Robert Halfon: Before polling day, a reminder of the good this Government has done

4 May

Robert Halfon is MP for Harlow, a former Conservative Party Deputy Chairman, Chair of the Education Select Committee and President of Conservative Workers and Trade Unionists.

With sincere apologies to the Editor of ConservativeHome, if there was ever a nickname for this wonderful website, it might be ‘Conservative Groan’ or ‘Conservative Moan’.

“The Government should do this, the Government should do that”. “The Government have got this policy wrong.” “No – they’ve got that policy wrong”. “The leadership is Un-conservative”. “No – now it’s too Conservative”.

You get the point. As a regular columnist on this site arguing the case for x, y and z, I should know!

But in February I wrote a column urging the Tory Westminster village to remember our hard-working councillors and activists who are working day and night to keep our councils Conservative.

The loss of Tory councillors does not just mean poor local government, but also a real hit to our activist base in constituencies. When a councillor loses their seat, we often lose their family and friends too. Fewer activists equals less leafleting and campaigning which hits all MPs come election time.

Sadly, in the past few weeks, whilst our activists have been hard at work waging the ground war, canvassing street by street, the war for the airwaves can be best described as too cloudy to wage. Some Conservatives have been taking aim at each other, or lobbing grenades into the political mix.

In order to counter, this as we go to the polls tomorrow it is worth a reminder not just the known fact that Tory Councils cost the public less with lower council tax, but of some of the good things the Government have done, particularly in spreading opportunity.

The Lifetime Skills Guarantee giving adults a new chance to get valuable qualifications. The 1.9 million children in good or outstanding schools. The fuel duty cut on top of the eleven year fuel duty freeze. The increased Living Wage, £150 Council Tax rebate and lower tax thresholds. The £2.6 billion Levelling Up funds, rebuilding our towns and infrastructure.

Then there’s Britain’s role and leadership in the Ukraine war. Our world-leading Covid vaccination programme. A ban to end ground rent charges on leases in England and Wales, and a manifesto commitment to build 300,000 new homes a year.

If I had more column space, I could go on and on as there would be plenty more to add. When things are getting gloomy, as they do for any Government, it is worth reminding ourselves of these achievements.

I suspect tomorrow there might be some Conservatives who may be tempted to sit on their hands as a form of protest given the events of the past few months. Reassuringly, on the doorsteps, we are not seeing a great movement or swing back to Labour, but it is this abstention protest which may cause us difficulties.

So the test tomorrow will be how good all of us are in getting out the Conservative Vote.

In the meantime, I wish all good fortune to every Council Candidate running tomorrow. You deserve to win.

A Windfall Tax

Rishi Sunak is right to float the idea of a windfall tax on the oil companies.

That well known left-winger, Margaret Thatcher, imposed a windfall tax on the oil and bank industry during the 1980s during the difficult economic situation and the recession. She did it because these companies were making wads of cash and because there was a need to deal with the national debt and the deficit.

Currently, with the oil companies raking it in, making many billions of pounds of profits during the cost of living crisis, there is a similar case for a windfall tax to be made. The oil bosses are not doing too badly either (the current Shell CEO got a £4.5 million bonus on top of a £76 million ever increasing annual salary).

The oil companies have also been ripping us off at the petrol pumps, taking ages to reduce prices when the international oil price falls, yet jacking them up straight away when global oil costs rises.

I don’t accept that a windfall tax would mean the loss of thousands of jobs and less investment. They said this in the past and it did not happen.

A few billion pounds raised from a windfall tax, could be used to fund a tax cut for the lower paid. This is Conservative redistribution – fairer capitalism to give those on lower incomes, more of their monies back.

PS. Great news that Boris has ditched plans to ban buy one get free (BOGOF) at supermarkets. Hopefully this will mean an end to hectoring food policies that favour the rich over the less well off.

Robert Halfon: Without a strong local councillor base, we are nothing as a Party. We forget our councillors at our peril.

22 Feb

Robert Halfon is MP for Harlow, a former Conservative Party Deputy Chairman, Chair of the Education Select Committee and President of Conservative Workers and Trade Unionists.

