Is the Blue Wall round the Home Counties in danger of cracking?

11 May

Overall, the local elections in England have produced great results for the Conservatives. They have enjoyed high-profile victories for the mayoralties in the West Midlands and Tees Valley, and seen gains in councils across the north.

But whilst they currently benefit from a divided opposition, Tory strategists would do well to remember that a realignment can be a two-edged sword. As the party focuses on broadening its appeal to a new coalition of voters, it risks alienating parts of its traditional base.

This is the basis for what some are starting to call the ‘Blue Wall’: more than 40 constituencies “which have been held by the Conservatives since at least 2010, where Labour or the Liberal Democrats have overperformed their national swing in 2017 and 2019 and where the Conservative majority is below 10,000”, as Matthew Goodwin explains. If CCHQ isn’t careful, these could follow those London seats where the party was competitive, or even won, in 2010 but is deep underwater now.

Some results from the weekend, such as the Conservatives’ loss of control in Cambridgeshire, are already being held up as examples of this trend, which as our Editor reported yesterday were described by one pollster as “big red flashes which under someone better than Starmer could cause chaos”.

But what is the situation in other Tory heartlands, such as the Home Counties?

In Hertfordshire, the party retained overall control but lost five seats – including that of David Williams, the council leader – whilst the Liberal Democrats made gains. It was a similar story in the Isle of Wight, where the Tories lost four seats and their leader.

In Kent, the Tories fell from 67 seats to 61, whilst Labour and the Greens advanced.

Buckinghamshire was electing a unitary authority for the first time, so there is no direct change, but according to the Bucks Herald “their lead over other parties has slimmed down slightly this time”, again whilst the Lib Dems gained ground.

On and on it goes. In Surrey, the Tories fell from 61 seats to 47 at the expense of the Lib Dems and various independents and residents’ associations.

In Oxfordshire they lost seven seats whilst the Lib Dems gained seven, leaving the two parties almost neck at neck at 22 councillors to 21.

They lost three councillors in East Sussex, and eight in West Sussex.

And despite the Conservatives advancing across the North, its a different story in one of the areas where they have traditionally done well: they lost four councillors to Labour in Trafford, cementing the Opposition’s control over what was once ‘Manchester’s Tory council’ by picking up Ashton upon Mersey, Daveyhulme, and the village of Flixton.

Whilst local trends don’t necessarily presage Westminster ones (Watford has a Conservative MP and not a single Tory councillor), Sir Graham Brady’s majority in Altringham and Sale West was halved in 2017 and contracted again in 2019, even as the party made gains elsewhere. Might it be that this prosperous suburban area, which returned a Conservative MP even in 1997, might drift out of the Tory column over the next decade?

Naturally, it doesn’t follow that all of these results are part of some grand pattern. Local issues will invariably be in play, and some of it may be the sort of backlash against a ruling party that one normally expects to see in ‘mid-term’ contests such as these.

For example in Tunbridge Wells, the LibDems caused much excitement by seizing control of the borough council. But all five of the wards at county council levels remained in Tory hands.

But the example of Oxfordshire, where the party held 51 out of 73 seats in 2009 ,but has been on a downward trajectory ever since, suggests that CCHQ can’t take such comforting explanations for granted. And by the time it becomes obvious that a council is properly trending away from the party, the best moment to take action will have passed.

Down the line, this would have implications for general elections if London overspill and sky-high house prices see more seats follow Brighton and Canterbury into the Labour column – a prospect which is reportedly already concerning Tory MPs.

But will it be enough to spook those MPs into doing what’s necessary to fix it? The Government is right to believe that its hold on the ‘Red Wall’ rests on expanding home ownership. But it has so far failed to overcome the self-interest of southern MPs and get them accept the blunt fact that the same thing is true of the ‘Blue Wall’ too. Somehow, ministers need to get sufficient houses built to put home ownership and family formation within reach of young professionals.

It will take much greater study to assess the true nature and scale of the problem. But the party needs to be across it and prepared to act. The sorry state of the Labour Party shows just how badly the voters can punish those who take their homelands for granted.

Sam Hall: Conservative lessons from Houchen and Street about how to respond the Greens

11 May

Sam Hall is the Director of the Conservative Environment Network

The dominant stories from last week’s elections were the Conservatives’ hat-trick of English triumphs in Hartlepool, Tees Valley, and the West Midlands, and the SNP falling short of a majority in Scotland. But amid these headline-grabbing results, a new trend emerged: the quiet rise of the Green Party.

The Greens won 88 new council seats across England, including from Conservatives. Yes, they did well in their traditional strongholds, such as Bristol, Sheffield, and around Liverpool, where their main competitor is Labour.

But they also defeated incumbent Conservative councillors across England in places as diverse as Surrey, Sussex, Derbyshire, Stroud, and Northumberland. They won an additional two seats in the Scottish Parliament and an extra member of the London Assembly, recording their highest ever vote share in both contests.

Despite two brief surges around the 2015 general election and the 2019 local elections, the Greens have for decades struggled to break past five per cent of the national vote. But the signs from Thursday are that they are on the rise, and could become an electoral threat not just to Labour, but to the Conservatives too.

The reasons for the Greens’ recent electoral success are varied. Public concern about the environment is at historically high levels, with media and government focus on the issue growing, and climate change impacts becoming more visible. It’s understandable that, as the environment becomes more salient, more voters turn to the party whose defining mission is to save the planet.

Factionalism on the left is undoubtedly boosting the Greens, too. As Keir Starmer repudiates Corbynism, he is pushing some of the party’s more left-wing supporters towards the Greens, who have long supported some of the more radical ideas of John McDonnell, such as a universal basic income. The Liberal Democrats remain toxic to many on the left for going into coalition with the Conservatives. And in Scotland, the Greens provide a more environmentally-conscious alternative to the SNP.

Greens across Europe have benefited from a similar trend. Just a few months out from federal elections, the Greens are currently the highest polling party in Germany, two points ahead of the CDU. Greens are part of the coalition government in Austria, after securing 14 per cent of the vote in the last year’s elections. There was also a green surge in the 2019 elections for the European Parliament, with the green bloc growing from 50 seats to 74.

However, this phenomenon isn’t simply about splintering on the left. Nor is it the case that the Greens are just taking votes off Labour and allowing the Conservatives to come through the middle. As Thursday’s results show, the rise of the Greens threatens both the main parties.

That said, the threat shouldn’t be overstated at this stage: the Greens only control one council, Brighton and Hove (where they are a minority administration), and they still only have one MP. But a response will be needed nonetheless.

First, here’s what to avoid. Counteracting the Greens doesn’t entail copying their policies, which are a bad combination of the unfeasible (net zero by 2030), the unpopular (a meat tax), and the economically damaging (a four day week). But neither should they Conservatives shouldn’t become hostile to the entire green agenda, which is popular with a majority of voters. Nor should they ignore other policy priorities in favour of an exclusive focus on the environment. As James Frayne has argued convincingly on this site, this approach wouldn’t keep the party’s voter coalition together.

Instead, Conservatives should unite behind the strategy that the Prime Minister articulated in his ten point plan for a green industrial revolution, linking net zero to people’s immediate economic concerns. This prospectus has the best chance of binding together the Conservatives’ diverse supporter base and stalling the rise of the Greens.

This strategy has worked well for Ben Houchen, whose tireless advocacy for Teesside is helping to attract many of the UK’s leading net zero investments to his area, from GE’s new turbine manufacturing factory and BP’s blue hydrogen plant, to one of the first carbon capture projects and a hydrogen transport hub. He has been one of the biggest advocates for the PM’s green industrial revolution, including on this site, and was re-elected by a landslide.

The Government should copy this formula in other parts of the country. It should invest in enabling infrastructure, fund large-scale green demonstration projects, and put in place market frameworks to attract private investment in new clean industries, such as battery manufacturing, floating offshore wind, heat pumps, and green steel production.

But while it can unite Conservatives, this approach to net zero is divisive on the left. The red-greens can’t decide if they support ‘degrowth’ as a route to tackling climate change. They debate whether people’s lifestyles must be drastically curtailed, or whether to focus on clean technology. And they are divided over whether to attach radical cultural policies on race and gender to their environmental agenda.

The other main element of the Conservatives’ response should be to implement ambitious but practical environmental policies that improve people’s communities and their quality of life. Here, the Conservatives’ other great election-winner from Thursday, Andy Street, provides a blueprint.

He has overseen major improvements in public and active transport in the West Midlands, reopening rail stations, extending metro lines, putting in segregated cycle lanes, and freezing bus fares. He is showing how mayors can connect up their region, reduce the cost of living, and improve the local environment at the same time.

