Thatched roof cottages, sheep grazing in the fields, and flowerpots of neatly pruned geraniums.
In this leafy part of the commuter belt, you’d never know you were just 40 minutes from the heart of central London.
But in recent weeks the peace of this semi-rural slice of countryside, home to a core chunk of City workers, has been disrupted, amid a fierce battle for Mid Bedfordshire in the wake of Nadine Dorries’ protracted resignation.
Liberal Democrat and Labour activists have been pounding pavements and filling letterboxes across the constituency with election paraphernalia, as postal ballots land on doormats ahead of the highly anticipated by-election on 19 October.
An intense poster display rivalry is ongoing, with at least one resident admitting he put up a party slogan in his window in a bid to get them to stop ringing his doorbell.
With a 24,000-strong Conservative majority, and the third highest concentration of mortgage-holders nationally across its 48 villages, Mid Bedfordshire is classic blue wall.
But despite being Tory-held since 1931, the antics of MP Nadine Dorries have left her constituents cold. Voters mutter about her absences, her residence in the Cotswold, her jaunts on reality TV, and the long, drawn-out process of her eventual resignation.
“Nadine only decided finally to throw the towel in,” floating voter Sue grumbled from her doorstep. “The only time I saw her was when she was on I’m a Celebrity!”
It’s something Labour’s candidate, Alistair Strathern, hopes to tap into.
“Her name recognition is about as high as I’ve ever seen for an MP,” he tells me, as we join party activists in Flitwick, Mid Bedfordshire’s biggest town.
“Nadine’s absence played into people’s worst impression of what an MP is. It bled into people’s wider perceptions, and some of the worst stereotypes about who MPs are.”
“We need to earn that trust back… politics can be something that cares about our places and our communities.”
‘Labour can’t win here’ – or can they?
A former Waltham Forest councillor in east London and Bank of England climate advisor, Strathern is open and friendly, bounding up to front door after front door.
One man is eager to tell him he plans to vote for the party at a general election – and urges him to “get rid of this current crew and get us back into Europe… those two things really”.
His team tell me they’ve had success with a recent series of ‘Meet the Candidate’ events on village greens, advertised with distinctly un-Labour-red pastel-toned invitations.
More than 65 people turned out in Flitwick – never pronounce the W – and the odd lifelong Conservative voter even left with placards for their driveway in hand.
Recent polling by Survation, published by the Guardian, put Labour and the Tories neck and neck on 29 per cent in the seat, with the Lib Dems trailing behind on 22 per cent.
A steady stream of Starmer’s frontbenchers have joined Strathern, who now lives in the constituency, to campaign, with shadow science secretary Peter Kyle at the political reins.
Victory here could inject the party with a fresh dose of confidence and direction ahead of a general election in which, to secure a majority of just one, they would reportedly need to win 124 seats.
Ask the Liberal Democrats, however, and you’ll hear the opposite argument: that this is ripe ground for turning yellow on election day, in just three short weeks.
Activists describe a “North Shropshire feel”, and say people are concerned about core Lib Dem issues, like sewage, planning and overdevelopment.
Lib Dem candidate Emma Holland-Lindsay, a local councillor, former charity worker and mum-of-two, tells me she’s fifth generation Mid Beds, or “as far as my granny can remember”.
She’s done the obligatory ‘welly photoshoot’ in a local river, and is running on a heavily local platform – pushing for more GP services, infrastructure to support newly-built housing estates and community policing.
And the doorstep message in the nearby, Privet Drive-esque, village of Harlington is clear – and ad infinitum. Labour can’t win here, Holland-Lindsay tells voter after voter.
‘I’ve just had enough’
We’re only a few minutes into door knocking when dog-owner Andrew answers the door.
“I won’t be voting Conservative, I can tell you that for a fact,” he told us. “All the stuff over Covid… I’ve just had enough.
“I’ve always voted for them but this year I won’t. It’s the fallout over the partygate stuff. Why should they get away with it and we don’t?”
But he’s unsure about fully switching allegiance, adding: “Labour’s always been the working man’s party.”
An older woman, who can’t get a GP appointment, chats to Holland-Lindsay through her rose-framed, mock Tudor windows, and agrees.
“I shan’t be missing her [Dorries],” she said. “But I’m more likely to go for you than Labour – that’s a step too far.”
Holland-Lindsay’s political awakening was a recent transformation, she tells me.
Elected to central Bedfordshire council in May – when the Tories lost 1,000 council seats – she now leads the health scrutiny committee, and is painfully aware of the strain on the local NHS.
“It’s always been really important to me to make a difference,” she said. “There’s been a huge vacuum in Mid Beds because we haven’t had an MP doing that.
“I started doing advice surgeries in the summer as Nadine Dorries wasn’t doing them!”
With a solid core of Conservative voters, she’s “surprised Labour think they can win” the seat. “I just think it’s one of those areas where people will only go so far,” she said.
This factor, the Lib Dems are keen to argue, is likely to put off potential Labour supporters taking the risk. Tactical voting, I’m told, is the “flavour of the month”.
Strathern, naturally, rejects this analysis. “I’m sure there will be places in the country where the Lib Dems are better placed but here we’ve always been second,” he insists.
“This is rural commuter territory. People are exposed to the exact same costs and pressures as right across the country.”
He wants to see GP surgeries expanded, support for jobs and technology at Cranfield University, which specialises in aerospace and engineering, and speed cameras installed.
“It would be historic [for Labour to win],” he admits. “But the polls are showing there is an opportunity for change if we want it… to give people something different.
“I’ve had lifelong Conservative voters backing me. They recognise Labour has started to change and that under Starmer we are a party that can credibly deliver.”
Conservative candidate Festus Akinbusoye is the area’s current police and crime commissioner (PCC).
He appears to be keeping a somewhat lower profile, and wasn’t available to speak to City A.M. while we were in town.
But he can boast the full support of Rishi Sunak, who told BBC Three Counties Radio last week he thinks Akinbusoye “is brilliant” and a “great guy”.
The Prime Minister said: “I think he’ll be a great MP for people. He’s completely local, he’s already cut rural crime… he’s going to be a fantastic champion for the local area.”
He added: “[He’s] on people’s side when it comes to protecting the green belt whereas Labour and the Lib Dems want to impose top-down development targets and concrete over green spaces.”
The Mid Bedfordshire by-election takes place on Thursday 19 October.