Peter Franklin: Ten reasons why Labour isn’t dead yet

27 Sep

Peter Franklin is an Associate Editor of UnHerd.

Here’s something to cheer up the gloomiest Tory: the Labour Party.

Out of power for eleven years and counting. Four general election defeats in a row. The loss of Scotland in 2015. The loss of the Red Wall in 2019. The loss of Hartlepool in 2021 (in a by-election, to a fourth-term Tory government).

This year’s party conference was a chance for a fresh start. But, so far, it’s been a disaster — featuring a 12,500 word “essay” that nobody read; an absurd statement on female anatomy; and a watered-down attempt to change the party rules on leadership elections.

That last one sums up the futility of last eleven years. Since 2010, Labour has elected three leaders. The third leader is using up his political capital on trying to reverse the first leader’s biggest mistake in the hope that no one like the second leader is ever elected again.

If Conservatives don’t take the Labour Party seriously, one can hardly blame them. And yet that could prove to be a big mistake. Labour is a much stronger foe than immediate appearances suggest.

Here are ten reasons why:

1) An irreducible core of support

I’m old enough to remember when the Conservative Party was in the same position that Labour is today. In fact from 1997 to 2005 we had 40 fewer seats than Labour’s current tally. At the time there were those who pronounced the party’s decline to be irreversible. And yet, even at the lowest ebb, the Tories never lost their major party status. There was an irreducible core of Conservative support (roughly 30 per cent of the electorate) and a heartland that held out against Tony Blair.

The same is true of Labour in 2021. The Red Wall may have fallen, but there are other red walls — the big cities, the Welsh Valleys and a sprinkling of university towns. These are still standing.

2) A plausible Prime Minister

I used to think that Keir Starmer was a poor leader of the Labour Party, but a good Leader of the Opposition. However, I’ve now seen enough his performances to convince me he’s bad at both.

He is, in the words of Ruth Davidson, “a dud” — except, that is, for one redeeming quality: you could imagine him in the role of Prime Minister. I mean that literally. If he was an actor and British politics a TV drama (yes, yes, same difference) — then one could plausibly cast him as the leader of his country.

The same could never have been said of Ed Miliband or Jeremy Corbyn. So in that respect Labour’s taken a big step forward.

3) The German model

Of course, plausibility isn’t the same thing as popularity. And Starmer certainly doesn’t have the latter. But then neither did his German opposite number, Olaf Scholz — also a dull social democrat. And yet over the course of the German general election campaign he emerged as the voters’ favourite to succeed Angela Merkel.

Scholz didn’t receive a charisma transplant, he just stood out as the best of bad bunch. Admittedly that’s not the most vaulting of ambitions for Starmer, but sometimes it’s all you need.

4) Time for a change?

Tories don’t have to buy into theories of a centre-left revival to view the Germany result with concern. They just have to remember that, eventually, voters get fed up with having the same old party in power. After 16 years of CDU-led governments, it’s clear that German voters wanted something different.

By the time of the next British general election, we’ll have had 13 or 14 years of Tory-led government. If British voters decide time’s up, then the only alternative to a Conservative Prime Minister is a Labour Prime Minister.

5) A reservoir of potential voters

According to the polls, Labour is still stuck in the low-to-mid-thirties. That’s not enough. So where do the extra votes come from?

Well don’t forget the other parties of the centre-left. Between them, the Lib Dems and the Greens have got nearly 20 per cent in the polls. If Labour can squeeze that — especially in marginal seats where they’re best placed to win — then they’re back in business.

6) Brexit fade

And there’s another potential source of votes: people who voted Labour as recently as 2017, but who broke with the party over Brexit.

But how long will the Brexit effect last? Five years, ten years, a generation? Or is it already fading away? We just don’t know because we’ve never been here before.

I suspect that the only permanent loyalty among Red Wall voters is to not being taken for granted. Best not to let them down, then.

7) The spectre of 2017

One doesn’t have to speculate about Labour consolidating the left-leaning vote, because it’s happened once already.

I know that everyone except the Corbynites would rather forget, but in 2017 Labour won 40 per cent of the vote.

Can we be sure that there’s no potential for a second consolidation? Yes, it’s a nightmare scenario — but sometimes nightmares come true.

8) Coalition partners

Labour’s own nightmare is that’s they’ll never win a majority again. However, that doesn’t mean that they won’t be able to form a government. In fact, in the event of hung parliament, Labour now has an overwhelming advantage over the Conservatives.

Of the parties currently represented in the Commons, potential partners for Labour include any or all of the following: the SNP, the Lib Dems, Plaid Cymru, the Greens, the SDLP, the Alliance and (perhaps) the DUP.

How many of those would conceivably join a Conservative-led coalition (or prop up a minority government)? Well, after Ed Davey’s announcement last week, just the DUP — and they’re in decline.

So let’s be clear about this: an inconclusive election result almost certainly means a Labour-led government.

9) A new leader

Even if there’s no repeat of the 2017 scenario, there is another precedent to watch out for — 1994. That was the last time that Labour got tired of losing — and chose an electable leader.

But does Labour today have the equivalent of a Tony Blair? It does, and his name is Dan Jarvis — a political moderate, a former British Army officer and an MP for a northern seat. A sane Labour Party would have elected him leader five years ago, but a fifth successive general election might just bring them to their senses.

Jarvis has been in semi-exile from Westminster politics, serving as Mayor of the South Yorkshire metro region since 2018. Significantly, he’s now stepping down from that role. Perhaps, he’s got his eye on another position?

10) The coming red wave

Finally, let’s look far beyond the next general election — which we can do by looking at generational voting patterns.

It’s an over-simplification to say that old people vote Conservative and young people vote Labour — but it’s never been closer to the truth than it is today.

Of course, a pensioner’s vote is every bit as valid as anybody else’s – but that doesn’t just change the fact that the Grim Reaper is on Labour’s side.

One might hope that younger voters will turn Tory as they mature, but why would they if we continue to exclude them from home ownership? If we fail to turn that around, then Labour’s future looks a lot brighter than its present.

David Gauke: Johnson’s health and social care plan. A betrayal of Conservative principles? No – because, at one level, there aren’t any.