National government should enable more pragmatic local environmental leadership like this. Ministers could give councils the powers and funding to create and safeguard a new network of wild green spaces (a ‘wilbelt’) around towns and cities. They could devolve more funding to metro mayors to insulate social and fuel poor homes in their regions. And they could fund transport authorities to replace old diesel buses with electric or hydrogen ones, and to install electric charge points along the strategic road network.

The Greens, by contrast, have a poor record of delivery on the few occasions when they’ve been entrusted with office. Remember their failure in Brighton and Hove to arrange the bin collections, which lead to strikes and images of rubbish piled up on street corners. There is a political opportunity here for Conservative environmentalism that sets ambitious targets, actually delivers them, and does so in a way that benefits the economy and people’s standard of living.

The Greens had a good night on Thursday. But by uniting behind Boris Johnson’s green industrial revolution, and replicating the approach of Ben Houchen and Andy Street, the Conservatives can prevent them rising further and can make the environment a winning, unifying issue for the party.

The Police and Crime Commissioner results. Conservatives dominate. But why are so many past PCCs stepping down?

10 May

We’re coming to the end of what has been a very exciting set of elections – with the Police and Commissioner results wrapping up today.

This is the third election for PCC positions, which were created in 2012 after the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition promised to “make the police more accountable through oversight by a directly elected individual, who will be subject to strict checks and balances by locally elected representatives.”

The BBC reports that the salaries of PCCs are between £70,000 and £85,000, with those looking after the Greater Manchester, West Yorkshire and West Midlands receiving £100,000 – so it’s clearly quite an attractive position (although there has been some debate about how much use the PCCs have been in recent years).

Without further ado, here are some of the results so far – with some conclusions at the bottom.

Avon and Somerset
  • Mark Shelford, the Conservative candidate and deputy leader of Bath and North East Somerset Council, was elected as the region’s police and crime commissioner.
  • He received 34.4 per cent of first preference votes, and was elected after second preference votes were counted.
  • In total he secured 161,319 first and second preference votes. Kerry Barker, the Labour candidate, secured 146,293. 
  • Turnout was 30.7 per cent – up from 26 per cent in 2016.
  • He has taken over from Sue Mountstevens, an Independent politician who served from 2012 before standing down.
  • A Green Party candidate came third.

CONSERVATIVE GAIN

Cheshire

CONSERVATIVE GAIN

Derbyshire
  • Angelique Foster, the Conservative candidate, gained 149,749 votes – compared to 117,564 for Hardyal Singh Dhindsa of Labour.
  • The turnout for the election was 35.74 per cent. In 2016 it was 23.93 per cent – when Dhindsa took over from Alan Charles, a Labour PCC.

CONSERVATIVE GAIN

Devon & Cornwall
  • Counting resumed at 9.30am – Alison Hernandez, the incumbent Conservative candidate, is being challenged for the seat.
  • Last time she won with 51.1 per cent of the vote in the second round compared to the Labour candidate’s 48.9 per cent, so this could be a tough competition.

Dorset

CONSERVATIVE GAIN

Gloucestershire

Gwent

LABOUR HOLD

Hampshire

Humberside
  • Jonathan Evison, currently the Mayor of North Lincolnshire, took the role of commissioner from Keith Hunter, the Labour candidate and incumbent PCC.
  • Evison won after a second round of votes was counted, with 74,534 compared to Hunter’s 71,615.
  • The turnout was 22 per cent.
  • To add to Hunter’s woes, the Tory candidate was a last-minute replacement after Craig Ulliott, the previous candidate, stood down.

CONSERVATIVE GAIN

Kent

CONSERVATIVE HOLD

Lancashire
  • The position has been held by Clive Grunshaw of Labour since it was created in 2012.
  • He secured 44 per cent of the vote to the then Conservative candidate’s 23 per cent in 2016’s last election.
  • Votes are still being counted with a final declaration coming soon.

TBC

Leicestershire

CONSERVATIVE GAIN

Lincolnshire

CONSERVATIVE HOLD

Merseyside
  • Emily Spurrell, the Labour candidate, was elected as the commissioner with a landslide 178,875 (57 per cent) of the votes. The Conservative candidate took 23 per cent of the votes.
  • Jane Kennedy, the area’s previous PCC, left the Labour Party after saying it had failed to deal with anti-Semitism.

LABOUR HOLD

Northamptonshire
  • Stephen Mold, the Conservative candidate, is awaiting to see if he’s been re-elected after becoming the commissioner in 2016.

TBC

North Yorkshire

CONSERVATIVE HOLD

South Wales

LABOUR HOLD

Staffordshire

CONSERVATIVE HOLD

Surrey
  • Lisa Townsend, the Conservative candidate, has won with 112,260 first preference votes from the public.
  • She was elected on second preference votes after no candidates received more than 50 per cent of the vote in the first preference ballots.
  • The turnout was 38.81 per cent compared to 28.07 per cent in the last PCC election of 2016.
  • The Labour candidate received 40,597 votes by comparison.
  • Townsend will take over from David Munro, an Independent candidate.

CONSERVATIVE GAIN

Sussex
  • The results are expected at around 1pm.
Thames Valley
  • The results are expected today.
West Mercia
  • Counting began this morning.
West Midlands

LABOUR HOLD

West Yorkshire
  • Tracey Brabin, the Labour MP for Batley and Spen, has been elected as the first West Yorkshire mayor.
  • The role will include PCC powers.

Wiltshire
  • In one of the most dramatic turn of events, Jonathan Seed, who was standing for the Conservative PPC, has been withdrawn as a candidate on the eve of counting – after it was discovered that he had a 30-year-old conviction for drink driving.
  • Counting resumes today, but there will need to be another election if Seed comes first.
  • Seed said he had declared the offence to his party and was “bitterly disappointed” to have withdrawn.

TBC

Some quick thoughts about the results:

  • The Conservatives have done well in the PCC elections (19 out of 27 PCCs elected nationally are Tory).
  • The turnout for the elections has gone up in many areas, but you could put this down to the fact that many elections are taking place (if someone is voting for a new mayor, they may as well tick off the form for their PCC too – rather than being particularly interested in the PCC role).
  • Furthermore, the turnout for PCC votes only ever seems around 20-30 per cent territory.
  • It’s interesting to note the number of PCCs who are standing down. Why is this the case? And will these current PCCS last any longer? (Matthews, the winner in Leicestershire, said he felt tired after the campaign was extended a year by Covid.)
  • Quite a few of the candidates got through on second preference votes – hardly the biggest electoral compliment.
  • Alun Michael has lasted perhaps the longest – so it’s worth pondering the difference between how long he’s stayed in the role compared to the PCCs standing down in England.

Richard Holden: Knightmare on Starmer Street. Labour loses control of Durham – held by the party for a century.

10 May

Richard Holden is MP for North West Durham.

The Louisa Centre, Stanley, County Durham

At the count in Stanley at 3am on Friday morning after the verification checks on the ballot papers, I realised that I was witnessing the latest stage of the fundamental shift in British politics.

The communities that are not merely the heartlands but the birthplace of the Labour Party are decisively turning their backs on the party which turned its backs on them.

Two weeks ago in this column, I wrote about Keir Starmer and Labour’s five tests from this set of elections in the North East of England. To be fair to the Labour leader, these results cannot all be laid at his door – they have a much longer-term gestation.

However, the man who many thought would be Labour’s knight in shining armour has delivered results even worse than the outlier, “knightmare” scenarios that I suggested a fortnight ago.

Not only did the Conservatives remain the largest party in Northumberland, but they took overall control and, in doing so, took Hartley ward – and kicked out the Labour group leader on Northumberland County Council.

Sir Keir didn’t just fail my Stockton South test (remember: Stockton South was won by Corbyn’s Labour in the 2017 general election), but the excellent campaigning of Stockton South’s MP, Matt Vickers, with together with Ben Houchen, the Tees Valley Mayor, saw the Conservatives not just retain the Stockton South council seats that they’d held, but take all the seats that were up for election, including from Liberal Dems and independents.

Paul Williams, the former Labour MP for Stockton South, handpicked and put on a shortlist of one by Labour HQ, delivered a catstrophic result for Labour in Hartlepool. To lose the seat at this stage in the electoral cycle by that much would have previously been thought impossible, but it’s happened.

With the Conservatives gaining over 50 per cent of the vote in the by-election, and Labour finishing a poor second, it’s clear that, in terms of parliamentary seats, CCHQ now needs to be targeting the North East of England much more broadly for the next election, including such seats as: City of Durham, North Durham, all the Sunderland seats, Blaydon – and even perhaps Gateshead and Easington.

