Council by-election results from this week and forthcoming contests

24 Jun

Harlow – Bush Fair 

Labour 594 (47.1 per cent, +2.6) Conservatives 482 (38.2 per cent, -6.5) Green Party 109 (8.6 per cent, +1.0) Harlow Alliance 76 (6.0 per cent, +6.0)

Labour gain from Conservatives

Kingston upon Thames – New Malden Village

Lib Dems 1,217, 1,184, 1,182 (32.8 per cent)  Green Party 867 (23.4 per cent.)  Residents Association 724, 703 (19.5 per cent.) Conservatives 467, 372, 327 (12.6 per cent) Labour 436, 429, 374 (11.7 per cent). Deferred election.

Lib Dems win. (New boundaries.)

Neath Port Talbot – Port Talbot 

Labour 914, 898 (58.1 per cent) Plaid Cymru 367, 244 (23.3 per cent) Independent 246, 171 (15.6 per cent.) Green Party 46, 25, (2.9 per cent.) Deferred election. Labour previously elected unopposed.

Labour hold.

Shropshire – Highley

Lib Dems 630 (54.5 per cent, +54.5) Conservatives 279 (24.1 per cent, -9.5) Labour 239 (20.7 per cent, +7.3) Green Party 9 (0.8 per cent, +0.8)

Lib Dems gain from Independent.

Waverley – Hindhead

Lib Dems 537 (54.6 per cent, +7.9) Conservatves 446 (45.4 per cent, -1.2)

Lib Dems gain from Conservatives.

Forthcoming contests

June 30th

  • Buckinghamshire – Bernwood.
  • Croydon – South Croydon. (Conservative held.)
  • East Riding of Yorkshire – Bridlington North.  (Conservative held.)
  • Eilean Siar – Barraigh agus Bhatarsaigh
  • Eilean Siar – Sgìr’ Ùige agus Carlabhagh
  • Liverpool – Fazakerley Ward
  • Middlesbrough  – Berwick Hills & Pallister.  (Independent held)
  • Newark & Sherwood – Ollerton. (Labour held)
  • South Derbyshire – Midway Ward.
  • Wyre – Cleveleys Park Ward.

July 7th

  • Camden – Hampstead Town. (Labour held)
  • Chesterfield – Hollingwood & Inkersall.  (Independent held)
  • Epsom & Ewell – West Ewell.  (Residents Association held)
  • Milton Keynes – Woughton & Fishermead   (Labour)
  • Mole Valley – Charlwood.  (Conservative held)
  • Welwyn Hatfield – Hatfield Central  (Labour held)
  • West Sussex – Worthing West.  (Labour held)

July 14th

  • Breckland – Thetford Boudica.  (Conservative held)
  • Coventry – Binley & Willenhall.  (Labour held)
  • North Tyneside – Camperdown.  (Labour held)
  • Rutland – Oakham South. Ian Razzell. (Independent held)
  • South Somerset – Brympton.
  • Wandsworth – Tooting Broadway.  (Labour held)
  • Warwickshire – Arden.  (Conservative held)
  • Wirral – Liscard. (Labour held)

July 20th

  • Basildon – Nethermayne. (Independent held.)

July 21st

  • Lancaster – Harbour.
  • North Warwickshire – Hartshill.
  • South Staffordshire – Penkridge North East & Acton Trussell.

August 4th

  • Luton – Dallow. (Labour held.)
  • Shetland – North Isles.  Two seats.

The post Council by-election results from this week and forthcoming contests first appeared on Conservative Home.

Council by-election result from yesterday and forthcoming contests

20 May

Lancaster – Ellel 

Green Party 547 (39.7 per cent, +19.5 from 2019) Labour 418 (30.4 per cent, -1.2) Conservatives 377 (27.4 per cent, -14.4) Lib Dems 35(2.5 per cent, -4.0)

Green Party gain from Conservatives

Forthcoming contests

May 25th

  • Spelthorne – Laleham and Shepperton Green.

May 26th

  • Gedling – Gedling.  (Labour held)
  • North Kesteven – Sleaford Quarrington & Mareham. (Conservative held.)
  • Redbridge – Mayfield. Three seats delayed contests.

June 9th

  • Breckland – Mattishall.   (Conservative held)
  • Crawley – Southgate  (Labour held)
  • Sevenoaks – Penshurst, Fordcombe & Chiddingstone. (Conservative held)
  • Sunderland – Copt Hill.

June 16th

  • Rother – Brede & Udimore.  (Conservative held)
  • Warwick – Leamington Clarendon. (Labour)
  • Wyre Forest – Franche & Habberley North.  (Independent Community & Health Concern held)

June 23rd

  • Harlow – Bush Fair. (Conservative held.)
  • Neath Port Talbot – Port Talbot.  (Independent held)
  • Shropshire – Highley. (Independent held.)
  • Waverley – Hindhead. (Conservative held.)

