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Westlake Legal Group > Conservative strategy

The Boris bounce: where are the votes coming from, and where might more be available?

As you’d expect on the Sunday after a new Prime Minister takes office, there are a raft of new polls out in today’s newspapers, each trying to judge what impact Boris Johnson’s arrival in Downing Street is having on the electorate.

The four polls vary in various details beyond being from different pollsters – some include different lists of parties (Greens or no Greens), some are based on more recent fieldwork than others and might therefore pick up the effects of more news about the new Government, and they each test rising or falling vote shares by comparing back to differently dated previous polls, ranging from earlier this week to all the way back to the start of June. Here are all the details:


Conservative: 28 per cent (+3)

Labour: 27 per cent (-1)

Liberal Democrat: 19 per cent (+2)

Brexit Party: 16 per cent (-3)

Green: 4 per cent (-1)

Poll undertaken Wednesday 24th – Thursday 25th July. Changes compared to 16th July.


Conservative: 31 per cent (+6)

Labour: 21 per cent (+2)

Liberal Democrat: 20 per cent (-3)

Brexit Party: 13 per cent (-4)

Poll undertaken Thursday 25th July – Friday 26th July. Changes compared to 24th July.


Conservative: 30 per cent (+10)

Labour: 25 per cent (-1)

Liberal Democrat: 18 per cent (+2)

Brexit Party: 14 per cent (-10)

Poll undertaken Thursday 25th July – Saturday 27th July. Changes compared to 1st June.


Conservative: 30 per cent (+7)

Labour: 28 per cent (+3)

Liberal Democrat: 16 per cent (+1)

Brexit Party: 15 per cent (-7)

Green: 5 per cent (-3)

Poll undertaken Wednesday 24th – Friday 26th July. Changes compared to 5th July.

There are few things to note.

First, the Conservative vote is up in each poll. Which you believe, +3, +6, +7 or +10, is up to you, but the presence of a shift in the same direction in the findings of each company is hard to ignore.

Second, the Brexit Party appears to be being squeezed, with changes in their vote share of -3, -4, -10 and -7. Watch how closely those match the Tory rise in each respective pollster’s results.

Third, the Liberal Democrat vote is essentially unchanged across the board: +2, -3, +2, +1. They gained a new leader this week, just as the Conservatives did, but Jo Swinson appears not to have changed their standing much at all as yet.

Fourth, Labour is essentially unchanged, too: -1, +2, -1, +3.

So what we’re currently seeing is not a single, two-sided race, as is traditional; nor a simple free-for-all melee in a country which has become a four-way marginal.

Rather, there are two electoral contests underway. The Conservatives under Boris Johnson are squeezing the Brexit Party, to try to reunite the old Vote Leave majority for getting out of the EU. At the same time, Labour and the Liberal Democrats are battling over territory which is varyingly lefty and Remainy.

In the former contest, Johnson’s early days show some promise, but in the latter it appears Labour are unable to win back the votes they lost to the Lib Dems, while Swinson is in search of a moment to cut through to further eat into, and maybe even overtake, the Labour vote.

Each race has one new participant within it, which makes both unpredictable and subject to potentially swift change as voters get to know the new leaders. While the Conservatives have made early progress, any actual seizure of voters from the Brexit Party at the ballot box is for obvious reasons dependent on actual results in delivering Brexit. By contrast, Swinson inevitably had difficulty cutting through in the media in a week dominated by Boris Johnson, but as the only female leader among the four top parties, and the youngest leader too, she has a clear chance to differentiate herself if she gets and seizes the opportunity. She must be hoping hard for a TV debate along the lines of the one that created Cleggmania in 2010.

The final thing to consider is that while these early stages of Johnson’s leadership involve a battle for votes with the Brexit Party, there’s nothing confining the Prime Minister to that conflict forever. If – and it’s not a small if – he can really squish down Nigel Farage’s vote, or somehow form a pact with him, then he can turn, secure in his Brexit flank, to focus more fully on Labour. The nightmare scenario for the Opposition is one in which they lose Remainer and moderate left ground to the resurgent Liberal Democrats and Leaver plus working class ground to the Conservatives.

In a four-way contest, currently divided into two skirmishes, the race is on to find who will be trapped fighting two opponents at the same time.