13 Sep

David Gauke is a former Justice Secretary, and was an independent candidate in South-West Hertfordshire in the 2019 general election.

The Government’s plan for increases in National Insurance (NI) contributions to fund higher health spending and increased health spending has provoked a furious response from some on the right.

It “sounded the death knell to Conservatism” and drove “a coach and horses not only through the Tory Party manifesto, but Toryism itself”  according to Camilla Tominey in the Daily Telegraph.  In the same paper, Allister Heath fumed “shame on Boris Johnson, and shame on the Conservative Party…they have disgraced themselves, lied to their voters, repudiated their principles and treated millions of their supporters with utter contempt” and that “an entire intellectual tradition now lies trashed”.

In the Times, Iain Martin declared that “at this rate, the Conservative Party might as well rename itself the Labour Party”  and in the Spectator, Fraser Nelson questioned whether the “Boris Johnson” definition of conservatism as “a protection racket, where the tools of the state are used to extract money from minimum-wage workers and pass it on to the better-off?”

Meanwhile, Dominic Cummings has argued that “if you think you’re ‘conservative’, and you give those speeches about ‘enterprise’ and ‘responsibility’, why would you support making many more dependent on state money and bureaucracy?”

It’s all jolly strong stuff. And there are elements of the criticisms with which I have sympathy. I share the scepticism about prioritising a tax-funded social care cap, in that those who will gain most are those who have the most (thanks to rising house prices) and that is the wrong priority for public money.

There is a need for risk-pooling, but I think Peter Lilley’s proposal on this site is worth close examination (I suggested something similar when in Government). I also dislike NI as the choice of tax because of the narrowness of its base – and the distortions that this causes – and the dishonesty of employers NICs (no, Prime Minister, it is not a tax on business: it is a tax on jobs and employees’ wages).

In fairness to the Government, raising taxes is difficult, NI is less unpopular than income tax (largely because much of the public misunderstand it) and, being cynical, it is not surprising that Ministers exploit that misunderstanding.

Having said all that, is it a fair criticism to state that Johnson’s Health and Social Care plan undermines everything for which the Conservative Party stands? For a number of reasons (some of which reflect better on the Party than others), I think not.

First, the Conservative Party has an honourable record of fiscal responsibility. When the public finances are in trouble, Conservative governments have been willing to raise taxes in order to put the public finances on a sound footing – not least Margaret Thatcher’s, when Geoffrey Howe raised taxes in 1979 and 1981. The advocates of Reaganomics always find this disappointing, but responsible Conservatives do not believe that lower taxes will pay for themselves (as they did not for Reagan).

In reality, even putting aside any new commitments on social care spending, the prospects for the public finances are not great. Not only do we face some immediate challenges (Covid catch up, net zero and levelling up), but demography and rising health expectations will mean a tax-funded healthcare system will require higher taxes.

Some on the Right will argue for further cuts in spending or an alternative health model, but the political feasibility of such an approach is highly dubious. If we are going to spend more (and we are), taxes will need to rise to pay for it.

Second, the idea that a Conservative government prioritising homeowners is a complete break from the past does not bear scrutiny. Look at the arguments that Thatcher made in resisting the removal of mortgage interest tax relief (although the Treasury rightly prevailed in the end), or the general dislike of inheritance tax from the wider Conservative world. The reaction to Theresa May’s social care policy in 2017 suggests that the instinct to ‘defend our people’ (and their inheritances) amongst Conservatives is a formidable one.

Third, complaints about the Conservative Party not being the party of business are (how can I put this?) a little rich from some quarters. Imposing higher taxes, whether on employment or profits, is not great for business – but making it substantially harder to trade with our largest trading partner is a bigger problem.

It is all very well complaining about the anti-business instincts of this Conservative government, but hard to do if you have been a cheerleader for anti-business policies or, for that matter, Boris “f*** business” Johnson. If your expectation is that the Conservative Party would automatically be on the pro-business side of the argument, you have not been paying much attention in recent years.

The reason why the Conservative Party moved in the direction of an anti-business Brexit is that was where the votes were. And this brings me to the fourth and most important observation about the Conservative Party.

It has one purpose: to be in power. At one level, it is not possible for it to repudiate its principles because it does not have any. This can give it a tremendous advantage in a democracy because the public, as a whole, does not have political principles either – opinions and political alignments shift over time.

The Conservatives have been protectionists and free traders, the party of Empire and the party that facilitated the retreat from Empire, Keynesians and monetarists, the party of price controls and wages policies and the party of market economics, the party of Europe and the party of Brexit. It never stays on the wrong side of public opinion for long.

What is happening to our politics at the moment is that party support is realigning along cultural lines and, as a consequence, much more along generational lines. This has worked to the advantage of the Conservatives, so it is no surprise that it pursues policies that prioritises health spending over lower taxes for people of working age.

Polling suggests that the new, Red Wall voters who switched to the Conservatives at the last election are notably more left-wing on economic issues than traditional Conservative voters who are, in turn, to the left of Conservative MPs. The decision was made to pursue those voters and, if the Conservative Party wants to keep them, it cannot risk the NHS collapsing under financial pressure – which means higher spending and, ultimately, higher taxes.

Johnson’s critics are right to think that this will not be the end of it. Last week’s package was supposed to be an answer to how we fund social care. The reality is that it was a package to boost spending on the NHS. As Damian Green has argued on ConHome, it is hard to see how resources will be taken out of the NHS and switched to social care in three years’ time – and that, at that point, some expensive social care commitments will come into effect.

here will another funding gap and, on the basis of last week’s revealed preference, a further increase in the Health and Social Care Levy. Those who see the purpose of the Conservative Party as delivering low taxes are right to be glum.

Social care reform – and why we can’t simply tax our way to better public services

6 Sep

Congratulations to the Government.  That’s a sentence written less on ConservativeHome than you might imagine – and, when it comes to public service reform, scarcely at all.

For while the last Conservative Manifesto promised more nurses, GP appointments and police, it provided little explanation, if any, of how these new nurses would provide better care, doctors’ appointments would become quicker to book and extra police would catch more criminals.

