Post by rivers10 on Jul 25, 2020 21:01:55 GMT
City of Chester
The City of Chester exists as one of only three UK constituencies at present (along with the City of Durham and Cities of London and Westminster) that has the prefix “City(ies) of” attached though why it is graced with this somewhat unwieldy name is anybody’s guess, locals, the media and even psephology geeks generally just refer to this constituency as “Chester” and unlike the City of Durham there are no similarly named seats that it needs to distinguish itself from…
Alas names aside Chester is a truly ancient city founded by the Romans whose amphitheatre remains to this day as one of the city’s leading tourist attractions. Chester or “Deva” as it was then known was one of the foremost settlements in Roman Britannia and second only to Eboracum (York) in Northern Britannia. Its importance persisted well into the early modern period as a major regional economic centre straddling the border with Wales and the North West’s foremost trading port a position it lost to Liverpool starting in the late 17th century as the ever larger ships used where unable to effectively navigate the comparatively small River Dee. Today it acts as the county town of Cheshire and houses the headquarters of Cheshire West council.
The boundaries of the constituency have remained fairly consistent in the post war period consisting of the city itself and a small rural hinterland to the North and South, the Southern boundary in particular has remained unchanged over the years dictated as it is by the River Dee and the Welsh/English border whereas the Northern hinterland has been more varied moving as far north as the outermost suburbs of Ellesmere Port in the 50’s to being tightly drawn around the city itself throughout the 80’s.
Superficially Chester would seem like a typical Conservative market town, over 90% White British with its medieval city walls and picturesque Tudor style winding high street, however looks can be deceiving and it is only too easy to mistake Chester as a slice of middle England when it is actually a small city in its own right rapidly diverging in culture and attitudes from the surrounding Cheshire countryside. The City is an attractive commuter destination for university educated professionals from across the North but particularly Liverpool and is home to its own university the rapidly growing University of Chester. The student population in the city has been growing at pace for years now with many modern blocs of student flats springing up citywide and streets of inner city terraces being converted to student lets. The student population is particularly concentrated on the Northern edge of the city centre roughly along an arc that follows the railway line though there are naturally pockets throughout the city.
The whole of central Chester generally is a mish mash of different sized terraces ranging from identikit cobbled working class streets to more imposing prestigious Victorian properties home to young professionals but all with a propensity of support for the Labour party. Further out Labours support doesn’t dwindle with the cities council estates of Lache and Blacon providing further support.
Chester’s middle class suburbs are much more politically competitive with Great Boughton straddling the A41 and to the North is Upton home of the nationally famous Chester Zoo. These areas were once Conservative bankers made up predominantly of owner occupied suburbia but have been much more politically mixed as of recent times with the areas returning split Labour and Conservative councillors in close fought contests in recent elections.
Conservative strength in the city proper is mainly concentrated in the Handbridge ward covering the city South of the River Dee including its most affluent neighbourhoods most notably the Curzon Park area predominantly made up of large period properties many of which cost seven figures. Tory strength here is complimented by their expected support in the rural areas incorporating the pleasant commuter villages of Guilden Sutton, Dodleston, Pulford Saughall, Puddington and Eccleston to name but a few. Eccleston in particular is an extremely picturesque village said to be owned by the Duke of Westminster whose ancestral home of Eaton Hall is nearby.
From the above description one would expect Chester to be a classic marginal but it could only really claim that mantle for a short period. Its post-war political history has been predominantly as a reliable Conservative seat having returned a Tory MP for every election from 1945 to 1997 and more often than not with comfortable majorities though it should be pointed out that the Tory majority was never towering here only hitting a 25 point high in the 1955 election and normally hovering somewhere in the mid to high teens. This could be in part attributed to this constituency’s strong Liberal tradition with the Liberal Party consistently having significant representation on the old Chester district council and having put up a candidate for the general election in every contest bar 1959, indeed their candidate for three elections on the run (1979 -1987) was one Andrew Stunell who would later go on to become the Lib Dem MP for Hazel Grove. MP’s of note during this period of Tory hegemony include Peter Morrison who was Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s PPS and eccentric TV personality Gyles Brandreth.
The tenure of Mr Brandreth would not be a long one however since upon his election in 1992 Chester for the first time looked like a genuine marginal with the Conservative majority falling to a little over a thousand votes. The seat was heavily targeted by Labour in the 1997 election whereupon 87 years of Conservative representation was ended as the seat elected its first Labour MP Christine Russell on an 11.5 percent swing.
Mrs Russell would be re-elected twice more in 2001 and 2005 when once again the seat became a key marginal with the Labour majority being just 917 votes over the Conservatives. The seat unsurprisingly returned to the Conservative fold in the 2010 election with Stephen Mosley winning the seat. Though like Mr Brandreth Mr Mosley would be a one term Tory MP and he was one of the rare Tory losses in the 2015 election when he was defeated by Labour’s Chris Matheson by just 93 votes making Chester the most marginal seat in the country.
There has been much speculation as to what caused Mr Mosley’s defeat with one of the wilder theories suggesting he was the lone victim of the much derided “Milifandom” since the seat made national headlines a few weeks prior to the election when during a campaign stop Labour leader Ed Miliband ended up accosted by a local hen party and (to much publicity) posed for selfies with a collection of clearly heavily inebriated women, was mistaken as a stripper and was invited to the bride to be’s wedding. As amusing as this incident was sounder heads believe that Mosley’s narrow defeat was more likely due to a combination of Chester’s changing demographics noted upon earlier and the issue of fracking which was due to heavily effect the constituency and almost certainly contributed to the Conservatives loss of the council in the local elections held on the same day.
With a majority of just 93 votes Mr Matheson was thought to be a goner in the 2017 election, Chester was (despite its heavy Remain vote of around 58%) the Conservatives number one target and it was perceived to be all but certain to return to the Tory fold. It was not to be though and in possibly the first proper indication of the seats changed allegiances Mr Matheson retained his seat easily with a hefty 8 percent swing in his favour, well above average for the election and increasing his tiny majority to over 9000!!!
The seat once again behaved abnormally in the 2019 election when (with the Tories advancing nationally) the seat saw a well below average swing of just 2.5 percent to the Tories with the Conservative candidate herself losing vote share.
Mr Matheson’s comfortable retention of the seat in what was otherwise a terrible election for Labour is as clear an indication as it comes that this seat is not for the Conservatives what it once was and the likelihood of Chester once again returning to the Conservatives in the near future looks very slim indeed.