Council by-election results from yesterday and forthcoming contests

13 May

Lewes – Peacehaven West 

Labour 641 (54.2 per cent, +54.2 on 2019) Conservatives 467 (40.4 per cent, +14.3) Green Party 32 (2.7 per cent, -14.9) Lib Dems 32 (2.7 per cent, -15.1)

Labour gain from Conservatives

Waverley – Frensham, Dockenfield and Tilford 

Independent 492 (42.1 per cent, +42.1 on 2019) Green Party 354 (30.3 per cent, -19.8) Conservatives 323 (27.6 per cent, -5.6)

Independent gain from Conservatives.

Forthcoming contests

May 19th

  • Lancaster – Ellel. (Conservative held.)

May 25th

  • Spelthorne – Laleham and Shepperton Green.

May 26th

  • Gedling – Gedling.  (Labour held)
  • North Kesteven – Sleaford Quarrington & Mareham. (Conservative held.)
  • Redbridge – Mayfield. Three seats delayed contest.

June 9th

  • Breckland – Mattishall.   (Conservative held)
  • Crawley – Southgate  (Labour held)
  • Sevenoaks – Penshurst, Fordcombe & Chiddingstone. (Conservative held)

June 16th

  • Warwick – Leamington Clarendon. (Labour)

June 23rd

  • Neath Port Talbot – Port Talbot.  (Independent held)

Labour holds Birmingham Erdington on a low turnout

4 Mar


Source: Wikpedia

Voters in Birmingham Erdington have neither backed Boris Johnson amidst an international crisis nor endorsed Keir Starmer with a thumping swing.

The lens through which Labour’s win should be viewed is the turnout – 26 per cent, and the eight lowest in a by-election since 1997.

The swing to the party was “a below average swing to an opposition party” and “about half the swing that the national polls are showing”, according to Matt Singh.

Sienna Rogers of Labour List tweeted “so far, haven’t had much positivity from Labour canvassers” yesterday before reporting other verdicts to the contrary.

Robert Alden, the Conservative candidate, is the Leader of the Tory group on Birmingham City Council and represents the Erdington ward on it. The West Midlands is a relatively strong area for the Conservatives.

The seat has been Labour since 1945 (though the result was close-run in 1983 and 1979) – so the result will have been seen by many local voters as a foregone conclusion.

Those factors and especially the last – reflected in the turnout – will help to explain why the swing to Labour was relatively low.  The Conservatives had also called on Starmer to suspend Paulette Hamilton, the party’s candidate.

GB news published footage during the campaign of Hamilton speaking at an event called “The Ballot or the Bullet” in 2015.

She said that she believed in voting but was not sure that “we will get what we really deserve in this country using the vote”.

“But I don’t know if we are a strong enough group to get what we want to get if we have an uprising. I think that we will be quashed in such a way that we would lose a generation of our young people.”

Labour responded by saying that “these attacks on a black woman seeking to become the city’s first black MP are deeply disturbing”.

The party won 17,710 votes (50.3 per cent) at the 2019 general election in the seat compared with 9,413 (55.5 per cent) yesterday.

The Conservatives were second in 2019 with 14,119 votes (40.1 per cent) and second again yesterday with 6,147 votes (36.3 per cent).

So: not a great result for Labour.  But the Erdington conservatism that Nick Timothy floated, when writing as a columnist for this site, has yet to blossom there – even if it has elsewhere, at least to some extent.

Council by-election results from Tuesday and yesterday. Plus forthcoming contests

3 Dec

Adur – Hillside

Conservatives 414 (56.2 per cent, -6.3 from May) Green Party 175 (23.7 per cent, +17.1) Labour 148 (20.1 per cent, -7.7)

Conservatives hold.

Breckland – Hermitage

Conservatives 243 (45.0 per cent, -26.3 from 2019) Lib Dems 221 (40.9 per cent, +40.9) Labour 66 (12.2 per cent, -16.5) Workers Party of Great Britain 10 (1.9 per cent, +1.9)

Conservatives hold.

Lancaster – Bare 

Lib Dems 428 (33.3 per cent, +21.2 from 2019) Green Party 301 (23.4 per cent, +23.4) Morecambe Bay Independents (18.9 per cent, -16.5) Conservatives (16.0 per cent, -14.9) Labour (8.3 per cent, -9.1)

Lib Dems gain from Conservatives

Lancaster – Upper Lune Valley

Lib Dems 390 (63.1 per cent, +19.1 from 2019) Conservatives 183 (29.6 per cent, -16.3) Green Party 24 (3.9 per cent, +3.9) Labour 21 (3.4 per cent, -6.7)

Lib Dems gain from Conservatives

Newport – Victoria 

Labour 641 (64.6 per cent, +6.7 from May) Lib Dems 258 (26.0 per cent, +5.6) Conservatives 93 (9.4 per cent, -3.8)

Labour hold.

