Applications for candidate selection open for Chesham and Amersham, Bath, and Oxford West and Abingdon

30 Mar

Although the next general election may be over two years away, it has come to ConservativeHome’s attention that the first three seats have opened applications for candidate selection. Those first three seats are:

– Chesham and Amersham – applications by 8th April

– Bath – applications by 19th April

– Oxford West and Abingdon – applications by 29th April

These three seats all have several features in common. To start, they are all currently held by Liberal Democrats, but were Conservative within the last five years. Chesham and Amersham was lost last year in the by-election following Dame Cheryl Gillian’s death, whereas Bath and Oxford West and Abingdon both turned yellow at the 2017 general election.

Additionally, each voted to Remain in 2016. According to Dr Chris Hanretty’s estimates, Chesham and Amersham did so by the smallest margin of 55 percent to 45 percent. Oxford West and Abingdon, on the other hand, did so by 61.9 percent to 38.1 percent, and Bath by the even more substantial margin of 68.4 percent to 31.6 percent. That might explain why the latter two proved immune to the exhortation to ‘Get Brexit Done’ last time around.

Finally, each have employment rates, average incomes, and house prices above the national average. Economically, each appears natural Tory ground. However, there is a significant difference between Chesham and Amersham and the other two.  In Chesham and Amersham’s case, the swing to the Liberal Democrats last year has been attributed to local factors: the unpopularity of HS2 and local building plans.

But Bath and Oxford West and Abingdon are constituencies that appear to have been isolated from the party’s embrace of leaving the European Union. Wera Hobhouse saw her majority grow in Bath by 12.1 percent, from 5,694 to 12,322 votes at the last election, whereas Layla Moran saw hers in Oxford grow from 816 to 8,943, or by 13.9 percent.

Although the 8,028 (or 21.2 percent) majority in Chesham and Amersham may be attributable to the unique circumstances of by-elections, each therefore poses a significant challenge for whomever is chosen as the candidate. Hence why, one imagines, the party is so keen to get a candidate in so early.

The e-mail notifying the closing date for applications also contained some interesting information on the party’s approach to selecting candidates for seats affected by the ongoing boundary review. The Conservative Party Board has decided to select candidates on a case-by-case basis, and on the basis of using the existing boundaries.  Although all three of these seats lack Conservative incumbents, current MPs will be able to exercise their territorial rights if new constituencies overlap with their old ones, and the selected Parliamentary Spokespeople for these current constituencies would be asked to step aside.

Furthermore, if a displaced Member of Parliament claims their rights as an incumbent, then the selected candidate and the displace Member will have to undertake a further selection procedure after the Boundary Commission have released their updated proposals. After this, if the constituency has been abolished, then there will clearly be no vacany.

With all available noise coming out of Number 10 suggesting that the next election will not be until 2024, and with the Chancellor’s Income Tax cut last week judiciously targeted for two years away, boundary changes will likely be in place by the time voters next go to the polls. What that means for candidates chosen on existing boundaries is unclear.

But it is a testament to the party’s bravery that it seeks to have candidates ready for an election in the near future, before the changes, even in spite of spiralling inflation, a cost-of-living crisis, and war in Ukraine.

Jane MacBean: Conservatives must prove we are the true environmentalists

11 Mar

Cllr Jane MacBean is a councillor on Buckinghamshire Council and chairman of the Council’s Health & Adult Social Care Select Committee

As Conservative councillors across the country stand for election this May, with many competing against the Lib Dems and Greens, let’s be clear about one thing: the environment is a political battleground and resident topic of choice. However, if handled properly, protecting, increasing, and enhancing, Green Infrastructure in your local area can be a real vote winner.

Green Infrastructure is the collective name for green spaces and natural features of all sizes in urban and rural settings, which can deliver quality of life as well as environmental benefits for communities. Everything from entire woodlands to window boxes on balconies in crowded city centres deliver GI value and form part of the green webs that we are striving to create. Why green webs and not green belts? Because webs integrate and fuse urban and rural areas to deliver better quality environments rather than setting clear boundaries that separate the two. Green webs bring built and natural spaces together in a way that enhances the value of both.

It is important to stress that the benefit delivered by Green Infrastructure is not solely environmental; it is also an intrinsic part of our social, economic, and health, agendas. GI delivers sustainable drainage, natural flood mitigation, insulation, carbon sequestration, and improves physical and mental health and wellbeing – as well as increasing property values.

Tree lined streets are a case in point. Not only do trees aid urban cooling, but also slow and reduce rainwater runoff, offer natural flood protection, and improve air quality. Studies have even shown that the presence of street trees can have a positive effect on drivers, showing a reduction in both speed and road rage.

Tree planting is exactly the kind of popular, nature-based project that Conservative councillors should be exploring at any point in the election cycle. A love of trees and strong climate concerns raised by residents were the inspiration and drive behind the Communi-Tree project in Chesham, our urban landscape planting project that is on track to put hundreds of trees back into our barren highway verges. Enthusiasm to participate has been strong from the start as we ask residents to nominate each site and invite them to play an active part in planting and caring for ‘their tree’. Streets that initially had a single Communi-Tree request have inspired interest from neighbours, and lone saplings are now part of tree lined avenues. Even our environmental projects can embrace healthy competitiveness with one re-populated street fuelling interest and enthusiasm in the next.

It is the universal popularity of nature that makes it a vote winner. The broad range of projects that can be defined under the umbrella of “Green Infrastructure” means that there is something for everyone. Whether you are campaigning in a bustling city or rural hamlet, there will be a project that simultaneously brings value to your residents, the wider community, and to the environment.

With such a wide array of rewards to be reaped, rather than shying away, Conservative councillors should recognise the vote-winning potential of nature and champion it in their upcoming campaigns. For any councillor or candidate looking to campaign on the environment this May, the Conservative Environment Network has put together a set of campaign ideas to provide you with inspiration.

