Labour MP John Grogan was narrowly returned to Parliament for the University of York’s Selby constituency last week after a gruelling nine hour count. His win brought pledges to continue his connection with the University, placing particular emphasis on a wish to tackle the issue of student safety.
Defending an already slight 2138 majority, Mr Grogan saw his hold over the constituency slashed to just 467 votes. The winning margin made Selby one of the most closely fought seats in the country, and was slim enough to prompt a recount of the vote bundles.
With the closeness of the result keeping tensions high throughout the night, Mr Grogan’s Conservative challenger, Mark Menzies, eventually accepted defeat 24 hours after ballot boxes had opened. At a little before seven o’clock Friday morning, acting returning officer Martin Connor announced the result, the recount having made Selby one of the last constituencies to declare.
Labour had been tipped to lose Selby, number 25 on the Conservative’s list of target seats. Mr. Grogan, however, secured 22 623 votes to Mr. Menzies’ 22 156. The Liberal Democrat candidate, York City Councillor Ian Cuthbertson, was pleased to poll 7770 votes, up 3.71 per cent from the Party’s 2001 share. A reduced Labour majority and Tory and Lib Dem gains saw Selby’s result mirror that of the UK as a whole.
The apprehension of Labour officials following the verification stage of the count at Selby Abbey Leisure Centre was palpable. This first phase of the evening saw the parties form crude estimates of the vote share in advance of the real count. Labour officials were reluctant to talk to nouse, while their Conservative opposite numbers were less reticent.
Dave Sammels, former Chair of the Conservative society on campus, spoke of the Party’s confidence. “I think it’s going to be fairly decisive”, he revealed. As the official count began, one Tory Councillor told nouse he believed the Conservative’s were approximately four per cent ahead.
Mr Menzies, an executive manager at Asda, held an impromptu press conference at around three in the morning when votes so-far counted put the Conservatives narrowly ahead. He renewed promises made to students at hustings held at the University’s Jack Lyons Concert Hall during the final week of the campaign. Mr Menzies spoke to nouse of the key issues that impact on students.
“It’s not just things like student debt, but the practical issues like student safety … transport … Students are incredibly important to me and I would look to serve them very well as a member of Parliament if indeed that is what people … decide will be the outcome.’
But as the evening progressed Mr. Grogan assumed the Conservative’s nervous confidence. With no mistakes found by the count officials administering the check of the vote bundles, it became clear that Mr. Grogan had edged past the Conservatives to retain Selby for a third term.
Mr Grogan’s delight and relief were evident: “I want to thank the people of this constituency who have put their trust in me … I pledge for the next four or five year’s to be worthy of that trust”, he told the few remaining party workers, count staff, and journalists.
In the University hustings Mr. Grogan provided an indication of the effects his win will have for York students. He played heavily on his opposition to the government’s decision to go to war in Iraq and to introduce top-up fees for university students to seek support from those who may have been thinking of supporting Mr. Cuthbertson because of these controversial issues. Mr. Grogan promised more interaction with the Students’ Union, safety measures such as lighting for Walmgate Stray, and support for campus extension to Heslington East.
At the hustings and in Selby on election night, Labour and Tory officials alike spoke highly of their respective campaigns. Mr. Cuthbertson, who talked at length to nouse about the local and national contests, also endorsed the professionalism and good nature of the battle fought in Selby. The Lib Dem candidate lamented, however, the failure of the constituency campaign to debate key concerns. “It would have been nice to have something serious to discuss like the closure of rural bus services.”
Turnout in Selby was 67.55 per cent, up from three per cent in 2001. 11,000 of those who voted did so by post. It was the lengthy verification process of these ballots which was thought to have contributed to the slow pace of the count. Despite these measures taken to prevent fraud, nouse learnt that concerns about the safety of postal votes remained, especially amongst Lib Dem party workers in Selby.