North Norfolk – Stalham

Conservatives 559 (55.2 per cent, +25.9 from 2019) Lib Dems 375 (37.0 per cent, -11.1) Labour 79 (7.8 per cent, -0.2)

Conservatives gain from Lib Dems

Warwick – Whitnash

Whitnash Residents Association 835 (55.2 per cent, +5.7) Labour 431 (28.5 per cent, +6.5) Conservatives 127 (8.4 per cent, +1.8) Green Party 88 (5.8 per cent, -4.7) Lib Dems 32 (2.1 per cent, -2.9)

Whitnash Residents Association hold.

Wealden – Hartfield

Green Party 598 (55.8 per cent, +12.7 from 2019) Conservatives 467 (44.2 per cent, -12.7)

Green Party gain from Conservatives.

Worthing – Marine 

Labour 1,239 (50.2 per cent, +17.6 from May) Conservatives 972 (39.4 per cent, -1.6) Green Party 124 (5.9 per cent, -3.7) Lib Dems 112 (4.5 per cent, -3.8)

Labour gain from Conservatives.

Wyre Forest – Franche and Habberley North

Conservatives 564 (40.9 per cent, +21.1 from 2019) Labour 372 (27.0 per cent, +7.2) Lib Dems 245 (17.8 per cent, +8.0) Independent 198 (14.4 per cent, +14.4). Result from Tuesday.

Conservatives gain from Health Concern.

Forthcoming contests

December 9th

  • Bracknell Forest – Old Bracknell Ward. (Conservative held.)
  • Rotherham – Anston and Woodsetts Ward. (Conservative held.)
  • Rotherham – Aughton and Swallownest Ward. (Conservative held.)
  • Tonbridge and Malling – Castle Ward. (Conservative held.)
  • Tonbridge and Malling – Kings Hill Ward. (Conservative held.)
  • Tonbridge and Malling – West Malling and Leybourne Ward. (Conservative held.)
  • Torridge – Northam Ward. (Independent held.)
  • West Suffolk – Horringer Ward. (Conservative held.)

December 16th

  • Argyll and Bute – Lomond North Ward. (Conservative held.)
  • Ashford – Highfield Ward. (Conservative held.)
  • Bridgend – Caerau Division. (Labour held.)
  • Horsham – Roffey South Ward. (Conservative held.)
  • Medway – Rochester East Ward. (Labour held.)
  • Middlesbrough – North Ormesby Ward. (Independent held.)
  • Northumberland – Hexham East Division. (Conservative held.)
  • Walsall – Pleck Ward. (Labour held.)
  • West Berkshire – Tilehurst South and Holybrook Ward.  (Conservative held.)
  • West Lindsey – Nettleham Ward. (Conservative held.)

December 23rd

  • New Forest – Bransgore and Burley Ward. (Conservative held.)

January 6th

  • Gedling – Cavendish Ward. (Labour held.)

January 20th

  • East Lothian – Preston, Seton and Gosford Ward. (Labour held.)

Council by-election result from Thursday and forthcoming contests

7 Aug

West Lothian – East Livingston and East Calder 

SNP 1,890 (42.5 per cent, +1.7 on 2017) Conservatives 1,085 (24.4 per cent, +2.4) Labour 969 (21.8 per cent, -9.1) Green Party 336 (7.6 per cent, +4.0) Lib Dems 118 (2.7 per cent, 0.0) Independence for Scotland 47 (1.1 per cent, +1.1). Figures for first p[references.

SNP gain from Labour

Forthcoming contests

August 12th

  • East Suffolk – Orwell and Villages Ward. Conservative held.)
  • Highland – Inverness West Ward. (Independent held.)
  • Highland – Wick and East Caithness Ward. (Independent held.)
  • North Ayrshire – Dalry and West Kilbride Ward. (SNP held.)
  • South Lakeland – Grange Ward (Lib Dem held)

August 19th

  • Aberdeenshire – Mid Formartine. (SNP held.)
  • Dover – Sandwich Ward (Conservative held)
  • East Riding of Yorkshire – East Wolds and Coastal Ward (Conservative held)
  • Ribble Valley – Littlemoor Ward  (Lib Dem held)
  • Ribble Valley – Primrose Ward  (Lib Dem held)
  • Rutland – Oakham South Ward (Conservative held)