Nature recovery is becoming an increasingly important responsibility for councils in England following the ground-breaking Environment Act passed late last year. It endows local councils with much greater responsibility for the environment, which will need to be evidence-based, locally led, and collaborative. County and unitary authorities will need to develop Local Nature Recovery Strategies, which will establish a network of shared plans that public, private, and voluntary sectors could and should all help to deliver. An LNRS will map existing and potential priority habitats and identify areas where nature can bounce back.

Although the Defra consultation is still underway to determine exactly what these strategies will look like, here in Buckinghamshire we are leading the charge as one of five areas in the country to trial the development of an LNRS. Councillors, officers, and partners representing a range of organisations have forged ahead with the creation and launch of our Biodiversity Action Plan, which sets out measures that will help to reverse current wildlife decline and help it to thrive. The plan serves as our interim Biodiversity Strategy as we convene our Nature Recovery Working Group that will focus on specific aspects of BAP delivery while our formal LNRS is finalised.

The Environment Act will also deliver changes in the planning process, with all new residential developments and infrastructure projects required to deliver a ten per cent uplift in biodiversity. As many of us wrestle with planning policy, work to build our Local Plans and resist speculative and often inappropriate and unpopular development, it will be essential to champion nature as an integral element of future local and national planning reform and policy.

Councillors who want to find out more about Green Infrastructure should look no further than the latest CEN briefing on this topic, which provides a detailed overview of the policy landscape as well as ideas on how to approach local GI projects. Natural England has also developed a Green Infrastructure Framework, an interactive mapping tool designed to support the greening of our towns and cities and their connections with the surrounding landscape.

Those standing for election this May should incorporate Green Infrastructure plans into their campaigns, and all councillors should make use of the wealth of resources provided by their own local authority, Natural England, and local wildlife groups, to spot opportunities and begin to map out their own nature recovery networks and projects.

Choosing to embrace Green Infrastructure in our fight back against the Lib Dems in the Chesham & Amersham constituency, and championing green initiatives as the majority group across Buckinghamshire, we are setting an agenda that is inclusive, engaging, financially sound, and popular, and shows voters that it is the Conservatives that can deliver solutions that are good for voters, public and private bank balances and, ultimately, the environment. A blue core fuelled by a green web that is woven through policy, campaigning, and workstreams, equals political and environmental gold.

Michelle Lowe: Johnson has secured the Conservatives’ right flank – now we need to secure our left one

11 Feb

Michelle Lowe contested Coventry South at the General Election last year and is the former Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Housing & Health at Sevenoaks District Council.

The Southend West by-election result does not tell us very much except that UKIP is no longer much of a threat to the Conservatives. They not only lost their deposit but came after “spoilt ballot papers” and the Psychedelic Movement. Locally they have very few if any local councillors left after being spectacularly driven out in 2017. On top of that Reform UK only just about managed to keep their deposit in the Old Bexley and Sidcup by-election.

It seems that no matter how unhappy voters are with the Conservative Party, apart from in the opinion polls, there does not seem to be much evidence of them actually switching to Labour in elections. The Lib Dems and Greens are, however, a different story. Not only did the Lib Dems win both the Chesham and Amersham by-election as well as North Shropshire, both parties are capturing more and more council seats in the South East. They will no doubt use their growing local government base to start attempting to capture Westminster seats at the next General Election.

Knowing that they are unlikely to form a Government any time soon, both the Lib Dems and Greens are shamelessly disingenuous in their promises. They claim there is no need for any more house building or large infrastructure projects such as HS2, but somehow they will also manage to find homes for young people and provide greener travel. For a party of government this is the impossible circle that Michael Gove is trying to square. How can he close the generation divide and make sure there are enough homes for young people to buy, while protecting the countryside?

To win in the affluent South East the party not only has to find a solution to the development problem, but it will have to be strong on social justice issues all round. Andrew Mitchell told the House of Commons last July that Chesham and Amersham has the biggest Christian Aid group in the country. The cut in foreign aid spending that is popular in some places probably helped to elect Sarah Green as the MP in Chesham and Amersham.

The Government’s new Levelling Up White Paper is attempting to address some of the social injustices that exist and were no doubt exacerbated by the pandemic. Focusing on infrastructure, schools, the NHS and low income households while empowering local government to deliver for its communities – the white paper is moving in the right direction.

In 2019 we suffered a terrible set of local government election results losing control of 44 councils and 1,330 councillors. In the South East the Lib Dems and Greens built on these results during the county council elections last year, and the Lib Dems and Greens now have a firmer foundation on which to try and win Westminster seats. They are very good at targeting specific seats where they are strong and not competing against each other. Once elected they blame the Government for not being able to deliver on its election pledges. They are leaving a patchwork quilt of rainbow coalitions that often include independents as well – and the glue that holds them together is their hatred of us!

In Sevenoaks, where I was Deputy Leader until I stood down in 2019, we held back the anti-Tory tide that year with a strong local brand that combined fiscal responsibility and efficiency, with compassion. Voters were not going to risk their weekly bin collection and low council tax by voting Green or Lib Dem – especially when their local Conservatives were also building Dementia friendly towns and villages and rolling out social prescribing to help with their wellbeing. So their consciences were clear. Unfortunately, the Town Council and County council brands were not so strong – losing the town council in 2019 and the County seat in 2021. Sevenoaks was by no means the only place where success was achieved – nationally we can learn a lot from these places.

So with local elections this year and next, and a General Election taking place sometime before December 2024 we can relax a bit from UKIP and Reform UK – but we need to prepare to defend our traditional heartlands from the Lib Dems and Greens by making clear they are not up for grabs. We have to find a way to protect our countryside while still building homes for young people, and we have to actively promote social justice and equality of opportunity. We must be seen as fiscally responsible and efficient but we must also make sure people know we care.

