What are the key targets for the main political parties on Thursday?

3 May

Given the abundance of local election results that we will have to absorb this week, it may be helpful to consider in advance the key targets for the main political parties on Thursday. As the bewildering tsunami of announcements descend, which particular local authorities should be watched out for?

Conservative targets

It should first be acknowledged that if the Conservatives merely hold on to what they won when these seats were last contested – in 2016 and 2017 – that would be an extraordinary achievement. But even if there are losses overall, it is quite plausible that there should be some areas where gains are made. The Liberal Democrats appear to be at a low ebb if the opinions polls are to be believed. Then we also have the anomaly since the last general election of certain constituencies with a Conservative MP, but no Conservative councillors.

  • Amber Valley. (Gain from Labour.)
  • Basildon. (Gain from No Overall Control.)
  • Basingstoke and Deane. (Gain from No Overall Control.)
  • Cannock Chase. (Gain from No Overall Control.)
  • Cheshire, Derbyshire, and Leicestershire Police and Crime Commissioners.  (All would be gains from Labour.)
  • Colchester. (Gain from No Overall Control.)
  • Cornwall. (Gain from No Overall Control.)
  • Crawley. (Gain from No Overall Control.)
  • Dudley. (Gain from No Overall Control.)
  • Gloucester. (Gain from No Overall Control.)
  • Milton Keynes. (Gain from No Overall Control.)
  • Mole Valley. (Gaining enough seats from the Lib Dems for it to fall under No Overall Control.)
  • Rossendale. (Gaining enough seats from Labour for it to fall under No Overall Control.)
  • Stroud. (Gain from No Overall Control.)
  • West Yorkshire Mayoralty. (A newly created post. Victory would be impressive – but not impossible.)
  • Walsall. (Hold with an increased majority.)

Rotherham, Sandwell, and Sheffield are among the councils which currently have no Conservative councillors at all. For those of us with a sentimental attraction to the Conservatives being a “one nation” party, it is painful that there are some cities and large towns with no Conservative representation. So cutting the list of “no go areas” is a much sought after objective.

Labour targets

I suppose if Labour loses the Hartlepool by-election then any celebrations of local election successes will be decidedly muted – even if they should materialise at all. But some basic measures of recovery for the Party would include:

  • Adur. (Gaining enough seats from the Conservatives for the Council to fall under No Overall Control.)
  • Avon and Somerset Police and Crime Commissioner. (Gaining from an independent.)
  • Burnley. (Gain from No Overall Control.)
  • Derbyshire. (Gaining from the Conservatives.)
  • Teesside Mayoralty. (Gaining from the Conservatives.)
  • West Midlands Mayoralty. (Gaining from the Conservatives.)
  • Wirral. (Gain from No Overall Control.)
  • Worcester. (Gain from No Overall Control.)

Lib Dem targets

  • Colchester. (Becoming the largest party – which would mean winning seats from the Conservatives and Labour)
  • Cornwall. (Becoming the largest party). Given the large number of independents, it might be unrealistic for the Lib Dems to win outright. But for them to be doing well they should certainly be winning more seats that the Conservatives here.
  • Gosport (Gaining enough seats from the Conservatives for the Council to fall under No Overall Control.)
  • Hull. (Winning enough seats from Labour for it to fall under No Overall Control.)
  • Sheffield. (Ditto.)

Green Party targets

Some may scoff at the Green Party being included as a “main political party”. By next week this classification for them may not seem quite so far-fetched.

  • Bristol. (Winning enough seats from Labour for the Council to fall under No Overall Control.
  • Norwich. (The Green Party is already the main opposition. Further gains would be important for them.)
  • Sheffield. (Winning enough seats from Labour for it to fall under No Overall Control. This is complicated by the Lib Dems also having this priority, see above.)
  • Stroud.  (The Green Party are already in coalition with Labour and the Lib Dems. Could they become the largest party?)

The Green Party will also be hoping for representation for the first time in several local authorities where they have not had any representation before. It is hard to predict where. But they have an increase in the number of candidates they have managed to field; their opinion poll ratings are pretty bouyant; and they made gains in the last local elections in 2019. I would expect to see them cracking open the organic Champagne in a few places.

“Genuinely haven’t seen complaints”…”Not a single e-mail”…”Nobody is raising it”. Tory MPs on sleaze claims and the local elections.

29 Apr

MP with a Northern seat

“The local elections are looking very positive. Almost like 2019 positive – we don’t seem to have lost any support. If anything, people are even more ardently supporting us than they did in 2019. There’s a lot of understanding that, yeah, we’ve not got everything right in the last year, but I think the understanding is that no one would have done…They’re extremely happy with the vaccine roll out. I think a lot of things we’ve been focusing on – whether that’s more police on the street, more money for education, all these manifesto commitments, the people’s priorities if you will – they all seem to be landing very well. Until yesterday, I had one email about the curent allegations. It doesn’t seem to be resonating with anyone, but I imagine at some point it may well do.”

MP with a Midlands seat

“The PCCs are too remote. It might work well enough for an urban area, but when they cover three rural counties it’s another matter. They don’t live in my community or visit, and nobody wants to deliver the leaflets or raises it on the doorstep. At a time when we’re supposed to be bringing power closer to people, they need to be rethought. The council elections on the other hand are going very well – we’re seeing a big shift towards the Conservatives in blue-collar areas and expect to gain a seat or two from Labour. Nobody is raising the ‘sleaze’ stuff, which is seen as a smoke screen to try and prevent what will be a spectacular result in Hartlepool.”

