“I haven’t seen him here for years. Except during an election period ‘
On the southwestern edge of Dartmoor lies the old tannery and market town of Tavistock. In Bedford Square – named after the aristocratic family who largely built ‘Tavy’ from the 15th century onwards – you have no doubts that you are in conservative country.
This is the patch of Sir Geoffrey Cox, the safe Tory constituency of Torridge and West Devon, where he has enjoyed strong support since being elected to Parliament in 2005.
However, even in this stronghold, Sir Geoffrey is not the flavor of the month after it was revealed he worked in the British Virgin Islands.
First stop, the local conservative club where you might have expected full support from their longtime rep. It’s 2 p.m. in the spacious Victorian bar. Nobody wants to give his name. “We are told not to speak for the party,” said one man. “But it would be nice to see him here.”
“It’s too fancy for us here,” says a female member of the club. “I haven’t seen him here or in town for years. Except that he sometimes makes an appearance at election time in a pretty funny way. “
As I leave the club, another member follows me through the door. “To be honest, my friend, he doesn’t need to show his face here,” she said. “A Dartmoor pony could be elected for the Tories here. It would probably make more effort to meet the locals too.
While they don’t openly criticize Sir Geoffrey for his ability to make money away from the Commons, there is a clear sense of irritation even among his most ardent supporters.
Next, I Head to Duke Street, which is packed with independent stores, from country clothing outfitters to artisan delicatessens, to see what the not-necessarily-conservative thinks.
Sylvia, who describes herself as the “Thursday girl” at a local store, was born in the area, and aside from a spell to run her own business in the depths of the moor, she has lived here her entire life.
“If he’s smart enough to have two jobs and do both well, then good luck to him,” she said of her MP. “Too bad we don’t see him around here.” So, maybe he doesn’t have time to do both tasks properly after all.
“Businesses are hurting right now and it would be nice to know that he is supporting us. Just sticking your head around and saying hello on a Saturday afternoon would be nice. Don’t forget us, Geoffrey. We are important to you.
Sylvia’s colleague then directs me to Sir Geoffrey’s constituency office at a stable just off Duke Street. At the very top is a single PVC door, above which is a conservative blue sign with the name of the former attorney general. The pile of mail on the doormat suggests that no one has been here for some time.
Right next door is JB Barbering, run by Jacob Broome. Surely he sees Sir Geoffrey walking in and out of his constituency office all the time? “Not for a long time,” Mr. Broome said. “He’s probably too busy making money on his second job.
A few doors down is the Decodent gallery and store, run by David Hamley. “I don’t think I’ve seen him for four years,” says Mr Hamley. ” It’s a shame. He has a second job in a tax haven and helps him go against the interests of his own government.
Sir Geoffrey denies that his work on a corruption case in the British Virgin Islands is against UK interests.
Quentin and Jenny Johnson also haven’t seen their MP’s skin or hair. “He moonlights,” says Jenny. “What he is doing is terrible,” adds her husband. ” It is a scandal.
Jill, a local Labor activist, is also annoyed with her MP, but neither are her own Tory supporters. She reckons that Sir Geoffrey “comes down once a month to meet with select groups. But you don’t see him walking around the markets, you don’t feel like he’s part of the community.
The last time someone who I spoke to Tavistock saw Sir Geoffrey was a brief glimpse during the 2019 general election campaign.
However, it must be said that he was around a bit. A spokesperson for his office insisted, “Geoffrey has organized many meetings and surgeries in the constituency since September. And on the door of his constituency office is a list of his surgeries that are dated every fortnight.
The Tavistock Tories are angry, but not enough to vote for someone else.