August 26th

  • Cumbria – Corby and Hayton Division (Independent held)
  • Medway – Princes Park Ward (Conservative held)
  • Medway – Strood North Ward (Conservative held)
  • Newport – Graig Division (Conservative held)

September 2nd

  • Calderdale – Park Ward (Labour held)
  • Calderdale – Ryburn Ward (Independent held)
  • Cheshire East – Wilmslow Dean Row Ward  (Residents association held)

September 9th

  • Newcastle upon Tyne – Castle Ward  (Lib Dem held)
  • North Tyneside – Camperdown Ward (Labour held)
  • South Derbyshire – Seales Ward (Conservative held)
  • South Tyneside – Cleadon and East Boldon Ward (Conservative held)

September 16th

  • Malvern Hills – Tenbury Ward (Conservative held)
  • Sheffield – Firth Park Ward (Labour held)

October 14th

  • Falkirk – Falkirk South Ward (Labour held)

Alex Morton: Ministers can have more houses or higher immigration. But they won’t be able to get away with both.

21 Jun

Alex Morton is Head of Policy at the Centre for Policy Studies, and is a former Number Ten Policy Unit Member.

A very large part of the Chesham and Amersham result was driven by the shamelessly and ruthlessly NIMBYist approach of the Liberal Democrats on both housing and HS2.

As Ed Davey put it just before the election, “we are seeing a promising number of Conservatives switching to us, because they want to say no… we don’t want these planning reforms.”

This now-notorious Lib Dem leaflet sets out the strategy: no policies bar opposing development. MPs who campaigned state the issues on the doorstep were new housing and HS2. Pure NIMBYism is a powerful force in the South of England.

So how do the Conservatives tackle the issue? The Government certainly needs to adjust its course – but it cannot ditch planning reform altogether. Ultimately, we still desperately need more homes, especially in London and the South-East where pressures are greatest. The current reforms contain a great deal of good.

But the truth is another issue sits alongside planning, which Westminster is not focusing on, but which sits on voters’ and MPs minds when contemplating new homes: immigration.

The politics of new homes in London and the South is complicated

A critical political argument for new housebuilding is it will protect the Conservatives majority longer term. Homeowners vote Tory, renters don’t. The argument made to Southern MPs is more homes and more homeowners will secure their electoral base.

But, while correct on a macro scale, this argument is not necessarily so on the micro. Many MPs note that the new homes built in their constituencies are often most attractive to, and affordable for, those leaving London. But as London’s housing pressures spill over into the Home Counties, so do London’s political attitudes.

This helps to explain why commuter constituencies like Canterbury and Bedford are becoming marginals: internal migration drives up anti-Conservative ex-London voter numbers. While Brexit accelerated this, between 2010 and 2015 Outer London (the ‘doughnut’ that twice elected Boris Johnson as Mayor) swung from Tory to Labour, even as the rest of the country moved the other way.

In the North, nice new homes often bring Tory voters – as Peter Mandelson noticed revisiting his old Hartlepool seat.  But new housing in the south annoys existing Conservative voters without always bringing new ones.  The conversion process will still probably work longer-term, as new voters relax into home ownership and shed London attitudes.  But MPs understandably think in five or ten year horizans.

Making things worse, many Southern MPs face not Labour, but the Lib Dems or the Greens, boasting to middle-class voters they are pro-immigration (unlike ‘nasty’ Tories), while also shamelessly arguing they will block new homes locally. Labour cannot do this, as it knows that it must deliver if it wins.

Meanwhile, Tory-inclined voters are susceptible to another simple message: new homes are only needed due to migration. They feel the problem is hundreds of thousands of new arrivals a year, who need extra homes, meaning concreting over the South-East.

The current system of housing targets enables a dishonest political debate

So how do Conservatives tackle this problem? This, I am afraid, is where it gets technical. But it first involves admitting voters have a point about immigration.

Currently, Government housing targets are based on a 2014 estimate (using data from 2012-2014) that we are creating 214,000 new households a year. Various tweaks are done to turn this household number into a housing target, including adjustments based on affordability. The end result is a national target for new housing of 297,000 a year.

The 214,000 households figure assumes net international migration (i.e. the difference between those arriving and leaving) of around 170,000 people annually (see here). So, under current estimates, around 37 per cent of all new homes are needed due to net international migration (see here). So the anti-immigration lobby have a point. But even with zero net migration, we would need many more homes.

However, immigration is very clearly pushing up the numbers needed, and has a disproportionate effect in the South. For the key years 2012-2014, around 50-60 per cent of net international migration went to London, the South East, and the East. This pushed up their housing need most. Even pre-pandemic, London’s population would be falling without international migration, but international migration drives it back up, rippling out over time in terms of housing targets across the South.

