LABOUR may see gains in rural Devon seats which have traditionally been dominated by Conservatives and Liberal Democrats when voters go to the polls on May 4, according to an Exeter-based politics expert. 

While the county’s cities of Plymouth and Exeter have elected many Labour councillors, the party has been almost totally absent from more rural authorities such as West Devon, South Hams and Mid Devon. 

Senior lecturer in politics at the University of Exeter, Dr Stuart Fox explained why Labour had been absent from so many Devon councils for so long.  

“When you don’t do well in an area for a long time, when you don’t have any kind of serious presence, there aren’t going to be people who are going to go out and pound the streets, deliver leaflets so that voters know that you are in the area and you’re active in the area,” he said.

He also suggested there may be more support for Labour in such areas, but tactical voting may be at play.   

“Even if you have got voters who are sympathetic to your party, they probably say: ‘Well, Labour is never really a serious force around here so if I want to vote against the Conservatives or I want to vote for someone new I’m going to look for a party that might be similar to Labour but that’s got more chance at winning’”. 

But Dr Fox believes attitudes may be beginning to change on the back of an apparent increase in support for Labour.

“They’re riding very high in the national polls; well ahead of the Conservatives,” he said. “And we have to remember that the last time these seats were contested was in May 2019, when the Labour Party and the Conservatives were actually doing very poorly in the national polls and they were both haemorrhaging support to minor parties left, right and centre. 

“Labour is coming from a very low base and is very popular nationally. 

“That might be enough for them to overcome some of the infrastructural disadvantages that they face relative to say, the Liberal Democrats in this part of the country.”

Elections are taking place in all Devon’s authorities, except Devon County Council, on Thursday, May 4.