich Cambridge and the Liberal Democrat seats of Cambridge, Cheadle and Manchester Withington.
- Today’s announcement of transport schemes in the North of England affects countless marginals. Special mention should be made of the M62 widening between Manchester and Leeds, which has the potential to benefit voters in in Warrington South, Bury North, Dewsbury, Pudsey, Colne Valley, Halifax, Keighley, Wakefield and Leeds North West.
- Giving £3.5 million to Mental Health Wiltshire to provide services to veterans will doubtless be popular in the marginals of Chippenham, Swindon North and Swindon South.
Subscribe to The Spectator today for a quality of argument not found in any other publication. Get more Spectator for less – just £12 for 12 issues.