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Andrew Kennedy: To energise our Party, and restore it to winning ways, Cleverly must reform its voluntary organisation

Cllr Andrew Kennedy is the Group Agent and Campaign Director in West Kent. He blogs at www.votingandboating.blogspot.com

“Nothing has changed…nothing has changed.”

This short sentence perfectly summed up the despair and frustration of Theresa May about her faltering 2017 election campaign. And “nothing has changed” perfectly sums up how most of us feel about the progress made on voluntary party reform since the publication of the Feldman Review almost five years ago.

In my evidence to that review I demonstrated that the average Conservative Association spent just 16 per cent of its income on campaigning, with 58 per cent used for internal administration and 26 per cent on premises and utilities.

Five years later, those figures have barely changed. If the voluntary party nationwide matched the 66 per cent spent on campaigning in West Kent that would pour an extra £10 million per annum into our core task, which remains winning elections. Just imagine how many more votes we could win, and how much more relevant the voluntary party would be, if we could redirect that £10 million.

With a new leader and Prime Minister comes a new Party Chairman – and with that new Party Chairman comes another chance to implement what is already widely agreed, and overwhelmingly supported, by votes at the National Convention, namely the wholesale reform of our voluntary organisation to make it “fit for purpose”.

Reform of our management and reporting structures

Archie Norman’s reforms of 1997 drastically reduced the size of our management committees. These roles (Chairman plus two deputies) are too broad and deep to be done properly or efficiently. Office-holders cherry-pick the bits of the job that they like, spitting out the unpleasant and unpalatable pips. We need to revisit our local leadership and make the following alterations.

The role of Chairman should stay, but with renewed focus on setting and managing performance indicators. The Treasurer’s role should be re-established in its own right, and the job specs of the two Deputy Chairmen should be split into six new specific roles:

Doorstep campaigning: traditional canvassing and VI;

Delivery co-ordinator: developing and maintaining delivery networks

Digital and Social Media Fundraising: social activity and events

Membership: recruitment and following-up lapsed members\Engagement: encouraging members and supporters to become activists.

Youth: Young Conservatives and campus activity

Outreach: building relationships with faith groups, commuters, farmers and other sympathetic special-interest groups. This new structure should be replicated, where possible, at branch, association, area and regional levels, ensuing clear lines of direction and responsibility throughout the voluntary Party.

Reform of Terms of Office and Annual Meetings

It is ridiculous that our Officers are elected annually and therefore those elected immediately after a General Election are seldom in office when the next election is fought. It is also risible that Annual Meetings are held in March, taking up time and resource during a campaign period, when we should be focussed on elections. We should seek to follow the American Republican Party model where:

Officers at all levels (from branch to region) are elected immediately after a General Election, and remain in office until the next General Election (up to five years).

Their first function would be to review the success/failure of the GE locally, and then put in place a detailed plan to address weaknesses and ensure a better result next time.

General Meetings to be moved to June so that they are clear of campaigning periods, with the primary purpose changed from the election of officers, to the review and management of performance and targets.

These changes would ensure the team that devised the plan were responsible and accountable for delivering its outcome; would provide continuity of leadership at all levels, and most importantly, give ownership of the strategy to those elected to deliver it.

Reform of buildings, staffing and operations

We still own too many buildings that we cannot afford to heat, and employ too many long-serving secretaries, who spend their time printing tickets and inviting people to attend coffee-mornings to raise money to pay the secretary to print more tickets for more coffee-mornings! Groupings/joint-working work because sharing premises and staff-costs releases money to spend on elections, which is the primary purpose of our existence as a political party.

We need to establish a national network of Campaign Centres each covering sufficient constituencies to provide the organisation with a secure financial base.

Association freeholds should be sold and capital invested wisely to provide long-term income.

Each Campaign Centre should have a Director responsible for strategy and development, an Agent responsible for legal and compliance issues, and sufficient secretarial support to look after the routine needs of the member Associations.

Each Member Association should be a full and equal partner, but financial contribution to the running of the Group should be based on a pro-rata membership levy.

CCHQ should be willing to subsidise individual Groupings until they are financially stable (for example, after two years the West Kent Group was able to raise 40 per cent of its running costs, considerably reducing the financial burden on member Associations).