Houchen’s utterly overwhelming victory in the Tees Valley, gaining almost three quarters of the votes on the first round, is the strongest symbol of continued Conservative advance in the North of England. The Conservative gain of the Police Commissioner post in Cleveland is further proof of this. Particularly when the vote from Middlesbrough, widely believed still to be rock solid for Labour in Teesside, came out five to three in the Conservative’s favour.

To outsiders, the loss of Durham County Council by Labour to No Overall Control may not seem quite as totemic as some of the other results. But if anything it’s more so.

The Conservatives increased their number of seats by 14, taking them from the fifth largest group (there are two independent groups) to the position of second largest party behind Labour – in one fell swoop.

Durham is where the Labour Party first gained a county council in 1919 and they have held it ever since. The results overall for the Conservatives are really, really good – particularly in my constituency in North West Durham and in my good friend Dehenna Davison’s constituency in Bishop Auckland.

Scratch the surface, and the results are more impressive still. In North West Durham, we’re now second almost everywhere we didn’t win, from what were often poor third places just four years ago. The increasing vote and vote share was at least 100 per cent, and in some cases, such as in Consett North and in Consett South, the number of Conservative votes went up almost four times.

Even in Weardale, where Conservatives were challenging two long-established independent councillors, we jumped from third place to second place, and came within 85 votes of taking one of them out.

In Woodhouse Grove, in the Bishop Auckland constituency, Conservatives gained two new councillors, and only missed out by nine votes in the working class town of Willington in North West Durham. It’s quite clear that, from this incredible baseline, Conservatives can now make further progress both locally and at the next general election.

These campaigns really came down to incredibly hard graft on the ground. It’s clear that CCHQ needs to look at how we can really capitalise on this with extra resources in the coming months and years.

The results in the North East are not unique. To see Rotherham go from zero to 20 Conservative councillors is mindblowing, as are the exceptional gains in Hyndburn in Lancashire, where the Conservatives held the county council with an increased majority.

But this succes is not just in the North. The gains in Harlow, Dudley, Southampton and elsewhere by the Conservatives show an incredible national picture.

While these results are absolutely stunning, often with significantly increased turnouts, it’s clear that the future of these areas as key battlegrounds will require the promises made by the Prime Minister and the Conservative Party to deliver on levelling up to not only be delivered on in the long-term, but also to show that progress is being made within the next year-to-18 months too.

In some areas of the country, the Conservatives haven’t performed quite as well. Downing Street and CCHQ need to find out why this has ocurred, and learn the lessons not only from the great successes, but also from the places where we didn’t do as well as we’d hoped.

What’s clear from politics is that nothing ever stays the same. Who’d have thought that the narrow victory in the Teeside matoralty in 2017 following Brexit would have not only been the catalyst for a shift in voting, but a shift in poltical culture in the North East? People are no longer willing to accept either MPs or local authority leaders who see their position as a sinicure. Delivery is what counts.

We Conservatives are in government, and have the abilty to really make that happen. If we do so, our political prospects in these areas will just get better and better.

English election results live blog wrap-up. Final gains and losses in the local and mayoral contests.

7 May

10.30am

Monday May 10

  • Share of the vote in the local elections: Conservatives 36 per cent (plus eight points on the 2019 local elections), Labour 29 per cent (plus one), Others 18 per cent (minus seven points), Liberal Democrats 17 per cent (minus two points).
  • Fifteen Conservative council gains: Amber Valley, Basildon, Cannock Chase, Cornwall, Dudley, Gloucester, Maidstone, Northumberland, Nottinghamshire, Nuneaton & Bedworth, Pendle, Southampton, Welwyn Hatfield and Worcester, all from No Overall Control. And Harlow from Labour.
  • Four Conservative losses: South Cambridgeshire, the Isle of Wight, Oxfordshire, and Tunbridge Wells. All to No Overall Control.
  • Five Labour council losses: Durham, Harlow, Plymouth, Rossendale, Sheffield and West Lancashire.  All to No Overall Control, bar Harlow.
  • One LibDem council gain: St Albans, from No Overall Control.
  • Labour gain three mayoralties: The West of England and Cambridgeshire & Peterborough, from the Conservatives. And the new West Yorkshire mayoralty.

 

13.30

  • All but two seats in Amber Valley have gone Conservative, in a straight control swap from Labour.  The council was on Harry Phibbs’ list of Tory targets, as was Basildon, Cannock Chase, Cornwall, Dudley, Gloucester and Walsall.
  • Labour is performing well in the city mayoralties: in addition to its win in Bristol, which was expected, it looks as though Tracey Brabin, in West Yorkshire, is set to win.  The last was also on Harry’s target list.  Labour has won ten of the twelve mayoral contests, winning the West of England and Cambridgeshire & Peterborough from the Conservatives.
  • The LibDems take St Albans from No Overall Control. Mole Valley, which was also on Harry’s Conservative target list, stays held LibDem.
  • Stroud and Milton Keynes were on Harry’s list too, but remain under No Overall Control.John Curtice writes that the projected vote shares for the main parties are as follows: Conservatives 36 per cent, Labour 29 per cent, Others 18 per cent, LibDems 17 per cent.  “The projected Conservative lead of seven points is similar to the average Conservative lead of six points in the most recent Britain-wide polls.”
  • Finally for the moment, it’s worth following Election Maps on Twitter, which is painting a gradual picture of what the results look like at a local level.
  • At random, pretty much, we pick out its illustration of what’s happened in Woking to give a sense of the bigger picture.  Very broadly, this seems to be: significant Conservative council seat gains in the Midlands and North-East, a more mixed picture in the North-West, and smaller seat wins for Labour or the Libdems across the South.

9am Sunday May 9

  • The Conservatives have gained Southampton, Basildon and Welwyn Hatfield from No Overall Control, while Labour has lost its majority on Durham Council, for the first time in 100 years, to No Overall Control – and Rossendale to No Overall Control.
  • Khan won 55 per cent of the vote in the final round (one per cent down on his 2016 total), and Bailey 45 per cent (one per cent up on Zac Goldsmith’s) – a better result for the latter than most expected. Could Bailey have won with more push behind him from the party nationally?  Would another candidate have made the difference?  Or is the result more about a lack of enthusiasm for Khan than anything else?  No London Assembly constituency seat has changed hands.
  • Labour has held the Bristol mayoralty with the Greens second.
  • Harry Phibbs points out on Twitter that “on Monday I suggested that reasonable Conservative targets would be to gain Cheshire, Derbyshire, and Leicestershire Police and Crime Commissioners from Labour. All three have been achieved”.

20.00

  • Khan leads Bailey by 76,403 to 59,460 in Merton and Wandsworth on the first ballot; and by 67,610 to 65,822 in Barnet and Camden.  These are better areas for the Conservatives than the other London ones that have declared since this morning.  Khan is set to win.  No London Assembly seat to date has changed hands.
  • Having declared that he will take “full responsibility” for these results, Keir Starmer has decided instead to foist responsibility on Angela Rayner – who he has now sacked as Labour’s Chairman, despite not being able to sack her as his deputy (she was separately elected, and so has her own mandate).  Eric Pickles laconic tweet above is a pithy take on Starmer’s decision.
  • His move will drown out a Labour success story.  In Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, Nick Johnson pipped James Palmer to the post on the second ballot – winning 113,994 votes (52 per cent to the incumbent’s 108,195 votes (49 per cent).  It’s an interesting case of LibDem voters splitting left, marginally, rather than right: the Remain-flavoured Cambridge Effect seen also in the South Cambridgeshire poll.

18.00

  • Street has won: he had 314,669 votes in the final round, and Byrne took 267,626.  That’s 54 per cent of the vote, compared to 50 per cent last time.
  • The Conservatives’ Caroline Henry has won Nottinghamshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner election, taking the post from Labour’s Paddy Tipping…
  • …As has Rupert Matthews in Leicestershire, defeating Labour’s Ross Wilmot.
  • …and the BBC is reporting that the Party has gained Gloucester from No Overall Control.
  • …But, over at the West of England mayoraly, Labour’s Dan Norris has gained the post from the Conservatives.  He took 84,484 votes (33 per cent); Samuel Williams, the new Tory candidate, won 72,415 votes (29 per cent).  Third place saw another success for the Greens, who pushed the Liberal Democrats into fourth.  Their candidate, Jerome Thomas, won 54,919 votes (22 per cent) to Stephen Williams’ 41,193 (16 per cent).  The city of Bristol was voting in its own elections, which will have helped Labour.
  • Andy Burnham is back as Mayor of Greater Manchester with 67 per cent of the vote, and has celebrated with what sounded like another Labour leadership pitch: “I heard people from the left saying it was all about the policies. It’s more fundamental: the party’s lost an emotional connection with people…it has deep roots, it goes back to the early 2000s…in the distant future, if the party were to need me, they should get in touch”.
  • And finally in this section…Jiyun Park had a go in Bury, and so has Timothy Cho, another refugee from North Korea, in Denton South, Tameside, Greater Manchester. Like Park, he was imprisoned and tortured: read the Sun‘s harrowing account of his experience.