And now that Dominic Cummings has left Downing Street, no reforming “hard rain” will drive down on the civil service.  Meanwhile, Tory backbenchers have left the government’s flagship housing plan holed below the waterline.

So it’s to Boris Johnson’s credit that he wants to overhaul social care, even if he hasn’t had a “prepared plan” for it since entering Downing Street, as he claimed at the time.  However, we fear that this is almost as far as the good news goes – because, of all the services in need of change, social care is among the most difficult to tackle.

Here’s why. For a start, many voters don’t understand the difference between how healthcare and social care is provided in in England and Wales.

Health care is funded free at the point of use but social care usually isn’t.  This confusion played a major part in the Conservative general election disaster of 2017.  Many voters hadn’t grasped that the value of their homes is taken into account for residential but not domiciliary care, and revolted when the Tory manifesto proposed to level the playing field.

The source of the muddle is doubtless what Tim Bale, in an agonising blog about the fate of his parents, rightly categorised as optimism bias: namely, the belief that disability and dementia, say, “won’t happen to you – I mean, what are the chances?”

Next comes the question of which problem the Government is trying to solve.  For not all social care goes on elderly people: half of the spending on it is consumed by working age adults.  Demand is rising; more people want social care but fewer are receiving it; council budgets have fared less well than the NHS’s, and local government is responsible for delivery.

And “there is a basic concern among the public about quality,” according to the Kings’ Fund, perhaps especially in care homes.  Then there’s the separate-though-related issue of selling one’s home to help meet the costs.

Penultimately in our list of problems, we turn to manifesto commitments.  The Tory manifesto not only promised more spending for public services; it also ruled out raising certain taxes to pay for it.  “We will not raise the rate of income tax, VAT or national insurance,” it said baldly.  Finally, there is the matter of intergenerational justice.

Questionmarks over trust and fairness haunt the Government’s plan, which is concentrated on the final social care issue that we raise above – selling the family home to help meet costs.  (There will also be a big rise in the means-testing threshold for care homes.)

That means a floor beneath and a ceiling above which no-one will pay.  The higher the floor is, the more poorer people will be protected.  The lower the ceiling is, the less richer ones will pay. So there is an obvious north/south trade-off, broadly speaking, between the interests of, say, Batley & Spen, and those of, for example, Chesham and Amersham over where the ceiling and floor are set.

The Government’s plans are still being finalised, but it seems to be planning to raise national insurance to fund its plan.  Younger and poorer people would thus fork out to meet costs more often incurred by older and richer ones.  This would be unfair – especially in a country in which the latter hold an effective monopoly on capital.  Not to mention a breach of the manifesto.

How might Ministers respond to this formidable list of objections to their plan?  They might say one shouldn’t make the best the enemy of the good, and that even if only one of the main social care problems can be solved, the effort will be worthwhile.

And add that, since their proposals are based on the Dilnot Report, they at least command a degree of consensus.  They would doubtless say that older people tend to vote Conservative, and that it’s bad politics to alienate one’s base.  If Johnson also announces that the triple lock will be abandoned this year, they will claim that he has presented a package that “strikes the right balance”.

The Government’s model is the then Labour Government’s tax rise of the early 2000s to fund higher NHS spending.  Tony Blair got away with it, and the Prime Minister will hope that he does too.

Maybe Tory MPs will vote through a national insurance rise if Johnson, with his majority of 83, puts it to Parliament with the support of his Chancellor.  Downing Street will hope that the prospect of a reshuffle will keep Ministers in order – and that Labour opposition to the NI rise will minimise the Tory revolt.

None the less, we warn the Government that the cat of Conservative tax rises has fewer than nine lives.  Tory MPs won’t indefinitely nod hikes through.

Nor is the Blair precedent encouraging.  His national insurance rise failed to deliver the improvements he wanted.  Hence his later decision to support Alan Milburn as Health Secretary in delivering market-based reform.  Above all, governments can’t expect to break manifesto promises made in one election, and have those it makes at the next taken seriously.

It may be that Johnson will dress up any national insurance rise to pay for social care as a special levy, thus enabling him to claim that he’s not in breach of the pledge he made two years ago – technically, anyway.

But doing so wouldn’t ease this site’s wider concern: that just as government can’t tax its way to a more prosperous economy, it can’t tax its way to better public services.  And that once Ministers start reaching for tax increases to solve a problem, the reflex can become automatic.

At the heart of social care reform for any Conservative Government, two fundamentals conflict.  The first is: there’s no such thing as a free lunch.  The second is: wealth must cascade down the generations.

In other words, someone must pay for social care – be it the user, the taxpayer, or someone else.  If so, wealth risks not so much cascading as trickling down, especially if the main form of saving, the family home, is sold off to meet social care bills.  At the one of the policy spectrum, Policy Exchange proposes rolling social care into the NHS, which would certainly require new taxpayer funding.

At the other end are a long succession of Tory plans for insurance-based schemes.  Peter Lilley’s set out a variant recently on this site, supporting a state-backed voluntary system.

There is no shortage of objections to such a plan – not least potential voter resistance to any Conservative health-related insurance scheme.  But if the aim of government is to protect homeowners from Bale’s “Russian roulette”, this type of proposal has merit.

It would be consistent with the Conservative manifesto, avoid tax rises and a backbench revolt, be generationally fairer, and represent evolutionary rather than revolutionary change, since no-one would be forced to join the scheme.  Instead, the Prime Minister is rushing in where angels, or at least politicians, have feared to tread.

He isn’t always associated with prizing courage over guile, or attempting today what can be put off until tomorrow.  Not for the first time, we’re learning something about Johnson that we didn’t know before.

Race and disparities. A report so commonsensical but consensus-challenging that we’re surprised it was allowed to happen.

31 Mar

“The Conservatives, ethnic minority voters, and the election. Next to no progress”: such was the headline we wrote for Sunder Katwala’s post-poll piece on this site in 2019. The sum of his article was that Tory hopes of a breakthrough among Indian and Chinese-origin voters had not been realised.