Joseph Baum: Pavement politics is how the Conservatives will beat the Lib Dems in Chesham and Amersham

25 Jan

Cllr Joseph Baum a councillor on Buckinghamshire Council and the Deputy Chairman (Political) of the Chesham and Amersham Conservative Association.

It doesn’t matter where you are in the country, if you are a Conservative activist the following sentence will almost certainly apply: the person knocking on the door cares more about politics than the person answering it.

For many readers of ConservativeHome – myself included – following the twists and turns of our political system is simply a part of our routine. But for the millions of residents out in the country who simply do not have the time or the patience to keep up, what goes on within the “Westminster bubble” is a world away from what’s actually happening in their community and what needs to happen for it to thrive. Yes, there will be the occasional story that “cuts through” but for every story emanating from Downing Street there are dozens of local issues that need attention on every street.

Whether it’s mending a broken drain or installing a new bin on a public footpath, many of the problems that affect people on a daily basis can, and are being, dealt with by local Conservative councillors.

For us in local government, the satisfaction of knowing that you got something done is why we stood in the first place. But it is particularly important here in Chesham and Amersham, which has been under new parliamentary management since June. In my last article, written in the immediate aftermath of the by-election, I said that we needed to acknowledge why we lost whilst at the same time recognising that all is not lost.

Although the work of rebuilding our Association is still very much in progress, the task of delivering for local people has never, and can never stop. Having lost our voice at Westminster, I am pleased to say that in just six months Buckinghamshire Council has made some significant progress on issues that really matter to residents.

It wasn’t our MP who approved further and much needed investment in our roads, taking the total to more than £100 million over the next four years. It wasn’t our MP who promised, and is on track to deliver on a manifesto commitment to unblock every drain and gully in the county – a herculean effort made possible by Conservative investment.

Interested in sport? In December the brand new Chilterns Lifestyle Centre in Amersham opened its doors to the public. Improvements to the Chalfont Leisure Centre were also delivered as planned earlier this year. And for all the talk of protecting our green belt, it wasn’t our MP who stood up to defend it when a Planning Application to build almost 400 homes was recently submitted to the local Council.

A strategy to improve our bus network, a county wide effort to plants thousands of new trees, a zero-tolerance policy on fly tipping which is now leading to successful prosecutions, the first ever Buckinghamshire Jobs and Apprenticeships Fair which will bring together some of the UK’s biggest employers to our community to showcase their vacancies, a Local Plan in Aylesbury which will result in a net increase in green belt, millions distributed to local businesses who are desperate to bounce back from the pandemic, or a Helping Hand scheme which is supporting some of our most vulnerable in society – the list goes on.

Whilst it will never be as glamorous as a free trade agreement with Australia or a climate change summit in Glasgow, you can be sure that these are the issues that matters to local people.

Delivering for local people can only part of the effort. At every turn we have made sure that residents should be in no doubt over who is responsible for these achievements. Since the by-election we have held six Action Days across the Association – held on the first Saturday of every month. We have surveyed, canvassed, delivered leaflets and even telephone canvassed. We have reached out to our membership base once again and looked to re-invigorate our branches. In the two major town of Chesham and Amersham, our Town Councillors have held monthly face to face surgeries in the library and street stalls on the High Street. Almost all of our councillors now have active Facebook pages, enabling residents to communicate with their local councillor and to receive updates about what they are doing. Ask a resident at random in the constituency and the chances are that they have seen or heard from the Conservatives since the by-election.

Whilst the task of rebuilding will not be complete until we take back Chesham and Amersham, the solution lies in what Conservatives do best – working hard, deliver for local people and campaigning to win.

Robert Buckland: This focus on shrinking the state is out of date. Voters have moved on from the 1980s. So should our party.

7 Jan

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

Politics in recent years has seemed to be all unprecedented challenges. This is undeniably true, but in many ways, history continues to repeat itself. Once upon a general election, an old Etonian Prime Minister with more than a touch of showman about him and who campaigned with a heavy dose of optimism, support for public services, an unapologetic appeal beyond strong cultural divisions and a distinct sense that our best days lay ahead won 365 seats right across our nation from Hartlepool to Swansea West. I am of course talking about 1959.

For Tory leaders from the 19th century onwards, the strong sense that we are the “national” party has been the golden thread linking everything together. It was of course Disraeli who famously said that the “Tory Party is a national party or it is nothing”. As Tory Unionism grew stronger in the ensuring years, this concept of the party representing all parts of the Kingdom and not just England became stronger too.

All true Conservatives would have shared a sense a pride and excitement as we captured Scottish seats in 2017 and then made huge advances in Wales and the North of England in 2019, which is why any sense of confusion or uneasiness about the party’s current configuration of Parliamentary seats and support is not just misplaced, but bizarre and contrary to our traditions.

Understanding the world as it is, not as we would ideally like it to be, is a fundamental tenant of practical Conservatism. Will Tanner from Onward was correct in a recent article in which he highlighted that the existing coalition of likely Tory voters are to the right on culture and the left marginally on economic issues. They want toughness on crime and illegal immigration, whilst also expecting greater investment into our public services and local communities.

As we embark upon the new year, it is worth reflecting upon the pools of ink that have been spilt by commentators, either lamenting about or salivating over seemingly irreconcilable divisions between the apparent ideology of the Conservative Party and the voters that we now represent. We are solemnly told that Boris Johnson faces an impossible task in trying to reconcile the two.

This thesis is based upon two fundamental flaws. First, it makes the assumption that Toryism is frozen in some sort of mid-1980s state, and that it is driven by nothing more than free markets and shrinking the size of the state. Second, it makes the assumption that voters in different parts of the country are entirely separate species, as detached from each other as if they come from Venus and Mars respectively.