Campaigning, procurement and routine management issues should be devolved to the Groupings from the centre whenever possible, improving localism and giving candidates and activists greater ownership of their campaigns

Reform of the National Convention and the Party Board
Much to the surprise of fellow party reformers, I am not convinced of the wisdom of electing the Party Chairman. Any democratic advantage this might bring would probably be out-weighed by the risk and potential damage of electing a Chairman at odds with the Party Leader. This does not, however, preclude the need for significant reform over how the Voluntary Party is represented at Board level.

If we elect Branch, Association, Area and Regional Officers for the lifetime of a Parliament we should consider doing likewise for members of the Party Board, and covering their expenses, so the roles are accessible to all members based on merit and ability, not just those wealthy enough to finance the expenditure.

There should be specific roles on the Party Board with candidates competing for one of them, rather than the present three Vice-President roles with responsibilities allocated ad hoc as is presently the case.

A new position of Deputy Chairman of the Party should be established and elected by the members. This person would be, in effect, head of the Voluntary Party at Board level, with the existing Chairman still appointed by the Leader.

It is a nonsense that the voluntary Party’s representatives on the Board are elected by a few hundred people, from a membership of 160,000. The franchise (presently members of the National Convention) should be expanded to include all Party Members.

With internal elections once every Parliament (rather than every year) there is no reason we shouldn’t have a series of national hustings and a proper ballot to fully engage our membership and test the candidates in a public forum.

To summarise:

Groupings – to reduce costs and ensure all Associations have access to professional advice and support.

Leadership – to focus our efforts where they are needed and to share the workload

Accountability – to our members, donors and activists

Empowerment – of our Associations, and the re-establishment of autonomy

Continuity – building on what works, whilst implementing the much-needed reforms that we all know must come.

As I wrote five years ago, we must not allow ourselves to continue to manage decline, with a few recalcitrant associations paying lip-service to change whilst working tirelessly to block it. To deliver and implement these reforms we will need a Chairman who will lead, not just manage; someone with the charisma to take the voluntary party on a journey many of its members will be reluctant to make, and to finally deliver those exciting reforms that gave so many of us hope before they sank in the grey-suited mediocrity of the past three years.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Baker and Cummings, the rare honest men

‘Steve Baker often disagreed with me, sometimes very strongly, but he was a rare person in the campaign – an honest man.’ That was the verdict Dominic Cummings passed on High Wycombe’s MP in a post-referendum wash-up blogpost on why and how Vote Leave did what it did.

Those are relatively rare words of genuine praise from Boris Johnson’s new senior adviser. If you’ve read Cummings’ blog, and if you haven’t then you should, you will already know that he pulls approximately zero punches on basically anything or anyone, especially when assessing people on his own side. ‘Many hours of life I’m never getting back were spent dealing with abysmal infighting among dysfunctional egomaniacs…’ is just one sample discussion of some of his enforced allies in the same article.

So there’s every reason to believe him when he has something positive to say about Baker. As well as recognising his deeply-ingrained honesty, he ascribes to him ‘a vital role’ in the failure of the attempt by some MPs and Vote Leave Board members to turf Cummings out of his role as Vote Leave’s strategist and campaign director.

The two had various wobbles and fallings-out during the campaign itself, as Cummings conceded within that compliment – being honest but wrong about things is preferable to being a liar and wrong, but still not as good as honest and right. But Baker’s intervention during that coup helped to avoid otherwise certain disaster for the whole campaign, and his work in Parliament keeping the pressure up on the Government over the terms of the referendum helped to move the dial subtly but beneficially in Leave’s favour.

Baker’s honesty can inspire those around him, infuriate them, or discomfort them – neither really matters to him more than that he is sticking with what he believes to be true. In that, he’s rather like Cummings himself, whose life’s work is focused not so much on politics as on a battle to assert the primacy of evidence and reason over what he sees as the dominance of self-serving delusion, routinely excused after the fact by a confection of self-fulfilling deceit. Both men hold to that insistence on clarity despite – or sometimes because of – the degree to which others in Westminster find it uncomfortable.

It’s a defining and dividing quality, particularly in politics. It’s what has made Baker a raven in the Tower for some Brexiteers, treated as their sure indicator of when all’s well or when something’s wrong, and simultaneously a figure of fury for others who believe his “Brexit hard man” stance over the Withdrawal Agreement might cost Brexit entirely.