The party had made “only modest progress” with them, mirrored by “a modest decline” elsewere – from 24 per cent of the ethnic minority whole to 20 per cent. His piece opened with a stark sentence: “not being white remains the number one demographic predictor of not voting Conservative.”

Henry Hill’s study of the new Tory intake in the Commons painted a similar picture: “at under five per cent of the new intake, the share or black or minority MPs in the Class of 2019 is lower than 2017 or 2015, and the share elected for safe seats is a third of what it was two years ago”.

One response to that last figure might be: don’t look at the share, look at the number – which shows that 22 such MPs were elected in 2019 compared to 19 in 2017.  That figure could be a starting-point for how the Conservatives might do better come the next election than “next to no progress”.

In short words, aim for evolutionary rather than radical change.  Dig in at local level, deploying pavement politics to win council seats in areas with high concentrations of ethnic minority voters.  Find new candidates from among them.  Make progress in Mayoral contests. Build up to challenging for the local Commons seat.

Take up and campaign on causes that matter to such voters: sickle cell disease, among people of an African or Caribbean origin; religious burial among those with a Pakistani or Bangladeshi background. Stress values: family, work and education.

Above all, take the Party’s approach to climate change as a model: just as it doesn’t dispute the challenge of global warming (far from it), don’t quarrel with that of institutional racism: the doctrine that institutions can be judged guilty of it even if individuals within them may not be – especially given the new context of Black Lives Matter.

And alhough while no individual within an institution may be racist, his actions can be recorded as such if they are “perceived to be racist by the victim or any other person”.  That’s the legacy of William Macpherson’s culture-shaping report in the wake of the murder of Stephen Lawrence.

Whatever may be said for or against such a softly-softly approach, some of the new generation of Conservative ethnic minority MPs strain against it – most notably Kemi Badenoch, whose Commons speech against critical race theory last year made waves.

And just as there is a new generation of ethnic minority MPs, so there is a new one of ethnic minority intellectuals, academics, writers, educationalists and police – in terms of approach if not always of age.  One of them is Munira Mirza, Head of the Downing Street Policy Unit.

Others include some of the commissioners of the Government’s Commission on Race and Ethnic disparities, such as Tony Sewell, its chair.  Or, elsewhere, business people, like Trevor Phillips, who has contributed to this site.  Or doctors such as Raghib Ali, another contributor, and an adviser to the Government on Covid and disparities.

Raghib’s thinking foreshadows that of this latest report, published yesterday.  “Racism still blights too many lives today,” he wrote for ConservativeHome last year, and the Commission takes up where he left off.  The first of its 24 recommendations is: “challenge racist and discriminatory actions”.

Others include “teaching an inclusive curriculum”; “investigate what causes existing ethnic pay disparities”; “create police workforces that represent the communities they serve” and “increase legitimacy and accountability of stop and search through body-worn video”.

So far, so conventional – and none the worse for it.  But just as Raghib went further, acknowedging ethnic disparities but dismissing systemic racism, so this report goes further, too, as it comes to similar conclusions.  The picture it presents is one of a slow, attritional but persistent advance.

Above all, it dismisses the view of ethnic minorities as always disadvantaged compared to the white majority – to be bundled together under the acronym BAME: a homogeneous lump in which the African-origin and Chinese-origin experience, say, are treated as much the same.

Here is an extract from the report which gives the flavour: “education is the single most emphatic success story of the British ethnic minority experience. The Commission notes that the average GCSE Attainment 8 score for Indian, Bangladeshi and Black African pupils were above the White British average”.

No wonder, in the context of its findings as a whole, that the Commission joins the list of those who find that BAME label conceals more than it reveals: British Future, of which Sunder is the Director, says that “it is better to use words, rather than acronyms”.  The Centre for Social Justice wants the term dropped.

But it goes almost without saying that opposing racism, and suggesting ways of combatting it, won’t be enough for those whose commissions, jobs, sincures and votes are founded on the doctrine of social regress, rather than social progress; on victimhood rather than agency; and on institutional racism rather than persistent racism.

There is a Victimhood Blob just as there is an Education Blob, and it fears that where new thinking goes today, the electorate will go tomorrow.  No wonder the attack on the commissioners is already turning, in some quarters, personal and unscrupulous.  The stakes are too high for it to be otherwise.

We wonder whether their assessment is correct.  It may be that this report marks a historic turning-point in race relations in Britain, with the Tory-voting white plurality is especially receptive.  Or it may be that the structural racism narrative is too well entrenched, too dug in after 25 years, to be shifted by a single Government.

Without the commitment of Mirza herself (already a target of Far Left unreason), we doubt if the report would have been commissioned.  Boris Johnson’s technique is to wait for Woke to over-reach, as in the case of the Churchill statue assault, before committing himself, rather than strike questingly into its intellectual territory.

Perhaps the best way of looking at the report is to shake oneself free of these political, tactical considerations, and simply ask: is the Commission right – for example, in saying that unconscious bias training should be scrapped?  In its view that all ethnic minorities don’t move forward at the same pace?

In essence, the report argues that the three biggest determinants of life chances are family, education and work.  This seems to us to be so unrebuttable as, ultimately, to be certain to win through.  Which doesn’t mean that the report is perfect: we are not sure that it has got to the heart of the problems for black people in relation to crime and justice.

Nor does it follow that because a report has analysed a problem accurately, the Government will act appropriately.  British governments are notorious for being among the most indiiferent to families in Europe, with the noxious consequences that Miriam Cates described on ConservativeHome earlier this week.

Perhaps the “review to…take action to address the underlying issues facing families” recommended in the report will turn the tide.  At the level of words, perhaps with deeds to come, this is the most consensus-challenging, bold and implication-rich Government initiative to date.  We can’t help being surprised that it was allowed to happen at all.

How even a modest Labour revival in Scotland could return more Conservative MPs

19 Feb

Last month, I wrote about the contest for the leadership of Scottish Labour. Now that Richard Leonard, a woefully-performing left-winger, has finally stepped down, it’s a battle between Anas Sarwar and Monica Lennon for what was, in recent memory, one of the biggest jobs in Scottish politics.

