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.

– – – – – – – – – –

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.

– – – – – – – – – –

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.

– – – – – – – – – –

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.

Snap guide to this session’s Government legislation 3) The dissolution and calling of Parliament Bill

13 Jun

The Bills announced in each session’s Queen’s Speech are the fulcrum of the Parliamentary year.  But they are easily lost sight of, separately and wholly, as the political cycle moves – and a mass of other news and events crowd them out.

So during the coming months, ConservativeHome will run a brief guide, most Sunday mornings, to each Bill from this year’s Speech: what it is, whether it’s new, its main strengths and weaknesses – and whether it’s expected sooner or later.

2) The dissolution and calling of Parliament Bill

What it is

This is the Bill to scrap the Fixed Terms Parliament Act and restore the Royal Prerogative arrangement that preceded it.  It has a brief six clauses in all – four of which concern the matters above.  (The two remaining clauses are relatively minor.)

Essentially, Clauses One and Four cover the fixed terms aspects, repealing the Act and confirming that no Parliament can last longer than five years.  Clauses Two and Three deal with restoring the Prerogative “as if the…Act had never been enacted”, as Clause 2 puts it.  Clause Three seeks to place this revived Prerogative beyond the reach of the courts.  This is a so-called “Ouster Clause“.

Responsible department

The Cabinet Office – and the dissolution and calling of Parliament Bill has already received its First Reading in the Commons.  This took place on May 12.

Michael Gove, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, is thus the lead Minister. Chloe Smith, Minister for the Constitution and Devolution, who also sits in the Cabinet Office, would be expected to take Bill through committee.

Carried over or a new Bill?

A new Bill – but it has already had pre-legislative scrutiny through a joint committee which reported in March.

Expected back when?

Sooner rather than later.

Arguments for

The basic case for the Bill is that fixed terms are inflexible – and that they’ve not been observed in any event, with general elections coming early in 2017 and 2019.

This being so, the most practicable alternative is to fall back on the status quo ante under which, as a Government command paper on the Bill has put it, “Parliament will be dissolved by the Sovereign, on the advice of the Prime Minister”.  Which means, given the Supreme Court’s judgement on prorogation, putting the matter beyond reach of the courts.

Arguments against

These fall into two parts, mirroring the Bill’s case and stucture.  First, that it’s a good thing in principle for Parliaments to work on the assumption that they will last for a fixed term.

And that fixed term can indeed be shortened if necessary, as it has twice been, then what’s the problem?  Second, that the status quo ante can’t be restored, since a prerogative is a non-statutory executive power and common law is created by courts and not legislatures, as Anne Twomey, a constitutional law professor, argued in evidence to the joint committee (and shouldn’t be anyway).

Politics

The Liberal Democrats were the co-creators of the Fixed Terms Act, along with their Conservative co-partners in the Coalition Government, and can be expected to oppose the Bill.  One might presume Labour unwilling to allow Boris Johnson greater flexibility over a general election’s calling, especially with talk of a poll in 2023.  However, one Tory source says that current feedback from the party is “supportive”.

Brenda Hale, who presided over the Supreme Court’s prorogation judgement, disagreed with Professor Twomey – telling the joint committee that in her view the prorogative can be restored.  But if one takes such a view, it doesn’t necessarily follow that one also believes the prerogative should be placed beyond the reach of the courts.  So what Labour says and how it votes will be worth watching

Controversy rating: 5/10

It’s hard see a Conservative backbench revolt that either supports the Act or opposes a restored prerogative.  But Opposition MPs, enthusiasts for judicial power, and supporters of the prorogation judgement will portray the Bill as an executive power grab.  So opponents of the Bill are more likely to stress opposing ouster clauses, not supporting fixed parliaments.

Sarah Ingham: A blue party + green promises = yellow vests

29 May

Sarah Ingham is the author of The Military Covenant.

Among the Met Office’s list of storm names for 2021 are Heulwen – Welsh for sun-blessed if not for irony – and Saidhbhin.