Cummings and other Vote Leave veterans – and therefore the Government – know the benefit of having him on-side rather than in rebellion. Vote Leave benefited from Baker acting as a rebel against Cameron over purdah, for example, and the strategist himself benefited from Baker’s rejection of rebellion during the internal coup attempt.

But this time, they’ve lost him, at least from what Corbynites would call Core Group Loyal. While Baker was often seen in lock-step with Boris Johnson and his coterie during the leadership campaign, last night he walked out of Downing Street without a job, having turned down an offer to be restored to his old job at DEXEU.

His tweeted announcement of that decision said that “I cannot repeat my experience of powerlessness as a junior DEXEU minister”, but also that “I have total confidence in Boris Johnson to take us out of the EU by 31 Oct.”

It’s a slightly confusing comment: the experience of powerlessness in DEXEU as the Cabinet Office secretly prepared Chequers surely wouldn’t be repeated by a Prime Minister in whom you have total confidence to keep their promise. It appears to be a case of once bitten, twice shy – a junior DEXEU post doesn’t have the guaranteed access or power to absolutely certainly prevent a repeat of the last bitter experience.

More important than the question of what just happened, though, is the question of what happens next.

Baker is not in the tent as a Minister, but that does not automatically make him a rebel or an enemy. He is currently Deputy Chairman of the ERG, and might well step up to become its Chairman – but the Government has divided the ERG by bringing some of them into office, not least Jacob Rees-Mogg as Leader of the House. The interesting question is whether Baker will establish himself as de facto leader of the remainder, the ‘Spartans’ willing to make a stand at all costs, and what influence he might have on them if so.

Some of them are the very same MPs who were in direct conflict with Cummings in the Vote Leave days, and whom the strategist has since derided as ‘the narcissist-delusional subset of the ERG… too busy shooting or skiing or chasing girls to do any actual work. [They] should be treated like a metastasising tumour and excised from the UK body politic.’ That’s often quoted as being his verdict on the whole ERG, but it is not – the “subset” is a specific portion.

Back then, Baker, the rare honest man, looked past the personal enmities, recognised the necessity of what Cummings was doing, put the mission first, and thereby helped win the day. A great deal could now rest on him doing the same again.

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James Frayne: The new Prime Minister won’t triumph on Leave votes alone. Here’s how he can win some Remain supporters over.

James Frayne is Director of Public First and author of Meet the People, a guide to moving public opinion.

It’s not impossible that the Conservatives will need to fight both a general election and a referendum in the next year. It was therefore vital that the Party picked a candidate with a record of successful campaigning – and who believes in the Brexit cause. Jeremy Hunt ran a decent campaign and deserves a serious job, but Party members have chosen the right candidate.

While I’ve been making the case for Boris Johnson’s appointment on these pages for two years, his arrival in Number Ten complicates the Conservatives’ electoral strategy – and the Party must be considering how best to adapt it. They should be exploring full, Clinton-style triangulation.

I stress “explore” because the truth is, we don’t have a clue about where public opinion is at the moment. It would be an understatement to say the polls are a mess. We only know a few things: that the public remains completely divided on Brexit; that the broad Conservative base (activists plus regular voters) has fractured since the Government missed its own self-imposed Brexit deadlines; that there is a risk this broad base will remain fractured if the Government doesn’t deliver Brexit “on time” (although this timetable is probably more flexible than people have said), and that, until recently, the Party has been polling strongly amongst working class and lower middle class Leave voters in the Midlands and North – more so than amongst Remain voters in large cities and across the South.

Everything else is clouded in doubt. As Johnson arrives with his Eurosceptic reputation, we don’t know, for example, if the Southern and urban Remainers who have reluctantly stuck with the Conservatives will now peel off in great numbers to the Lib Dems; we don’t know if Johnson’s record will be enough to keep Midlands and Northern working class and lower middle class Leavers onside, or whether they will be watching the antics of Hammond, Gauke etc and now proclaim “they’re all the same”; we don’t know if there are particular, non-Brexit policies that will appeal to these Remainers or Leavers, and we don’t know if middle class Labour voters are getting sick of the failure of Labour to deal with anti-semitism within the Party ranks. We don’t know any of this and it is hard to say when we will. Not, presumably, until Christmas when Boris Johnson has been Prime Minister for a while (itself an assumption).