Fortunately for the Conservatives, neither assumption is true. To suggest, as was done after the Chesham and Amersham by-election, that voters in the South of England are somehow more “sophisticated” than voters elsewhere was not only insulting, but just plain wrong. This year, as we turn our focus increasingly towards the next general election, we need clarity of leadership and seriousness of purpose to reject this notion and refocus our collective efforts on appealing to our new coalition of voters.

Up and down our country, people are looking out for the delivery of promises made, so it is sensible to look again at what was written in the 2019 manifesto. Already, we are delivering on many of the key pledges, such as record-breaking NHS funding, 50,000 more nurses, 20,000 more police officers and tougher sentencing. Major immigration reforms are going through Parliament, and as promised we are seeing millions more per week being invested in science, schools, apprenticeships and infrastructure.

Even before the onset of Covid-19, the Conservatives were warming up for a degree of state intervention that had not been contemplated for a generation. The unprecedented set of measures taken by this government during the pandemic was an eloquent demonstration of the death of ideology and its replacement with the politics of practical action.

When it comes to the clear manifesto pledge to achieve zero carbon emissions by 2050, what unites voters in all corners of the country is the need to create more secure and sustainable sources of energy than fossil fuels whose supplies can be turned on and off by the likes of Russia. Greener energy sources mean greater energy security and self-sufficiency too, which is an aim that I believe is very much shared by the new coalition of Conservative suppporters.

The fact that millions of jobs and thousands of businesses survived, together with the NHS and our other public services, should be our message to voters that in extremely large measure, we were there for them in their time of greatest need. As a result, there can be no doubt about the Tory commitment to our public services.

Our opponents are fighting the battles of the past on this, whilst ignoring the real task, which has to be a relentless focus on value for money, particularly in the NHS. We have grasped the nettle of social care reform, but if the National Insurance rise this Spring is to mean anything, we have to see hard evidence that these funds will be used for social care once the Covid-19 health backlog has been dealt with. This is what voters will be looking for come the next election, and rightly so too.

A more unwelcome parallel with that historic 1959 win was that the Government was eventually laid low by a series of scandals that demonstrated a sense that it was no longer in touch with the people it was serving. With seriousness of purpose and a strong commitment to competent delivery, we can learn from history, maintain our great coalition and go on to even greater things as the 2020’s march forward. Less hand-wringing and more elbow grease is what is needed now.

Sam Clark: We are giving the message that voting Conservative means you endorse concreting over your area

28 Dec

Sam Clark is a former Conservative parish councillor living in Buckhurst Hill, in Epping Forest and a graduate in International Politics and French from Aberystwyth University.

If the recent kerfuffle over the not-party Christmas parties at Downing Street should have taught our party anything, it is that British voters will excuse many errors of judgement but they will not be taken for fools.

We are repeatedly told that what the country needs is more housing. In Epping Forest’s local plan, it is expected 11,400 houses will be needed over the next decade. The logic presumably being that more houses will bring down the cost for first time buyers trying to get on the property ladder.

It doesn’t quite work like that though does it? It is easier to buy a property if you already own a property. The policy is incorrect. Real reform of the housing market is needed. It won’t happen – but I would argue a Conservative Government should restrict the purchase of properties for the buy-to-let market. This would be transformative, allowing the UK to once again become a home-owning democracy. It would help young people who find themselves in a vicious cycle of renting and who are unable to save up for a deposit.

Large scale developments are often unpopular with existing communities which have to absorb these additional properties, often with no additional services provided. As a local parish councillor in a densely populated part of Buckhurst Hill, telling local residents they would lose amenities, including recreational areas and parking, wasn’t exactly a vote winner at the most recent Parish election. ‘Vote for us and you can have a block of flats at the end of your garden for the privilege’ – it is a hard sell even to the most seasoned of Conservative voters. The local Conservatives lost all of their four seats at the most recent election in the area most affected by developments.

The argument that was often put across by colleagues was that in this brave new world we are entering, COP26 and all, the car would become redundant. Buckhurst Hill is served by two tube stations – so naturally why wouldn’t everybody just…you know…walk or cycle?

Whilst the home counties are more connected than many rural parts of the UK, for many trades-people having to carry goods and tools, or for those working unsociable hours or making deliveries, the car is still a requirement. The Underground works well for commuting in and out of London but it’s not practical for everybody. Environmentalism, and posing as being anti-car, cannot, or rather shouldn’t, be used as a way of increasing house building by subterfuge.

Large parts of Epping Forest, as the name suggests, are forested. In order to build additional houses, a Clean Air Zone, CAZ, was suggested – similar to London’s Low Emission’s Zone which would see drivers charged to drive through the forest. The logic, I presume, being that being seen to keep emissions down locally, and being environmentally friendly, would smooth the path for the proposed additional 11,400 houses. Voters have seen through this linking of environmental policies to house building.

Some may think large scale housing developments being unpopular is something limited to my area, Epping Forest. The recent by-elections in Chesham and Amersham, and Old Bexley and Sidcup, would suggest a wider trend, even a revolt, over the issue of building extra housing. A common characteristic of Epping Forest, Chesham and Amersham, and Old Bexley and Sidcup, is that they are all areas in London’s suburbs, in areas within the Green Belt.

As I understand it, one of the controversial issues at the recent by-election in Old Bexley and Sidcup was the decision to build houses in a park at Old Farm Avenue in Sidcup. The Conservative vote in the constituency fell by 13 per cent.

The story was the same in Chesham and Amersham, which was lost to the Liberal Democrats with a 19.9 per cent fall in the Conservative’s vote share. Some of the main issues raised at the time to explain the large swing in this seat was widespread opposition to High Speed 2 and proposed changes to planning law. Has anybody noticed a pattern?

The Conservative Party needs to focus on conserving our natural environment and heritage. In this way, we can be seen to be on the side of local residents in rural areas. At the moment, we are giving out the idea that a Conservative vote is a vote to concrete over your area. Without reform to planning laws, we will continue down our current trajectory at our peril.

Vox Pub in Sidcup: “I think that Boris will get in and Labour will have to have a rethink”.