Probably only those of us who won’t be needing to fill sandbags have enough time on our hands to fret about the tricky pronunciation of dhbh. The millions living in flood-risk areas will instead surely cheer this week’s announcement by the Environment Agency that it will default to low carbon concrete when constructing the nation’s flood defences.

With man-made climate change being blamed almost every time it rains – or fails to rain – on Britain’s green and pleasant land, it seems fitting that the quango charged with protecting us from flooding should be leading the charge on cutting carbon, arguably the cause of all the storms from Aiden to Wilson and the accompanying floods which have beset the country in recent years.

During the week political attention was focused on Dominic Cumming’s truth bombs in his marathon select committee appearance (which rivals the Duke of Sussex’s vengeful confessionals with Oprah), the EA’s dash towards carbon neutrality by the end of the decade will surely be welcomed by the Government. At least this State offshoot is fizzing with enthusiasm about Carbon Net Zero, rather than tipping a bucket of reality over it.

When it comes to ripping out the domestic gas boilers which currently provide the heat and hot water for 30 million homes, ministers might be following the net zero science, but cautious householders would probably prefer to listen to experts.

Just as the EA was issuing its statement, Pimlico Plumbers’ boss Charlie Mullins, who probably knows his way around condensate drain traps better than most MPs, was pouring cold water on targets to substitute our trusty gas combis for net zero-friendly alternatives, including heat pumps or biomass boilers. Mullins’ message to the Government, as reported by the Daily Mail? ‘Get real.’

Deadlines for Britain to go greener are fast approaching. Gas boilers are to be banned from new homes in 2025, and banished forever by 2035, while sales of new petrol and diesel cars are to be outlawed by 2030. As the recent Queen’s Speech reminded us, the United Kingdom is committed to achieving net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

A legally binding target was set by the May administration and waved through in June 2019 by the discredited Zombie Parliament, probably hoping to bathe in redemptive greenwash. Last month, the Johnson Government trumped this by enshrining in law a new target to slash emissions by 78 per cent by 2035.

Conservatives are meant to conserve, so why not save the planet? But the warm glow of doing the right thing is not going to make up for the absence of central heating when our gas boilers are consigned to the scrap heap. Hydrogen boilers are hardly off the drawing board. In an interview with Andrew Marr, Jo Biden’s Climate Tsar, John Kerry, conceded the highly inconvenient truth that half the technology to get us to Net Zero has not yet been invented.

The global lockdown delivered the sort of cuts to energy use and emissions which were beyond the wildest dreams of Greta Thunberg, Greenpeace and Plane Stupid combined. According to the National Grid, demand for power in Britain fell by as much as 20 per cent. Flexible working has reduced the EA’s emissions from business travel by 48 per cent and from buildings by 22 per cent.

Kerry insists that we don’t have compromise our quality of life in order to cut emissions. Step forward Elon Musk, able to square high-end conspicuous consumption with the circle, nay halo, of eco-responsibility. Unlike the pious Prius, Musk’s Tesla makes electric cars the objects of desire. Available next year, the Model S Plaid+ will have a projected top speed of 200mph. And a price tag of about £140,000, which won’t be payable in Bitcoin. Musk recently tweeted that Tesla would not accepting the cryptocurrency because of its environmental impact – just before his Gulfstream landed in Luton.

As the Government ushers us towards the net zero future, it had better be sure of the science. The unintended consequences of getting this wrong will dwarf Labour’s debacle over diesel. As Chancellor, Gordon Brown levied cheaper car tax on diesel vehicles, which emitted lower carbon but higher pollutants, ultimately contributing to Britain’s poorer air quality.

Similarly, the pursuit of biodiversity was a factor in the EA’s decision not to dredge the Somerset Levels. Man-made ignorance of historical practise rather than man-made climate change caused the catastrophic floods of 2013/14.