Whatever has gone on in the past few months – and of course we all have our strong views – as Parliamentarians we must, must, must have a huge duty of care and support for our councillors and activists.

It really worries me when the so-called ‘Westminster Village’ discusses the future of the party leadership “depending on the extent of hundreds of councillor losses in the local elections”.

It is as if these councillors are pawns on a chess board, or a digital army in some kind of Westminster ‘Call of Duty’ computer game, rather than hard working local politicians doing the best for their district and our political party. These councillors and active members are the ones who often keep local constituency parties afloat. When they get elected, they usually bring their families and friends to help campaign. If they lose their seats, sometimes their support networks go. So like an unvirtuous circle, the local constituency association gets smaller and weaker too.

Why do I say this?

Because when I was first selected as Parliamentary Candidate in Harlow, it was our local councillors who kept the Harlow Conservative Party show on the road following the 1997 wipeout. They were the ones who worked hard in the darkest days of opposition to keep the Tory flame of freedom alive. These campaigners were there – not just when it was fashionable or easy to do so, but when it was hard. It is exciting to join a political movement when things are going well. Much tougher to become a member and help keeps things afloat when your party almost has pariah status – as it did in the early years of opposition.

One of those such councillors is my longstanding voluntary Agent, Councillor Simon Carter, who works day and night for his local community. After 1997, he moved the local Tory office into his house and just a few councillors kept the Association going. Such support from Conservative councillors has and continues to happen across the country.

Harlow Conservatives now have a proper office, many more members and only the second Tory council majority in Harlow in the Town’s political history. However, anyone with any sense knows that it can quickly disappear, if the public believe that Conservatives are arguing amongst themselves and not focusing on real priorities such as the cost of living, housing and education. My majority of 14,000 (after six elections) would be vaporised without the support and backing from all my councillors for over 20 years.

It is worth remembering that the 1997 general election defeat did not just come about because of the goings-on at Westminster but because in the run-up, we lost thousands of our councillor base from Tory bastions like Essex and Tunbridge Wells. This loss happened not due to the fault of these Tory councils, but because of the shenanigans and Tory civil war in Westminster that started pretty soon after the unexpected Conservative election victory in 1992.

Of course it is right to have debates and disagreements about policy. No one is seeking to close this down. Policy discussion is critical. As regular readers of ConservativeHome will know, I do this myself regularly on these pages. In my role as Chair of the Education Committee, it is also my job to scrutinise education policy and try and suggest ideas for improvement.

But, in the run-up to the local elections, if we continue to give the appearance that we are focused internally on ourselves and are negative about the party leadership publicly and politically, then all the leaflets and campaigning will not amount to a row of beans. The electorate will just give the Conservatives a big fat raspberry in May.

It won’t be us MPs losing their sense of purpose and seats but councillors who have mostly lost because of us, not because of them. Not only will we have helped destroy their political opportunities, but town halls will be overrun with Labour and Liberal Democrats, with the ensuing high tax, high-spend policies this will bring. Don’t be surprised in the marginal seats particularly, that bad election results mean less local Tory campaigners, but also many more Opposition activists as well.

All I care about over the next few weeks is that my remarkable team of councillors and council candidates do well at the May elections. They deserve it. They work hard week-in-week-out campaigning, delivering leaflets whether it is in the midst of Storm Eunice or a Tsunami. Westminster folk have a duty not to be self-indulgent. I owe it to my local constituency party campaigners just as colleagues will owe it to theirs. Let us put our big political disagreements in Westminster aside – at least for now – and just relentlessly focus on helping our councillors win in May.

Gavin Williamson: Skills, jobs and freedom. My priorities for this week’s Queen’s Speech – and the year ahead.

14 May

Gavin Williamson is Secretary of State for Education, and is MP for South Staffordshire.

The election results last week demonstrated that today’s Conservative party commands support across the length and breadth of the nation. Whether it was in Devon, Dudley or Durham, the voters who first put their faith in the Prime Minister in 2019 resoundingly confirmed that the Conservatives are they party they trust to deliver results, to create opportunity and to stand up for Britain.