MP with a Southern seat

“It’s been an odd election because there’s been a lot of deliveries, less speaking to people than would otherwise have been…  People from what I’ve seen are interested in the recovery and getting London sorted out. They don’t think Sadiq Khan’s had a very good pandemic. A lot of this will be about turnout and motivation as well, because London elections are traditionally a low-turnout election.  We’ve got the London Assembly as well, so it’s important that we get good representation… so whatever happens we can scrutinise. Genuinely haven’t seen any of it (complaints about Tory sleaze). I’ve had next to nothing in my inbox and nothing on the doorsteps. It’s frustrating to keep reading about it all.”

MP with a Northern seat

“Traditionally in my area, Labour have always over-performed at local government compared to national elections. So I think there’s a very strong turn out game in the elections and it’s going to be quite interesting to see how it plays out this time. PPC is going to be down to the wire at this time, but I think that Ben Houchen down in Teesside is in with a good chance, despite obviously it being a very very tight fight. Not getting huge amounts on [Tory sleaze] at the moment… There’s always a danger of us looking disconnected from the lives of ordinary people, so we just need to be very careful about it.”

MP with a Midlands seat

“I’m expecting mixed results. Gains from Labour but losses to the LibDems. Lots of local factors – where the Lib Dems are campaigning hard and we are complacent. Or, I’m afraid, where you have tribal voting from ethnic groups according to the candidate that is put up. I really don’t think the recent headlines will have an impact. Boris making some outrageous comment is factored in. The only time it was raised with me was at a St George’s Day party in a pub and someone said it was good that Boris had intervened with Dyson to get the ventilators.”

MP with a Southern seat

“I don’t think it’s looking too bad. The PCC election is pretty much safe, and although we have a staunchly Labour council I think with a good wind we could do well. Up until the last few days there has been little sign of the stories from Westminster breaking through on the doorstep, and normally we get asked about almost anything. Even the usual suspects are complaining much less than they did when Dominic Cummings drove to Barnard Castle. I think that people here, whilst not anti-lockdown, are hugely appreciative of the successful vaccine rollout and unlocking.”

MP with a Northern seat

“It all seems to be going fine.  On our local council, we have elections in third.  In the Police Commissioner election – well, don’t ask me: I’d happily abolish the lot of them tomorrow.  The poll is basically in the best part of my constituency, some wards have slim majorities and we’ve a narrow hold on the council.  Postal votes are apparently above average for a local election.  As for all the Westminster fluff, it’s not having any impact that I can see, and I’ve not had a single e-mail about it.  It might make a few more people sit on their hands, I suppose. As for Hartlepool, if we lose, it will be because the work hasn’t been put it over the years.  I was out and about recently in Seaton Carew, a prosperous village on the edge of the seat, and it was clear that there’s been no significant push there in the recent past.”

MP with a Midlands seat

“Labour’s the main opponents for us and I think it is a question of Labour doing badly rather than us doing well. There are quite a few
Corbynistsas in the Labour Party in my town. So Starmer’s leadership has caused a split. But alienating Corbynistas has not been enough for him to win back traditional Labour supporters. All the woke stuff is still there and is going down badly. But my sense is that recent events have been damaging. It is not that people mention wallpaper or Dominic Cummings specifically but there is a sort of groan. Some of my
parliamentary colleagues ignore the cumulative impact. It’s not just if one day’s headline changes an opinion poll the next day. It’s not
even Conservatives switching to Labour. In local elections, it’s motivating your supporters to vote. But there’s a groan on the doorstep.”

MP with a Southern seat

“The mayoral and PCC elections should be fine. That sentiment is boosted by the national polls but the nature of the county means there should be a Conservative majority. The county and district councils are another matter however. We’ve got areas with really strong Liberal Democrat support, and in places Labour have pulled out which makes a tough fight even harder. In these races, victory would be holding our ground, and we’re braced for losses. However, the ‘Tory sleaze’ stuff doesn’t seem to have cut through as yet – it’s only raised by people we know wouldn’t be voting for us anyway.”

MP with a Northern seat

“Lancashire County County is a key marginal, and I’m reasonably confident of the result.  There’s not much sign of Labour, and I don’t think that claims of “Tory sleaze” are cutting through at all.  I really can’t remember how many e-mails I’ve had about it, but it really won’t be very many, and they’ll come from the usual suspects.  Labour spent much more on Downing Street decoration, and Boris has put his hand in his own pocket.  So what’s the problem?”

MP with a Midlands seat

“It sees to going very well and, although it could all go pear-shaped, no-one outside London no-one gives a damn about these allegations. – Andy Street won the West Midlands mayoralty last time round by 100 votes per parliamentary seat, and I think that his vote will go up.  He’s basically seen as Conservative Plus Plus Plus because of his business background, which voters know about now if they didn’t last time round.  He appears to be doing particularly well in the Black County.  Obviously, turnout will matter a lot, and from tomorrow I’ll have my nose properly to the campaigning grindstone.”

MP with a Southern seat

“There hasn’t been a problem over rudeness to John Lewis or any of those associated matters. What worries me more is the importance of
postal voting. There will be a low turnout and that gives an advantage to those best organised with postal votes – which I gather is the
Labour Party. If people are worried about going to polling stations due to coronavirus and generally in a mood of apathy it makes it
harder to call. The canvassing I’ve done suggests Labour doing pretty badly. That’s the political fundamental. My anxiety is that they may
have that organisational edge which helps them in these elections.”