Why does this matter politically? It shows it is logically absurd for any party to promise both higher levels of net immigration and yet lower housebuilding in the South. But that is exactly what the Lib Dems and Greens do. And they get away with it because of the current lack of transparency around housing need calculations.

We need to include net migration figures in the local plans

We’d need more homes even if with zero net migration – because we have not built enough for years. As I pointed out in my day job at the Centre for Policy Studies, the 2010s were the worst modern decade for housebuilding – and every decade has got worse since the 1960s.

But one way for the Conservatives to change the politics of planning – and show their immigration controls are crucial – is a clearer link between migration numbers and local housing need. The new Planning Bill should ensure that each local plan periodically adjusts housing targets and housing need in line with net migration. This would inject honesty into the housing debate.

As noted, current housing plans are based on net international migration of 170,000 a year. If net migration fell to 50,000, we would need 60,000 fewer homes a year (assuming roughly one home for two new people). If it rose to 350,000, it would mean 90,000 more homes each year.

If the Liberal Democrats, or the Greens, want to argue for more immigration nationally, it should be clear this means more homes in each area. This would fundamentally change the debate in the South. In Chiltern District Council, home to Chesham and Amersham, the difference between annual national net immigration going down to 50,000 or up to 300,000 would be several thousand extra homes in the next ten years. Pro-migration, NIMBY parties would have to choose.

The worst outcome would be higher net immigration and weakened planning reform

The worst outcome for home ownership is higher net immigration plus weaker planning reform. Yet in the wake of Chesham & Amersham, this seems very likely. Currently, annual net migration is running at 281,000 – or around 110,000 more people a year than 2014 projections. This means 55,000 more homes a year since the 2014 projections – more than the entire rise planned last year after the planning reform row.

Higher migration but no planning reform is also the worst possible result for the Conservative Party. It would exacerbate London and the South’s problems – creating new voters who don’t vote Tory through higher migration, annoying existing Tory voters with new homes, but not delivering enough home ownership to capture new voters.

Housing numbers and migration are an example of Morton’s political triangle. You cannot please everyone. Government policy is currently pro-migration (in numbers not rhetoric) and pro-housebuilding. Both positions put off voters in Chesham. Yet ditching planning reforms while keeping higher migration dooms the Tories in London and the South longer term. The best shot for the Conservatives in the South is more homes and lower immigration – and this, not ditching planning reform, should be their next step.

Richard Holden: Levelling up is for voters in the South as well as my constituents in Durham

21 Jun

Richard Holden is MP for North West Durham.

The Village Hall, Delves Lane, Consett, Co. Durham

It’s a bit like the fabled London bus: you wait ages for a by-election, then four come along at once. For the Westminster bubble – the media, politicians, psephologists and the commentariat – these provide much-needed fresh meat for broadcast comment and column inches. They are the perfect base on which all can retrospectively build their latest pet theory, or justify their most recent musing.

Last month, Hartlepool and Airdrie and Shotts were the focus. In a fortnight, the bubble’s eyes will alight upon Batley and Spen. Until then, the Chesham and Amersham result provides nourishment for this week.

Like an oversized Christmas turkey, the result will be dissected and eaten, the remaining meat will sandwiched and eaten cold for days, and the carcass will then be picked over by someone in need a morsel. Finally, the bones will be boiled up for stock, and set aside to form the basis of future fodder.

Today, we’re at the sandwich stage. Edward Davey, a man uniquely blessed both with the appearance and charisma of a microwaved jacket potato, is clearly relishing some rare limelight for the Lib Dems. The dead parrot is very much alive, he cries! And he repeats this on every media outlet going, spreading his orangey-yellow spin-sauce as thick and fast has he can.

Former Conservative Cabinet Ministers, sat on colossal majorities – thanks to our Prime Minister’s clear stance on Brexit, rather than their own failed approach – bemoan this latest by-election result. The reason for it is clear: it’s whatever pet peeve is tickling their fancy, as they charmlessly forget that they’re participants in, not commentators on, politics.

But from the conversations I’ve been having, the general noise from the bubble is drowning out a far stronger signal. In elections, as with opinion polls, you’ve got to look at trends, not individual results. The trend, rather than the by-election de jour is the same as the local election results. The Conservatives continue to perform solidly (unusually so for a party in Government), and you can see just how much trouble Labour are in. And it knows so.

The local elections of just six weeks ago showed Labour going backwards from the hammering they’d got under Jeremy Corbyn in 2017. Hartlepool added to the party’s woes. The trend has been re-enforced in Labour’s unprecedently poor showing in Chesham and Amersham. 622 votes (1.6 per cent) is abysmal, especially when you consider that, under Corbyn in the 2017 general election, Labour came second with 11,374 votes (20.6 per cent of the vote). Starmer, elected in part because it was thought he could win back more of Southern England as well as reverse the losses in the Red Wall, is now looking weaker than ever.