If polls show that voters favour going green, they are not voting Green. In 2019, when we were in the grip of the Climate Emergency apocalypse now, with Greta berating the UN (‘how dare you?’) and Extinction Rebellion clogging London’s streets with its crusties, pink boat and showboating actor Emma Thompson, the Green Party won two million votes and seven seats in the Euro Elections. A fair result but outshone by the Brexit Party. Although they wanted a very different outcomes, both the Greens and Nigel Farage’s followers demanded seismic national change.

In this month’s elections, the Greens failed to gained seats to Wales’ Senedd, won just six per cent of the seats in the Scottish Parliament and garnered 358 votes in Hartlepool. A reasonable showing in the Bristol mayoral race is hardly a national mandate for the policies they advocate.

‘Let them drive Teslas’. The 2018/19 Gilets Jaunes protests in France were in part provoked by green taxes imposed by the Macron government, whose well-to-do members were perceived as increasingly out-of-touch.

Vote Blue, Go Green was a Cameron-era slogan for the Conservative Party. In going green, the current government must ensure voters in the blue and red walls never have to reach for their yellow vests.

It’s pronounced sigh-veen.

Richard Holden: Why Labour’s grip on seats like mine weakened. And how we can strenghten our own everywhere.

24 May

The Lazy Hollow Café & Patisserie, Mason St., Consett

Uma is, I’d guess, in her 50s. She’s buoyant, a good baker, and clearly one of those people who is not just hard-working, but also puts her heart and soul into everything she does.

A teaching assistant at a state comprehensive for the last quarter of a century, in December she took the plunge – “while I’m young enough”, she tells me – and decided to take on a café in Consett town centre. Duringg the final assembly at the school in which she worked, she tells me how she wept ,and speaks with real passion and care for the children she helped over the years.

I don’t know (and doesn’t ask) whether she voted for me or not. She gives me a little tour, and we have a couple of photos. Then we settle down to coffee and (the excellent cake she’s made), and just chat.  About education policy – an area of mutual interest – her new business and the challenges she’s facing, and the prospects of the largest town in my constituency.

She’s so positive and proud about what she and her team have done to this former job centre and amusement arcade, which is now a lovey café. And so they should be: it is fabulous.

Uma doesn’t fit the narrative that has developed of the normal Northern working-class voter that the media has portrayed as the “switch voter” that cost Labour the “Red Wall.” As a recent YouGov poll suggested – to the astonishment of many commentators – they’re pretty much like everyone else in the UK.

But, if that’s the case, three questions remain unanswered: first, why did these towns and villages continue to vote Labour for so long; second, why did they switch to the Conservatives and, third, why did they do so now?

So: why did they vote Labour in the first place? I think there are three historic differences in the political culture – the Red Wall ‘Holy Trinity’ that has slowly broken down over decades making these areas more similar to the rest of the country than before. Large unionised industries that re-enforced social class differences had an influence in everything from housing for the retired to the social clubs people went to of an evening; religion, via the non-establishment combination of Methodism and Roman Catholicism (both socially conservative – to varying degrees – but economically left-of-centre); and a traditional Labour Party of the people that was both of and in touch with these communities.

Over the last 60 years, especially since Wilson’s “White Heat of Technology” was accompanied by the pit closures of the late 1960s (people forget that Wilson closed more pits than anyone else) the beginning of the real decline in the traditional religious underpinnings took place.

These continued in the background for decades, but the break with Labour took longer. The party received a brief fillip in the early years of Tony Blair, but the break soon accelerated as ‘New Labour’ seemed to take votes but provide little in return. Many people stopped voting – and the Liberal Democrats made some moderate progressm, though rarely enough to more than dint in large Labour majorities.

Then followed a significant shift to the Britain-hating far left under Jeremy Corbyn – and the betrayal over Brexit further jolted these communities politically, too. On top of this, Labour just took their own voters for granted with too often lazy MPs (or at least MPs more interested in working on their interests rather than those of the communities they were supposed to serve) and that real, final, community orientated link between MP-Labour Party-constituency which had looked wobbly for a long time was broken.

All this can explain the move away from Labour: but why go Conservative – and why now? Well, it’s been a long, long process. The truth can be heard on the doorstep of seats like mine.

