BILL JACOBS looks at the prospects for the opposition parties in the Ribble Valley as Nigel Evans aims to hold on to the Conservative safe seat

FOR a young political hopeful selected in 1991 to fight a by-election in a safe Conservative seat, Nigel Evans personal and political journey has been unexpectedly stormy.

He lost the Ribble Valley seat to Liberal Democrat Mike Carr after a bitter campaign with nine candidates.

Mr Evans regained it the following year and has held it ever since.

During John Major's Prime Ministership he was warned his Euro-sceptic views might cost him a ministerial career but defied his leader to continue to speak out.

In 2010 he revealed he was gay and in 2013/14 was charged and acquitted of sexual assault allegations.

In 2015 he comfortable held the constituency.

Now with 'Brexit Boris' in charge, Mr Evans anti-EU views are mainstream Tory.

With a 56.4 per cent 'Leave' vote in the 2016 Euro-referendum and 13,199 majority in 2017, the current campaign should be plain sailing.

However 2018 saw the ruling Ribble Valley Borough Conservative group split with five councillors breaking away in protest at its then leader Ken Hind who then quit at Christmas.

Although only one rebel returned in May's local polls, Mr Evans opponents hope permanent damage has been done.

He believes the constituency's older age profile will limit the Jeremy Corbyn effect for Labour, a clear second two years ago.

Labour Giles Bridge, a 51-year-old Clitheroe, has nailed his colours firmly to the Remain mast within his party's latest policy.

LibDem Chantelle Seddon also aims to win Remain votes and support from Conservatives shocked by last year's split.

Also on the December 12 ballot paper are Green Paul Yates and pro-Brexit Independent Tony Johnson who stood in 2010 and 2015.

Terry Hill, who led the Democratic Conservative breakaway, said: "I shall not be voting for Nigel."

Mr Evans said: "Almost 57 per cent of Ribble Valley residents voted to leave and my Labour and LibDem opponents would vote to remain in a second referendum. They clearly don't give a fig for local people.

"Brexit will bring huge opportunities for exporters like Singleton's Cheese in Longridge and precision engineers Fort Vale in Simonstone.

"The Ribble Valley has done its bit for housing and we must end the over-development of its green fields."

Mr Bridge, Clitheroe barrister, said: "Labour will ban fracking and invest in warmer eco-friendly homes creating 400 jobs in Ribble Valley. We would build more social and affordable housing and invest in the NHS ensuring local GP surgeries can cope with new housing developments.

"We would negotiate a new Brexit deal putting it to a referendum. I would campaign to remain."

IT manager Mrs Seddon said: "I am the Remain candidate best-placed to take votes off Nigel Evans.

"The borough needs more affordable housing. We must ensure new developments have the roundabouts, GP surgeries and schools they require.

"Ribble Valley needs more investment in the NHS and council care for the elderly so they stay in their own homes and don't end up in hospital."

Ribchester businessman Mr Yates said: "I'm frustrated seeing ever more frequent reports and pictures of climate change and mass extinction.

"We would re-insulate the 10.2 per cent of households in the Ribble Valley living in fuel poverty making them carbon neutral. We need to improve social care for the elderly, upgrade GP services and provide more NHS dentistry in the constituency."

Ribchester's Mr Johnson said: "People are fed up with Brexit and the underfunding of the NHS. Fracking should be banned and housing development in the Ribble Valley stopped because it is destroying the borough's beautiful countryside."

With so many other candidates Mr Evans can weather a few political squalls before making it safely back to Westminster.

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CANDIDATES: Giles Bridge, Labour; Nigel Evans, Conservative; Tony Johnson, Independent; Chantelle Seddon, Liberal Democrat; Paul Yates, Green.

2017 RESULT: Nigel Evans Conservative 31,919; David Hinder Labour 18,720; Allan Knox Liberal Democrat 3,247; Graham Sowter Green 1,314. Majority 13,199. Turnout 70.8 per cent.