– – –

  • Most Conservative MPs we spoke to believe that the recent allegations about Boris Johnson aren’t cutting through to voters.
  • We rang round on Tuesday and Wednesday.
  • “Northern seat”, “Midlands seat” and “Southern seat” are a compromise between giving the reader some flavour and protecting the source: MPs are likely to speak more candidly off the record than on it.
  • One question: is the Party failing collectively over expectations management?

Richard Holden: The Stockton South Test – and four others for Starmer, as the run-in for next week’s elections gathers pace

26 Apr

Richard Holden is MP for North West Durham.

Malton Picnic area, Lanchester, Co Durham

Things are hotting up on the Northern Front. “Battleground North East” is anchored in public consciousness this year by the Hartlepool by-election: what should be a safe Labour seat appears less than solid due, frankly, to the sheer uselessness of the current Labour leadership.

But who will win? Well it feels like it’s closer than it should on the ground, and there’s no way on god’s green earth that the Prime Minister would have made multiple visits if there wasn’t at least an outside chance.

But Keir Starmer faces more than just Hartlepool in his Red Wall test in the North East this bumper election year (due to the delays from last year), with the Hartlepool by-election just one of a swath of big battles.

After a year in office, Sir Keir has moved beyond the ‘not Corbyn but unknown’ era, and these elections are his biggest – and realistically only – massive test ahead of the next general election. Is he cutting through? Polls say lots of different things, but in the end it’s election results that you really can’t spin and I’ve outlined a few scenarios

  • Keir on Course = Starmer is well ahead of Corbyn and can look forward to rebuilding in the North. All 2019 Conservative MPs are under threat.
  • So-So Starmer: he makes some progress, but there’s a lot more to do. The Blue Wall will be down to the wire at the next general election ,with CCHQ looking at the most marginal seats (such as Wansbeck) for attack, and a broad based defence.
  • Knightmare: Corbyn performed better than Starmer. Labour heading to be a city-centre only party of student politics. CCHQ will be looking to defend the most marginal Blue Wall seats and looking for gains in places like Sunderland, Gateshead and Middlesborough. Labour will be in open warfare.

Starmer’s five big tests

1) Tees Valley Mayoralty

Ben Houchen squeezed in in 2017 on a 21.3 per cent turnout with just 39.5 per cent of votes in the first round (just 481 votes more than Labour), winning in just two of the five boroughs. Literally, fewer than one in ten voters went for Houchen in 2017. All Labour need to do is get their vote to turn out, and they’ll win. If it had been held on the same day as the 2017 general election, Labour would have won easily. This should be a shoe-in for Starmer, but Houchen is fighting hard and has gained local notoriety as a bit of a fighter for Teesside.

  • Keir on Course: Labour gain with 50 per cent of the vote in first round.
  • So-so Starmer: Labour win Tees Valley mayorality.
  • Knightmare: Houchen wins re-election with an increased majority

2) Northumberland County Council.

You think of Holy Island and Hadrian’s Wall. The truth is that 75 per cent of Northumberland’s population is within a ten-miles or so of the border with the really rock solid Labour City of Newcastle. The Council has been No Overall Control, but run by a minority Conservative administration since 2017. If Labour can take it back, they’ll do so by taking seats back in the Blyth/Wansbeck Parliamentary constituencies and piling on votes in towns. Look out for results in South East Ashington, Hartley, and Purdhoe: they are all central to this battle.

  • Keir on Course: Taking back Northumberland with a majority administration
  • So-so Starmer: Labour become the largest party, taking back towns and performing well in South East Northumberland.
  • Knightmare: Tories retain power in NoC Council. If by some miracle the Conservatives gained the council, this would be catastrophic for Starmer, and suggest that under his leadership Labour will do significantly worse than Corbyn.

Top tip – Watch out for the Greens in some seats here. If the radical enviro-socialists perform well in some areas it could help galvanise the Labour left.

3) Hartlepool By-Election.

Held by Labour despite a very high Brexit vote by over 3,500 votes on a sub-60 per cent turnout in 2019. Should be absolutely rock-solid Labour, and Corbyn held it by 8,000 in 2017. The fact that it’s in contention at all is astonishing. Starmer has worked hard to distance himself from his very heavily pro-EU stance, but we’ll see if voters are as quick to forget as he’d like.

  • Keir on course: Labour returned with majority of similar proportions + to Corbyn’s in 2017.
  • So-So Starmer: Labour hold the seat with a majority similar to 2019 on a lower turnout.
  • Knightmare : Labour perform worse than in 2019 or even lose. This shows that the Brexit voters who left Labour in 2019 aren’t returning to Labour en-masse, but are instead going Conservative. This would be a disaster and points to the Tories being able to really push further and deeper in the North.

4) County Durham.

Held by Labour since 1919 and with a good majority of about a dozen in 2017 in the really terrible 2017 council elections for Labour. This is the heartland of the industrial Labour vote. But the Conservatives gained three MPs of the county’s six MPs here in 2019, the more marginal seat of Bishop Auckland, and Sedgefield and North West Durham (my constituency). For the PCVC election, add Darlington to the mix. Traditionally, Labour has always outperformed in the local elections by 10 per cent compared to the general election, so this should be an easy hold of the council with gains possible in places like: Crook (a three seat ward currently one Labour, 2 independent), Newton Aycliffe, and Barnard Castle East (currently two Conservatives, which has been heavily targeted by Labour).