And with the first part of our mandate delivered – to Get Brexit Done – attention is rightly turning to our commitment and determination to level up the nation.

The Education Bills that her Majesty announced in the Queen’s Speech are at the living, beating heart of that agenda. The Skills and Post-16 Education Bill will deliver fundamental reforms to our college and university system, making it as easy to study a vocational course, at any age, as it is to go to university.

The Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill will put an end once and for all to the chilling effect of cancel culture in universities.

And alongside this legislation, we will be continuing to drive improvement in our schools, completing the revolution begun in 2010. We are supporting all schools to join strong multi-academy trusts, embedding a consistent culture on discipline and behaviour, and working with the Education Recovery Commissioner, Sir Kevan Collins, to develop an ambitious, long-term plan for recovery – on top of the more than £2 billion we have already invested for this purpose.

At the heart of our reforms is the new Skills Bill. Ever since I became Education Secretary, my mantra has been Further Education, Further Education, Further Education.

For too long in this country, technical and vocational education has played second fiddle to university. It’s left our economy short of the vital technical skills they need, our employers dependent on importing labour and too many of our citizens left behind by a culture that values academic qualifications above all else.

Our new Lifelong Loan Entitlement will change that, giving everyone the equivalent of four years of post-18 education to use over their lifetime – at their local college, or at university. This is levelling up in action, and it will turbocharge our economy by getting people back into jobs and Britain working again.

In addition to the Lifelong Loan Entitlement, the Bill contains measures to strengthen our great further education colleges, the engines of opportunity that lie at the centre of our towns. New legislation will put employers at the heart of our skills reforms, joining forces with further education colleges to ensure young people can be confident they are taking high-quality, work-relevant courses that will get them the good jobs they deserve.

We are going to make sure there is a better balance between the skills that local employers want from their workforce and those that are being taught by colleges so that young people have a valuable and top-quality alternative to university.

Rather than encourage people to leave home to find a rewarding career, we intend to empower them to find fulfilling and rewarding work wherever they live, invigorating communities and driving economic growth, up and down the country.

It is a natural progression to the ground-breaking reforms we have already been rolling out, such as our T level and apprenticeship programmes, and which will deliver the skilled individuals to boost the post-pandemic economy and bring down unemployment.

And finally, the Bill will strengthen the ability of the Office for Students to crack down on low quality courses, delivering on our manifesto commitment. Our universities, which have played such a vital role in developing the vaccines and treatments to beat Covid-19, must be a fundamental part of levelling up through the Lifelong Loan Entitlement.

The record number of people taking up science and engineering demonstrates that many are already starting to pivot away from dead-end courses that leave young people with nothing but debt – and our reforms will open the way for them to embrace the opportunities offered by degree apprenticeships, higher technical qualifications, modular learning and our flagship Institutes of Technology.

Whether in the Tory shires or the Red Wall, the people of Britain have more in common than not. They want good jobs, better living standards and to own their own home. They want to know that they can trust their local school to give their children a good education, that their streets at safe at night, they can get a GP appointment when they need one. And, fundamentally, they want a society that offers a fair deal, where hard work pays off and the talented can get ahead, whatever their background.

And, as they demonstrated in 2016, and again in 2019, they believe in Britain. They know that while we may not always be perfect, this country has historically been a force for good in the world, and continues to be one of the best, fairest and most tolerant places to live and work.

The citizens of this country care deeply about injustice, rightly abhor racism, and increasingly recognise that love is love – but they have little patience with the increasingly intolerant and puritanical strand of the far left, which seems to be perpetually ashamed of our flag, our nation and our history. They have no truck with nonsense such as the denigration of Churchill, the ‘cancelling’ of our great naval heroes such as Drake and Nelson, or the renaming of buildings named after David Hume, a pillar of the Scottish Enlightenment, or the reforming Prime Minister, William Gladstone, who amongst other things implemented universal primary education for our children.