15.30

  • As previously, the evidence piles up that Andy Street is going to win.  His first round majority in Walsall is up by more than 8,000 first preference votes; in Wolverhampton, he lost last by over 4,000; but has won this time by more than 3,000; in Coventry, Byrne won by only a thousand, but Labour was ahead by 4,000 or so last time; in Sandwell, Labour polled nearly 15,000 votes more than Street. in 2017, nowm less than 6,000
  • James Palmer, the Conservative Mayor of Cambridgeshire, won 41 per cent on the first ballot. Nik Johnson, the Labour candidate, has 33 per cent. Aidan de Weyer, the Liberal Democrat, got 28 per cent.  Palmer is expected to make it on transfers.
  • The BBC reports that the Conservatives have won Worcester from No Overall Control…
  • …But have lose the Isle of Wight to No Overall Control.
  • Meanwhile, Sam Freeman suggests that the London Effect, as he doesn’t quite call it, is working against the Conservatives in their southern Blue Wall (as he doesn’t quite call it either). “Tories lost 14 seats in Surrey; 8 in West Sussex; lost Isle of Wight to NOC; lost Canterbury. The London outflow votes are starting to have a real impact.”
  • John Rentoul, in fine contrarian form, says these elections, so far, aren’t all that bad for Labour. “Professor Sir John Curtice, the one-person national institution, has calculated that the English local elections would have translated into a Conservative lead in a vote across Great Britain of 6 to 7 percentage points. In other words, closing the 12-point lead at the general election by about half. When the BBC put these numbers into its House of Commons model, it suggested that Johnson’s 80-seat majority would be all but wiped out.”

14.30

  • Andy Street is indeed well set in the West Midlands – losing in Birmingham by less than 20,000 to Labour’s Liam Byrne (102,276 to 84, 817).
  • At the District Council level, the Conservatives have gained Worcester.
  • Some questionable reporting from the BBC: it says that the Conservatives have held Tunbridge Wells, but Times Local News says that they have lost control.  It marks Pendle as a Conservative gain, but on its  figures, the council previously had a Tory majority of one.
  • More Police Commissioner results tomorrow, but Mark Shelford, the Conservative candidate, has won Avon and Somerset.
  • Same story everywhere: Conservatives up outside the Greater South East: in Wakefield, say, from six to eight.  And down or static within it: so no movement, for example, in Reading.

13.30

  • The Conservatives have gained Cannock from No Overall Control.  The BBC is reporting that the same has taken place in Pendle.
  • The Labour mayoralty wins are beginning to come in: Steve Rotherham in Liverpool City Region, North Tyneside and Doncaster.

 

12.30

  • In Havering and Redbridge, Bailey leads Khan by an emphatic 82,361 to 49,818; and in Bexley and Bromley by 100,630 to 44,350. In Brent and Harrow, won by Labour with a margin of over 20,000 in the Assembly election, Bailey is ahead by 65,566 to 61,778.  In Ealing and Hillingdon, Bailey leads Khan by 79,863 to 74854: Labour won the Assembly seat by some 10,00 votes.
  • But these are just the first ballot results, and they include the most blue Conservative areas.  As before, we think that Khan is well placed to win, but that Bailey has done better than most predicted.
  • On the sunny side for the Conservatives elsewhere, they have won 15 seats in Rotherham, having previously held none at all; on the rainier one, they are down four seats in Trafford and Labour are up four, comfortably retaining their hold on the council.  This looks very much like another replication of Leave-flavoured and Remain-flavoured areas going different ways.
  • The BBC is reporting that the Conservatives have gained control of Maidstone, where they now have one more councillor than the LibDems.
  • Dan Hodges tweets: “Something not mentioned. These results are also a complete repudiation of the Lockdown Deniers. They told us “real people” were on the point of rebellion over lockdown. They’re not. They’re backing the politicians who implemented it.”  This looks bang on: we will see later whether Laurence Fox, in London, can get above low single figures.

11.00 Saturday May 8

Paul Goodman reporting

  • The Conservatives have gained Cornwall – one of the Tory targets on Harry Phibbs’ list from Monday.
  • Every London Assembly seat so far has been retained by the sitting party: the Conservatives’ Tony Devenish has held West Central, as we reported yesterday; Peter Fortune has won Bexley and Bromley; and Keith Prince is back in Havering and Redbridge. On the Labour side, they have held Ealing and Hillingdon, Brent & Harrow, and Lambeth and Southwark – where the Greens come in second.
  • We repeat that although Shaun Bailey is doing better than many expected, and Sadiq Khan is now unlikely to win on the first ballot, we don’t expect the London mayoralty to go blue.
  • Labour have lost control of Plymouth to No Overall Control. The Conservatives are up six seats and, at 25, now have one more than Labour.  “Stonking results in Plymouth,” tweets Johnny Mercer. “From never having had a Conservative MP in this constituency 5 years ago, to a clean sweep at the local elections today. Amazing. I could not be prouder of a brilliant team.”
  • Finally, Jiyun Park didn’t gain Moorside in Bury, but tweets: “I didn’t win the election but personally in my heart think that this was a really great experience and I learnt again what democratic life is and why political freedom is important to us. Life is a journey and the road not always be as smooth. I never give up on my destinations.”

19.00

  • “Labour has lost touch with ordinary British people. A London-based bourgeoisie, with the support of brigades of woke social media warriors, has effectively captured the party. “They mean well, of course, but their politics – obsessed with identity, division and even tech utopianism – have more in common with those of Californian high society than the kind of people who voted in Hartlepool yesterday.” That’s Khalid Mahmood on today’s results.  The Labour Shadow Defence Minister has resigned from the party’s front bench.  He says Andy Street will win the West Midlands mayoralty.
  • But there is more to his quitting than meets the eye.  Mahmood tweets that he left Labour’s front bench on April 13 – because “being the first English Muslim MP in Parliament I want to concentrate on the issues of fighting manipulation of young Muslims by Extremist so called Muslim Organisations”.
  • The Birmingham MP has a long record of fighting extremism, authoring several reports for Policy Exchange, who Keir Starmer barred him from working with.  Guess where that article denouncing his party’s drift is carried?  On the think-tank’s blog.  So it’s two fingers from Mahmood to his leader – and we can surely now expect to see him engaged with Policy Exchange’s “Understanding Islam” project.
  • Elsewhere, Festus Akinbusoye, a frequent contributor to this site, has won the Bedfordshire Police Commissioner election. We are delighted for him.
  • And in London, good news for Bailey generally, and for Tony Devenish in particular, in West London, where the latter has been re-elected to the London Assembly.

 

17.30

  • If you’re a left-of-centre voter in London, you might well think Sadiq Khan is going to win, and not vote.  Or you might think, as is indeed the case, that he delivers little bar publicity – and that the city is getting less safe.  So turnout could conceivably deliver a surprise.  But even if Shaun Bailey does much better than expected, as we hope, it’s hard to see Khan not winning off transfers, if not on the first ballot.
  • ConHome is told that Conservative gains in Sandwell, where they take nine seats off a formerly all-Labour council, and in Wolverhampton, plus the Dudley win, mean that the West Midlands mayoral result looks good for Andy Street.
  • Labour has been holding in some of its biggest urban areas – and has done so in Liverpool, with Joanne Anderson, who replaced Joe Anderson as the party’s mayoral candidate after the latter’s arrest in a corruption probe, being taken to a second ballot by an independent, Stephen Yip.
  • Nonetheless, it has lost its majority in Sheffield, where it now has 41 councillors, down eight; the Liberal Democrats have nine, up three; the Greens six, up five…and the Conservatives one, having previously has none at all

16.30

  • When Ben Houchen won the Teesside mayoralty for the first time in 2017, the BBC correctly described the result as “sensational” – in a then steadfast Labour area, he squeezed in by just over 2000 votes on the final ballot, with 40 per cent of the share in the first round. The turnout was 21 per cent.
  • This time round, his majority is a stonking 76,323 – 73 per cent of the vote.  And there’s no need for a second ballot this time.
  • Look at those figures, for heaven’s sake. Houchen won 17,748 in Middlesbrough to Sue Jeffrey of Labour’s 8141.  In Middlesbrough.
  • There’s undoubtedly a Brexit effect in the strongly pro-Leave North-East as a whole.  But Houchen’s achievement is also the result of hard work, delivering on his manifesto by taking Durham Tees Valley airport into public ownership, getting the South Tees Development Corporation going, and gaining a local freeport.  At the heart of his stupendous win is doing what he said he’s do.
  • It’s worth noting, however, that although turnout was up, it’s only reached 34 per cent.  Nonetheless, enough local voters looked at Houchen last time round, decided to suck it and see – and have decided they like it.  The Conservatives now have four of the six Teesside seats, and Labour’s majority in Stockton North is only just over a thousand.