Many people barely saw a leaflet at election time, never mind between elections. And if they did get a leaflet or a knock-on-the-door they weren’t getting them from Conservatives. Conservatives were moribund, inactive and weren’t providing that alternative on the ground people were increasingly craving.

Votes spread out to the Liberal Democrats, Independents, UKIP and, sadly, to the “Won’t vote.” It was only in 2017 that the Conservative Party really realised that things could change in these seats, and started putting more effort in. That year saw a marked shift following Brexit towards the party. We must now use those results as a springboard to consolidate current constituencies, and push forward to more areas.

Moreover, there are these sort of former traditional Labour voters in every seat in the country. Ask any Conservative MP who campaigns hard in their patch. Traditional Labour wards in these areas – previously thought difficult to win – are now likely the strongest Conservative areas of these seats. These voters are there if people want to find them.

I read largely anonymous comments from some of my colleagues in other more ‘traditional’ Conservative parts of the country who put forward a variety of factors as to why seats were lost recently. Some put it down to national policy challenges but, given gains across the country from Cheltenham to Plymouth to Harlow to Delves Lane in Consett, and even Shaun Bailey in London trimming Sadiq Khan’s majority in what was meant to be the ‘heart’ of Labour, it’s clear that, actually, campaigning is what counts.

Given the national circumstances almost all seats we held could have remained Conservative if greater efforts had been made. I can see from the results across County Durham that the better the campaign, the better the result. For the first time in over 102 years, Labour may soon no longer run County Durham Council because of campaigning Conservatives.

Perhaps my thoughts are best summed up by one colleague from the South East England, apoplectic upon returning to Westminster having lost a council seat held by the Conservatives for generations. He said that he’d been telling his sitting councillor of ten years to campaign, but they kept brushing him off telling him they had “important meetings at County Hall to attend” – well, that councillor won’t be attending County Hall at all any more.

The Labour activists on the ground may still believe that someone’s so-called “class” defines their politics. That’s absolute nonsense and any Conservative who is idiotic enough to believe it needs their head examined. The “Holy Trinity” of why people voted Labour has broken down in the ‘Red Wall’ and elsewhere.

What counts is campaigning because, as that YouGov poll suggested, voters whether in the North of England of East London are not dissimilar. They want people out there and fighting for them and they’re open to voting Conservative if we’re prepared to put the effort in on the ground.

Iain Dale: The student said men are physically stronger than women. Now she’s been referred to the Student Disciplinary Board.

21 May

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

On Wednesday, Ryan Stephenson was selected as the Conservative candidate in Batley & Spen. The way some Tories are carring on, it’s already in the bag.

This is dangerous talk. Hartlepool is not Batley & Spen. Not all northern constituencies are the same. Indeed, this used to be a Conservative seat, with Elizabeth Peacock representing it from 1983 to 1997.

Since then, it’s been fairly solidly Labour, although at the last election the majority was reduced to 3,525. That year, an independent candidate, Paul Halloran, polled more than 6,400 votes, the majority of which seem to have come from Labour, if you compare the 2019 result with that of 2017.

Will Halloran stand again? I’ve had a look at his Facebook page, and he’s certainly strongly hinting that he might. However, if Jo Cox’s sister, Kim Leadbeater, gets the Labour nomination – the party is selecting on Sunday – that might put him off.

Labour seem to have learned their lesson from the disastrous imposition of their candidate in Hartlepool from a shortlist of one. This time, the local party will have a selection of candidates to choose from.

Everyone is assuming that Leadbeater is a shoo-in, but one should always remember that local candidates, though often seen as a real advantage by commentators, usually have local enemies. And local Labour Parties are usually a hotbed of plotting and chicanery.

Finally, it appears that George Galloway will be throwing his Fedora into the ring. He will try to win the substantial Muslim vote, which would normally be expected to row in behind Labour. The result of this by-election could well depend on how successful Galloway is.

For that and many other reasons, this by-election is likely to become the most well covered by the media for many years: indeed, this site carried a report from Andrew Gimson yesterday. Put your seatbelts on and hold tight.