But while there is great uncertainty, the Conservatives cannot just sit patiently on the sidelines and watch the action unfold before coming to a decision on their broad governing and campaigning strategy. They have to deliver Brexit  – but they also have to prepare and execute a programme that is going to be good for the country and, yes, let’s be realistic, for their own electoral prospects.

So what should they do? With the polls so messed up, all anyone can do at this point is to sketch out a governing and campaigning hypothesis on the basis of careful thought – and put it to the test.

For five years at least,  I have been advocating a strategy that focuses hard on working class and lower middle class voters in provincial England. I emphatically would not junk this approach; these voters will likely form the basis of the Conservatives broad base for the foreseeable future.

However, for positive and negative reasons, under Boris Johnson, this needs adapting. Positively speaking, these working class and lower middle class voters are, assuming that the Conservatives deliver Brexit (or are seen to die trying), temperamentally more positive towards Johnson than Theresa May.

And not just on Brexit; Johnson instinctively understands the importance of the NHS and schools, he understands public concerns about rising crime, he is unembarrassed about being English or about English history (something that has not been sufficiently explored) and he doesn’t obsess about political correctness. These voters aren’t “locked down” – far from it – but Johnson starts in a good place with them. More needs to be done to keep this voters onside, and I will be setting out some ideas on how in the coming weeks.

Negatively speaking, there’s no denying that Johnson starts in a terrible place with Remain voters full stop – and particularly those from urban, liberal-minded, middle class backgrounds. These are the people that associate – wrongly, but there we are – the Brexit cause with racism and intolerance. He is in a more difficult place than May with these voters, and it would be a disaster for the Party if vast numbers of them peeled away. Johnson needs a high-impact, high-visibility, immediate strategy for these voters – showing that he is the same person that ran London in an inclusive, centrist way.

Which brings us back to Clinton’s triangulating strategy of the mid-1990s. Back in those days, Clinton created a campaigning and governing strategy designed to appeal both to partisan Democrats and to floating voters that leaned Republican. Early Blair did the same, and this is what Johnson’s team should be considering. The Conservatives should deliver Brexit whatever happens, develop a longer-term strategy to turn the Midlands and the North blue, but also launch an assault for liberal-minded Remainers.

What might this entail? The Government is going to have to look again at increasing NHS spending – given the side of that bus, further NHS spending (with reform) is going to be hard to walk away from. It should look to develop a suite of environmental policies that incentivise good behaviour and that wrestle the issue away from the very hard left. The Government should also launch, along the lines of the GREAT campaign, a global PR campaign to encourage the best qualified workers to move to a modern, tolerant, post-Brexit Britain. And the Government should look at making it easier for new parents, at a time when they’re financially stretched, to secure loans for childcare. There will be many other alternatives, but you get the point.

The Conservatives must continue their transition towards becoming the provincial workers party, but the creative energy in the short-term should be directed South.

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Nick Hargrave: Modernisers may not trust Johnson, but they should learn from him

Nick Hargrave is a former Downing Street special adviser, where he worked under both David Cameron and Theresa May. He now works at Portland, the communications consultancy.

It is the columnist’s duty to try and tell the reader things they don’t already know. So I hope I am not falling short in my fortnightly insight if I say that Boris Johnson is the current favourite to be the next leader of the Conservative Party.

There are a number of reasons why this is true. Not least his pitch on Brexit; the most simple on the surface being if a Withdrawal Agreement has not been concluded by the time the starting gun is fired.

But the overriding reason is that he is popular with the Conservative grassroots. And they are the ones who will have the final say in a leadership election. So if Johnson can vault the hurdle of getting into the final two amongst MPs – which is not yet certain and his biggest stumbling block – then he stands a good chance of success.

Johnson is unlikely to be getting my vote if he makes it to the final two. For all his charismatic qualities, I question whether he is the national electoral asset of old. Research suggests that his role at the head of the Leave campaign and his positioning since have left him badly placed to win voters under 50 back to the Conservative cause. Although some might argue that Theresa May is too detail-driven in her decision making, I fear that Johnson at the helm of the ship would be an unwise overcorrection.  And there’s also the not insubstantial fact that his Brexit platform risks a No Deal general election by accident – in which I think a lot of Tory MPs would lose their seats and Jeremy Corbyn would end up in Downing Street.

