General Election 2024 could see Liam Fox lose his North Somerset seat after 32 years

-Credit: (Image: (left) Chris McAcndrew CC BY 3.0, from his 2017 official portrait, and (right) Sadik Al-Hassan))
-Credit: (Image: (left) Chris McAcndrew CC BY 3.0, from his 2017 official portrait, and (right) Sadik Al-Hassan))

The Labour Party are hoping to defeat Somerset’s longest serving MP at the general election, with some polls suggesting they could be on course to.

Dr Liam Fox has been the MP for North Somerset since before North Somerset even existed. He was first elected as the Conservative MP for Woodspring in 1992, four years before North Somerset Council was established and 18 years before the constituency changed its name to follow suit.

But after 32 years as the MP for the area, could he lose his seat in 2024? Sadik Al-Hassan, the man Labour have selected to stand for North Somerset, said: “I would say at the moment it's 50/50.”

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Mr Al-Hassan is one of five people standing against Sir Liam in the general election on July 4, with the Greens, Liberal Democrats, Reform UK, and Workers Party all also fielding candidates. Several MRP polls — projections of how the election could go which use models and polls to predict a result for every individual seat — have suggested Mr Al-Hassan could win the seat off Sir Liam.

Mr Al-Hassan said: “I would say on the doors, the conversations I’ve been having, people are very eager in North Somerset to change but I don’t underestimate the size of the challenge, given that Liam has been in for 32 years, won eight elections, and had a 29% lead.”

In 2019, Sir Liam received almost 33,000 votes — over 50% of the vote. Meanwhile Labour scooped 15,000, with the Liberal Democrat’s Ash Cartman — who is standing again this year — on 11,000, and the Greens on 3,000.

Many eyes will be on Jacob Rees-Mogg’s North East Somerset and Hanham constituency on election night, which some view as a potential “Portillo moment,” but were a Labour victory to happen in neighbouring North Somerset, it might steal the show. The area has been a Conservative seat for 100 years and has never voted Labour.

Mr Al-Hassan lives in Emersons Green, on the opposite side of Bristol and works in Cribbs Causeway. A pharmacist, he is superintendent of online pharmacy PillTime with around 100 patients in North Somerset. He called on voters to “lend” him their votes, even if he isn’t their preferred candidate. He said: “We have spoken to over 13,000 people as part of this campaign and the only person I can see with a shot of beating Liam Fox is us.”

Speaking to the Local Democracy Reporting Service, he said: “I have been out on the doorsteps for the last six and a half months getting to know the area and the patch. And I care about what happens to the residents and the story they tell me is heartbreaking.

“I have talked to people who work in the NHS who have waited over 89 weeks for an appointment. I have had people who have had two years wait for a dental treatment because they couldn’t get an NHS dentist, they are living in pain for two years and ended up having emergency treatment.

“The reason I got into politics is to help make those kind of situations right. It's the same as being a pharmacist; all I want to do is help the community and help improve people’s lives.”

What is his number one issue? He said: “Trying to make sure that we have access to the public services we need where we need them. If you go down the high street you will notice there’s less banks, less pharmacies, more food banks. This is a growing problem across the country but North Somerset has been hit particularly hard.”

He added: “We have lost pharmacy after pharmacy in North Somerset, the latest being that Boots that closed on [Portishead] High Street. There isn’t enough capacity for pharmacy to be this panacea for the NHS if we don’t have more. And the same goes for dentists.”

He said he had met with Avon Local Pharmaceutical Committee and Community Pharmacy England to discuss the challenges faced in North Somerset, and had worked with the teams at the Day Lewis Pharmacy in Nailsea, the West Hill Pharmacy in Portishead and, in the past, at the Well Pharmacy in Clevedon. He said Labour was looking at an “innovative” community pharmacy prescribing service to help take the pressure off GPs, but added: “The solution needs to be funded in a way that works for pharmacy.”

He added that a “shocking” one in 12 children in North Somerset were in poverty, mainly from households in work. He said: “It's not the thing that a developed rich nation can be proud of.”

He said he was speaking to Citizens Advice around how more people could be better signposted to services but, asked about why Labour would not commit to scrapping the two-child benefit cap, he said: “We are limited in what we can deliver. We have to be realistic.”

He added: “This is probably one of the most realistic manifestos I have seen in my lifetime because it is actually what we are able to deliver. And things may go better than we think. We could get the growth we really need as a county and maybe be able to do more. But this is what we need to do immediately and what we can do with the resources we have got.”

Mr Al-Hassan said: “Over the last 14 years we have almost created a lost generation of young people who haven’t been given the support and opportunities to thrive.”

He said he wanted more support from mental health support in schools, free school meals, careers advice, and the right employment in North Somerset. He added: “Also, I want to help them be able to afford their first home. I want to back their mortgage so that they can get that home they need in the area because I want to make sure we build homes in North Somerset so they don’t have to move to Bristol or Weston.”

Labour plans to change the planning rules — specifically allowing poor quality “grey belt” land in the green belt to be built on — to boost new homes. But could this spread the issues faced by villages on the edge of the green belt, such as Backwell, to other areas of the North Somerset countryside?

Mr Al-Hassan said: “We were the party that created the green belt. We believe in preserving our environment. But we don’t believe in preserving grey belt land which is under the mask of it being biodiverse.”

He insisted: “We are the party who will conserve the green belt. Unlike the Conservatives who have allowed it to be sold off and parcelled.”

He added that the proposed new Epic office campus on fields near Long Ashton — a plan controversial among the election candidates — was on land which would still be considered green belt and not reclassified as “greasy belt” under Labour’s plans. But he added it was a regulatory decision that would not be up to the local MP.

The full list of candidates standing for North Somerset is:

  • Labour: Sadik Al-Hassan

  • Workers Party: Suneil Basu

  • Liberal Democrat: Ash Cartman

  • Conservative: Sir Liam Fox

  • Reform UK: Alexander Kokkinoftas

  • Green: Oscar Livesey Lodwick