Our universities have a long and proud history of being spaces in which differing views or beliefs can be expressed without fear of censure, in recent years this has come under threat. There are increasing concerns of a chilling effect, with students and academics who dare to disagree with the campus consensus facing abuse, intimidation and even threats of investigation, dismissal or expulsion.

While the majority of academics and students believe in free speech, too many universities have allowed a small minority of activists to determine what can and cannot be said, for example by making law-abiding student societies pay security costs to invite mainstream speakers, rather than standing up to those willing to threaten violence to shut down speech.

I wrote a year ago that if universities didn’t protect free speech, the Government would. That is why we have introduced our Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill, delivering on our manifesto commitment to protect free speech and academic freedom in universities. The Bill will strengthen existing duties on universities to promote free speech, extend these duties to students’ unions and establishing a director in the Office for Students to protect and promote these rights – including levying fines where necessary.

The programme of reforms my Department is implementing delivers for citizens across our electoral coalition. It rewards the new voters who have put their faith in us for the first time, trusting us to deliver the opportunity, prosperity and better lives that Labour has so sadly failed to provide for them. And it reassures our traditional voters that the torch of liberty, democracy and freedom burns as brightly within the Conservative party today as it ever did. As the Prime Minister has said, we are going to unite and level up our nation, and education is at the core of that mission.

Daniel Hannan: Super Thursday’s results weren’t a victory for conservatism, but for our leader: Brexity Jezza

12 May

Lord Hannan of Kingsclere is a Conservative peer, writer and columnist. He was a Conservative MEP from 1999 to 2020, and is now President of the Initiative for Free Trade.

It was, as every pundit rushed to explain, an incumbency vote. The Conservatives held England, Labour held Wales and the SNP held Scotland. In a crisis, people rallied to the regime.

Yes. But let’s spell out, in full depressing detail, precisely what kind of regimes they were rallying to. They were rallying to free stuff. They were voting gratefully for administrations that were ladling out grants, subsidies and interest-free loans. They were cheerfully endorsing the idea of being paid to stay at home.

Indeed, they had little option but to vote for these things. Who was offering an alternative? What politician, in the current mood, wants to be the gloomster reminding everyone that accounts must be settled? Who feels like being a Cassandra, droning on about how the debts of the past 14 months will drag us down for years to come? I mean, look what happened to Cassandra.

The rise of big government is paradoxically bad news for Labour. Boris Johnson has always had a thing about bridges, airports and other grands projets. Even before the pandemic hit, the man who once described himself as a “Brexity Hezza” was starting to unscrew the spending taps. But the lockdowns altered the fiscal terms of trade utterly and irretrievably. Not so much Brexity Hezza now as Brexity Jezza.

Corbynistas are claiming belated vindication. “You see? There was a magic money tree after all! Your guy is spending more than our guy ever promised!” Yes, he is. And that is precisely Labour’s problem. How can Keir Starmer – how can anyone – criticise the government for not spending enough? The usual Labour line, namely that they’d be more open-handed than those heartless Tories, is redundant.

If it can’t attack the Government on fiscal policy, what else can Labour go for? Sleaze? Yeah, right, good luck with that. The country decided early on that it was fond of the PM. Sure, he might be seen as a bit chaotic, but he is doing things that people like. At a time when he is leading the UK through a world-beating vaccination programme, moaning about a redecoration that is not alleged to have cost taxpayers a penny is not just pointless, but self-defeating. Labour has made itself look unutterably small during a crisis. Wallpaper for Boris, curtains for Keir.

Green issues, then? Again, forget it. The PM has embraced the eco-agenda as wholeheartedly as any head of government on the planet. Labour would, as voters correctly perceive, pursue the same agenda, but in a less cost-effective and market-friendly way.

With economics, sleaze and environmentalism off the table, Labour is left only with the culture war. Oddly, this is one of the few issues that unites Corbynites and Starmerites. The trouble is, it doesn’t unite them with anyone else. The two Labour factions squabble furiously on Twitter, but both are leagues away from the patriotic working people who used to be their party’s mainstay.