From the day Tony Blair became Labour leader, the party didn’t go backwards in the by-elections that other opposition parties won all the way up to 1997. Perth and Kinross, and Littleborough and Saddleworth, won by the SNP and Lib Dems respectively in 1995, both saw Labour’s vote share rise, despite the other parties taking those seats from the Conservatives. Moreover, Labour know that talk of ‘electoral pacts’ would be madness for a party that seeks to govern, or for a leader who thinks that they can become Prime Minister.

But Labour now knows that it has a leader who is incapable of winning elections. Behind the scenes, it is looking to change him, and sooner rather than later. Plans are more advanced than is widely known beyond the bubble. Both Lisa Nandy and Angela Rayner have desires for the Labour crown with campaigns ready to go, if not already fully underway.  Andy Burnham’s appetite for the leadership is so blatant it’s even being spoofed on Radio 4 comedy shows.

With Labour about to become embroiled in another testing civil war – the timing of which is dependent on just how badly this downward trend goes in the near future – Conservative MPs, wherever they represent, should cool their boots.

There’s a lot of talk at the moment, but the Government’s planning proposals haven’t even gone out to consultation yet. Everyone knows that the current system’s broken: that it works for large land-banking developers, and does very little to really drive sustainable brownfield regeneration outside the centre of our major cities. So let’s not prejudge anything.

On top of that, levelling up is an agenda for everyone because it’s explicitly not about taking from one to give to another. The clue is in the name: it’s about ensuring the provision across the country is there to meet the talents of our people. It’s as relevant to the lad in Ashford as it is for the girl in Ashington. Both want good further education provision, a good job, in time a home of their own for them and their family, good transport and broadband connectivity.

It’s about tackling the productivity issues our country faces so that we don’t have a hideous situation where we’re having to transfer vast amounts of tax around the country to perpetually subsidise some areas. The drive behind levelling up is instead ensuring that towns, villages and individuals across the country will have the jobs and access to jobs and opportunities that, in time, will enable them to pay a greater portion into the collective national pot as they get better off.

Labour don’t like levelling up because they want client communities who rely on handouts from the centre who will then, with a tug of their collective forelock, say thank you for the hand-out by re-elect Labour MPs. So, let’s not fall into the trap of its North v South drivel.

Now is not the time to be distracted by the noise. Cool heads are required – with our opponents about to plunge themselves into another bout of “the public are bonkers for not voting Labour.” As their leadership candidates jostle for the votes of an overwhelmingly out of touch metropolitan membership, we Conservatives, the party in government, must not be distracted. We need one focus, delivery of our one-nation Conservative agenda, because that’s what the public here in the village hall in Delves Lane today or in the shop next door care about. They will accept nothing less.

Reports of Johnson’s political demise are greatly exaggerated

20 Jun

Vote Leave‘s successor was Change Britain – a name that says much about the country’s decision to leave the European Union five years ago.

Brexit was a vote for economic as well as constitutional change: to shift from a model based on financial services, high immigration and London’s hinterland to one more favourable to manufacturing, lower migration and the provinces.  You might call it “levelling up”

If you doubt it, look at this constituency-based map of the results.  West and South of London, you will find a kind of Remain Square.  Its eastern boundary is Hertford and Stortford, more or less.  Its western one is Stroud.

Its northern frontier ends at Milton Keynes and its southern one at Lewes.  Admittedly, this square has a mass of holes punched into it: much of Hampshire, for example, voted Leave.  And some of the Remain majorities within it, like some Leave ones, were narrow.

Levelling up is a term of art.  It can mean enterprise zones, freeports, better schools, improving skills, devolving power – none of which necessarily imply rises in or transfers of public spending.

But to some in that Remain Square, and elsewhere, it is coming to mean taking money in higher taxes from people who live in the south and transferring it to people who live in the north.

This truth would hold had the Chesham and Amersham contest never taken place.   Obviously, it was a lousy result for the Conservatives – for the Party to lose a by-election without seeing it coming, let alone by some eight thousand votes.

There should be a searching post-mortem. But why would any canny voter back the establishment in a by-election?  Isn’t it best to send it a message – namely: “don’t take our votes for granted”?

In the north, that establishment is still Labour.  Hence Hartlepool.  In the south, it’s the pro-levelling up, Red Wall-preoccupied Conservatives.  Hence Chesham and Amersham.  Now on to Batley and Spen.

Come the next general election, the Liberal Democrats won’t be able to concentrate their resources in a single seat, as they did last week.  Nor will they necessarily be the opposition front-runner in the Remain Square, or elsewhere.