– – – – – – – – –

The other by-election on the horizon is Chesham & Amersham, on June 17th. The Conservative candidate, selected a fortnight ago, Peter Fleet, has a majority of more than 16,000 to defend.

On the fact of it, the seat doesn’t look like the place where political earthquakes take place, but stranger things have happened. I was listening to the LibDem podcast this week (so you don’t have to), and they certainly have their dander up and think they can win it.

They base this on the fact that the seat had a 55 per cent Remain vote (or at least did in 2016). I’m not sure how relevant this is any longer. I mean, ‘Bollocks to Brexit’ worked for them so well in 2019. The vaccine rollout has certainly converted many people to the Brexit cause as well.

But complacency is the enemy of victory, and Conservative strategists should certain not rest on their laurels.

– – – – – – – – – –

Yet another example of the world going completely mad. A student at Abertay University, Dundee has been referred to the Student Disciplinary Board because in a seminar on Gender, she had the temerity to state that men are physically stronger than women.

This is obviously a thought crime and, in true Orwellian style, she must be banished to the Student Disciplinary Board for correctional training. And they say there is no need for a Free Speech Bill (Universities) Bill…

– – – – – – – – – –

Looks like the West Ham Variant will be hitting Europe in August… Come on You Irons!

– – – – – – – – – –

For the last three and a half years, I have hosted an hour-long panel show called Cross Question on a Wednesday evening on LBC. It’s similar in format to Any Questions or Question Time  with the main difference being the questions come from our callers.

We had to pause it during lockdown, because we couldn’t have four guests in the studio. But, since the beginning of March, we’ve had them all on a giant Zoom wall, and it’s worked rather well.

I deliberately keep the tone light and discourage too many heated confrontations. If people talk over each other on Zoom it sounds far worse than it does if they’re physically present. What I have found is that this engenders an atmosphere of positivity, with panellists agreeing with each other surprisingly often.

As well as big name politicians and commentators we’ve also used the show to try to discover new talent too. This week, we had Ndidi Okezie, chief executive of UK Youth on. She was an absolute revelation, with original things to say on every subject we covered. And we covered a lot of ground.

The show has been so successful that from next week we’re going to be doing it three times a week (Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday), live from our new studio in Westminster.

On Monday, we have a very tasty first panel with Diane Abbott, Sarah Vine, Polly Toynbee and Brandon Lewis. Our challenge is to keep up the quality of the guests, given that we’ll have three programmes to fill every week. And the great things is, as well as listening people are able to watch via the Global Player or Youtube. That’s modern radio for you!

Iain Dale: Until Labour stops telling voters they’re wrong, racist, or stupid, it will continue to decline

14 May

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

I rarely do a lot of preparation for an interview. Sometimes, the more preparation you do, the worse an interview is. Some interviewers war game every interview they do. I don’t. I find such an approach stultifying. It often just leads to you writing down a list of questions, and then asking them in the order they’re written down in.

My best interviews are invariably ones where I don’t have a single piece of paper in front of me. Yes, it’s risky. Freewheeling always is. But at the age of 58 and three quarters, I know what works for me and what doesn’t. However, there are exceptions to this rule and last night (as you read this) I will have interviewed the Israel Ambassador to London, Tzipi Hovotely, and conducted a phone-in.

I defy anyone to pretend they have a 100 per cent understanding of the Israel/Palestine situation, and everything that has led to the current unrest. So I am writing this column a little earlier than usual on Thursday morning to give me a little more time to read up on the situation.

I don’t call it preparation: I call it avoiding making a tit of yourself, and getting a key fact wrong. I don’t and won’t hide the fact that I am a supporter of Israel but, boy, does it make it hard for its advocates sometimes.

And this is one of them. I was slightly surprised when the Ambassador agreed to take calls from listeners, but delighted at the same time. As a presenter, I know it’s the calls from listeners that can often be far more difficult to handle than the questions from a professional interviewer.