 

15.30pm

Paul Goodman reporting

  • It is still very early days in these elections, but a pattern is emerging.
  • The Conservatives have gained Dudley from Harry Phibbs’ target list, and also taken Northumberland, Harlow, Nuneaton & Bedworth – and now Nottinghamshire, as Mark Wallace expected.
  • We’re concentrating on councils that change hands in this blog, but what’s happened to those above is happening on a smaller scale elsewhere. Harry Phibbs reported elsewhere about the Conservatives gaining a seat in South Tyneside.  The patten is repeating itself elsewhere, with the Party up six seats to a total of 29 in Thurrock; four seats to a total of eight in Oldham: five seats to 15 in Wolverhampton.  In Derbyshire, the Conservatives have advanced, winning 45 of the 64 seats, while Labour have retreated, winning only 14.
  • There is less good news for the Tories elsewhere.  They have failed to capture Colchester from Harry’s list, haven’t won the West Yorkshire mayoralty from it either, and lost South Cambridgeshire to No Overall Control, with the LibDems gaining five seats.
  • The thumping Conservative win in the Cleveland Crime Commissioner election suggests that Ben Houchen will be re-elected in Teesside by a landslide; the flavour of the West Midlands results so far means that Andy Street will fare similarly – and that, will the Hartlepool by-election in the bag, Boris Johnson is set to achieve his main electoral aims in England in this poll.
  • These are early days for analysis, but Sam Coates of Sky, among others, tweets that the Tories are hoovering up the Brexit Party vote from 2019.  Meanwhile, the left-of-centre vote is dividing between three parties – Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Greens – as the right-of-centre vote unites behind one.
  • Diane Abbott, Clive Lewis, Lloyd Russell-Moyle, Len McCluskey: all are piling in on Starmer, as Labour, like many other parties of the mainstream left in Europe, drifts.


14.30pm

Charlotte Gill reporting

  • Dominic Cummings pens a series of tweets about the election result, accusing Starmer of being “a beta-lawyer-gamma-politician” who “obsesses on Media Reality not Actual Reality”. More here.
  • “Keir Starmer will have to answer some very tough questions about why we are where we are”, says Clive Lewis, Labour MP for Norwich South.
  • In Derbyshire Count Council, Edwina Currie loses her bid to rejoin the political world. At Whaley Bridge, Ruth George retains her lead with a 700-vote margin: Currie Jones – CON – 1,878 George – LAB – 2,544 Jones – GRE – 138 Lomax – LD – 340
  • British politics used to be about class. It is now about social conservatives versus social liberals. Discuss”, Tweets Ben Page, Chief Executive of Ipsos MORI.
  • NursingNotes reports, from a survey of 1,843 healthcare workers, that 42 per cent intended to vote Conservative in yesterday’s local elections.

13.30pm

  • Steve Turner, the Conservative candidate for Police and Crime Commissioner in Cleveland has been elected on the first round. 74,023 votes to Turner, the Labour candidate got 39,467 votes. Last time Labour beat the Conservatives easily – 41,337 to 18,196. I had not included this as a Conservative target. Another astonishing result.
  • Len McCluskey, the General Secretary of Unite, says of Sir Starmer: “Keir was elected a year ago and there should be no calls for his resignation, he has to be given time, but he needs to learn lessons”.
  • Tiger Patel has gained Audley & Queen’s Park in Blackburn with Darwen from Labour for the Conservatives. You can see his campaign video above.
  • Nottinghamshire is a key Labour target among the county council elections. But so far they have lost seats. More results to come.

12.30pm

  • A lull waiting for more results to be counted. But an encouraging tweet for the Party, from Lee Rowley, about North East Derbyshire.
  • It’s not all good news. Britain Elects reports the Conservatives have lost a seat in Cornwall to Labour and another in Cambridgeshire to the Lib Dems.

11.30am

  • The above tweet calculates that if the Sunderland Council votes were reflected at a General Election then the Conservatives would gain the Sunderland Central constituency.
  • The Conservatives have gained a seat on South Tyneside Council where previously they did not have any councillors at all.
  • There is still zero representation in Gateshead and Newcastle. But it is hoped that seats may be gained in other authorities – such as Sandwell – where there have been no Conservative councillors for many years.
  • The Conservative gains in Oldham included two wards where in 2016 they received under ten per cent of the vote. Medlock Vale (4.5 per cent in 2016) and St James (7.6 per cent.)
  • Though the Conservatives gaining Dudley was an obvious target the extent of the victory was emphatic. Of the seats up for election, the Conservatives won 23, Labour only three. A good sign for Andy Street in the Mayoral election.

 

10.30am

  • One missed Conservative target is Colchester. The Conservatives had no change in their number of councillors – so remain the largest party but the Council is under no overall control.
  • In 2016 the result for Mayor of London saw Sadiq Khan defeat Zac Goldsmith by 57 per cent to 43 per cent. The pundits have been expecting a Khan victory by a wider margin this time – as London moves in the opposite direction politically to the rest of the country. If Khan wins by a narrower margin that will give Conservatives some modest comfort.
  • No breakthrough for the Green Party yet. But some quiet progress – for instance picking up a seat in Stockport.
  • “Crushing defeat for Labour in Hartlepool,” tweets Diane Abbott. “Not possible to blame Jeremy Corbyn for this result. Labour won the seat twice under his leadership. Keir Starmer must think again about his strategy.”

9.30am

Harry Phibbs reporting

  • No calls yet from Labour MPs for Sir Keir Starmer to resign. But the above tweet, from Lloyd Russell-Moyle is a reminder that there are Corbynista MPs keen to criticise. By contrast, others – such as Lord Mandelson – have taken to the airwaves demanding a return yo the New Labour approach.
  • Ros Jones has been re-elected as Mayor of Doncaster. But she relied on second preferences. In 2017, she won on the first round with 51 per cent. Labour did very badly in the 2017 local elections so any further reverses for then are pretty dire for them. The 2016 local elections were more even – so losses for them in contests that last took place then are less dramatic.
  • Already the Conservatives have gained control of councils that I had not included on my list of targets for them since they seemed beyond reach – such as Harlow and Nuneaton & Bedworth. This is especially impressive when only a third of seats are being contested.
  • There have been reports of low turnout in London – even with increased postal vote applications. It had been expected that Sadiq Khan would have an increased majority as Mayor of London. But there is now some uncertainty. Andrew Rosindell tweeted that there was a good turnout in Romford.
  • Early results do show that Labour remains a powerful municipal force. They have held Newcastle, Gateshead, Rochdale and South Tyneside with big majorities. They also have held on in Sunderland and Oldham – but with significant losses.

8.30am

Paul Goodman reporting:

  • Jill Mortimer [pictured right], the Conservative candidate, won 15,529 votes, and Paul Williams, the Labour one, gained 8,589.  That’s 51 per cent of the vote, a majority of almost 7000, and almost twice Labour’s vote – and a swing of 16 per cent.  It’s the biggest percentage increase in a governing party’s by-election vote share since the war.  The turnout was a very considerable 58 per cent.
  • Labour held the seat by a majority of 3,595 over the Tories in 2019, and the party has held the seat since its creation in 1974.
  • Elsewhere, the Conservatives won Northumberland from no overall control, have taken full control in Nuneaton & Bedworth and in Dudley (one of the Tory targets listed by Harry Phibbs earlier this week), and gained every seat up in Redditch.
  • The party has also taken control of Harlow (which will delight its MP, this site’s columnist Robert Halfon), gained.
  • The Tories are up six seats in Sunderland, having eight to Labour’s 15.
  • Newcastle-upon-Tyne didn’t have a single Conservative council seat before yesterday, and still doesn’t: Labour maintains a comfortable majority.
  • But Labour is preparing itself for an ominously poor set of results in England.  A spokesman said: “the message from voters is clear and we have heard it. Labour has not yet changed nearly enough for voters to place their trust in us.
  • The Greens seem poised to do well: gaining two seats from Labour on South Tyneside council, one from the Conservatives in Northumberland, and one from the Liberal Democrats in Colchester.
  • Snapshot summary: the Brexit and vaccine effects are very live; the Left is dividing between three parties and the Right uniting behind one and Labour, like many left-of-centre parties throughout Europe, has long been losing its grip on the working class; now, this is working its way through the system.  No sign yet of any Downing Street wallpaper effect.