Which suggests that last month’s local elections are a better guide to the future than last week’s by-election.  Crudely speaking, they found the right-of-centre vote uniting behind the Tories, and the left-of-centre equivalent divided between Labour, the LibDems and the Greens.

ConservativeHome will take no lectures from anyone about the potential threat to the so-called “Blue Wall” – to the seats within the Remain Square that we identify.  Henry Hill published an analysis of it on this site on May 11, which we re-ran last Friday in the by-election’s wake.

But the good news for Boris Johnson is that the Blue Wall is crumbling more slowly than the red one.  So time is on his side rather than Keir Starmer’s, which is why we still believe that the Prime Minister will be pondering a dash to the polls in 2023.

The bad news for him is that no party can hold a monopoly on much of the country forever.  Tony Blair had one even more extensive than Johnson.  He got three terms out of it (which will encourage the Prime Minister), but Labour eventually ran out of time and votes.

Its backing melted away at both ends.  In the blue corner, their new-won support from 1997 eventually returned to the Tories or went LibDem.  In the red one, their base was eaten away not so much by economics as by immigration and culture.

The medium-term danger to Johnson should start kicking in – unless inflation speeds the process up – in two to three years, when the vultures from post-Brexit and post-Covid spending really start coming home to roost.  He may well be on a second term by then.

But at that point the Prime Minister could find himself trapped in what William Hague, referring to potential British membership of the euro, described as “a burning building with no exits”.

The cornerstone of Government economic policy to date is “no return to austerity” – which we crudely interpret to mean questionable control of the country’s public finances.

This being so, the only weapon left for Ministers to deploy is tax rises: and the tax burden is already forecast to hit the highest level since the late 1960s – 35 per cent of GDP by 2025/26.

We all have a way of reading into by-election results whatever we want to read into them.  Undoubtedly, HS2 was a factor in Chesham and Amersham.  So was planning.  Above all, Blue Wall voters were asking for what Red Wall ones are getting: a little bit of love and attention.

Beyond that, anti-lockdown campaigners claim that the result was powered by opposition to shutdowns.  Pro-aid ones assert that Buckinghamshire’s voters stand behind the 0.7 per cent.

Those suffering from Johnson Derangement Syndrome, such as Dominic Grieve, claim that Buckinghamshire’s “sophisticated” voters see through the Prime Minister.  But if so, why did they chuck Grieve out of Beaconsfield less than two years ago?

So we make no special claim about what happened in Chesham & Amersham last week, other than to take some of the more exotic claims with a lorryload of salt.

But we do make a forecast about what will happen there and elsewhere within the Remain Square in future – regardless of whether or not the seat, like Newbury and Christchurch and Eastbourne and other Liberal by-election gains of the past, duly returns to the Tory column.

Namely, that the good voters of Chesham and Amersham won’t tolerate more tax rises for long.  Not that voters in Red Wall or provincial English seats would do so either.

But the private sector in the Remain Square is relatively big; employment in public services relatively smaller; exposure to property and pensions taxes relatively bigger.

Sooner or later, Johnson and Rishi Sunak will have to revisit the other side of the financial sustainability ledger: spending control.  With over a third of it going on pensions and healthcare, that will mean tough choices, in Chesham, Amersham – and everywhere else.

As for the Prime Minister’s prospects, we are where we were before. He can have all the Turkmenbashi statues he wants, and more, for getting Brexit done – and for saving the country from metaphorical if not literal Dreyfus affair-style strife.

ConHome believes that he should have his chance to “Change Britain” (with a majority of 80, he has earned it; anxious backbenchers please take note) while having little confidence that he actually will.

What’s left of this term risks being frittered away in bread, summits, and circuses, Roman-style.  The possibility is frighteningly plausible.  We devoutly hope that we’re proved wrong, as we sometimes are.

David Gauke: Chesham and Amersham. Yes, a realignment is taking place in British politics. But it is likely to happen slowly.

19 Jun

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

Conservative MPs should take the Prime Minister at his word. He has told them what he is going to do and they should trust him to do it. He won’t let them down. There. I have said it.

For the avoidance of doubt, I am not talking about promises to level up, prioritise the education catch-up, simultaneously keep taxes and borrowing down while ending spending austerity, avoid new non-tariff barriers with EU trade, prevent new checks on Great Britain-Northern Ireland trade, stop veterans being pursued in the courts, deliver net zero without any pain for taxpayers or consumers, or maintain all existing agricultural standards at the same time as obtaining comprehensive trade deals around the world. Some of those promises might not be kept.

But when the Prime Minister says that he intends to open up on 19 July, I am sure he means it and I think he will be able to do so.