If you missed the hour last night, you can catch up with it on the Global Player or the LBC Youtube Channel. And, next week, we’ll repeat the experience with the Palestinian Ambassador, Husam Zomlot. However balanced you try to be on this subject, though, there will always be people who accuse you of being biased and ignoring one viewpoint or the other. Such is life in the modern social media world.

– – – – – – – – – –

In my weekly email newsletter on Sunday I wrote:

“You can tell an awful lot about a politician by how they react to an election defeat. This week we learned that Sir Keir Starmer is neither a lucky general or is cool under fire.

His interview on Friday afternoon was a textbook classic of how not to react. He looked like a rabbit in the headlights and didn’t seem to comprehend the scale of what had happened.

He promised to take “full responsibility” himself. Twenty four hours later, we learned he had sacked Angela Rayner, the chair of the Labour Party and its campaign co-ordinator.

Given Labour’s problems seem to be a lack of ability to reach out to northern working class voter, it didn’t really seem a good idea to sack a norrthern working class woman.”

– – – – – – – – – –

The week hasn’t exactly improved for the man whose name is now invariably preceded by the word ‘beleaguered’. I find it genuinely perplexing to understand what has happened to Sir Keir since Christmas. During hhis first nine months as Labour leader, he established a positive reputation, and many Conservatives thought that at last they faced an opposition leader that the electorate could imagine as an alternative Prime Minister.

Since then, it’s all gone to pot. And last week’s elections demonstrated how, if not why. Labour had the odd positive result but, overall, they were a disaster. To lose the Hartlepool by-election by a country mile, to lose the West Midlands Mayoralty by a large margin, to come a bad third in Scotland and to lose 322 local council seats was quite the hattrick.

Again, there was little understanding in the Labour Party as to why it had happened. Judging from the lame reshuffle ,Starmer then conducted it was all Valerie Vaz’s fault.

The comment of a defeated northern Labour council leader sums up Labour’s problem. He said: “I hope the electorate don’t live to regret what they’ve done.” Effectively he was saying: it’s not us, it’s you. Too many people in the Labour Party think the electorate must be stupid and thick to vote the way they do. “We know what’s best for you,” they think subliminally.

Grace Blakely, the Tribune columnist, is a living example of this phenomenon – middle/upper middle class intellectuals who think they know how best to improve the life of the peasants – and woe betide those peasants if they don’t take notice of them.

What we are experiencing is another form of ‘peasants’ revolt’: ordinary people are telling their previous lords and masters that they are quite capable of judging things for themselves, thank you very much. They don’t need to be told they’re wrong, racist, or stupid. And until the Labour Party understands that, it will continue to decline in electoral popularity.

– – – – – – – – – –

The slow rise of the Greens is something most of the media has largely ignored. They gained a good clutch of council seats and an extra seat on the London Assembly. They have beaten the Liberal Democrats to be the third party in many of the major contests.

If I were the LibDems and Labour I’d be worried about this, since the Greens are becoming the home of the ‘plague on all your houses’ vote, as well as those who are disillusioned with Labour and the LibDems.

However, they also gained quite a number of seats from the Conservatives. So electoral strategists in all parties would do well to monitor the Greens locally.

If they ever started to build the kind of grassroots local networks that the LibDems did during the 1980s and 1990s, they could become a much bigger electoral threat than they currently are. Expect them to double the number of candidates they field in local council elections next year. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if within five years they had got more councillors across the country than the LibDems.

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

7 May

10.30am

Monday May 10

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

 

13.30

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

9am Sunday May 9

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

20.00

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

18.00

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

15.30

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

14.30

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

13.30

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

 

12.30

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

11.00 Saturday May 8

Paul Goodman reporting

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

19.00

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

 

17.30

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

16.30

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

 

15.30pm

Paul Goodman reporting

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


14.30pm

Charlotte Gill reporting

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

13.30pm

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

12.30pm

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

11.30am

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

 

10.30am

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

9.30am

Harry Phibbs reporting

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

8.30am

Paul Goodman reporting:

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

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

3 May

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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