  • Keir on course = Labour hold the PCVC and County Council with an increased majority, taking a number of “Independent”, Liberal Democray and some Conservative seats – including Barnard Castle East.
  • So-So Starmer = Labour hold the Council and PCVC, picking up a few extra seats – especially from the Lib Dems in City of Durham and in North Durham (Chester-Le-Street) from Conservatives and Independents.
  • Knightmare = Labour hold the council by a wafer thing margin or, in the worst case, lose control of the Council for the first time in 102 years, with Conservatives making progress against Labour and Labour- leaning ‘Independents’ in places like: Delves Lane (Consett, NW Durham, currently two Labour), Evenwood (Bishop Auckland, currently one Lab, one Con), and holding seats in North Durham that were gained by small margins in 2017.

5) The “Stockton South Test”.

Stockton South was gained by Corbyn in 2017, but lost in 2019. There are a five Council by-elections this year with Conservatives, Liberal Democrats and Independents defending. Labour will be looking to making big gains in these seats (which were last fought on the date of the 2019 General Election) to see it in play for the next general election.

  • Keir on Course: Vote Share looks much better than 2017 from these results with Labour gaining most of these seats.
  • So-so Starmer: Starmer picks up a couple of these seats with vote shares similar to 2017.
  • Knightmare: Labour only gain one seat or none in what amounts to a re-run of the 2019 election showing that Starmer is underperforming Corbyn’s 2017 result.

– – –

Having been on the ground in North West Durham during the last few weeks, it’s clear that Labour are moving heaven and earth locally, with voters now facing a “Labour Versus Conservative” battle in most council seats that had traditionally been more of an open contest.

Having knocked on hundreds of doors, Starmer is rarely mentioned unprompted. When asked “what do you think of the new Labour leader?” – then “Brexit” ,as well as being associated with Corbyn at the last election, are the only things that are mentioned.

He certainly isn’t “cutting through, and where he has made an impact, it certainly isn’t to popular acclaim. One politically switched on (and furious) family who voted Lib Dem at the last general election (formerly Labour because they couldn’t stand Corbyn) that I met in Lanchester Ward this time are now “probably conservatives” after seeing the vaccine programme rollout going well.

Their 22 year old son (who was pro-Remain at the time, but too young to vote, and who is now is glad we’ve left) and works locally said that Starmer’s attacks during the pandemic showed him to be a “typical opportunistic London lawyer happy to cash in on any argument about anything.”

If Starmer is to avoid the “Knightmare” then it will be down to motivated left-wing Labour activists getting out their party’s base in a low turnout set of elections, rather than any enthusiasm for Labour’s leader. And if so, however Starmer’s spinners from Southside present the outcome, they’ll still be shackled to the same problems in a general election as they faced in 2019.

Katie Burgess: I’m standing as Mayor of Liverpool because I know the City can succeed

26 Apr

Katie Burgess is the Conservative candidate for Liverpool City Mayor

I am so proud to have been selected to stand as the Conservative candidate for City Mayor in my home town of Liverpool.

In recent weeks the role has hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons and it’s been devastating, if sadly not surprising, to watch as central government has revealed the results of their report into the current administration.

In a city that has perhaps the strongest bricks in the so-called Red Wall, it’s not hard to see why the incumbent representatives at the City Council feel they can rest on their laurels and never improve or progress. Elections are more like coronations and the turnout numbers are painful to read, indicative of an electorate that feels ineffective. They say a fool and their money are soon parted; well the Liverpool City taxpayer has been taken for a fool long enough. They give their money and they give their vote. The return on both are long overdue.

A Liverpolitan born and bred, I began life in the centre of the city, in the colloquially known and warmly remembered “Oxford Street Hospital”, in the shadow of my beloved Cathedral, back when leg warmers, rara skirts, and dungarees were advisable fashion choices.

I was raised and still reside, just seven miles from the city centre. My grandmothers were the archetypal northern matriarchs: raising their families were their careers – and seeing them thrive and progress their reward.

My maternal grandfather was a Liverpool docker, raising his family on hard toil and honest work. My paternal grandfather the same, working on public transport and in local schools. Both God-fearing, admirable men of integrity, their shared ambition, along with their wives, was for their respective children and grandchildren to reach and exceed their potential, to have and seize those opportunities that they didn’t have.

For me to do anything less would have been inconceivable. In my lifetime I have witnessed the mixed fortunes of my respective families across various governments, including my grandparents realise the once unachievable dream of home ownership through the 1980’s Right to Buy scheme. This against a backdrop of lower national taxes for working people and increasing possibilities after years of national stagnation. What Liverpool family doesn’t relate to this? Indeed, it was my largely Labour-voting family who made me a Conservative and for all the right reasons.

I was born to an electrical engineer and that most demanding of all professions, a domestic engineer. The second of three and only female of their children, blessed with my own mind and encouraged to use it.

I knew from a young age the value of money, hard work, strong beliefs, independence and ambition. I began in business, in the catering sector, aged almost 18, having worked at three jobs to raise the capital to do so. I’ve come a long way since then, but my entrepreneurial journey has never strayed outside of the L postcode. I’ve created business in Liverpool’s tourism, hospitality, and leisure sectors, as well as property. I believe in this city and its future and have invested in it personally through business and development, for the whole 18 years of my working life. I have a personal and professional pull to it; I can confidently strive for improvement, affluence, and success for everybody. Failure is never an option.

