West Country: Janet Bush Is Told Oliver Letwin Is Doing Nothing

Article excerpt

Do you remember 2001, when Oliver Letwin said something about the Tories wanting to cut taxes by [pounds sterling]20bn if they won and, after an almighty ticking-off, disappeared into the wilds of West Dorset? Well, he is there again ... I think. He wasn't doing anything on Sunday, Conservative Central Office informed me. My eight-year-old daughter, already a seasoned pedant, said: "If he isn't doing anything, he isn't breathing and he must be dead." I then explained the Liberal Democrats' decapitation strategy--the shadow chancellor is defending a majority of 1,414--and things took really quite a gruesome turn.

I may be wrong, but the election campaign doesn't seem to be going well for Letwin. Tony Blair is deeply unpopular here; the towns of Dorchester, Lyme Regis, Bridport and Tolpuddle have a long tradition of Nonconformism and bloody-mindedness. Many local people marched against the Iraq war and they think the PM is a liar. But the issue of trust appears to be as damaging for the Tories. Just as Letwin damaged the Tories in 2001, so Howard Flight's remark that they were hiding the true extent of planned spending cuts because "you have to win an election first" has hurt them in 2005. A perception that the Tories are economical with the truth has taken root.

The latest betting is for a narrow victory for the Liberal Democrat candidate, Justine McGuinness, an environmental consultant born in West Dorset. A call to her offices is answered promptly and, within a couple of hours, I have an itinerary for her and a firm arrangement to meet. …