1 Dec

The traveller who arrives in Sidcup by train and turns up Station Road towards the town centre comes almost at once upon a sign to Orpington, scene of the astonishing Liberal by-election triumph in 1962.

It would be still more astonishing if the Liberal Democrats were to win tomorrow’s by-election in Old Bexley and Sidcup. In the Alma pub, just off Station Road, the Lib Dems were mentioned only once, by a voter still angry with them for supporting the Conservatives in 2010.

Many more people mentioned Labour, but again in tones of anger and disappointment, with Sir Keir Starmer not yet thought to have made the party fit for its former supporters to return to, and a vote for the Conservatives still reckoned by some to be needed in order to make Labour come to its senses.

Several people mentioned Richard Tice, who is standing for Reform UK, successor to the Brexit Party, but no one thought he is as formidable a campaigner as Nigel Farage.

Boris Johnson came in for heavy criticism from Conservative voters for his recent performances, but few could yet name an alternative leader they would rather see in Downing Street.

Hence perhaps the confused state of British politics: Johnson has become less popular, but no clear rival to him has emerged, and even some of his critics said they will still vote Conservative in the by-election, or indeed that they have already done so by post.

A curious dynamic could be detected, whereby Labour might help to prop up the Tory vote by itself being even less convincing.

James Brokenshire, who died on 7th October, held Old Bexley and Sidcup for the Conservatives at the last general election with a majority of 18,952 over Labour, who received 10,834 votes, with the Lib Dems in third place on 3,822.

So Labour ought to be the main challenger here, but Sir Keir has stayed away from the by-election, and may have timed this week’s Shadow Cabinet reshuffle to forestall criticism in the event of a weak performance tomorrow.

The Lib Dems recently showed what can be done in a by-election by turning the Tory majority of 16,223 in Chesham and Amersham into a majority for their candidate of 8,028.

It would be amazing if Labour achieve anything comparable in Old Bexley and Sidcup, especially when one considers the story of this man, who works in insurance and wants to “punish Labour”:

“I’m not from South-East London [Sidcup is on the border with Kent]. I’m from East London. I’ve been here for 20 years.

“I grew up in Cable Street, Stepney. My parents were Irish Catholics, working class, who came over here in the 1950s.

“I first voted in 1979, when Margaret Thatcher got in. I despised her politics – she was a fantastic politician, I respected what she did, but I was never going to be a Tory.

“I voted for a Conservative Party led by Boris Johnson! The only thing I would say is the reason I did that was I was actually trying to punish the Labour Party for being so absolutely stupid.

“I just hated and despised them for finding a winning formula [under Blair], and then moving to the Left. And then Corbyn – are you completely mad?

“He’s like Dennis Skinner and those guys – I admire them for the fact they stick to their principles – Tony Benn, Michael Foot, great men – but Corbyn, I just thought you cannot be serious.

“Tony Blair – he won three elections – two landslides.

“We didn’t win because we didn’t take it far enough to the Left? Are you stupid?

“So what do you do, you put up Boris Johnson who is the antithesis of Jeremy Corbyn and he wins and takes your heartlands away from you.”

ConHome: “What do you think of Keir?”

The insurance worker: “I like him. He is a good guy. I think he’s fighting an internal battle that I’m not sure he’s going to win.”

ConHome: “And what do you think of Boris Johnson?”

The insurance worker: “He might get away with it. He is what he is. He wouldn’t be my choice of PM in a million years. I think he’ll get in and Labour will have to have a rethink.

“In 2019 I voted Tory for the first time ever. I didn’t vote for Boris. I got very annoyed when the Liberals went with the Tories. I got so annoyed with Labour when they went for Corbyn.

“This experiment of going Left didn’t work, so they went further Left! I am Labour, and Tony Blair gave me the Labour Party I wanted.

“I voted Tory in the by-election [by post] because I’m still pissed off with the Labour Party. They need to persuade me.

“I do beat myself up voting Tory. I’m one of those people, I have to vote. I’m just that annoyed. Someone that grew up on Cable Street, in Stepney, Tower Hamlets as it’s now called, I shouldn’t be in this position. Labour need to persuade me to vote for them again.”

A retired man having a drink with two of his friends said: “It’s sad that the incumbent MP has died. I’ve not met the new MP. I’m a traditional Conservative voter and I will vote Conservative, I have already [by post].

“But my comment would be it’s time Boris went and we got someone more competent in the job. We call him the buffoon.”

Second man: “I think he did well with Covid.”

The first man: “I support the Conservative Party but I’m not a member of the Conservative Party. I’m not quite sure who there is who I’d like to take over.

“He falls over his tongue so often it’s embarrassing. And now he’s upset Macron again, not that that’s difficult to do. He’s texted him a letter. What’s he doing behaving like a teenager?”

Third man: “I’ve been Conservative most of my life. I’m not sure about Boris lately. Just lately he’s been a bit of an idiot.”

First man: “At the back of my road there’s the playing fields. The Round Table on Guy Fawkes Night would always have a fireworks display to raise money for charity. I was waiting with some of my friends and we saw Ted Heath rushing down the road with some policemen.”

Heath, who died in 2001, served as MP for Old Bexley and Sidcup until 2001, having first won the seat of Bexley (which had different boundaries) by 133 votes from Labour in 1950.

“I said, ‘Mr Heath, would you like to come for a short cut through here?’ He said ‘Thank you very much’ and his shoulders shook.”

So he showed Heath through his own house and back garden onto the playing fields. He remembered the former Prime Minister with respect:

“He was a good constituency MP. I had cause to write to him on a couple of occasions and I always got a reply. I think he was a nice chap and he suffered a lot at the hands of the press. I guess if you put yourself in that position you have to put up with it.”