Sarwar is widely considered both the favourite and the candidate most likely to revive Labour’s fortunes ahead of the upcoming Scottish Parliament elections (although Lennon stars in this very aggressive new attack ad, which is worth a watch).

As we found in our most recent monthly survey, grassroots Conservatives overwhelmingly take the view that a Labour revival in Scotland is preferable to continued SNP hegemony. This can certainly be explained by the great importance they place on protecting the Union. But as I mentioned in my last piece, there’s actually a self-interested Tory case for cheering Labour on.

Simply put, the Opposition can appeal to an importance slice of the electorate which currently votes Nationalist. These are people who can be persuaded to vote for a pro-UK party, but not the Conservatives.

Conservative strategists actually blame the collapse in Labour’s vote in Scotland in 2019 for the scale of their own reversal north of the border at that election, which saw just over half of the 13-strong Scottish Tory caucus returned in 2017 lose their seats to the SNP. And the numbers from those seven seats, collected at the bottom of this post, do seem to bear this out.

Yes, the Conservative vote went down in every seat except Gordon. But in most cases, not by every much. The real story is a dramatic increase in the Nationalist vote, mirrored by a halving, or worse, of the Labour vote. That’s what allowed the SNP to overturn a Tory majority of 4,752 in Aberdeen South and 4,712 in East Renfrewshire, which in a previous life was the Conservative stronghold of Eastwood.

Obviously the movement of voters between parties is always complex, but a simple experiment illustrates the impact even a modest Labour revival could have. What happens in these seats if we return to Labour half the votes they lost between 2017 and 2019, at the SNP’s expense?

In Aberdeen South, the Nationalist majority over the Tories is cut from 3990 to just 745; in Angus from 3,795 to 2,204; in East Renfrewshire from 5,426 to 1,680; in Ochil and South Perthshire from 4,498 to 1,555; and in Stirling from 9,254 to 5,940.

Meanwhile in Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock an SNP majority of 2,329 becomes a Conservative one of 74, and in Gordon a Nationalist lead of 819 becomes a Tory one of 825.

That’s two more Scottish Conservative MPs returned to Westminster, and several more brought within touching distance – and all without any recovery in the actual Tory vote.

This is yet another example of a crucial fact: that the combined potential vote for pro-UK parties is not the same thing as a perfectly fungible ‘unionist vote’. By appealing to different sections of the electorate, the major parties can make much broader inroads into the SNP’s electoral coalition than any united party, whether it be George Galloway’s Alliance for Unity or the revived ‘Scottish Unionist Party’ sometimes floated by the likes of Murdo Fraser and Andy Maciver, could hope to manage.

We see this time and again, whether its the Conservatives failing to find enough Labour and Liberal Democrat switchers to overturn a 25-vote SNP lead in a recent Aberdeenshire by-election or the Tories of East Dunbartonshire refusing to lend Jo Swinson the 150 votes she’d have needed to hold the seat against the Nationalists.#

Truly seeing off the SNP will require a strong Conservative Party and a strong Labour Party – not to mention a stronger Liberal Democrats. Let’s hope that whoever succeeds Leonard can deliver one.

Party Vote (Share) 2017/19

Aberdeen South

  • Conservative: 18,746 (41.2) / 16,938 (35.9)
  • SNP: 13,994 (31.5) / 20,338 (42.1)
  • Labour: 9,143 (20.6) / 3,834 (8.4)

Angus

  • Conservative: 18,148 (45.2) / 17,421 (40.4)
  • SNP: 15,503 (38.6) / 21,216 (49.1)
  • Labour: 5,233 (13) / 2,051 (4.8)

Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock

  • Conservative: 18,550 (40.1) / 17,943 (38.5)
  • SNP: 15,776 (34.1) / 20,272 (43.5)
  • Labour: 11,024 (23.9) / 6,219 (13.3)

East Renfrewshire

  • Conservative: 21,494 (40) / 19,451 (35.1)
  • SNP: 16,784 (31.2) / 24,877 (44.9)
  • Labour: 14,346 (26.7) / 6,855 (12.4)

Gordon

  • Conservative: 21,861 (40.7) / 23,066 (41.3)
  • SNP: 19,254 (35.9) / 23,885 (42.7)
  • Labour: 6,340 (11.8) / 3,052 (5.5)

Ochil and South Perthshire

  • Conservative: 22,469 (41.5) / 22,384 (38.7)
  • SNP: 19,110 (35.3) / 26,882 (46.5)
  • Labour: 10,847 (20) / 4,961 (8.6)

Stirling

  • Conservative: 18,291 (37.1) / 17,641 (33.5)
  • SNP: 18,143 (36.8) / 26,895 (51.1)
  • Labour: 10,902 (22.1) / 4,275 (8.1)

Why Conservatives should cautiously welcome fresh leadership for Scottish Labour

15 Jan

Yesterday afternoon, Richard Leonard announced that he was stepping down as leader of the Scottish Labour Party. (The announcement carefully timed to avoid topping ‘Red, White, and Blue’, no doubt.)

An ally of Jeremy Corbyn, there has been something of Admiral Kolchak about Leonard’s increasingly forlorn attempts to maintain a redoubt for Labour’s left-most wing. He actually fought off a challenge as recently as September, but his position had apparently become unsustainable.

LabourList has a useful summary of what went on behind the scenes. Apparently high net-worth donors were threatening to withhold support from the party unless there was a change in leadership. More significant, however, was the fact that “the balance of factional power on the Scottish executive committee has changed” since the autumn’s abortive putsch.

What happens now? Jackie Baillie, a combative MSP on the right of the party known for her pro-Trident views – her constituency of Dumbarton is home to Her Majesty’s Naval Base Clyde, where docks the fleet – is stepping up in the interim whilst Anas Sarwar, whom Leonard defeated in 2017, seems to be the front-runner. There may be a challenger from the left, but not the Corbynite left. There is some excitable talk about Gordon Brown taking over, but Unionists should sincerely hope he doesn’t.

Coming just a few months ahead of this year’s elections to the Scottish Parliament (albeit that these will likely be delayed), any new leader will have their work cut out to try and regain the ground Labour has lost under Leonard’s hapless leadership.

