Lib Dem seats a 'key Tory target' in election
The South West is essential to the Conservatives securing a majority at the next election as a quarter of the party's target seats are in the region, the Western Morning News can reveal.
The Tory strategy aims to oust 40 rival MPs in marginal constituencies in 2015 – ten of which are in the South West, and all of those are held by the Liberal Democrats.
In Devon and Cornwall, the party will pour effort into all five Lib Dem-held seats: North Devon, North Cornwall, St Austell and Newquay, St Ives and Torbay.
The remaining five South West targets are Cheltenham, Chippenham, Mid Dorset and North Poole, Somerton and Frome and Wells.
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That the region will largely play out a pitched battle between the two coalition parties, was underlined by Labour announcing it is targeting no seats in Cornwall and only one in Devon.
Cornwall Conservative MP Sarah Newton, also the party's deputy chairman, told the WMN there remain stark policy differences with the Lib Dems over Europe and immigration, despite working together to tackle the deficit. But the Tories face a stiff battle to hold seats with slim majorities, and will focus their efforts on protecting 40 of their MPs. The strategy is dubbed the "40-40" campaign.
Among those under threat will be Mrs Newton's own seat, Truro and Falmouth. In 2010, she secured a majority of just 435 votes.
Slimmer still is the majority of Camborne and Redruth Tory MP George Eustice. David Cameron's former Press Secretary has a cushion of just 66 votes.
While the Tories and Lib Dems are long-standing adversaries in the South West, their coalition Government alliance will mean both parties taking claim for delivering for the region.
Election pamphlets will likely champion the £50-a-year annual rebate for South West Water customers to ease crippling charges and forcing a U-turn on the Treasury's "pasty tax" after a South West-led rebellion.
In Cornwall, St Austell and Newquay MP Stephen Gilbert has a majority of 1,300 votes, Andrew George a majority of around 1,700 in St Ives and Dan Rogerson, holds the North Cornwall seat by 3,000.
Across the Tamar in Devon, the Lib Dem majorities are healthier but – according to Tory strategists – not insurmountable. Torbay's Adrian Sanders has a majority of just over 4,000 and North Devon's Nick Harvey a 5,800 vote lead.
But the Tories are not without their weak spots. Conservative MP for Plymouth Sutton and Devonport, Oliver Colvile, will be protecting a 1,150 majority with Labour announcing this week it will be targeting the seat.
Elsewhere, Anne Marie Morris, Conservative MP for Newton Abbot, has a 523-vote majority with a Lib Dem the most likely challenger.
Mrs Newton said of the battle with the Lib Dems: "We came together for the best of the country and for the region, and we work closely.
"The fact is, though, the differences between us and the Lib Dems are still the same as they were in 2010. We disagree on a lot of things. The big two are immigration and Europe. Those issues are arguably more important now than they were in 2010. For example, people are more aware of the problems caused by the European Union."
The Conservatives began the search for candidates in five South West target seats yesterday.
Of the other 30 seats on the target list, 20 are held by Labour and 10 by the Lib Dems. The Conservative Party boasts 303 seats at present and would need to win 22 seats while retaining its existing footprint, for a majority of one.
Plans to re-draw the electoral map appear dead and buried as the Lib Dems have vowed to vote down the proposals.
Lib Dems in Cornwall said Labour's decision not to include a Cornwall seat among 106 targets will help in the election battle with the Tories. Mr Gilbert MP added: "Without the Lib Dems in Government there would be no increase at all in benefits, we wouldn't have had extra cash for disadvantaged children in our local schools and we certainly wouldn't have seen those on the lowest incomes taken out of income tax."