As Khalid Mahmood, the Birmingham MP, put it after the result: “A London-based bourgeoisie, with the support of brigades of woke social media warriors, has effectively captured the party”. Mahmood was the first British Muslim MP, and is generally happy to take up causes for his co-religionists outside Birmingham. But he has little time for identity politics – at least, not in the deranged form that the British Left seems hell-bent on importing from the United States. In common with most Brits of all ethnic backgrounds, Mahmood a patriot, proud of having had ancestors in the Merchant Navy in both world wars. That his love of country should set him at odds with the Labour leadership is telling.

The culture war is where Labour is weakest. Corbyn was more or less openly anti-British, siding automatically with any nation against his own, regardless of the issue. Starmer at least sees why this is unpopular, and does his best to be photographed from time to time with flags. But, coming late and awkwardly to patriotism, he offers a slightly cringe-making version. The country at large – not just Labour’s old base, but the 80-plus per cent of us who think that, with all its faults, Britain has been a benign force down the years – senses his inauthenticity. As I write, opinion polls suggest an 11-point Conservative lead.

The combination of social liberalism and extreme internationalism that Corbynites and Stamerites share is, outside a few cities with big universities, unpopular. That may change over time, of course. The historian Ed West, rarely a man to look on the bright side, believes that demographic change will eventually align the electorate with Labour’s purse-lipped culture warriors. The population, he glumly notes, “is going to be more diverse, more urban, more single, more university-educated and more impoverished by rental prices” – all trends that help Labour.

Perhaps so. Indeed, as Henry Hill noted on this site yesterday, the one region of England where the Conservatives have started slipping is my old patch, the South East. Local election results saw reverses in Kent, Surrey, Sussex, Oxfordshire and (by extrapolation from the new boundaries) Buckinghamshire. But, to be brutally frank, it makes little difference. Under the first-past-the-post system, the Tories can slide a lot further in the Home Counties without endangering more than three or four MPs. For the next couple of election cycles, at least, the Long Awokening won’t much matter.

No, far more alarming is the way in which fiscal conservatism has simply disappeared, an early casualty of the lockdowns. Even as the country reopens, there is almost no talk of cutting spending back to where it was, let alone of starting to repay our debts. Just as after 1945, a collective threat has made us more collectivist. We crave big government. We feel we have earned a pay rise, and we vote accordingly. The Labour Party may have had it; but so, alas, has the free market.

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

11 May

Sam Hall is the Director of the Conservative Environment Network

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

10 May

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

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

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

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

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

CONSERVATIVE GAIN

Cheshire

CONSERVATIVE GAIN

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

CONSERVATIVE GAIN

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

Dorset

CONSERVATIVE GAIN

Gloucestershire

Gwent

LABOUR HOLD

Hampshire

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

CONSERVATIVE GAIN

Kent

CONSERVATIVE HOLD

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

TBC

Leicestershire

CONSERVATIVE GAIN

Lincolnshire

CONSERVATIVE HOLD

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

LABOUR HOLD

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

TBC

North Yorkshire

CONSERVATIVE HOLD

South Wales

LABOUR HOLD

Staffordshire

CONSERVATIVE HOLD

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

CONSERVATIVE GAIN

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

LABOUR HOLD

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

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

TBC

Some quick thoughts about the results:

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

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

10 May

Richard Holden is MP for North West Durham.

The Louisa Centre, Stanley, County Durham

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

7 May

10.30am

Monday May 10

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

 

13.30

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

9am Sunday May 9

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

20.00

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

18.00

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

15.30

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

14.30

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

13.30

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

 

12.30

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

11.00 Saturday May 8

Paul Goodman reporting

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

19.00

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

 

17.30

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

16.30

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

 

15.30pm

Paul Goodman reporting

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


14.30pm

Charlotte Gill reporting

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

13.30pm

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

12.30pm

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

11.30am

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

 

10.30am

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

9.30am

Harry Phibbs reporting

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

8.30am

Paul Goodman reporting:

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

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

4 May

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3 May

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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