Yet counter-intuitive as it might seem, there will more than a few Scottish Conservatives hoping for just such a revival. For whilst the two may be often bitter rivals, a certain measure of Labour success may be essential to maximising Tory performance.

Why? Because despite all the progress the latter have made over the past decade or so, there remains a substantial section of even the pro-UK electorate that a Conservative candidate cannot reach. Absent a strong Labour candidate, many of those will either stay at home or, worse, vote SNP.

In 2017, when the Conservatives won 13 seats in Scotland at the general election, Labour also saw a small recovery and won seven. In 2019 – after Leonard had taken over – they lost six of those. Meanwhile the Tories also lost seven of theirs – despite several of the defeated MPs seeing their vote go up. (This is why the old chestnut about setting up a united ‘Unionist Party’ in Scotland is such a bad idea: it takes a range of options to maximise the pro-UK vote.)

Obviously there are limits to this goodwill, and Tory strategists will be concerned by polling which suggests they might cede second place. But a stronger Scottish Labour Party is essential to defending the Union, which makes their determined hopelessness on the constitution deeply concerning. Can Sarwar turn the tide? Could anyone?

Interview: “Petrolhead” Milling denies that Elliott is really in charge at CCHQ, and says that she’s visited all 48 Red Wall seats

30 Sep

Amanda Milling’s “greatest love” is Formula 1 and she is making sure the Conservative machine is ready for next year’s election races: “I’ve got the bonnet open, we’re having a look at what needs a bit of oil, what maybe needs replacing.”

As Co-Chairman of the Conservative Party she announces “the biggest conference ever”, starting on Saturday, and has been “on the road constantly for the last three months”, visiting all 48 of the Red or, as they are now sometimes called, Blue Wall seats won off other parties at the general election.

Milling denies in this interview that Ben Elliot, her Co-Chairman, runs the show at CCHQ, just as Andrew Feldman did for David Cameron.

She does not deny that since the general election victory in December, CCHQ has got rid of some campaign managers: “It’s not unusual after a general election you don’t have as many campaign managers round the country.”

Her role, she explains, is not to represent the party on the airwaves, but to maintain close contact with activists: “So I haven’t been on either the Today programme or Newsnight, but obviously with Conference it’s a big opportunity to reach out to our activist base.”

The interview was conducted on Monday afternoon in her office at CCHQ, which is adorned by pictures of Margaret Thatcher and Boris Johnson.

ConHome: “What do you think the virtual party conference will be like, and what do you hope to achieve from it?”

Milling: “Well I’m thoroughly looking forward to the virtual conference which starts on Saturday. It’s going to be the biggest conference ever, given the number of registrations.

“Obviously I’m disappointed we’re not in Birmingham, but we are where we are. You do find yourself attracting people who would normally not come to conference, by virtue of being able to dial in from your home.”

ConHome: “It is very expensive, in time as well as money, to go to conference.”

Milling: “Yes, in terms of normal conference, if you think about actually going along to Birmingham or Manchester, the hotel, it can be quite a big commitment.

“But I’m delighted we’ve got this virtual conference this year to be able to pour more people in, and hopefully it’ll give them appetite to join us at future conferences both in the spring and in the autumn.”

ConHome: “Will they be able to answer back, or to applaud?”

Milling: “It’s going to be very interactive. A virtual conference does give us the opportunity to have that chat function. People can pose their questions.

“I think that’s quite an important part of this. Because otherwise I think there’s a bit of a danger that it’s permanently just ‘transmit’ – it’s much better to have that interaction – the ability to ask colleagues questions.

“And I’m very pleased that ConHome are having the fringe events too.”

ConHome: “We are, in massive number. Just so you can help us plan, how many set-piece speeches will there be?”

Milling: “We’ve got set-piece speeches from the Foreign Secretary, Home Secretary, Chancellor and Prime Minister, but other Cabinet ministers will be having their slots as well.”

ConHome: “Let me ask you about your function, and do this by looking back for a moment. We’ve had a number of dual chairs, we’ve had Saatchi and Fox, then we got to Feldman and Shapps, and Feldman chaired the Board, and Feldman really was David Cameron’s man, he was in effect the real Party Chairman.

“I’m going to put this to you absolutely straight. There’s a view that Ben Elliot chairs the Board, Ben Elliot is a long-time supporter of Boris, as you are, and Ben’s the real Party Chairman.

“And that with no local elections this year it’s been very hard to see what you’re up to, or some people would say, brutally, why you’re there.”

Milling: “It’s very much a Co-Chairman role, and very much teamwork, with both of us working together. Inevitably we take on different roles and responsibilities.

“Your point about campaigning. Whilst we did have the pause, the postponement of elections earlier in the year, we still have to work towards those elections next May.

“During the summer since we had the easing of lockdown one of the things that’s been really important is setting out guidance for our activists in terms of how they can campaign in a Covid-secure way ahead of those elections next year.”

ConHome: “Tell us about your year. What have you been doing with no local elections? How did you fill in and prepare for next year’s?”

Milling: “Let’s be honest, when I was appointed Co-Chairman back in February I was there ready to get out campaigning and get out also to those seats which are the Blue Wall seats.

“They are Blue Wall seats not Red Wall seats now. Lockdown made that somewhat more difficult. But during lockdown I did a lot of work engaging with the membership via our various new virtual platforms, Zoom and Teams.

“in fact the day was filled morning to evening engaging with our activists. Actually you can get to see more activists in many ways using technology because you’re cutting out the travel time.

“But then after the lockdown was eased I started on what my original mission had been which is to get out and visit these Blue Wall seats.

“And at the weekend I did my last visit which meant I’d visited every single seat that we gained in December. I’ve been on the road constantly for the last three months.”

ConHome: “You actually visited physically?”

Milling: “Physically every single one.”

ConHome: “Could you remind me how many that is?”

Milling: “It is 48.”

ConHome: “And how many times in the year have you been put up on the Today programme or Newsnight?”

Milling: “So I haven’t been on either the Today programme or Newsnight, but obviously with Conference it’s a big opportunity to reach out to our activist base, our members, and talk about my vision for the party.”

