Paul Beresford has announced his decision to retire at the next election. First elected for Croydon Central in 1992, he has sat at Mole Valley in Surrey since 1997. Born in New Zealand, Beresford practiced as a dentist before becoming a councillor. He led Wandsworth Borough Council – notoriously a favorite of Margaret Thatcher – from 1983 to 1992.
Beresford’s decision will raise some eyebrows, as Mole Valley is traditionally a safe seat. Beresford achieved majorities of 46.1 percent and 42.6 percent in 2015 and 2017 respectively. This halved to 21.1 per cent in 2019 in the face of a strong Liberal Democrat challenge. Is Beresford afraid that it will turn yellow next time?
Beresford noted in his resignation announcement to voters that Mole Valley would be renamed Dorking and Horeley at the next election. Adding the previously formed wards of Guildford, Reigate and Surrey East would mean the successor seat would be just three-fifths or so of its current constituency.
Nevertheless, while the definition of ‘safe’ has loosened considerably in light of polls suggesting the Tories could drop to third place at the next election, electoral calculus predicts Beresford will finish second and Labor second.
It is true that parts of Mole Valley will be transferred to a new constituency of reformatted Guildford and Godalming and Ash. Bad news for Angela Richardson, Beresford’s fellow Kiwi: the Tory candidate for Guildford is predicted by Electoral Calculus to come third next term behind the Liberal Democrats and Labour. However, Godalming and Ash are expected to remain blue.
The wards gained from Dorking and Horeley Reigate are predicted to go to Labor (as are the new versions of the constituencies from which they are drawn). Perhaps Beresford felt the tide against the Tories locally. The Green Party gained a seat on the council in the recent by-election, as the Conservative vote share fell to 22 per cent.
Or perhaps the best explanation is the simplest. Beresford has been in politics in one form or another for 45 years. Age is just a number, and the Commons benefits from long-standing members. But Beresford will be a decade above the retirement average point at the next election. His decision may have little to do with the situation in his constituency and again more to do with taking a step back than facing a possible spell of opposition.