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Matt Chorley: I might not be standing, but elections still matter in Somerset

In this exclusive column for the Leveller, Matt Chorley talks returning to Taunton, election buzz, and his failed campaign in 1997. 

I first stood for election in 1997.

I can’t remember which party I stood for, or who won, which suggests it wasn’t me.

Fortunately for all concerned this was just a mock election staged at Huish Episcopi School when I was 14.

A new dawn had not broken had it not.

It was a full 20 years later that I finally got elected to high office, as chairman of the Parliamentary Press Gallery.

For more than 200 years it has represented the hundreds of journalists who work in, and report on, the House of Commons (and when really desperate for a story, the House of Lords).

As chairman you get your name hand painted in gold on a wooden board, like the winner of the skittle league.

Better still, not a single vote was cast.

Like all the best forms of democracy, there is only ever one candidate.


There will be no shortage of candidates across Somerset this year when the general election rolls round.

While the national commentators might be distracted by the state of the Red Wall, or the Tartan Army, or what Nigel Farage has had for breakfast, what happens here matters too.

Who will be the new MPs following in the footsteps of the county’s big political beasts like Paddy Ashdown, Tom King, Edward du Cann, and um, Jackie Ballard?

Even losing here needn’t be the end of a glittering political career: Benjamin Disraeli once stood in a by-election Taunton in 1835, and lost.

But more than 30 years later he would be prime minister.

GENERAL ELECTION 2024: Click here to take part in the Somerset Leveller poll

For me, a general election is like Christmas.

All the excitement and build-up.

The endless stream of cards through the letterbox.

Counting down the number of sleeps until the big day.

And then nobody gets what they really want and everyone has an argument with the uncle who watches a bit too much GB News.

Just like Christmas.

The national opinion polls might be telling us one thing, but things can change. Imagine being more than 20 points ahead in the polls, heading for a landslide, and then the electorate decides maybe you don’t deserve a landslide after all.

Theresa May knows how that feels.

Things can happen which go against what the pollsters and the pundits predict.

As the American sports jocks like to say, that’s why we play the game.

Polls can tell us other things too about the mindset of different groups of voters.

Why do Lib Dems like cats while Tories like dogs?

Which group of voters is most likely to believe in the Loch Ness monster?

Who is most willing to put their faith in a fantasy for which there is no actual concrete evidence?

Leave voters, obviously.

Last year the pollster YouGov asked: “Please imagine that you had the opportunity to talk to an alien, the alien could speak your language, and your safety was guaranteed. Would you want to personally meet an alien?”

It was Conservative voters who were most likely to decline a meeting with our alien invaders, whereas Labour voters and Remainers can’t wait.

At least 70 per cent of them can’t wait to meet the aliens, and presumably ask what their pronouns are.

READ MORE: Voter ID: Protecting – or gerrymandering – UK democracy?

I’ll be digging into more of that when I’m in Taunton this month with my third stand-up tour, Poll Dancer.

From that doomed foray into party politics in 1997, I went from Richard Huish College to my first job at the Taunton Times, before moving to that there London to cover Westminster full-time.

I’ve worked for the Press Association, the Western Morning News, the Independent on Sunday, MailOnline, The Times, and most recently Times Radio, where I present the mid-morning show, Politics Without The Boring Bits.

While politics is a serious business, the last few years have also been ripe for taking the mick.

If you didn’t laugh, you’d cry.

This comedy sideline has taken me all over Britain, and twice on to Have I Got News For You.

But nothing beats being back in the shire for the homecoming gig at the Brewhouse.

There are big questions ahead for the election this year, but the small stuff matters too.

I have been asking audiences to come up with policies that they want to see introduced.

We workshop them, focus group them, and then vote.

The same issues keep coming up: potholes, dog mess, slow walkers, self-service checkouts, zoos who sell toys of animals which they don’t have (eg. stegosaurus), politicians who won’t answer a question.

And then I’ll round up the winners and put them together in my own manifesto, hoping that this is the year politicians respond to the nation’s real concerns.

You’ve got to laugh. Remember: Vote early, vote often.

Matt Chorley: Poll Dancer is at the Brewhouse in Taunton on Friday April 19, and then at the Marine Theatre in Lyme Regis on Friday April 26. Details at mattchorley.com

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