The Lib Dem candidate who's gone from rank outsider to the party's big hope

-Credit: (Image: Welsh Lib Dems)
-Credit: (Image: Welsh Lib Dems)

The night Rishi Sunak called the general election, Glyn Preston thought, like many, it was a "stupid" call. He had been selected as the Lib Dem candidate for Montgomeryshire around five months previously, and while not what is known as a paper candidate - someone with no hope of winning - no-one was realistically talking about anyone other than Craig Williams, the Conservative MP since 2019, as being victorious.

But all that has changed, and now the 24-year-old candidate is being seriously talked about as the front-runner in the vast constituency, and with that, carrying the weight of his party's hopes on his shoulders.

Born in Llandinam, he went to school in Llanidloes before going to Birmingham University for three years to study politics - a place he enjoyed - but returned to Montgomeryshire, and works - in his day job - in politics He describes the return to his home county, having been away as a "magnetic pull" or hiraeth, because of a sense of community. "There's a Welsh phrase 'mwynder Maldwyn' which kind of translates to the people of Montgomeryshire and it's something I know is still alive now. People look after one another and look out for one another," he said.

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Politics was talked about around the dining table growing up with his parents, who are both teachers. His first public foray was standing as the Police and Crime Commissioner election in 2021 something he says was a "favour to the party". Then, two years ago became county councillor for his hometown, spending his time dealing with the day-to-day of faulty fire alarms in residential blocks, or the current hot topic, the new double yellow lines. "You get an appreciation of how big these issues are for people, and sometimes it's those little things or things we perceive to be small to have a big impact on people's lives," he said.

It's fair, he acknowledges, when selected for the seat, he wasn't massively in play in terms of beating Craig Williams, then a party stalwart with not only the weight of the party but the prime minister himself in his court. "The Tories had solidified their position, they had a huge majority. I knew things were going south for the party nationally and I think people are generally fed up with the last 14 years, but we'd made up some ground and we're the sort of natural party for those Tory-switchers," he said.

The night Rishi Sunak called the election, he position had shifted a little. "I think you have to be positive and I thought it was probably all to play for, and as time as has gone on, the more that's happened, the more the Tories in the media, the more positive I've become."

Then on June 13, it emerged Craig Williams had placed a bet on the date of the general election and questions are now being asked about whether he had internal knowledge before doing so, something the Gambling Commission and Met Police are probing.

There have been two milestones where he's seen the tide change, the first was Rishi Sunak leaving the D-Day event early in June. He recalls being on the streets of Newtown, the constituency's biggest town, knocking doors and hearing person after person telling him how angry it made them. "There's often a disconnect between what the media find disgraceful and what actually resonates with people, and with that older generation of Conservative voters, that was a real turn off and we saw people who hadn't voted Lib Dem in the past 25 years saying they couldn't vote for the Conservatives and those who had voted for the party for most of their adult life."

The story about Craig Williams was the second turning point and is "undoubtedly" something people are talking about. "It's a real shame that it's taken this long for the Prime Minister to act, postal voters will have already cast their votes and some for a Conservative candidate who is no longer endorsed by the Conservative Party.

Glyn Preston, 24, is the Lib Dem hope for Montgomeryshire and Glyndwr -Credit:Welsh Lib Dems
Glyn Preston, 24, is the Lib Dem hope for Montgomeryshire and Glyndwr -Credit:Welsh Lib Dems

"I totally believe that it was a cynical act from the Prime Minister because fundamentally nothing has changed from now and then. I suppose other than the fact, I can't believe he wouldn't expect this story to run and run, but to try ride it out."

As part of the boundary review, the newly-named Montgomeryshire and Glyndwr patch has an electorate of 74.118. The newly-drawn boundaries see the whole previous patch of Montgomeryshire with 46.6% of the former Clwyd South seat combined - both previously Tory strongholds. The patch is vast, and you can't get to the north east of the constituency without going through England. But it's engaged politically. There are still plenty of local hustings events - although Mr Williams did not, unexpectedly, attend the most recent, and turnout in 2019 was 69.8%, up from the national Welsh average of 66.6%.

Look at polls, and you'll most likely see a projection for this seat to be either Conservative or Labour, but as with all polls it doesn't factor in local politics. It's more often described as a Tory/Old Liberal split and while Labour too is campaigning hard here, the Liberal Democrats are sniffing a chance to talk about their policies about social care, education and urgent action on net zero.

Away from Tory party scandals, he says the top issues on the doorstep are those national ones - health and the cost of living crisis. In terms of health, there is, he says, a "perception we get a really raw deal". "We don't have a district or general hospital, we go out of county for all our health services," he says.

There has been a local boost for members on the back of positive council election results two years ago, when council representation for the party doubled in the patch. "Locally, we've been on the up for a little while," he says. The party's efforts have increased as the momentum has grown with party members "excited in a way that it can be difficult to motivate people" but also wider than that is people not normally party political who he says have been in contact to ask to deliver leaflets for him. "People who are just so disappointed in what's happened," he said.

For someone who studied politics, works in politics and wants to be a politician, it's possibly no surprise politics is what he describes as his favourite topic down the pub. "It's a bit sad because I do just adore politics," he laughs. But he's also a keen cook - saying peanut chilli noodles are his go-to dish - and enjoy seeing friends.

And yet, all that could soon change, if he pulls off the result of the night for the party. Has he yet dreamed of walking across Central Lobby to take his seat in the Commons? "Being a Liberal Democrat, you get used to the disappointment," he jokes. "I'm absolutely not taking anything for granted."

"I'd be a fool to be worrying about that at the moment. My only concern is trying to get out to speak to as many people as humanly possible".