Duncan Enright is a councillor for the Witney East ward on Witney Town Council. The town’s MP is David Cameron. Duncan is son of Derek Enright, who was a Member of the European Parliament from 1979 to 1984 and then an MP from 1991 until his death in 1995.
For the last 15 years I have lived in Witney, a lovely market town in West Oxfordshire. My three children, Katy (15), Lucy (11) and Tom (8) all go to local schools, including the outstanding Wood Green High School where my wife Sally-Ann is a teacher. I’m a publisher and like many of my neighbours I commute. However I enjoy Witney – I play football with other local dads, we go to the local Catholic church, and I work for the local Labour Party and have stood locally for many years. The highlight until now has been having local MP Shaun Woodward defecting from the Tories in 2000 and signing his Labour Party membership card in our sitting room!
Last year the Tory town councillor for Witney East, Louise Chapman, was barred from office because she didn’t turn up for six consecutive months. Odd this – they are adept at managing this sort of situation. One of the other Tories (there are four for Witney East and 15 on the council of 17, one Lib Dem who votes with them) hasn’t been seen for two years, and has got away with it.
The Tories wanted to coopt a replacement. They did the same in 2009 when the only Green stood down (found it too hard going). Despite promises to the gullible Greens, they replaced him with a Tory ex-mayor! Instead I collected the ten signatures needed to force a by-election.
The Tory constituency agent, who is also the debarred councillor’s father, railed against the expense of a by-election, and rather backed them into a corner. I took the opportunity to ram home the need for a local voice on various key local issues, which you can read about at www.duncan4witney.org. It was a great chance to state my platform, and had the advantage of being the absolute truth – these are key issues where the town councillors have done nothing, or worse still the wrong thing.
We started early, posting a letter through all doors before the nominations closed. I have the advantage of being the candidate in every election since 2007, and living right in the heart of the ward. My kids go to the local schools, my wife teaches at one, and I play football with local dads (badly). I was able to press this advantage before the Greens and Lib Dems had even decided to stand. (I did in fact write to them to ask them to stand aside in my favour, so we could challenge the Tories directly on the big local issue of a disputed £20m bypass – I’m against and the Tories are for. Subsequently the Lib Dem candidate, also against, has been abandoned by his County colleagues who voted for unanimously. Same old Lib Dems!)
To be honest, when the list closed I was disappointed not to have a Tory candidate, and also assumed that their support, which is pretty substantial locally, would naturally transfer to their mates the Lib Dems.
Nevertheless we issued a leaflet highlighting all the key issues: allotments, Fairtrade (the local Tories on town council are among the very few to have refused to back it and deny the town FT status), the dangerous future for the local farm museum at the heart of the ward, the fate of public halls in the town, and the Cogges Link Road. We had to wade through the deepest snow for a generation to deliver it! What energetic Christmas elves we were in retrospect! We also went door knocking for the first time in a political generation and found 150 promises to chase on the day.
Next the Tories ordered that no polling cards should be delivered. Did you know that you can vote without one? Lots of Witney people didn’t, and even those who risked it lost a vital reminder on the mantelpiece. We delivered a leaflet entitled POLLING CARD explaining exactly where people should vote and when in the hope that it would be stuck on the noticeboard instead.
Finally the local paper told everyone the poll was on Friday 7th in their edition published on Wednesday 5th. To combat this we handed out reminders on the polling day, Thursday 6th, at school drop-off and pick-up times, and delivered them to our promises.
Filled with trepidation my agent and I attended the count. I am six foot four and the other candidates are a foot shorter, so the pictures in the local paper could have been comical! They were merciful however, and my win was covered gracefully though selectively (BBC didn’t report it at all). I was concerned about the 40% turnout of the 500 postal voters, but needn’t have worried – I got 67% of all votes in a landslide!
That night the legions of Labourites waiting up for the Ashes to be resolved were elated and drove the result to number one UK trending on Twitter!
Thanks are due to Chris and Jane Johnson, my agent team, and others from the long-suffering Witney party. This is our first gain after 14 years of painful losses as a CLP. Thanks too to Andrew Smith MP, Cllr John Tanner and Roy Darke and others from Oxford Labour Party who were generous with time and expertise. The Greens put out one leaflet to part of the ward, and the Lib Dems didn’t manage anything at all. We outworked them.
My job now is to deliver on the issues we highlighted. The lesson I learnt was that local issues matter. Tories, UKIPpers and others voted for me, many voting Labour & Co-op for the first time, on local issues. This is worth remembering when some in the Party would claim it is all about national profile.
The turnout at 13% was very low but understandable given the above. Where we worked hardest it was far higher. My Labour vote was 480, which is actually higher than the vote gained by my Tory predecessor in 2003 when first elected (at a May all-out election). I’ll need more in May though to successfully defend my seat. This is all the more reason for me to deliver. I will be the only councillor at any level in Witney to hold surgeries between now and May, and that might help.
David Cameron, the absentee landlord, has said nothing at all about this. We hope to be able to challenge him more in May. If you can help, in person or with resources, you would be more than welcome and we would be most grateful!