The last election this country saw was in December 2019. On that cold and wet night, I watched the result of the exit poll arrive, sitting with a group of fellow Conservatives, clasped hand in hand with a then-candidate, now dear friend, in a restaurant in the south of the city. Seeing those numbers arrive was like watching a cup-winning goal in the final minutes of extra time. Results came in one by one and as predicted, the Red Wall fell brick by brick. The results in Liverpool were a certainty though, before a vote was counted or even cast and no matter how amazing our blue victory had been nationally. The country moved forward, but once again in the grip of the left, Liverpool was left behind.

Liverpool has so much to offer and even more to rejoice in. Our beautiful theatres and culture, shopping and retail, our stunning waterfront (which just happens to be the best view on earth), world-class sports and teams, and the potential to once again be a world leader in trade with our docks and Freeport. But prosperity is not born out of pride but persistence and productivity. Liverpool should be a behemoth. The city that the rest of the UK not only looks up to, but looks at with envy. Right now it’s looking with bemusement – and who can blame it? I have faith in the people of Liverpool though and so do my Party. In the last 12 months they have chosen our city to pilot some of the essential schemes to lead the entire country to its recovery. The open Covid testing scheme, forging ahead locally with the vaccine program – and now the city will host the test events that will guide us back to large scale events and gatherings nationally. “The Tories don’t care about Liverpool” is something I hear a lot. I’d say the Tories revere it.

The idea of voting Conservative is anathema to some Scousers but despite that, between 3,000 and 5,000 of those who vote in Liverpool typically do. There are signs of change though and it’s long overdue.

I received a telephone call from a delightful older gentleman this week, wishing me well in my campaign. “Well” he said “Labour have got big problems in Liverpool haven’t they?”

My reply was simple “Almost” I said, “Liverpool has got big problems in Labour”. He laughed and finished off with “Well, you’ve got my vote girl – and I’m a socialist!”

People like him are why I find it impossible not to love the bones of this city and not just because he so was so generous as to gallantly gift me the youthful title of “girl” (God bless him!). I can’t wait for the day when, politically at least, I can like it too.

So we know the problems – but what are the solutions? A slate clean of corruption is imperative. I believe that the key to sustainable success lies in creating the right foundations and I believe that this can be achieved with creating secure jobs with skilled workers, high quality housing, and lower taxes. In the wake of the Covid pandemic, we have an opportunity to cure our city of its chronic neglect and under-achieving, to kick-start the local economy, encourage outside investment, business and industry while preserving our green spaces, culture and history.

Tough action is needed on reducing crime, tackling rough sleeping and homelessness which has plagued our city centre for decades – and encouraging independence through education and employment. We don’t help people when we do it for them, but by assisting them in helping themselves. You can throw the bird into flight but for it to progress and flourish it must flap its own wings. Liver birds should soar the highest of them all.

So this is not the time to dwell on the past and its failures but to gratefully accept the gift of the future and the potential success that we have to look forward to.  As a city surrounded by beautiful beaches, parkland, recreation, and residential areas, Liverpool can and should be the shining jewel in the crown of the UK. I can’t wait to watch it gleam.

Matthew Robinson: The battle for West Yorkshire

19 Apr

Cllr Matthew Robinson is the Conservative candidate for Mayor of West Yorkshire and a councillor in Leeds.

The local elections are well underway. We’d been waiting for the go ahead to allow us to campaign safely – and the Cabinet Office advice that came through last month was greeted with relief as it meant that people could campaign again. It’s not quite the time to leave the face masks and sanitiser at home but there is a way to safely campaign and engage with voters.

Here in West Yorkshire, after much debate and discussion about powers, and the geographic areas to be included, on May 6th 2021 the good people of the region will elect our first ever Mayor.

Now we have a number of Yorkshire folk who might not currently live in God’s Own County (sorry Jacob but it’s Yorkshire like Imran Khan our Wakefield MP said, not Somerset that is God’s Own County) so they might not be aware this Mayoral election is taking place. Yet everyone can play their part in stopping the drama and political back-biting of another Labour Mayor who wants to pick a fight with Westminster rather than taking the action required to improve the lives of our residents and improve the North.

People ask me how West Yorkshire – particularly Leeds, the biggest financial centre outside the city of London and the second biggest local authority in the country – has found itself in 2021 without a mass transit system. Don’t get me wrong, there have been attempts; the trolley bus springs to mind. However, we’ve had five Labour Councils running West Yorkshire for most of the last 40 years who’ve scrapped like cats in sacks and we’ve had Labour MPs who failed to be taken seriously by their own Party, never mind Conservative Governments, when seeking funding for a transport solution.

They have let the bill for their plans spiral out of control too, to the point where major overspends become something the public have sadly grown to expect. I’ve asked Labour’s candidate to join my no new local taxes pledge – the response wasn’t exactly full blooded agreement (“I have no intention of introducing an additional precept”). I understand the challenges of recovery will require households budgets and businesses to bounce back and big new taxes and charges would kill the recovery in West Yorkshire before it begins, stamping on the green shoots of this spring. Labour seems to prefer to blame the Government rather than doing the ground work to move our economy forward.