Not all Conservative voters will stick with the party tomorrow. Richard Payne, aged 72, who until the age of 44 was a foreign exchange dealer but later worked as a milkman and a plumber, said he could be called “pissed off from Sidcup”, and will “definitely” be voting for Reform UK:

“Well I think the Government’s in a state. The Tories are letting everyone down. Boris is letting everyone down. Immigration, people coming over willy-nilly, it’s ridiculous.

“They’re kowtowing to the French all the time. We didn’t vote for that. And believe it or not, I’m a lifelong Tory supporter. I’ve always voted Conservative in the past.

“At the end of the day you need strong leadership. And the only person in my time who’s had strong leadership is Maggie. She’s my hero.

“To begin with, Boris was all right. All right, he’s had a tough time with the pandemic, it’s not easy to walk into something that’s never been known.”

ConHome: “He got Brexit done?”

Payne: “Well yeah, but he wouldn’t have got back in otherwise. His trade agreement with the EU wasn’t much better than Theresa May came out with, and that was rubbish.

“As far as I’m concerned you can forget Labour. Blair was bad. Corbyn was even worse. Starmer reminds me of John Major. Faceless. Grey man.

“Excuse me. We’ve got to look after the British people. You’ve got to look after your own. The duty of a government is to protect its people. If Nigel Farage was standing I’d vote for him. He seems to be the only one who’s got the courage of his convictions.”

ConHome: “What’s the name of the guy who’s taken over from Farage?”

“Richard Tice. He hasn’t got his persona. I can’t believe that Farage would not be there in the background. This really came out in the Brexit vote. He was saying stop all the immigrants coming over. He was accused of being racist. We do need immigrants obviously, but not uncontrolled. It has to be controlled.

“The NHS is a – forget the NHS – I’ve been waiting for a knee operation for goodness knows how long. I can’t get to see my doctor. They said you need a new knee three years ago.

“He’s done a good job in rolling out the vaccinations. I’m not anti-vax. I’ve had them all. Booster. Flu jab. If they had another booster I’d have that.

“Boris has got to follow through with it. It’s no good promising the world and you end up with nothing, or very little. You can’t keep deceiving the British public. If Labour had a stronger leader he might well get kicked out.

“There’s too many bleeding heart liberals in the country. There are. I’m not racist. Racism is a two-way street, but it doesn’t seem to work that way in reality. We can’t call these people coming over in boats illegal immigrants, we’ve got to call them migrants.

“He’s trying to appease everybody and you can’t do that. You’ve got to say this is where we stand and that’s it. But he doesn’t do it.

“If he doesn’t pull his finger out he’s going to be out.

“Though without the help of Macron we can’t do anything, and Macron is a little shit, all five foot three inches of him. Him, Sarkozy, Napoleon. At the end of the day, I don’t think the French people hate the English. It’s just him.”

Before going to the Alma, I spoke to a group of six ladies, friends from Holy Trinity Church, who had just had lunch in the Pascal Bistro, Station Road, and were drinking coffee.

“Jeremy Brokenshire will be a very, very hard act to follow,” one of them said.

“We miss Jeremy terribly,” a second agreed.

“The young man who’s being put forward [by the Conservatives, Louie French], I’m glad he’s local, but otherwise we don’t know anything about him,” the first woman remarked.

“He sounds all right to me,” a third said.

“We haven’t really heard anything about him,” a fourth said.

“We’ve had lots of literature. But then I’ve had a bit from Reform UK and from Labour,” the first woman said.

“I think the Conservatives will get in because of the area.” the second woman declared. “I will vote Conservative – I can’t imagine voting for anyone else. But just recently there’ve been a number of gaffes and I don’t think that’s going to help.”

“He’s making silly mistakes,” the first woman said. “For example the open letter to the French president. What’s that all about, stupid man?”

“Whoever happened to come in just at the beginning of the pandemic was going to have a difficult time,” the second woman said.

“But there was nothing wrong with that letter,” a fifth woman put in. “Apparently it was read out on the radio to a French MP and he agreed with every item on it.”

“So why did they cancel the invitation to Priti Patel?” the first woman asked.

“We don’t like him to make mistakes,” the second woman said.

“We like Boris,” the first woman said. “For a few years I voted for the Green Party.”

“Bring back Margaret Thatcher, that’s what I say,” the fifth woman said.

Gales of laughter, and cries of “No! No!” from some of her friends.

“I voted for Margaret Thatcher but I’ve completely changed my views since,” the first woman said.

“I would be surprised if they weren’t voted in again,” the second said. “The Reform guy has been round door to door,” she added.

“He’s certainly put in the hours of work,” the first agreed.

It did not sound to me as if Reform is going to peel off a very large chunk of the Tory vote. But I may have been misled by the sheer friendliness with which I was received by almost everyone in Sidcup.

Peter Franklin: Our classicist Prime Minister must be a Hercules – and clear out Parliament’s Augean stables

22 Nov

Peter Franklin is an Associate Editor of UnHerd.

Boris Johnson’s passion for the classics is well known. But unlike Emmanuel Macron, who once spoke about the need for a “Jupiterian” presidency, I don’t think that our Prime Minister has ever likened himself to a figure from Greco-Roman myth. The closest he ever came was some rather contrived wordplay between between “Boris” and “Boreas”, god of the north wind.

However, there is one character he could be compared with — and that is Hercules (or Heracles if you prefer). Johnson may not be as physically impressive as the muscle-bound hero, but as Prime Minister he’s tackled a series of tasks that can only be described as Herculean: getting Brexit done; beating back Covid (both nationally and personally); leading the world on climate change; levelling-up the North. Whether of not one considers Johnson to be a great man, there’s no doubting the greatness of the challenges he’s faced.

Hercules is famed for undertaking twelve labours. Most of these involved killing or capturing some kind of fabulous beast — from the multi-headed Hydra to the flesh-eating Mares of Diomedes.