Iain Dale: Perhaps one day I’ll get involved in an election again. In the meantime, here are my predictions for Super Thursday’s results…

7 May

Iain Dale presents the evening show on LBC Radio and the ‘For the Many’ podcast with Jacqui Smith.

This is the first time for some years that I haven’t been able to host a live election night show on LBC. Because of Covid, many local authorities decided they wouldn’t count overnight. And since I don’t have a show on Friday or at the weekends, I feel as if I’m being silenced!

Like most of you, I suspect, I love elections. I well remember my first election day back in 1983 in Norwich. I was designated to be a teller and work in the Committee Room. I’ve always loved lists and can remember the thrill of crossing off all the people who had voted on the electoral roll boards.

Sitting outside the polling station was great fun, and was probably the thing I loved doing most. I enjoyed the banter with the tellers from the other parties and with people who were voting. The winks, the furtive smiles. Or growls. I’d have happily done it all day.

And then I remember when I was a candidate in various local elections, and then a general election, touring the polling stations and talking to the election officials. This was quite a challenge in North Norfolk in 2005, where there were, if I recall correctly, more than 100 polling stations.

Still, it kept me out of mischief on polling day, and took my mind off the disaster I knew was ahead of me at the count! The last time I was involved in an election day as a party activist was in 2009. I can hardly believe it was so long ago. Since then I’ve always been on the radio, or preparing for an overnight show. But I’ll always remember the thrill I got out of being involved. And who knows, one day I may be again.

– – – – – – – – – –

Second preferences are a weird thing. You’re voting for a candidate or a party you really don’t want to win, but they’re the least-worst option. By definition it’s a negative vote. In the PCC election I’m afraid I just could bring myself to tick a box at all.

– – – – – – – – – –

“You’ve broken the law, Iain,” said a Twitter follower. He had heard my For the Many podcast in which I revealed how I had voted (by post) in the local elections, both in Norfolk and Kent. “You can’t vote twice,” he maintained.

Luckily I know my electoral law better than he did. If you have properties in two different council areas you are, indeed, entitled to cast your vote in each of them in local elections. However, that does not apply in general elections. I patiently explained this to him.

His reply was amusing. “So you’re telling me I’ve missed out on voting twice for the 17 years I’ve had a second home?” Yup, I said. “Bugger,” he replied.

– – – – – – – – – –

So here are my predictions for the results of the various elections…

Scotland: SNP to get a majority of seats. Conservatives remain the main opposition. Greens gain an extra one or two MSPs. Alex Salmond is elected with one or two others.

Wales: Conservatives add seats, but Labour remains largest party. Plaid gain a few seats. Lib Dems disappear completely. Mark Drakeford to lose his seat.

London: Sadiq Khan walks it. Shaun Bailey gets 25-30 per cent of first preferences. Greens get around 10 per cent.

West Midlands: Andy Street wins.

Hartlepool by-election: Conservatives to take it.

English County & District Councils: Lib Dems do better in these than any of the other elections. Labour lose seats, Conservatives gains. Greens add to their seat count too. Minor parties squeezed.

– – – – – – – – – –

Jacqui Smith and I will be recording an Election Special For the Many podcast for release on Monday morning, analysing all the results.

Whatever they bring, there is bound to be a new bout of reshuffle speculation. However, if the results turn out as I predict above, if I were the PM I’d be tempted to leave any reshuffle until a bit later in the year – either before the summer recess or in the autumn.

The same is not true for Keir Starmer, though. Having had an impressive first eight months as leader of the Labour Party, 2021 has so far proved to be disastrous.

To be fair, it’s not all down to him, as few of his shadow cabinet have managed to cut through at all. Anneliese Dodds is copping a lot of criticism, but to be fair to her, she’s not alone in failing to make much of a mark. The consensus among pundits is he needs to bring Yvette Cooper and Hilary Benn into his top team. But what if they don’t wish to return?

Cooper seems to enjoy chairing her select committee and Benn may well feel he’s done his bit. Do a search among other Labour MPs who have a bit of experience, and they’re pretty thin on the ground. Starmer’s position at the moment is far from enviable.

Jonathan Werran: Levelling up. A radical economic overhaul and zero carbon cannot be delivered from the centre.

6 May

Jonathan Werran is Chief Executive of Localis.

Like a wild schoolyard football game, it will be a case of everyone’s eyes on the ball, with their legs enthusiastically following, as we throw our attention into the joyful pile-on of local and devolved election results.

We should certainly enjoy the spectacle of postponed local democracy restored, while voters in their millions flock to polling booths across England to vote in various district, county, unitary, London mayoral and regional mayoral combined authority elections.

But were we to zoom out and survey the whole frame, we’d see a tangled skein of pitches with different games being played out on fields of various sizes, to somewhat different sets of rules.

This is because, for many parts of England, a devolution destiny remains unfixed. This means, in certain cases, it remains doubtful whether there will be repeat polling business four years hence. The baked-in assumption is that in order to secure prized strategic devolution deals, parts of the country will submit themselves to the Whitehall meatgrinder of reorganisation.

The white paper and the problem of “place”

Today Localis has issued a place-based analysis of “Building Back Better” in a report entitled A Plan for Local Growth. The central thrust of our argument is that there should be a strict separation between short-term, community-led decision-making for town centre and high-street renewal – which boosts place prosperity – and long-term, high-value central government infrastructure strategies aimed at raising historic low-levels of productivity.

To this end, central government must get behind community control of high-street regeneration, accelerate devolved skills reforms and define a clear role for local authorities and their economic partners in driving economic development and meeting net zero targets.

On that vexed issue of local government reorganisation, our analysis questions the efficacy of driving economic recovery through changes of machinery to the local state. Localis firmly believes that national recovery through building back better and “levelling up” will only succeed through a grounded approach focused on place – melding the horizontal elements of place with the sector based vertical deals from the ancien regime’s industrial strategy.

However, the problem seemingly is that the definition of “place” can mean literally anything across separate Whitehall departments operating in the same place. This is often to the bewilderment of authorities seeking inward investment and businesses seeking to survive and thrive beyond Brexit and Covid.

This Whitehall disconnect also applies to public services. Anything from dedicated schools grant, migration to criminal justice reform can see individual departments taking on bit parts – research, funding, delivery. Perhaps whether the ambit of the Levelling Up White Paper can solve the perennial problem of un-joined-up government is a moot point. But a way is needed to integrate disparate cross-departmental central government agendas so that there is actual early proof these connect at the level of place, work in practice and inspire confidence to move onwards at speed.

This is where we must pin our hopes upon Neil O’Brien to ride to the rescue.

On account of the time, money, political capital and economic potential forever lost to the pandemic, we find ourselves at more of a crucial moment than we perhaps realise. The moment calls for urgently aligning the agenda for devolution and decentralisation with that of growth and recovery.

So it is a hopeful sign that O’Brien has been set the task of pulling together the disparate threads of the levelling up agenda into a forthcoming white paper, resurrecting a cause deflated by last autumn’s failure to launch the English Devolution and Economic Recovery White Paper amid the sudden ministerial departure of Simon Clarke.

The challenge demands a policy mind as sharp and political senses as keen as O’Brien possesses. The levelling up agenda currently risks a fate worse than “Big Society” – as a potentially hugely transformative agenda with popular appeal that dies from lack of rootedness in local daily life and concrete, plainly visible outcomes.

Joining the dots on levelling up

Devolution and growth must be seen as so intrinsically linked as for one to be as impossible to conceive of as existing without the presence of the other. There’s a fancy term from classical rhetoric for the occasion, “hendiadys” or literally “one through two”. In common parlance, think of “bread and butter” or “fish and chips” and try imagining in your mind one of these essential elements without the thought of the other arising.

In an earlier Localis contribution to ConHome on England’s place in the union, and taking our cue from George Orwell, we advocated that “England has got to assume its real shape”. A bit of local laissez-faire and free choice when it comes to English local governance might not be the worst outcome, it was argued. And as Paul Goodman instantly observed of the Plan for Growth in ConHome, “if it really wants to go for sustainable and more even growth, the Government will need to devolve more power”.

