Formidable campaigner Norman Baker faces his toughest electoral foe – a boundary review destroying his seat.
What sort of man is he? Well, fashionable is not a word that you would associate with the Lewes MP, one of his constituents told me – somewhat approvingly.
He espoused environmental causes before they were mainstream.
His focus on MPs’ expenses hardly endeared him to colleagues – but he was ahead of the game.
His dogged questions about Peter Mandelson brought down the Labour minister.
Even his book, The Strange Death of David Kelly, about the UN weapons inspector, could hardly be described as an obvious career-enhancing move.
But he has won admiration and plaudits – even from opponents. Some privately concede that he is a robustly independent and conscientious constituency MP.
His campaign to reopen the Lewes to Uckfield line could benefit commuters from Brighton and Hove, for example, when the main line is blocked or closed for repairs.
He turned Lewes from a traditionally true blue Tory heartland into a safe seat for the Liberal Democrats. Earlier he helped his party win control of Lewes District Council where he served as leader for six years.
Now he faces his greatest electoral threat.
His foe is not a popular Conservative candidate making inroads in the polls but the proposed redrawing of parliamentary boundaries by faceless bureaucrats.
He said: “The Boundary Commission is suggesting that the present seat is dismembered – or bisected if you prefer.
“Lewes town will now find itself at the far right-hand edge of a proposed new seat called Lewes and East Brighton which will include areas such as Moulsecoomb and Rottingdean.
“The new boundaries are an insult to Lewes and its history, adding us in as a mere adjunct to bits of Brighton.”
A side effect of the proposed changes for Lewes could be to scatter and dilute the Lib Dem vote.
One Conservative said that it was right that there should be fewer MPs and that they should endure the sort of cuts affecting some constituents in the current economic climate.
Simon Kirby, the Brighton Kemptown MP, has given his support, saying the proposals “will increase the fairness of constituency boundaries as well as reducing the cost of government by £12 million by reducing the number of MPs”.
Much of Mr Kirby’s current seat would merge with the western part of the Lewes constituency.
Mr Kirby said of his coalition colleague: “Norman is doing a good job as Transport Minister, working closely with his Conservative colleagues to support the government.
“I look forward to meeting with him to discuss reopening the Lewes to Uckfield railway line.
“The proposals for the Lewes and Brighton East seat seem very sensible.
“There are already many strong links between Lewes and Brighton.
“You only have to look at the new Seagulls home at Falmer, which straddles the existing Brighton Kemptown and Lewes constituencies, or look at the number of pubs that sell Harveys beer in Brighton.
“Similarly the A27 provides good road links between the two areas and many people who live in Lewes will work in Brighton or travel there for leisure and vice versa.”
Mention of the Amex Community Stadium at Falmer underlines another reason for Mr Baker’s qualms.
He opposed Brighton and Hove Albion’s plans although, given the outcome, he has also called a truce and wished the club and its fans well.
Another concern would be the prospect of contesting a seat containing many more students.
Like several Lib Dems Mr Baker opposed a rise in tuition fees during the general election campaign.
He has since found himself supporting a rise, bound by a coalition agreement and the collective responsibility which comes with being a minister.
Mr Baker is 54. He could be expected to have the pick of the two new seats if the proposal to divide his constituency goes through.
Whether he will want to stand is another matter and whether he can win will be an important consideration.
Given his track record, few would write off his chances completely.
Then again, Lewes already has one Lord Baker – the former Conservative cabinet minister Kenneth Baker, who is now Lord Baker of Dorking.
As a veteran animal rights campaigner, the sitting MP could hardly be expected to take ermine.
But how about Lord Baker of Lewes in a slightly less fashionable synthetic substitute?
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