If we are serious about our economic recovery in West Yorkshire, tackling crime, improving the skills to create a resilient workforce, closing the productivity gap, getting the region moving, and levelling up within the region – because if you believe in levelling up as I do then it can’t all be about Leeds and our cities but has to be about our towns too – then it’s crucial West Yorkshire has a Conservative Mayor with a strong voice – and who wants to work with Government and others to invest in our future rather than searching out the nearest camera for their latest round of political axe-grinding.

So how can you help, well it’s easy:

  • Connect Calling – every little helps (to quote a well known supermarket). Energising our voters and reminding those who voted Conservative for the first time in December 2019 that the job isn’t done just yet. We need a little less conversation and a little more action. People want to get things done and to see our region crack on. A vote for me and our Conservative Council candidates means we will focus on economic recovery, boosting our economy and our communities every day and every step of the way.
  • Donate – Labour are pumping their union cash into their former Red Wall seats. If you thought they were going to allow the people of Dewsbury, Wakefield, Keighley and others to stay blue for long then you’re much mistaken. The fight for the next General Election has started and every £1 you donate will help us keep our target seats and win more. You can still donate to my campaign so please get in touch.
  • Spread the word. I’ve set out my priorities for West Yorkshire on economic recovery, jobs and apprenticeships, helping our businesses, new local opportunity areas, greater transparency, more police on the streets with the better equipment such as tasers for frontline officers, a connected clean green and on time transport system, improving life chances, and helping our environment – including delivering the new Northern Forest. It’s the only plan that will keep taxes low, stop a congestion charge, support business and the police, ensure projects are on time and on budget – and I’m the only Mayoral candidate who’ll be able to argue for, and get the best deal from, the Government. You can follow me on Twitter and on Facebook to support #Matt4Mayor

West Yorkshire has huge potential and has the opportunity to seize the day. This May we can either vote for a plan and deliver for our future as a region. Or we can vote for Andy Burnham 2.0 (new packaging but nothing really different) and more playing politics that has let West Yorkshire down in the past. We would continue being the neighbour to Manchester that everyone mentions second, rather than the envy of the North and the pacesetters of the 21st Century.

Stuart Coster: There is anger from the editors of real local newspapers at the fake versions from the Lib Dems

16 Apr

Stuart Coster is the Editor of LibDemWatch and previously co-founder of the People’s Pledge campaign for an EU referendum.

As campaigning steps up ahead of May’s local elections, the Liberal Democrats have come under fresh fire from local newspapers and the Society of Editors over a new spate of the party’s fake newspaper leaflets.

Hot on the heels of the Lib Dems’ recent uncaring refusal to stop distributing political leaflets during lockdown, the party has once again been caught putting out propaganda mocked up to mislead voters into thinking they are reading independent local journalism.

Examples of phoney ‘newspapers’ distributed by the Lib Dems in recent weeks include the Welwyn Hatfield News, Wiltshire Post, South Oxfordshire Observer, Andover South Gazette, and Maidenhead News – all displaying fake names, using non-party colours, and any references to their political origin in tiny or peripheral text.

No doubt few would see much wrong with giving political leaflets a more reader-friendly, tabloid style. But to use bogus ‘local newspaper’ mastheads and write them in pseudo journalistic styles, with references to their true source tucked away in tiny print, as the Liberal Democrats are again doing, is clearly stepping far over that line into being deliberately misleading.

The response from genuine local newspapers and journalists to Lib Dem mimicry of their publications has been predictably explosive. First to take aim at the latest wave of deceptive Lib Dem leaflets was the Northampton Chronicle & Echo, which issued a warning to readers about its fake rival – the ‘Northants Citizen’.

In a hard-hitting editorial, the Chronicle cited how the local Lib Dem leaflet described itself misleadingly as a “Free local newspaper”, warning readers:

“Nowhere on the front page does it identify itself as a party-political freesheet produced by the Liberal Democrats. Only in tiny print on the back page …  There’s even a comment piece inside, mimicking the traditional leader column of quality newspapers.”

“Let’s be clear. It is nothing more than a political propaganda sheet masquerading as local news,” the Chronicle thundered.

Pete Gavan, the Editor of the Swindon Advertiser and Oxford Mail, also shared his dismay at the fake ‘Wiltshire Post’, saying:

“It’s very disappointing to see the Lib Dems trying to pass off this material as a ‘local newspaper’, which it most certainly is not. We work extremely hard in our communities to be the trusted impartial news source and actions like this only go to undermine that.”

The row has quickly escalated with the Society of Editors writing to Lib Dem leader, Sir Ed Davey, demanding an end to the misleading tactic “once and for all”.

The Society’s executive director, Ian Murray, commented:

“It seems that no matter how many times this issue is raised, the Lib Dems continue to pretend there is not a problem here. The simple fact is that if the party were serious about not attempting to mislead the public in this way then a plain – and large – Lib Dems logo on the front page of their local publications would do the trick.”

The editorial director of Newsquest local media group, Toby Granville, has also branded the Lib Dems a “disgrace” over the continuing ploy, after Darlington & Stockton Times editor, Hannah Chapman, posted a picture online of a Lib Dem leaflet calling itself the ‘Hambleton Herald’, which she received through her door.

In response, Granville blasted:

“Totally misleading the public by purporting to be a legitimate local newspaper and undermining our industry’s fight against fake news. Shame on you Lib Dems.”