So on the basis that levelling up, a radical economic overhaul and zero carbon cannot be delivered from the centre, and that we must trust in the new mayors to use their convening powers to get the local political economy around the table, how might we suggest the Levelling Up White Paper create maximum benefit for minimum effort? To build on the foundations laid out in the Plan for Growth, Localis recommends that the Levelling Up White Paper should:

  • Create pathways to community autonomy as a vehicle for hyperlocal, small-scale and patient financing of regeneration;
  • build a framework for devolution to skills advisory panels to facilitate local collaboration between employers, providers and education authorities to further accelerate the push to improve skill levels;
  • create a clear role for the local state in driving towards the skills for net zero; and
  • clarify and codify the role for existing institutions of the local state particularly local authorities in LEPs – in driving economic development.
The political and economic imperative

Many Red Wall Conservative MPs will become if they are not already are acutely alert to the fact that they risk paying the political price for an unreformed, silo-fixated Whitehall’s disjointed and agonisingly slow local delivery at local level.

The test for Levelling Up White Paper will be its ability to work through connective administrative tissue of the “people’s priorities” – clean growth, whatever new badge is thrown over industrial strategy, as well as local skills training. A joined-up and fleshed-out levelling up can achieve a virtuous circle of devolution, leading to growth and recovery that inspires further trust and pride in place and place leadership.

Witness the electoral fortunes of Ben Houchen in Tees Valley and Andy Street in the West Midlands. Their likely success is testament to the policy vision laid out for trusting men of “push and go”, charismatic regional leaders with energy and vision to champion their wide economic area. So on the basis that a combination of the vaccination bounce and whatever local political factors ensure a satisfactory set of local and regional results overnight, there should be both confidence and conviction to repay this trust with Whitehall ceding more powers to metro mayors in a deeper devolution settlement.

Otherwise, we risk the continuation of a lop-sided, centrally-led, interventionist growth policy which only serves to hamstring our localities from achieving anything like their fullest inherent economic and place potential.

Why you should vote Conservative in the local elections on Thursday

4 May

Most of the election campaign messages from political parties are about why you should vote for one party rather than another. But the greater challenge, in local elections, is for each party to persuade its supporters to vote at all. If over a third of the electorate can be persuaded to take part; that is considered a pretty creditable outcome. If voters suspect they will notice little difference between a Labour or a Conservative Council they may decide not to bother. Fear of coronavirus is likely to further dampen turnout this time – although postal voting was being encouraged.

It should be conceded that the issues being fought over vary from one area to another and that the philosophical divide between the parties may not always manifest itself in the most tangible of ways. There is a familiar state during an argument with socialists where the retort is made: “Ah, but that is not true socialism.” This can be the response to the failings of any socialist country (Marxist or social democrat) or a past Labour Government. Or indeed a Labour Council. By contrast, some of us have had cause to lament that certain councils – where a majority of the councillors are Conservative Party members –  are merely nominally Conservative. That they do not apply Conservative principles to the way they operate. Perhaps because the bureuacrats – or “officers” as they are more politely called – are left to make decisions.

George Orwell describes in some detail a pub called The Moon Under Water. It did not exist but was his “ideal” of what a pub would be. I could describe an ideal Conservative Council. Council Tax and Business Rates are low. Debt has been eliminated by the sale of surplus municipal property – which has been used for new homes. Services are provided efficiently, making use of private contractors – but with procurement policies that give smaller firms the chance to compete. Rules and regulations on the local populace are kept to a minumum – but those that are in place are enforced. Dustbins are emptied weekly and the streets kept clean. Potholes are filled and humps flattened. Social workers lift barriers to adoption for children in care. Planning officials have a particular penchant for neo-classical architecture as part of their vision to enhance beauty. Civic pride, patriotism, and volunteering are celebrated while political correctness and jargon have disappeared. Environmental improvements are about planting trees and prosecuting flytippers rather than passing declarations of a climate change emergency. We could all think of items to add to the list.

In reality, no such ideal council exists. Central Government restrictions, financial constraints, and human fallibility act as constraints on the impact of our locally elected representatives – even if they happen to be Conservative. Electing such figures is not a guarantee that Conservative values will prevail. Bureaucratic remoteness and and public sector inefficiency do not disappear. Yet it is also unreasonable to claim that voting is irrelevant to the outcome.

Here are some facts:

  • Conservative councils charge lower levels of Council Tax. Averaged across council tiers, Conservative-run councils in 2020-21 in England charged £83 a year less than Labour-controlled councils on Band D and £130 a year less than Liberal Democrat-controlled councils.
  • Conservative councils fix potholes more quickly than Labour councils. On average, Labour councils that responded to a recent survey revealed they took an average of 28 days to repair potholes reported to them. In Conservative council areas, it took six days less on average.
  • Over half of the English Councils with the best recycling rates are Conservative-run. In 2019-20, of the 20 councils with the best recycling rates, 11 were Conservative and a further six are either run by independents or have no overall control. None were run by the Labour Party.

So often it is the poorest who suffer the most from Labour councils. Councul Tax rises hurts the low paid the most. It is the poor who are most likely to be victims of crime – often in soulless council estates which are badly designed, badly maintained, and where little is done about “problem” households. Huge sums are spent by municipal housing departments on repairs and supposed improvements yet often the results are dire. In London we can see Croydon and Lambeth as particular offenders – but the pattern applies in the rest of the country. In towns and cities where Labour have been in power for decades, the hostility to enterprise has a cumulative impact on deprivation. Wealth creators get the message that they are unwelcome and find more hospitable locations elsewhere.

Conservative councillors often make mistakes. The failure to assert themselves against the pressures of officialdom can be frustating. But they tend to carry out their duties in a spirit of goodwill rather of fostering division. A healthy scepticism about what the state can achieve sometimes means that more is accomplished. Above all they are an army of practical men and women – whose ranks I hope will be swelled this week. As Iain Macleod said:

“The socialists can scheme their schemes, and the Liberals can dream their dreams. But we have work to do.”

Robert Buckland: More prison places, a domestic abuse bill, tougher sentences. How we’re acting on the people’s priorities.

4 May

Robert Buckland is Secretary of State for Justice, Lord Chancellor, and MP for South Swindon.

As I pound the pavements of Swindon, Birmingham and Hartlepool with fellow Conservatives, one of the key messages I hear from people is the burning need for politicians to act on their priorities.  Having been through the worst peacetime crisis in living memory, communities and families up and down our country want to share in the recovery from Covid, get those jabs as part of our world-beating vaccination programme – and get on with their lives.

The people’s priorities are our priorities, which is why, from the day that Boris Johnson became Prime Minister and asked me to be his Justice Secretary and Lord Chancellor, we have relentlessly focused on delivering on our justice commitments, as we roll out our pledge to put 20,000 more police officers in place. After over 20 years of direct working experience in the system as a lawyer and part-time judge, I know what has to be done in order to help rebuild public confidence.

Immediately after taking office, we took swift action to ramp up investment in prison building, with over £2.5 billion committed to build an additional 10,000 places, now increased to over £4 billion in the latest Spending Review.

We have installed dozens of new scanners in our prisons, to help combat smuggling and crime. I took decisive steps to end automatic half-way release from prison for serious violent and sexual offenders serving sentences of more than seven years, and increased the range of offences that can be referred to the Court of Appeal for being unacceptably low.

Covid brought unprecedented challenges to the justice system, but with hard work and swift decision-making, we controlled the disease in our prisons, supported our dedicated prison staff and ensured that there was no disorder or dysfunction on the estate. We kept the courts running throughout each lockdown, and were the first in the western world to resume jury trials.

We have used remote technology to run tens of thousands of hearings every week, and have created sixty new Nightingale courtrooms to help deal with the caseload. We have made our courts safer, with investment in perspex and other measures. We have recruited over 1600 extra staff to ensure that the courts run as smoothly as possible.

This is yielding results: the caseload in the Magistrates Courts is being steadily reduced, and in the Crown Court we are now seeing more cases dealt with per week than being received. In the coming year, there will be no limit as to the days the Crown Court can sit, making it clear that our priority is to get cases done so that victims and witnesses aren’t kept waiting. The court recovery plans that I approved last year are bearing fruit, and now we plan to make permanent some of the changes brought about Covid, as we build back stronger.

We did not let the Covid crisis get in the way of the work we are doing to reform justice and to carry out our manifesto pledges. We are reforming probation, with a new national probation service being launched in June, 1000 extra probation officers and a new electronic sobriety tagging programme that is being rolled out across the country.

We have plans to revitalise unpaid work schemes, with an emphasis on visibility and real benefit to local communities. Investment in mental health treatment is being increased, so that alternatives to custody are robust and more likely to work.