ConHome: “Will the local elections definitely go ahead next year?”

Milling: “Yes, there is a lot of work going on in the Cabinet Office to make sure that those local elections go ahead.”

ConHome: “This is a bumper crop of local elections. What have we got? We’ve got London…”

Milling: “We’ve got the county council elections, PCC elections, mayoral elections from 2020 and also 2021, we’ve got elections in Wales and elections in Scotland. So you’re right, this is an absolutely bumper year.”

ConHome: “And everywhere you’ve got a third of the council being elected.”

Milling: “And you’ve got some by-elections. This is why this conference is a really great opportunity to galvanise the troops, enthuse the troops in terms of campaigning.

“I think back to about June time, I would go round the House of Commons, I would literally have colleagues going ‘When can we go out campaigning?’ I was actually hearing that from the grassroots as well.

“And it’s been great to see people getting back on the campaign trail, having rested their legs over lockdown.”

ConHome: “Do you think these elections will be seen as a referendum on the Government?”

Milling: “These elections are our opportunity to really demonstrate Conservatives delivering at a local level. These are local elections, but on a very large scale, given that they are two years’ worth.”

ConHome: “How has it come about that the opposition to the way the fight against Covid was conducted is actually now being led by the Chairman of the 1922 Committee?”

Milling: “Throughout this, we as a Government had to respond to an unprecedented situation with measures to protect jobs, businesses and also lives.”

ConHome: “But how come you seem to have lost the confidence, up to a point, if I read his piece in The Telegraph on Saturday rightly, of the Chairman of the ’22?”

Milling: “So what this debate is about at the moment is the time spent in Parliament discussing it. Today [Monday], as an example, we are having a debate on Coronavirus and the various measures, and a staggering 80 people are in that debate. And there will be further debates and votes going forward.”

ConHome: “But some of them are hopping up and down because today they say we’ve had another set of regulations sprung on us without any notice, saying you can’t dance in a pub and you can’t sing in a pub.”

Milling: “What the Government’s having to do is respond to what is a very fast-moving situation, but at the same time giving colleagues the opportunity to debate that, as is being demonstrated this evening.”

ConHome: “Do you feel there’s been a movement among the colleagues towards a more Swedish-type solution?”

Milling: “Colleagues are as I say debating this today and the Government are responding to the science and the research to ultimately save lives, and that’s the most important thing.”

ConHome: “If this Brady amendment is debated on Wednesday, by then we would expect the Government to have made some move to accommodate it?”

Milling: “We will be having the vote on the Rule of Six next week.”

ConHome: “Though not amendable.”

Milling: “The days of me being in the Whips Office in terms of what’s amendable are over, you seem to forget.”

ConHome: “What do you do in your spare time? Though by the sound of it you don’t have all that much of it just at the moment.”

Milling: “Well my greatest love, and I do try to carve out the time for this, is watching Formula 1.”

ConHome: “Gosh!”

Milling: “So I am a petrolhead.”

ConHome: “From what age were you a petrolhead?”

Milling: “From childhood. I was brought up around cars.”

ConHome: “Who are the greatest racing drivers in your lifetime? Lewis Hamilton’s a bit dull, isn’t he? I mean obviously very good at it.”

Milling: “He’s very, very good at it. He had a bit of a tough day in the office yesterday. Eddie Irvine I always thought was quite an interesting character, because he really took the challenge to Schumacher at the time if I recall rightly.

“So I love Formula 1. So you can imagine my Sunday evenings are most definitely carved out for watching the highlights.

“It’s nice downtime. It would be nicer to actually go to one, but obviously at the moment that’s more difficult. Going to Silverstone is a great, great experience.”

ConHome: “You were brought up around cars?”

Milling: “My father had some vintage cars. There’s a photo if I recall correctly of me at about two in a kind of jump suit with a spanner in hand, although I’m not sure I’d be very good at servicing cars.

“Although on the matter of servicing cars, in terms of this particular role at the moment, I’ve got the bonnet open, we’re having a look at what needs a bit of oil, what maybe needs replacing.

“You haven’t maybe been able to do these things over the last few years, because we’ve just been so focussed on elections.”

ConHome: “So you’re tuning the engine.”

Milling: “We’re tuning the engine. Curiously, lockdown enabled us to do that to a greater extent.”

ConHome: “What sort of things?”

Milling: “One of the things is the candidates’ process, so an end-to-end review of that, from identifying talent to assessing talent and then supporting and nurturing talent.

“We did the Welsh review. We’ve recently appointed a team member to be the campaign manager for Northern Ireland.”

ConHome: “In the past there’s been a lot of criticism of losing highly knowledgeable campaign managers after a general election, and then the machine not in fact being in proper working order, for example in 2017.”

Milling: “So what we’ve been doing over the last few months, particularly ahead of next year’s elections, is making sure that our team are in the right places.

“But also over time our main focus is on getting the organisation fit for not just next year but 2024.”

ConHome: “The organisation was very scanty in many of the 48 seats which were won in December. What are you doing to build up some troops, some boots on the ground, for next time?”

Milling: “There’s a big piece of work we’ve been undertaking looking at these Blue Wall seats. Lee Rowley, who’s the Deputy Chairman, has been sitting down with all these colleagues to really get under the skin of what have they got, what have they not got, what their priorities are, what we need to do to build a membership and activists in these different areas.

“We’re going to be having a working group to make that more action-focussed.”

ConHome: “You just said you’ll be getting the campaign managers to the right places. Is that fewer people to the right places?”

Milling: “It’s not unusual after a general election you don’t have as many campaign managers around the country. But I think the main point for me as well is making sure that those campaign managers that we’ve got are focussed in the right places, particularly ahead of next year, which you know is a challenge, given the number of elections that we’ve got.”

ConHome: “When you went round the Red Wall or Blue Wall seats, how many of them don’t have a Conservative councillor?”

Milling: “It’s a big of a mixed bag. I think the key here is about building on having a Conservative MP. From being out on the ground, when I’ve met with businesses and residents, they’re really chuffed to have a Conservative MP who’s really there acting on their behalf, a voice in Parliament for them.”

