Former army officer Steve Barclay set to inherit comfortable majority from Malcolm Moss

By Chris Bishop LONG-serving Conservative Malcolm Moss s departure from politics is unlikely to spark a change of colour in North East Cambridgeshire.His successor Steve Barclay, a former army officer, inherits a safe seat and a ticket to Westminster, wi

By Chris Bishop

LONG-serving Conservative Malcolm Moss's departure from politics is unlikely to spark a change of colour in North East Cambridgeshire.

His successor Steve Barclay, a former army officer, inherits a safe seat and a ticket to Westminster, with a majority nudging 9,000.

Mr Moss unexpectedly took the seat from the late Sir Clement Freud, one of the most colourful characters in politics, in 1987. Mr Freud, who once famously dubbed Margaret Thatcher Atilla the hen, passed away last April at the age of 84.

Mr Moss's greatest achievement was during his stint as Northern Ireland minister, when he persuaded Sinn Fein and Unionist councillors to join ground-breaking talks. Closer to home, he championed causes such as the Thorney Bypass.

North East Cambridgeshire stretches from Whittlesey to Tydd St Giles, a mainly rural area where farming and food production are the main industries, in the rich peat soil reclaimed by the Dutch drainers.

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Earlier this year a TV documentary set out to explore claims migrant workers have taken jobs which could be done by local workers, in an area with thousands of migrants, where unemployment is 20pc higher than the national average.

There was anger in Wisbech when the programme appeared to suggest foreign workers were more reliable and one grower - who also happened to be none other than the president of North East Cambridgeshire Conservative Association, Victor Aveling - said he could not run his business without them.

The town boasts a Georgian street frontage to rival Bath or Cheltenham, Peckover House and the birthplace of Octavia Hill, one of the founders of the National Trust. Yet its centre is a run-down remnant, with shop fronts painted on empty buildings.

Mr Barclay may be almost guaranteed a safe passage to Westminster, but there are stormy times ahead for the economy in NE Cambs. Rising fuel prices will be felt by many in a predominantly rural area, where many villages have seen facilities dwindle. Poverty is rife out in the sticks, where many still eke a living from smallholdings.

Regeneration is desperately needed, in a constituency which seems to have been by-passed by the Silicon Fen effect of high-tech businesses re-locating to the northern side of Cambridge. If there's a key issue on the doorsteps out in the Fens, it's this.

Towns like Wisbech are crying out for the better-paid employment such embryonic industries bring. Without it, their future prosperity looks as murky as the Nene which rushes through the Brinks.

Like neighbouring North West Norfolk, a new College of West Anglia campus is a vital catalyst for growth. Plans to build it in March have been mothballed until financial climes improve. Mr Barclay has lobbied David Cameron who has pledged his support.

But with money unlikely to be forthcoming from central government - whoever wins the election - the new college will have to look elsewhere for funding.

Fenland District Council has pledged �1.5m. But COWA principal David Pomfret has already warned the original campus plan will have to be scaled down, hinting COWA may also remain in Wisbech.

Labour polled 15,280 votes in 2005, on a 59pc turnout. Its candidate Peter Roberts has a mountain to climb. While Fenland's foxes are safe from hunts, Labour's disdain for the countryside won't do him any favours on rural doorsteps.

Liberal Democrat Lorna Spenceley's predecessor managed a third of the winning Tory vote last time around.

Independent Debra Jordan, a businesswoman from Littleport, remains an unknown quantity.

UKIP's Robin Talbot offers potential for an interesting sideshow, in how much of Mr Barclay's vote will defect to the Brussels bashers. Fruit growers don't like Europe any more than the late Sir Clement liked Australia at the moment.

2005 results:

Malcolm Moss (Con), 24,181; Ffinlo Costain (Lab), 15,280; Alan Dean (Lib Dem), 8,693; Leonard Baynes (UKIP), 2,723. Maj 8,901. Turnout 59.8pc.

2001 results:

Malcolm Moss (Con), 23,132; Dil Owen (Lab), 16, 759; John Stevens (UKIP), 1,189; Tony Hoey (ProLife) 238. Maj 6,373. Turnout 60.2pc.

1997 results:

Malcolm Moss (Con), 23,855; Virginia Bucknor (Lab), 18,754; Andrew Nash (Lib Dem), 9,070; M Bacon (Referendum), 2,636; C Bennett (Soc Lab), 851; L Leighton (Natural Law) 259. Maj 5,101. Turnout 72.9pc