However, his fifth labour stands out from all the others. That’s because it appears to be so mundane. All it involved was cleaning out some stables. Not exactly the stuff of legend. Except that these were the stables of King Augeus. They housed 3,000 animals — and hadn’t been cleaned out for 30 years. Even worse, Hercules had just one day to complete the task. So what at first sight looks like the least dangerous of all his labours came closest to defeating him.

Boris ought to pay close attention to this tale because he has his own Augean stables to clean out: the Houses of Parliament. In the space of a few weeks, “sleaze” has done more damage to his poll ratings that all his mistakes on Brexit, Covid and the economy put together.

As with the original Augean stables, this almighty mess is the result of years of neglect — for which multiple Prime Ministers are to blame. It is Johnson’s misfortune that matters have reached crisis point on his watch. Then again, he made his own bad luck by handling the Owen Paterson affair so ineptly. In any case, he owns the sleaze issue now. Unless he can make it go away, it has the potential to bury him.

Of course, by international standards, this is a molehill – not a mountain of political ordure. We’re not talking about criminal corruption here, but the interpretation of rules governing self-imposed standards in public life. However, that’s why this sorry episode is so infuriating: it was all so avoidable.

There should never have been any confusion over the rules on lobbying. There’s an obvious problem with a serving MP being paid by private interests to do what he or she is elected to do in the public interest.

So the rules should have been clear — absolutely no political consultancy work under any circumstances. If they had been clear, then Paterson would still be an MP today.

The Government’s approach — to clear up the mess only after someone’s stepped in it — isn’t going to wash. There are just too many other piles lying in wait. In fact, piles upon piles, because all of these issues raise further issues. As our Editor explains here, the Prime Minister finds himself caught between two factions of his Parliamentary party — the “Red Wallers” and the “Blue Jobbers” — over the wider question of MPs having second jobs.

This in turn leads to an even wider question — what are MPs for? — which has also been left unresolved for too long. And it doesn’t stop with the House of Commons either. Constitutionally, the House of Lords is a half-finished building site abandoned by a long-defunct firm of cowboy builders (i.e. New Labour). It’s a hopelessly confused situation in which the combination of politics, patronage, public standards and money is bound to generate further problems.

And that’s the trouble with the Government’s minimalist approach to cleaning out the Augean Stables. Making very specific changes in response to a particular scandal opens you up to the charge of having done too little too late when the next one happens.

The alternative is to get out in front of the issue — and deal with the whole mess before it buries you.

The question that Boris should ask himself is this: what would Hercules do? I’m assuming he already knows the answer. Faced with the impossible task of shovelling so much, er, material in the space of one day, Hercules took radical action. He diverted the course of the rivers Alpheus and Peneus so that they flowed through the stables and literally washed the problem away. Job done.

The two cleansing forces that Boris Johnson must harness are constitutional reform and party reform. For a start, it’s time to stop making excuses for the House of Lords. It should either be turned into a properly democratic chamber or abolished.

As for the House of Commons, let’s recognise the reality of what it means to be an MP these days. The old model of the gentleman legislator is just that — a relic of the past. With billions about to be spent on renovating the physical fabric of the Palace of Westminster, we need to update its working practices too.

That’s both for the good of the constitution and the Conservative Party. The current disparity between some Tory MPs straining every sinew to hold on to the Red Wall while others busy themselves with lucrative outside employments, isn’t just unfair: it is also electorally unsustainable. The result of the Chesham and Amersham by-election — plus the last set of local elections — is a warning that the party cannot take its southern heartlands for granted either.

In this time of political realignment, every Conservative-held seat should be regarded as marginal. Thus every Tory MP needs to make a full-time commitment to their parliamentary and governmental duties. This, by happy coincidence, would also mean that the vexed issue of second jobs would be rendered irrelevant.

As we’re now seeing with the rules on lobbying, reform is a matter of when not if. The Government can either be dragged kicking and screaming into the twenty-first century — allowing the opposition to extract every ounce of partisan advantage — or it can take the initiative and lead the process of change.

It is of course incumbent on any Conservative to take care with the constitution— but that is more easily achieved when one is in charge of the course of events, not swept along by them.

So go on, Boris — be a hero.

Build Back Nothing

9 Nov

In news that will surprise absolutely no one, the Government appears to have backtracked further on its planning reforms. Yesterday, Michael Gove, the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, said that he would be looking at how “housing need” is calculated, and suggested that some of the assumptions behind the numbers “are probably out of date.”

This has been taken as yet another sign of the Conservatives trying to distance themselves from their original plans for building homes. Only last month Boris Johnson tried to reassure voters at the Conservative Party Conference that “beautiful” ones should only be built “on brownfield sites in places where homes make sense”, in a pledge that will in no way help England meet its housing targets. It was a far cry from a Prime Minister who promised, in his first speech outside Downing Street, that the Tories would give “millions of young people the chance to own their own homes”.

As many know, the Tories are spooked by the Chesham & Amersham by-election result, where Liberal Democrats played on fears about planning reforms in order to win votes. The outcome has been seen as evidence that Conservatives have gone too far in upsetting the Blue Wall, hence they are now trying to make all the right noises about “beautiful” homes and protecting land around the UK. In addition to that, the party will struggle to get any decent reforms past its backbenchers, many of whom appear more upset about the green belt than millions of people needing homes.

Speaking of housing need, Gove warned that “We want to be in a position where people accept and welcome new development.” But the idea that homeowners at large (and backbenchers) will accept, let alone welcome, new developments, to the degree that the country needs them, is something of a pipe dream.

It goes without saying that there’s no easy answer to fixing the crisis – indeed, many articles on this site are devoted to the subject – albeit it is mainly an issue of supply. Yet, as a millennial watching on, the Government’s strategy at the moment seems to be hoping the problem will magically go away, buying time by debating the intricacies of reforms. In the meantime, it has thrown renters a bone by way of a 95 per cent mortgage scheme, an idea that will merely increase demand for homes.

