Constituency profile: Richmond adjusts to life after Hague as election looms

Richmond as seen from the top of the castle
Richmond as seen from the top of the castle
  • Richmond may be saying goodbye to William Hague, but the Tory feeling remains. Joanne Ginley reports on a seat where Labour face an uphill battle.
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You have to be made of stern stuff to consider running as a candidate in the Richmond constituency and take on the Conservatives in their own back yard.

William Hague, the former Foreign Secretary, won a huge majority of 23,336 in the seat he had held since 1989 at the last election. He announced last year he would be stepping down at the 2015 General Election and it is clear many would have preferred him to stay on.

On a bright, blustery day in the town of Richmond people were going about their business as usual, popping to the shops or meeting up with friends and family in its historic cobbled market place.

Many said they had still had not given much thought to the election but perhaps surprisingly some traditional Tory voters faced with being unable to cast their vote for the familiar figure of Mr Hague said they were undecided - although conceded they were still more likely to vote for the Conservatives than any other party.

Dave Burns, a self-employed window cleaner, who lives in Richmond, said he would normally vote Conservative but he said: “I have not made up my mind this time.

“Partly because I like William Hague and I am not sure I want to vote for anybody else. Ukip has gone through my mind but I don’t think so in the cold light of day.

“I think William Hague has been a good MP for Richmond, I think he’s forthright and he has got involved in local issues,” he said.

The constituency covers a huge geographic rural area and includes Catterick, Hawes, Leyburn, Northallerton, and Richmond. When Mr Hague announced his intention to stand down staff at his constituency office said when the party faithful were out canvassing locally there was no need to tell people about who he was and what he stood for - in fact it was not unusual to come across people who had met him.

Indeed speaking to local people it is obvious that even if people did not share Mr Hague’s political views they still hold him in high regard.

One woman, who did not wish to be named, said she was traditionally a Liberal Democrat supporter, but said: “I think people are going to miss William Hague.

“He was very approachable no matter what the subject,” she said.

Gary Jefferson, owner of Jefferson’s, a grocery store and cafe in Richmond, said: “I am Labour through and through.”

But he said of Mr Hague: “I was no supporter of him but he could be seen walking through the town. I respected him as a constituency MP and I also respected his honesty.”

People said they were concerned about a number of national and local issues.

Mr Jefferson said: “We need to find out a way to pay off the deficit that does not cost working people more than it costs rich people.

“People can avoid tax quite legitimately and legally and that’s wrong.”

Helen Harper, of Catterick Village added: “I would like to see people with jobs and I would like to see Britain producing things again.”

She would also like to see a “stronger” NHS while Mollie Butler said the NHS was also an issue she was concerned about.

Others, including David Wood, a retired coach painter from Richmond, said he was also concerned about local issues, including cuts to bus services which affected many older people in rural parts of the constituency.

He said he was a traditional Labour voter but when asked if he thought they would win the constituency he grinned and said: “Never.”

Perhaps that helps explain then the apparently low profile of Hague’s successor apparent Rishi Sunak.

Mr Sunak, fighting what must be of the easiest constituency battles in Yorkshire, is the son of a GP father and a mother who ran her own chemist shop.

The father-of-two previously worked at the Policy Exchange think tank, putting together the sort of right-of-centre reports which go down well in Tory circles. It is expected his career will as well.