Nonetheless, one should not throw the baby out with the bathwater. For all his deficiencies, it is important to recognise that Johnson remains an extraordinarily good communicator with the Conservative base.

Other candidates in the leadership contest of a more centrist and modernising bent – who will argue our party needs to put Brexit behind us and reach out to people we’ve lost- would do well to probe into why he does this so effectively. Do this, and they will be in better stead to take him on.

It is a lazy supposition that Johnson’s equity with the grassroots comes solely from his support for full-fat Brexit. It’s part of the equation but there’s more to it. Tory members are not stupid. They know that he was a late convert to leaving the European Union and, many suspect, for politically expedient reasons. I suspect in their heart of hearts they know the same holds for why he resigned from the Government after Chequers. However, despite all this, there is still something perceptible that strikes a chord with the rank and file and always has.

It comes down to three things.

First, Johnson is proud of Conservative values and is prepared to talk about them in positive terms. Reading his columns and speeches, while the views on policy may flip-flop all over the place, you do get a sense of someone who is at least unashamed of being a Tory: possessed of a boundless belief in the inherent capability of the human spirit, an understanding of the limitations of the bureaucrat’s pen – all wrapped up in a love of our nation, its institutions and its history.

The centrists and modernisers of 2019 should take heed. It is not possible to change a political party by junking its central values and beliefs. If you want to do that, then you should start a new party. Modernisers only succeed by establishing shared values with the party’s core – and then demonstrating to the faithful that they have the ability to communicate these values to new audiences in a way relevant for the time. So talk by all means about raising living standards and making the economy fairer for younger generations; but make sure you do it through the prism of backing entrepreneurship, promoting healthy competition and rewarding work. Do make the case for greater investment in our public services after a decade of spending restraint but never lose sight of the fact that Conservatives don’t throw good money after bad and we judge public spending by the value it delivers for hardworking taxpayers. You get the drift.

Second, Johnson is an optimist. There’s a lot of commentary and analysis out there from the current leadership cohort about how bad things are for the country as well as the existential crisis our party faces. This is all true and a little bit of introspection during a leadership contest is fine. But leave the bulk of it to the commentariat. Existing activists have dedicated significant portions of their lives to the service of the party. They want you to reassure them that it’s going to be ok in the end and a better future lies around the corner. This is only credible if it’s backed up with a plan and policies – where I think Johnson can be beaten – but optimism itself is infectious.

Third, Johnson can speak and Johnson can write. There was a time when more politicians were able to do that; words in their trade are deeds. Many Conservative activists know it and remember it. A lot of his best work is his own and not produced by others. He has some world-class strategists around him who try and keep him on the straight and narrow. But he is the progenitor of his own vision (you could argue the progenitor of many different visions at different stages of his career). There is something in that nonetheless for those who aspire to lead.

Johnson’s weakness has always been whether there is enough substance behind the curtain. Under the heat of a full-blown leadership election, there is an opportunity for an opponent of substance to put him under pressure on the issues; including what his position on a no-deal Brexit really means. But respect his potency with our most loyal customers. He knows that you don’t get to enact a vision for the country until you can thread it first with the fabric of your party. Once you understand that, you have a better chance of laying a finger on him in what may shortly follow.

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Lee Rowley: Killamarsh Conservatism – the reason North East Derbyshire bucked the trend in last week’s elections

Lee Rowley is MP for North East Derbyshire.

Quietly nestled at the top of the North East Derbyshire constituency, close to Sheffield, is Killamarsh. A fiercely independent former pit village of 10,000 people, it rightly takes pride in its industrial heritage. It was here that, half a century back, three pits gave work to thousands of miners every day – my granddad being one of them. The last mine closed but 25 years ago.

As far back as records go, Killamarsh has elected Labour Councillors to everything – county, district and parish councils. Before 2018, we can’t find the last time a red rosette didn’t win, usually by miles. Yet, on Thursday, a political earthquake happened.

Against a difficult national backdrop, the village decided it was time for a change. It didn’t, though, just elect one Conservative – the village went all in. All five district seats were gained from Labour. Eight Conservative Parish Councillors were elected, and with them, control of the Parish Council, too.

And elsewhere in North East Derbyshire, the same thing happened. Next door in Eckington, another parish which had elected Labour forever, three district seats and the Parish Council tumbled. Further west in Dronfield, the Labour Leader of the district council, first elected when I was just three years old, lost his seat. In the south of the district, on the outskirts of Clay Cross, the brother of Dennis Skinner was retired by his electors.