ConHome: “How many of them actually have activists, never mind local councillors? How many of them have had to put together a team outside the traditional association structure?”

Milling: “My seat back in 2015 was a marginal seat and you have to build it up over time to have that broader activist base.”

ConHome: “Previous Chairmen have actually declared the membership figures. I don’t think you’ve got any plans to do that, have you?”

Milling: “No. I’m not going to be declaring the membership figures.”

ConHome: “Why not?”

Milling: “There’s a number of things on this. Number one which is actually membership’s just part of the Conservative family in many ways. It’s also about activists as well.

“At the end of the day, the most important thing is actually people putting their cross by the Conservatives at an election.

“But what I would say is that membership is up from this time last year.”

ConHome: “Is there any other organisation – the National Trust or whatever – name me another that doesn’t declare their membership.”

Milling: “Look, I’m not going to declare the membership numbers. But as I say, it is up from last year.”

Tom Harwood: Implementing the Planning White Paper will stem the tide of young people turning to Labour

7 Aug

Tom Harwood is a reporter for Guido Fawkes. He was a student at Durham University.

The housing crisis is real. It stunts young people’s progress and independence, drains pockets, breeds resentment, and helps twist one of the most entrepreneurial, go getting generations in history into a sulking blob of Labour voters. These are tangible societal ills that make the country worse for everyone. It is in the interest of all generations to put them right and fix this crisis, and a genuinely reformed planning system is the way to get there.

Housing demand is outstripping supply. That is blindingly obvious. Demand is high not simply through immigration, but because of longer lives, more split households, and even the fertility is up from its turn of the century trough. As, thank heavens, few are seriously suggesting a Swiftian Modest Proposal approach to dealing with the demand side of this equation, the answer has to lie with supply.

The housing market has been screaming for more building for decades with deafening price signalling, yet somehow something has got in the way. No one can deny that the money is there to build more houses. No one can deny that there is land to build more houses – indeed just 5.9 per cent of England is built on. When a concrete car park in North London is designated as ‘green belt’ land, and many genuinely green spaces are not, we know that something has gone horribly wrong.

That’s why yesterday’s White Paper for a planning revolution is so important. Under the plans for local zoning, actual communities will able to decide which areas are suitable for development (and which should be protected), as well as setting out local design codes to banish the kind of architectural atrocities that have given development such a bad name for so many people. New building in Bath should look like the historic buildings of Bath, not like soviet Stalingrad.

The Government’s plans, taking the cue from Sir Roger Scruton’s ‘Building Better Building Beautiful Commission, show that new development can be built beautifully. Proposals for almost automatic planning consent to be given to housing that fits community-approved guidelines will end the grotesque chaos of a multi-year objection-filled near impossible to navigate planning process bunging up a market that should be delivering.

Under the current broken system it’s largely only the big developers that are able to navigate the onerous red tape. The new zone proposals will take away their effective monopoly, allowing a genuine market to deliver for people.

One of the reasons behind Jeremy Corbyn’s surprising success in the 2017 General Election was a measurable surge from voters aged 25-45. In other words those who have to most contend with the nightmare of purchasing property. They were running to a false friend, but it’s easy to see why.

Over the last few decades, Tory after Tory has talked the talk on housing. They have recognised the electoral threat. Yet they have failed to deliver. “We are the builders” declared a triumphalist George Osborne at his party’s 2015 party conference. Just a couple of years later, an embattled Theresa May delivered a ‘Bricksit means Bricksit’ speech in front of a brick-painted lectern that at first-glace made it look as if she was standing in a chimney. At least the slogan letters didn’t fall of the wall behind her.

Yesterday’s new White Paper is materially different. It’s not facing the problem with the age-old erroneous approach of throwing around more taxpayer cash, or regulating away what little function the market already has. A complete overhaul of the system for the first time since the 1940s is what’s needed, and if this White Paper makes it in to law then this government may well have enacted the policy that delivers them a second term.

Polling snapshot. How Johnson reinvented the Conservatives after they had recently formed governments three times

12 Jul

Source: Politico

Begin by looking at the Politico poll of polls graph above, which we like to use on ConservativeHome from time and time, and which today we present in its two year-version.

The Conservative Party begins two summers ago on the 40 per cent or so that represents its floor, following the EU referendum of 2016 and Theresa May’s election as the Tory leader.  Even the disaster of the 2017 general election does nothing to push support below this total.

The slide in the Tory rating from it begins on March 2 last year, shortly before Theresa May’s Withdrawal Agreement is defeated for a second time, and as the prospect of a Brexit extension begins to loom.

Down, down, down it falls through the Withdrawal Agreement’s third defeat and a second Brexit extension, reaching a low of 20 per cent on May 30, after the European elections on May 24, which saw the Conservatives reduced to nine per cent of the vote, coming fifth behind the Green Party, and returning only four MEPs.

Now look at that blue line rise up, up, up as the Tory leadership contest gathers pace, Boris Johnson wins it, and survives defeats in the Supreme Court, resignations, and more defeats in Commons before winning last year’s election.

It begins to drop, with Coronavirus fatigue, economic hardship, Keir Starmer’s election and Government errors doubtless the main reasons, hitting 43 per cent on June 2.  Since then, it has held steady, rising on June 9 to 44 per cent.  YouGov on Friday found it at 46 per cent.

Last time round, we wrote that the Black Lives Matter fracas may have played well for Labour’s core constituency in the belt of seats that runs south from Enfield to the Thames, but badly in England’s provinces and the Red Wall.

We stick to that view.  Johnson may also have been helped by the impact of Government error over the virus petering out; by Rishi Sunak’s activity; and by policies likely to go down well outside that Labour London base, such as the amalgamation of the Foreign Office and Dfid (insofar as they have cut through).

We expect Labour to take the poll lead at some point within the next year.  And next year’s local elections look to be very messy, assuming they happen.

But it’s worth chewing over the Prime Minister’s achievement in first putting the Conservative pro-Brexit electoral coalition together again, and then presenting it to voters last December as a new force – after no fewer than three elections since 2010 in which the Tories had led the government, winning one of them outright.  It endures still.