During the past year, we passed vital pieces of legislation that mark the beginning of our reforms. The new Sentencing Code makes the law clearer and easier to use, reducing the number of errors and appeals. Helen’s Law is part of our reform of the Parole Board, making it mandatory for the Board to take into account when considering an application for release the applicant’s failure to tell the authorities the whereabouts of their murder victim or the identities of sexually abused victims.

We passed emergency anti-terrorism legislation in the wake of the Fishmongers Hall and Streatham atrocities in order to end automatic early release for a range of terror offences and in the new Counter Terrorism Act, we have lengthened maximum sentences for serious terror offences, created longer licence supervision periods for these offenders and reformed the TPIM (Terrorist Prevention and Investigation Measures) regime to ensure that we are doing all we can to prevent these appalling crimes from happening in the first place.

After I introduced the Domestic Abuse Bill into the Commons just after the general election jointly with the Home Secretary, it has now become law. Yet again, it is the Conservatives who are leading on the protection of the victims of abuse in the home. Those who perpetrate this abuse will no longer be able to cross-examine their victims in person in our civil and family courts, and new Domestic Abuse Prevention Orders will be available to help safeguard more families from this harm.

We have also moved to clarify the law on non-fatal strangulation, so-called “rough sex” defences, revenge pornography and coercive control offences. Conservatives have never hesitated to take decisive action on crime, and our action on domestic abuse is another reflection of this determination.

The new Police Crime Sentencing and Courts Bill, which Labour are opposing at every step, is the next stage in our reforms. We will end automatic halfway release for even more serious violent and sexual offenders, increase the maximum sentence for causing death by dangerous driving from fourteen years to life imprisonment, toughen minimum sentences for house burglary, drug trafficking and knife crime and impose whole life orders for those who commit the premeditated murder of a child. We will increase the maximum that can be imposed by way of curfew hours to further strengthen community sentences too.

Victims of crime deserve a voice, which is why I have introduced a new, clearer and simpler Victims Code which enshrines the need for proper communication and support from the police, prosecution and other agencies. We are going to consult this year on a new Victims Law to further strengthen these important rights.

As we go to the polls to elect 43 Police and Crime Commissioners in England and Wales, the message is clear: elect a Conservative PCC who will work with a Conservative Government that is investing in criminal justice and creating a new framework that will deliver on the people’s priorities.

Sorry, Matthew, but there’s a Centre Party already – Johnson’s Conservatives

3 May

It’s easier to define what the centre ground of politics isn’t than what it is.  So here goes.

It’s not the same territory in one generation as in the next: political landscapes change – sometimes because of a volcanic eruption, like the financial crash; sometimes more slowly, because of eroding attitudes (on eugenics, say, or over women).

Nor is it found by picking some point halfway between that held by the two main parties.  Most voters aren’t engaged with them in the first place, or with politics at all.

Polling will help you to find it, but the map it provides is confusing – at least to political afficiandos.  For example, most voters are broadly pro-NHS but anti-immigration.  Does that make them Left or Right?

Those two examples help to find the answer – as close to one as we can get, anyway.  Voters lean Left on economics and Right on culture. To their being anti-migration (though less than they were) and pro-health service, we add the following.

English voters are also: patriotic, pro-lockdown, anti-racist, pro-armed forces and supportive of public spending over tax cuts (if forced to choose).

They are somewhat isolationist, pro-Joe Biden rather than Donald Trump, unsupportive of the aid budget when push comes to shove, punitive on crime, and paralysed over housing, where the interests of different generations net out.

Centrist voters, like a lot of others, are also closer to teachers than Ministers, at least if they have children of school age – a headache for reforming Ministers of all parties.

They are pro-environment, but in a certain way: our columnist James Frayne has suggested that there is a consensus for improving food safety, animal welfare, protecting areas of natural beauty and reducing the use of plastic.

(Welsh voters are broadly the same; Scottish ones are divided over patriotism and, as the inter-SNP dispute over trans has demonstrated, probably a bit more to the Right on culture, as well as rather more to the Left on economics.)

James himself, whose fortnightly column on this site we call “Far from Notting Hill”, isn’t himself a million miles away from where this centre currently is.

If you wanted to pick out some issues that give the flavour of it, you could do worse than the following: hospital parking charges, pet kidnappings, the proposed Football Superleague, and the decline of high streets (which doesn’t stop those who complain using Amazon).

This ground was getting bigger, like a widening land enclosure, before Brexit; and leaving the EU has allowed it to become even bigger.  You can see where all this is going.

Theresa May, under the guidance of Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill, had first dibs at occupying this territory – or, if you distrust the metaphor of ground, winning the support of these voters – remember “citizens of nowhere”, and all that.

She made a botch of the job, and Boris Johnson had a second go.  Do you want to go Left on economics?  If so, you’ll welcome his government’s proposed Corporation Tax rises, the record borrowing, the superdeduction for manufacturing, the net zero commitments.

Do you want to go Right on culture?  There’s less for you here, given the quiet shift to a more permissive migration policy.  Even so, you can rely on Johnson not to “take a knee”, unlike Keir Starmer; and to commission the Sewell Report; and to protect statues.

We are over five hundred words into this article, and haven’t yet deployed those two reverberating words: “Red Wall”.  But now we have, that the Conservatives hold, say, Burnley, Redcar and West Bromwich East says something about this new centre and who lives in it.

Whatever this week’s local, Mayoral, Scottish and Wesh elections may bring, these voters are Johnson’s to lose – if Starmer can’t grab enough of them: he has done nothing to date to suggest that he can.

If you want to know why this is so, consider the three most coherent alternatives to today’s Johnsonian centre party.  First, one that begins by being to the right of it on economics.

It would be for a smaller state, free markets, lower taxes and personal freedom.  This outlook is likely to drag it to left on culture: for example, it would not be uncomfortable with the present immigration policy, and not always exercised by “woke”.

It members might include: Liz Truss, Kwasi Kwarteng, Matt Ridley, Steve Baker, Lee Rowley, Sam Bowman, Crispin Blunt and our columnists Ryan Bourne, Emily Carver and Dan Hannan.

We see no reason why it shouldn’t include economically liberal former Remainers other than Truss – such as, talking of this site columnists, David Gauke.  Or, if you really want to put the cat among the pigeons, George Osborne.

Next up, a party that starts by being to the left on culture.  This already exists.  It’s called the Labour Party.  It’s Dawn Butler going on about “racial gatekeepers” and Nadia Whittome refusing to condemn the Bristol rioters.

It’s Angela Rayner claiming that the former husband of the Conservative candidate in Hartlepool was once a banker in the Cayman Islands.  (He was a barrister and the head of banking supervision at the islands’ Monetary Authority.)

It’s Zarah Sultana calling on prisoners to be prioritised for Covid vaccinations, and Labour voting against the Crime and Policing Bill.  It’s Starmer himself taking a knee in his office rather than in public – so seeking both to placate his party’s left while also hoping no-one else notices.

Finally, we turn to a party that begins by being to the right on culture: a successor to the Brexit Party.  The Conservatives may be leaving a gap for it here with their new immigration policy.

Which means that it would be likely to pick up more voters outside London and the Greater South-East, which in turn would drag it leftwards on economics.

This is the ground that Nigel Farage occupied, that his Reform UK party is now trying to recover under Richard Tice, and that a mass of others are sniffing around: Reclaim (that bloke from Question Time), the Heritage Party, the SDP (no relation; not really).

In electoral terms, this new Labour Party would be best off junking its efforts in provincial working-class seats altogether, and competing with the Greens and Liberal Democrats for the urban, university-educated and ethnic minority vote. Think Bristol West.

Our new economically liberal party could begin by diving into the blue heartlands from which city workers commute into the capital.  Think St Albans.

And the various revamp parties would try to paint the Red Wall purple, where voters may have backed one of the two main ones, but have no love for either of them. Think, say…well, anywhere within it.

We apologise for coming so late to the cause of this article: Matthew Parris’ column in last Saturday’s Times, where he yearned for a “sober, moderate, intelligent and morally reputable centre party”, and asked “where is it”?

He’s right that the Conservatives’ grip on the centre will weaken sooner or later: because another volcanic eruption blows it apart, or it sinks below the sea…or Johnson blows himself up or sinks instead.

But he’s mistaken about what the centre is.  Or, more precisely, he identifies it with himself.  But many sober, moderate, intelligent and reputable voters backed the Tories in 2019, if only for want of anything else – and still do, it seems.

The real centre isn’t where Matthew or ConservativeHome or anyone else wants it to be.  It’s where it is, as cited above.  Johnson’s bottom squats on it, and he’s no intention of moving.