Sunday 5 May 2024

The End of Tory Hopes

What a catastophic set of results for the Conservatives. Losing almost 500 councillors, the Tories met and exceeded what was the grimmest scenario as briefed by government supporters to friendly journalists. The Blackpool South by-election was much worse than all the polls forecast, with Labour enjoying its third biggest swing toward them from the Tories since the Second World War, and who only beat the overhyped Reform by 117 votes. The mayoral votes were similarly sobering. As widely forecast, Sadiq Khan stomped the far right fool Susan Hall in London. Who could have thought that a platform based on hating your own city and campaigning against clean air might have performed so poorly? In the East Midlands Labour's Claire Ward brushed aside the double-jobbing, thuggish Tory Ben Bradley. Andy Burnham breezed to victory in Manchester, where the Tories could barely muster 10%. The consolation was Teesside, where Ben Houchen's personal vote hoisted him above the Labour tide - despite being dogged by allegations of corruption about his peppercorn land transfer to a pair of business pals.

There were two results that stood out, one that has received plenty of coverage. One hardly any. The first is the ousting of Andy Street from the West Midlands by Richard Parker. Labour should have scooped this with ease, but the margins were exceedingly tight thanks to the impressive result of Akhmed Yakoob, the pro-Palestinian independent who came third and, to a lesser extent, Street's own personal vote. Because, like Houchen, he was able to defy the doldrums affecting the Tories nationally, but only up to a point. Yet in Tory land, this is being treated like a cataclysm to end all cataclysms. And in so doing, they're overlooking what they should see as the real disaster. For the new York and North Yorkshire combined authority, Labour swooped in and saw David Skaith returned by an eight point margin over the Tories. This isn't just another region. It is home to some of the safest Conservative constituencies in the country. Skipton and Ripon (23,694 maj), Thirsk and Malton (25,154), and Rishi Sunak's own Richmond (27,210) are here, along with three others with majorities hovering around the 10,000 mark. The Tories should have been able to rely on this rock solid support to gift them the mayoralty. That they didn't suggests the hole they're in is much deeper than even their critics appreciate.

Why is a marginal mayoralty being treated as if pregnant with existential menace while the loss of a safe heartland gets a shrug of the shoulders? There are a few reasons. The first is expectations. Despite North Yorkshire being ultra safe, the loss was already priced in. A regional poll undertaken at the end of April reported a 14-point lead for Labour. In the head of those Tory MPs who follow public opinion, the contest was a write off. This was not the case in the WestMids where the polling put Labour and the Conservatives quite close. It offered MPs and activists a bit of hope, which was cruelly snatched away by the fates. The second is precisely because of the marginal nature of the WestMids. Had the Tories won there, they might have convinced themselves that matters aren't as bleak in the country as the polls keep saying. North Yorkshire, you might suppose, would stay Tory come what may when the election comes. And lastly, MPs wanted to see proof that name recognition can out perform party identity. Why? A surprising amount of MPs fancy themselves as someone who got into Westminster because of their character, abilities, and campaigning profile. The colour of the rosette, to their mind, was incidental. If Street had won, some Tories would have felt they too could buck the trend by marketing themselves as arms length local Conservatives whose fantastic personalities and constituency following might escape the toxicity of the party label. This is why a pall of dread has descended over so many of them. The good people of the WestMids region have closed off their slight ray of hope.

1 comment:

Rodney said...

The lack of attention on the York and North Yorkshire result is strange but a possible reason is that it's seen as a poison chalice, the £18 million annual budget is utterly inadequate to actually do anything in the region and so winning it wasn't seen as important. That would certainly explain why the Tory candidate was such a clown that he proposed nationalising Scarborough's Grand Hotel. I believe it was an attempt at a dog whistle, a promise to not let any refugees be housed there but it was such an odd suggestion, especially when the Mayor has a very small budget, that the underlying message wasn't received.

Or it's just that it's up north so no one in the Westminster bubble cares about it.

Regardless Labour may come to regret controlling so many layers of government in a year or two when blaming the previous government for their total inaction starts to ring hollow and they don't have any regional scapegoats to blame.