The News Media Association, trade body for the regional and national press, has also now waded into the row, launching a campaign called ‘Don’t Be Duped’ urging the Lib Dems to end these misleading tactics.

Introducing the campaign, NMA chairman Henry Faure Walker wrote:

“Sadly, in recent months fake local newspapers published by the Lib Dems have started popping up again. Make no mistake, these publications are designed to fool you into thinking you are reading independent journalism. In fact, they are the exact opposite – party political propaganda sheets masquerading as real newspapers. It has been reported that some of the leaflets are not clearly marked as being produced by the Lib Dems. We think this cynical attempt to mislead you is wrong. It undermines trust in both politicians and independent local newspapers.”

The Lib Dems’ use of the ploy to mislead voters continues despite widespread criticism for the same low tricks at the 2019 general election – and the Electoral Commission subsequently warning that it shouldn’t continue.

In its report into the 2019 general election campaign, the Commission highlighted fake newspapers as one of the public’s key concerns about “misleading campaign techniques” during elections, singling out that “Some leaflets were designed to look like local newspapers. Others used colours normally associated with other parties”. Yet both such shameful ploys remain in evidence, for example, in Lib Dem MP, Layla Moran’s, latest ‘South Oxfordshire Observer’ leaflet.

Just as warnings of health risks to the public of continuing to leaflet during lockdown went unheeded, the concerns of the official body responsible for supervising our elections about the party’s deliberately misleading leaflets also appear to have fallen on deaf ears at Lib Dem HQ.

Such matters do not appear to concern the Liberal Democrats it seems, if it furthers their own narrow political interests.

The base idea of fake newspapers is clearly to fool people into thinking they are reading dispassionate journalistic reports and analysis on local politics – perhaps, even, a local newspaper endorsement – when in reality the content is of course only a highly sensationalised version of one party’s view.

As the Northampton Chronicle summed up perfectly:

“When political movements try to impersonate us, we are undermined. When members of the public realise they have been fooled by a medium that looks like ours, the next time they read journalism produced by us, they may trust it that bit less. This all leads to those in power becoming more powerful, more protected from scrutiny and less accountable to the public.”

An approach to politics that, if actions speak louder than words, seems sadly to have become a characteristic of the Liberal Democrats.

Have you seen any Lib Dem fake newspapers being distributed in your area? Please add a comment below with details or drop LibDemWatch a line direct through our website. We’ll be drawing up a full report of all misleading examples we’ve seen for submission to the relevant electoral authorities.


Starmer’s “paint-by-numbers” politics does not a Prime Minister make

4 Feb

It’s not been the best of times for Keir Starmer.

First there was the incident at PMQs. Boris Johnson accused him of backing the European Medicines Agency (which he did in 2017), only for the Labour leader to call this “absolute nonsense”.

Later it transpired Starmer had thought Johnson suggested he wanted to join the EU’s vaccine scheme and was forced to say he’d been “wrong” and “misheard” the PM.

Then there were the polls. They showed that Labour’s support has stalled in recent weeks, with the party attracting just four per cent of people who voted Conservative in 2019’s General Election.

Given the challenges the Tories have faced managing the pandemic, many have wondered why Starmer hasn’t had more of an impact.

These events, paired with others, culminated in a media onslaught, with commentators asking what the point is of the Labour leader.

How the tables have turned… It’s hard to remember now but when Starmer first took over from Jeremy Corbyn many newspapers were dazzled by His Royal Prosecutor, whose legal background they deemed kryptonite to the Conservatives.

As one gushed: “the word [forensic] doesn’t actually begin to capture the quietly terrifying force of a skilled former Chief Prosecutor assembling all the evidence and nailing it piece by damning piece to the accused.”

Strangely enough, it strikes me that some of the issues Starmer is now having are a result of the experience that was once so admired.

For one, it’s not that obvious what he stands for compared to Johnson (albeit, the pandemic is testing his libertarian ideals), as Starmer spends so much time trying to spot flaws in his opponent’s case.

This is partly why he has been deemed “Captain Hindsight” and accused of fence sitting, as Starmer’s is more tactical than ideological, often looking for the next move to outsmart his opponents, and somewhat risk averse about setting out his own agenda.

Sometimes Starmer appears all over the place ideologically. This same week a video came out of him as a young man suggesting the UK should “abolish the monarchy” (and people have not forgotten he was Corbyn’s deputy).

At the same time, a leaked document from Labour showed suggestions to win back the Red Wall, which included making more of the Union Jack and army veterans, to show patriotism.

I suspect what people would like most from Starmer is authenticity, not this “paint-by-numbers” politics of trying to predict what voters might want.

And it’s a sensible strategy – it’s far better to consistent in one’s vision than to wobble about depending on political events and sentiment.

The other issue with Starmer – and this is something of a brief round up – is a lack of imagination as to how to tackle Coronavirus.

Granted, Conservatives have had issues with this too – as we’re fighting a novel virus.

But some of the most memorable moments in this pandemic are when people had ideas. Tony Blair, for example, suggested a new vaccine strategy for the Government, which was listened to much more than any of Labour’s arbitrary criticisms on schools.

The most imaginative Starmer has been was during a podium appearance, in which he demanded a “circuit breaker” lockdown for the country. There was also the idea of moving all teachers up the vaccine queue, which clearly doesn’t make sense, and is arguably dangerous – as I have recently written.

