!-- consent -->
During her brief stint(s) as Home Secretary so far, Suella Braverman has gained plenty of experience in dealing with intractable opponents with whom she does not entirely see eye-to-eye. The French on small boats, for instance. Or a Home Office leadership with little interest in following her orders. One wonders why she was so keen to go back after her first short sojourn.
As a former leadership candidate, there is no doubting Braverman is a significant figure in the Conservative Party, and will want to play a part in its future – hence why she contributed so thoughtfully to our recent conference panel on that very subject. But that will be a damn sight harder to do if she is no longer an MP – or even, in a remarkable occurrence, a Tory candidate.
Braverman’s current Fareham constituency is to become Fareham and Waterlooville. Usually, this would give Braverman the easy(ish) route of applying to be ‘re-adopted’ as the constituency’s incumbent MP. Her problem is that she is not the only MP with a claim on the seat and that she is not universally popular amongst local members.
Flick Drummond, the current MP for Meon Valley and Braverman’s neighbour, is also seeing her constituency disappear into Fareham and Waterlooville. According to Electoral Calculus, the new seat is 55 per cent former Fareham, and 45 per cent former Meon Valley. With an implied majority of 23, 825 at the last election, understanding why both Braverman and Drummond are keen isn’t hard.
Or is it? Fareham and Waterlooville isn’t the only seat over which Braverman can stake a claim. The boundary changes have also created Hamble Valley out of parts of Fareham, Meon Valley, and Eastleigh. Electoral Calculus suggests this seat is only 47 per cent Fareham – but that is still a larger share than either of the other two existing constituencies.
What is even more interesting is that the site gives the Conservatives a 66 per cent chance of winning the constituency next time – whereas they suggest Fareham and Waterlooville will be a dead heat with Labour.
Reportedly, Fareham and Waterlooville is the Home Secretary’s first choice, and Hamble Valley her second. But according to the psephologists, that order is the wrong way around – if her priority is staying in Parliament, that is. So why is she so keen on Fareham and Waterlooville – to the extent of squaring off for selection with another sitting MP?
Of course, Braverman has more on her mind than fiddling around with swingometers. She will naturally feel a tie to a constituency that is more obviously the successor to her current one. She has sat for Fareham since 2015, whilst Drummond has only represented Meon Valley since 2019. But, with all this in mind, why is it taking so long for her to be re-selected?
Local sources have suggested to ConservativeHome this is a case of local party members having different expectations from an MP than the candidate themself – a dispute harkening back to Edmund Burke, and beyond. Some in the constituency want a candidate who will be a dutiful local champion. They feel that Drummond fits that bill better than Braverman – who, it cannot be denied, has interests stretching beyond the state of car parking at Fareham Community Hospital.
Moreover, and suspending all judgement, the Home Secretary is not every Conservative’s cup of tea. A local councillor recently left the Conservative group after a dispute with her over (of all things) the minimum wage.
Local Conservatives have suggested the individual involved was an inveterate party hopper, and should not be taken as typical. But as with the case of Damien Green, the creation of a new seat also has party members wanting to flex their muscles – and those coming from Braverman and Drummond’s previous constituencies have a natural affinity to their current MP.
This brings us back to why Braverman is keener on Fareham and Waterlooville than Hamble Valley. Whatever the data may say, local sources believe that Fareham and Waterlooville has a better chance than Hamble Valley of staying blue.
A good chunk of the latter constituency comes from the existing Eastleigh seat, which has flitted between the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats in recent decades. It also has a not-insubstantial number of Liberal Democrat councillors. Braverman is not seen by some in Hamble Valley as the obvious candidate to stave off the Yellow Peril.
Claims that she is considering the ‘chicken run’ to Windsor should be taken with a pinch of salt. But one can say that it isn’t going to be all plain sailing for the Home Secretary in being re-selected on the south coast. That is especially as it has been suggested to ConservativeHome that Drummond will retire if she is not adopted – a commitment to the constituency that Braverman would struggle to match.
Like its Napoleonic namesake, the Battle of Waterlooville looks set to be a damn close-run thing. As ever, please feel free to contact ConservativeHome with information about candidates and selections here. Alternatively, e-mail me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.