“It was a moment of madness really,” says Nick Grant, Twickenham’s Labour candidate for the general election, when asked why he chose to put himself forward.
After all, few constituencies have been safer seats than Twickenham where Vince Cable has held power since 1997.
In the three elections since then the business secretary’s majority has increased, and in 2010 he won 54.4% of the vote, compared to Labour candidate Brian Tomlinson’s 7.7% share.
However things have changed since the Coalition government came to power and Mr Grant is determined to capitalise on this.
“From my experience on the doorstep, I rarely find somebody that voted Lib Dem in 2010 who is happy and content to vote Lib Dem again,” he said.
“The Lib Dem vote across the country is in freefall. In Twickenham it’s slightly different because of Vince Cable’s profile and how long he’s been there, but it’s incredibly soft.”
The father-of-two has been a Labour party member since the 1990s and has lived in St Margarets for 14 years – he is now head of legal services at Sainsbury’s.
Mr Grant told SWL that it was his interest in education that drove him to become involved in politics.
“Apart from it being the right time in my life to devote the time to running, the real forceful influence was being closely involved in the running of a school in a hard-pressed area,” he said.
“You reach the point when you’re involved in politics when you either stand up and speak out and be accountable for it or you don’t, and I felt the time was right for me.”
The former criminal defence lawyer adds that many Twickenham voters did not want a Conservative government in 2010, and voted for Cable as an opposition figure.
“They feel a lot of regret, some people feel totally betrayed, others confused that their vote led to something that they didn’t intend.”
Mr Grant said a poll last year promised the battle for Twickenham would be a ‘straight fight’ with voters giving up on tactical voting.
“My chances are increasing by the day,” he said. “The only thing you can do that you can be really sure about is to vote on your conscience and follow your beliefs.”
These beliefs for Mr Grant include the right amount of affordable housing, particularly for young people and the poor who are squeezed out by rising prices.
He described his fear of Twickenham turning into ‘docile luxury dormitory’ under Conservative administration, without fair services and business start up opportunities.
However education remains his primary interest, and he became disillusioned with education policy at national level, and said there were ‘very dangerous dynamics’ in the current education progamme.
“I felt that it was ideologically driven and was given all sorts of strange incentives for the setting up of schools, particularly free schools.
“I’d like to see more positive language used by education ministers on all parties to celebrate what’s brilliant about the state system, and also to back it rather than seek to undermine it as if it were an enemy.”
Mr Grant is reaching out to voters in Twickenham who, he said, are like him and his family – affluent people who ‘are educated, we have jobs’ – but who are still engaged with national political issues.
“There is a lot of principle in the Twickenham voter, there is a lot of sense of what’s fair in the country at large,” he said
“I see it as a principle vote and a progressive vote, and not a self-interested vote to any extent. I think if I can articulate that then I can capture a big proportion of that.”
Featured image courtesy of Twickenham Labour Party via YouTube, with thanks