On Boris Johnson’s intentions, nobody should be in much doubt that he is an instinctively reluctant implementer of lockdowns and, if they were, the evidence of Dominic Cummings should dissuade them.

Over the course of 2021, the Prime Minister has been more cautious in unlocking (with considerable justification) but it is worth noting the reasons. Of most relevance is the fact that we have vaccines which are demonstrably the way out of lockdowns without yet further vast numbers of deaths. The existence of vaccines has meant that the end is in sight, but also that the case for caution is strengthened because further deaths are avoidable. It is this insight that has driven our lockdown policy for the last few months, and drove the decision to delay easing once again.

The Indian/Delta variant has disrupted the plans, because it is evidently much more transmissible and a single dose is less effective than against earlier strains. This has not resulted in abandoning the vaccine strategy but raising the thresholds. In broad terms, the Government has moved from being satisfied in unlocking, when 80 per cent of adults will have had the benefit of one dose and 60 per cent two, to moving up the thresholds to roughly 90 to 95 per cent and 80 per cent respectively.

A fair proportion of the Conservative Parliamentary Party is sceptical that the July unlocking will happen, presumably because they think that cases and hospitalisation will be high when the decision will be made. If that were to be the case, that might also suggest the decision to delay the June unlocking was wise.

But July 19 does – at this point – look like the right date. We will still get the benefit of summer, the long school holidays will reduce transmission and the vaccine programme will be very nearly done. Assuming that the vaccines work – and the evidence continues to be very encouraging – and we are not struck by a variant that looks as though it will escape the effects of the vaccine, the case for unlocking at that point will be very strong. I think he will do it.

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I have written elsewhere about the Chesham and Amersham by-election. It is a constituency I know well, having represented the neighbouring seat of South West Hertfordshire for some years, and I live just a short walk from the constituency boundary. The two seats have much in common.

During the course of the 2019 general election campaign I had lots of encouraging conversations – usually in Berkhamsted High Street – in which people would wish me luck before declaring that they lived in Chesham and could not vote for me. Presumably, most of those voters went Liberal Democrat on Thursday.

I have for some time argued that we are undergoing a political realignment.  As far as the Conservative retreat from the Home Counties is concerned, I think that is more likely to be apparent in by-elections before we will see it in general elections, because it is seen as risk-free to vote elsewhere. In 2019, the soft Conservative vote stayed Conservative because of the fear of Jeremy Corbyn, whereas no such threat exists in a by-election.

Even accepting all of that, the result seems to have caught most observers by surprise. Given that I am almost a local, a few people asked me if I had expected it, and I confess I hadn’t (a sharply reduced Conservative majority – yes; a comfortable Liberal Democrat majority – no).

However, on reflection, the only person in the constituency I had spoken to in the last week was the nice man from the Amersham branch of Majestic, and we didn’t discuss politics.

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As someone who is happy to defend Boris Johnson’s decision to delay the next stage in easing the lockdown, I do think he has rather got away with causing the delay in the first place. I listened to PMQs this week (as it happens, driving to receive my second dose in Watford Town Hall) and Keir Starmer asked a series of questions on the delay in restricting travel from India.

The Prime Minister responded with a series non sequiturs and evasions. Pakistan and Bangladesh went on the red list on 2 April, India (where cases were far higher) not until 19 April (and implemented four days later). I have not seen a good explanation for the difference in approach.

It is clear that the Delta variant was seeded in the UK because of extensive travel with India over that period. Despite our superior vaccine rollout (although the gap is closing by the day), the UK now has more cases per head of population than anywhere in Europe

At some point, the Government is going to have to explain what happened. If not, people will only assume it was because the Prime Minister did not want to abandon the chance to make a trip to India. It is a serious charge and deserves a serious response.

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The Chesham and Amersham by-election may be uncomfortable for the Conservatives but that is likely to be as nothing compared to the Labour discomfit if they lose Batley & Spen. In large part, this looks likely to be as a consequence of George Galloway’s campaign, and his criticism of Starmer for being insufficiently critical of Israel.

Assuming Labour loses, I wonder if the approach the Labour leadership should take is to lean into the issue and argue that – whatever the electoral consequences – the Labour Party under Keir Starmer (in contrast to his predecessor) will take a mature and balanced approach to the Middle East, and not put political expediency above responsible diplomacy.

I am not sure that is entirely true (there seems to me to be too much pandering to radical anti-Israel sentiment as it is), but it might not be a bad issue to be debating the wake of a by-election loss. Frame the debate as Starmer against the Galloway/Corbyn worldview.

As it is, Labour is in an impossible and ghastly position. It is either seen as too anti-Semitic to be elected or, in some places, not anti-Semitic enough.