Jeremy Browne’s decision not to stand for re-election as Liberal Democrat MP for Taunton Deane has probably turned his seat into a near-certain gain for the Tories.
His majority of 3,993 in 2010, together with his strong local and national profile, could have been enough to see off a Conservative challenge. I left Taunton Deane off the list of possible Tory gains in my latest prediction of the election result. Even though Lord Ashcroft’s most recent poll suggested Browne was trailing by four points, I thought the seat would prove to be just beyond the Tories’ chances.
Well, not anymore. Taunton Deane must now move back into the column of potential Conservative gains. As the 2010 result showed, there is only a tiny Labour vote left to be squeezed:
There is hope for Browne’s replacement as candidate, however. Ukip may suck away enough Tory support to allow the Lib Dems a close win. And the seat is not near the top of the Conservatives’ target list. Taunton Deane is actually in 17th place when you rank all the Lib Dem seats where the Tories are the main challengers:
There are 36 such seats in total, meaning Taunton Deane is almost exactly halfway down. Can the Tories really make their way this far through the list? If they do, my feeling is that it won’t be as part of a clean sweep. The Conservatives won’t be as nearly as effective as Labour in vacuuming up Lib Dem marginals, chiefly because Lib Dem support looks like collapsing more towards Ed Miliband’s party than that of David Cameron.
And therein lies the pivot around which the outcome of the 2015 election could turn.