So the party clearly needs some creativity on its front bench to make headway – and it should remember that many of its supporters will want an opposition that pushes for reopenings, as much as lockdown – not least people who need their children back in school to get back to work.

The last huge challenge for Starmer – and, again, this is a speedy roundup – is regaining trust with the electorate, particularly after Brexit.

Perhaps Labour thinks that now the deal is done that people will forget about Starmer’s time with Corbyn and the second referendum, so long as he waves the union flag.

But it seems to me he will be punished at a nationwide level, and it will be interesting to see the result of May’s local elections.

The shame for Labour is that there are lots of easy wins for them to boost their ratings. The most obvious is fighting woke ideology, which the Conservatives (bar a few) seem desperate to avoid. There’s a clear opening for another party to fight back here.

There are also things like solving the housing crisis and promoting the ability to have a family that lots of people would like. It’s not actually that difficult to think of ways to make headway.

Ironically, it’s Starmer’s wish to be Captain Foresight that’s holding him back.

Why the Government is under pressure to confirm the date of the local elections

9 Jan

Last month, we looked at the measures the Government is bringing forward to try and ensure that this year’s local elections, having been postponed for a year due to the pandemic, proceed as planned in May.

These included increased campaigning expenses and proposals for ’emergency proxy voting’ for those forced to self-isolate.

Yet with the nation plunged back into lockdown, local government figures are again concerned about the prospect of delays and have demanded clarity from Ministers about whether or not the elections will go ahead. So what’s going on?

For its part, the Government continues to insist that it will be possible, using the safeguards it is putting in place, to conduct “covid-secure” elections on schedule. According to the Cabinet Office:

“Primary Legislation provides that the elections will go ahead in May 2021. We continue to work closely with the electoral community and public health bodies to resolve challenges and ensure everyone will be able to cast their vote safely and securely – and in a way of their choosing. Measures are planned to support absent voting at short notice. Guidance will be published in good time ahead of the polls and this matter will be kept under review.”  

Inside Whitehall, the difficulty is seen to lie less with polling day itself than with the broader campaigning period. If the Government isn’t able to start easing lockdown restrictions as swiftly as planned, it may remain illegal for activists to do in-person campaigning. And if different parts of the country are descending through the tiers at different speeds, that risks a regionally-unequal democratic process.

Moreover, there are legislative challenges to further postponement. The new election date is enshrined in legislation, and the power to delay them under the Coronavirus Act has expired. So any delay would require fresh primary legislation, and that – on top of the need to keep election administrators properly informed – places its own time limits on the window of decision.

(And that is before getting to the devolved administrations. Each of these has the power to delay their own elections, but in Wales the timing of the Police & Crime Commissioner ones are reserved to Westminster. Postponing these would also require fresh primary legislation, but that process can’t start until, at minimum, the Welsh Government has made its mind up about the Welsh Parliament vote.)

For all this bullishness, however, the Government is keeping the matter under review and delay has not been ruled out. There is also no sign that Westminster is exploring all of the options being explored by the Scottish Government, which include things like an all-postal election.

The consensus between Whitehall figures and Conservatives in local government seems to be that if the elections are put off, it cannot be for very long – perhaps just back into June, when the NHS is under that much less pressure and the vaccine rollout is more advanced.

Emergency proxies and postal votes: how the Government intends to ensure the local elections go ahead in May

19 Dec

As the nation staggers towards 2021, the forecast for next year looks somewhat v-shaped. The immediate aftermath of Christmas looks set to be dominated by another national lockdown (or whatever ‘Tier 4’ is). But after that, the vaccination programme holds out hope of a return to something like the old normal by the summer.

Which raises the question of what to do about the local elections, which are currently scheduled for May.

They have already been delayed once already, and both the Scottish and Welsh governments are making plans that include the power to delay their own elections yet again in the event that the public situation is not where we might want it to be when the day arrives.

The Government have taken a different approach, and no plans are being laid to prepare for a delay to the polls. Instead, ministers are taking practical steps to ensure that they can be conducted as safely as possible.

For starters, although practical and security considerations militated against an all-postal election, there is still for the moment a postal ballot for everyone who wants one. This will change if and when the mooted Electoral Integrity Bill hits the statute book and tightens up the relevant rules, but for now it is simple enough to get one and the parties, as well as local authorities, can and likely will run campaigns to make sure their voters are fully aware of this.

To make that slightly easier, the Government has also uprated local election expenses for the first time since 2014, lifting them to £806 per constituency (up from £740) and 7p per elector (up from 6p). This will give candidates a bit more to invest in online, postal, or other Covid-secure campaigning. In a recent written statement Chloe Smith, the Constitution Minister, acknowledged the pandemic as a reason for doing this now:

“The Government is also mindful that the backdrop of the Covid-19 pandemic may result in a greater emphasis on postal and digital campaigning ahead of May’s elections; this adds to the case for limits to be updated and uprated.”

Ministers are apparently looking at supplementing all of this this with provisions for ’emergency proxy voting’, in the event that someone who had intended to vote in person needs to self-isolate – this could apparently be done through secondary legislation – and by working to make sure that polling stations are Covid-secure.

This reluctance to delay the elections a second time is understandable. But given the obvious risk that face-to-face campaigning poses (especially to older voters and activists), there will likely be an electoral penalty to be paid if the worst happens and the Government has not left itself the means to postpone the polls. CCHQ must hope that this all-chips-on-May approach is a justified vote of confidence in the vaccination programme.