To make any headway, the Government should apply the same energy it has towards achieving Net Zero on Getting Housing Done. It’s interesting that in going green, it has no qualms about upsetting the electorate – from talk of people having to replace their gas boilers, to the Climate Change Committee’s recommendations that the public give up meat. “This is an emergency”, it will say around its eco policies. Yet housing is not so far away – and also affecting many young people’s futures.

Though the Government is concerned about Chesham & Amersham – and the rest of the Blue Wall – its current approach risks another type of electoral disaster, as has been pointed out on several occasions, as those in their 30s and 40s remain infantilised by economic conditions. But Getting Housing Done is not merely a matter of political advances; it’s about a moral duty towards generations, whose hopes and dreams are being sacrificed to keep home-owning England happy. For renters, the Conservative vision cannot continue to be Build Back Nothing.

Ben Roback: COP26 may be the only saving grace for Sleepy Joe’s presidency – in a thoroughly chaotic year

3 Nov

Ben Roback is Vice President of Public Affairs at Sard Verbinnen & Co.

At this stage in his presidency, one gets the feeling that trips abroad are a welcome reprieve for President Biden. The political tide continues to turn slowly against him, and the list of domestic challenges is growing. A bruising defeat in Virginia’s gubernatorial race, a stalling legislative agenda, and sinking approval ratings are enough to give the president three big headaches as he returns from COP26 on Air Force One.

When will ‘America is back’ start to mean something?

Biden has carried a consistent message as he tours world capitals and global conference like COP26, delivering three simple words: “America is back”. He is right, and US presence at global forums like COP26 is an important reminder that American once again recognises an international leadership role. But on the other side of the coin, the shambolic departure from Afghanistan proved that Biden’s foreign policy agenda might yet turn out to be as unpredictable as Donald Trump’s.

Biden relies perhaps too heavily on just “showing up”. In his closing remarks, he fired a veiled criticism at presidents Xi and Putin for ignoring the climate conference. “We showed up… and by showing up we’ve had a profound impact on how the rest of the world is looking at the United States and its leadership role,” he added.

With John Kerry by his side as Special Presidential Envoy for Climate, this president is uniquely well placed to be the driving force in a truly global fight against the irreversible impacts of climate change. The irony of the presidential motorcades clogging up Glasgow’s streets will not be lost on climate activists, nor the arrival and departure of Air Force One.

Is it enough just for the United States to show up? It is not reasonable to expect the power of the president to be sufficient for adversaries like Xi and Putin to change their minds on coming to COP. But having shown up, there was no major or game-changing intervention from the United States. With so many world leaders in one place, it is difficult for any one individual to make an impact or leave their mark. It is possible that the sheer saturation of power in the room results in an altogether forgettable event. After all, everyone is largely saying the same thing.

What was clear at COP26 is that, notwithstanding his good will and convivial demeanour with allies, this president lacks the presence of a Trump or oratory gift of an Obama. Poor attention to detail and an inability to stay focused during speeches has long been levelled at the presidential septuagenarian and dozing off with the eyes of the world watching is an unfortunate coincidence for the man whose opponents call “Sleepy Joe”. Biden can claim to have had a successful summit, but soon enough just “showing up” will need to be replaced with meaningful action.

The three big issues facing the returning president

Biden’s current malaise can be best split into three.

First, electoral defeats. The timing of COP26 was awkward for Biden given it coincided with a handful of elections at home. In New Jersey, the battle between incumbent Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy in New Jersey and Republican Jack Ciattarelli is still undecided. The Republican led by just over 1,000 votes out of more than 2.36 million cast in a race that Democrats had expected to win.

The more stark result of the night came in Virginia, where Republican Glenn Youngkin defied polling and historic trends to defeat Democrat Terry McAuliffe. In the short term, it presents a major warning sign for Democrats heading into the 2022 midterms.

Youngkin has arguably created a winning formula for Conservatives running in towns, counties and states where Trump’s popularity amongst the voting population is low, but high amongst registered Republicans. Youngkin walked a meticulously fine line between mainstream Republican talking points – culture wars, ‘critical race theory in schools, and an ailing presidential agenda in Washington – while embracing Trump from a safe distance. He neither criticised the former president nor stood next to him in rallies.

Democrats expect to suffer in next year’s midterms, if nothing because historical precedent dictates that the incumbent party customarily suffers a bloody nose from the electorate at the first available opportunity after winning the White House. Virginia’s loss is unlikely to prompt a major strategic rethink at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) or in the White House, but one should never underestimate the impact of a shock local result.

After all, Downing Street ripped up its entire housebuilding strategy for the country after losing Chesham and Amersham. But it will alarm Democrats running in districts and states formerly considered “safe”, while putting wind in the sails of Trump who endorsed and campaigned for a victorious candidate in a state that he lost in the general election by 10 points.

Second, a stalling legislative agenda. Democrats have spent weeks arguing amongst themselves about the finer details of the White House’s vast Build Better Act. The overnight electoral setbacks will add volume to the voices arguing the Democratic leadership on Capitol Hill needs to slow down its legislative timetable and better engage centrists instead of pandering to the left.

Third, sinking approval ratings. A stalling domestic agenda is usually manifests into election losses. According to FiveThirtyEight, a majority of Americans (50.8 per cent) now disapprove of Biden whilst 42.8 per cent approve. There is some comfort in knowing that, in the October of their first year, Trump’s approval was lower at 37 per cent and President Obama’s similar on 53 per cent (Gallup). But whilst Biden’s term average to date is a more respectable 51 per cent, but his popularity is on a clear downward trend.

Biden can reasonably claim to have had a good COP26 summit. He relies perhaps too heavily on just “showing up” purely based on the fact that his predecessor too often either failed to show up or used global forums to agitate against international institutions. But with COP26 behind him, Biden returns home to a divided America and, more pressingly in the short term, a deeply divided party.