The final tally on the district council: 13 Conservative gains. And, for the first time since the Council was formed in 1973, the Conservatives will have the majority. As someone who grew up in North Derbyshire, the land of the Skinners and the Benns, this is incredible. I am hugely proud of my home area’s willingness to change and grateful for local residents’ trust at such a difficult time.

Since Thursday, I’ve been asked how the team managed to buck the trend in North East Derbyshire on such a terrible night nationally. I’m incredibly proud of them all – residents from across the district who came together, some having never been involved in politics before, to try to change things for the better.

Firstly, the team laid the foundations for this victory many months ago. We went out into local communities, listened and took on board their views. Our Group leader, Cllr Martin Thacker, and his team put together a coherent manifesto and demonstrated they were a real alternative leadership in waiting. We campaigned relentlessly.

Most importantly, we tried to have an honest conversation with our communities: that the issues which frustrated local residents on house building, infrastructure and the council’s failure to listen were ones that were years in the creation and would be years in the remediation. We were upfront that we wouldn’t get everything right if we won, but we would try our hardest. We tried to stay positive and focused, even in the midst of some pretty torrid Labour smears. And, most of all, we gave a vision of where we wanted to take North East Derbyshire and how we can use the next four years to prepare for the challenges and opportunities that we will face together. Residents wanted change. And, when the national wind blew colder in recent months, our long-term involvement with the local community meant our credibility held.

Out of last Thursday might just come the outline of a new opportunity for our party – the same opportunity which saw gains against the national trend in the seats of my great colleagues Eddie Hughes in Walsall and Ben Bradley in Mansfield, too. If the Conservatives are winning pit villages on the border of South Yorkshire on an otherwise terrible night, there might just be something here to consider; a new ‘Killamarsh Conservatism’, if you will. A combination of aspirant, pro-business and pro-change politics, coupled with a relentless focus on the day-to-day concerns of people who work hard, get on with life and don’t spend all their time on Twitter.

Enough of the split-the-difference, milquetoast, managerial mush which has bedevilled our national picture for too long.  A Conservatism which places hard work, aspiration and ambition at the centre of everything, which seeks to protect and enhance quality of life and properly values a sense of community. One that doesn’t pretend there won’t be difficult decisions in the future but who recognises that people are grown-ups who want councils to do some things well, rather than lots of things badly. Most importantly, a new politics which is going to try to do things with people, rather than to them. Something that fuses together conservative principles with a recognition that change is necessary and desirable so long as there is a proper, respectful discussion where people are involved and participate. It’s not a perfect thesis but, we think, there might just be something to it.

There is a note of caution, too. Our beautiful part of the world might have bucked the trend on Thursday but we are under no illusions about the fact that residents lent, rather than gifted, their votes to us. We’ve got to fix some of the problems the last council has left us. We’ve got to do politics differently. And, most importantly, they warned us on the doorstep that they won’t always separate local from national politics.

North East Derbyshire, a 62 per cent Leave constituency, doesn’t suffer fools gladly and its patience is being sorely tested by the national picture at the moment on Brexit.  It will not tolerate that abject failure for much longer.

So this week we celebrated. And, this weekend, we thank the local Labour Party for their service to the district as 30 new councillors are getting to work on their new task. It won’t be easy but we hope it will be worthwhile.

When I return to Westminster on Tuesday, I’m returning with a clear message: Killamarsh voted Conservative last week, and it wants to do so again in the future. Yet it is tired of the old politics which has shredded people’s trust in the last few months. Time to wise up in Westminster. Otherwise, next time, Killamarsh might look elsewhere.

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WATCH: “Trying to outdo Farage” would cost the Conservative Party “four million Remain voters” – Stewart

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“The Conservative Party should stand up for all those who feel powerless in Britain today”- Gibb’s reformist speech

This is the full text of a speech delivered today by Nick Gibb, the schools minister, to the Social Market Foundation.

Thank you, James for that introduction. And thank you to the Social Market Foundation and Edelman for hosting and organising this morning’s event.

The SMF notes prominently on its website, “British politics is in flux”. Well, you can say that again. And after several years serving as a minister and very much sticking to my brief under two prime ministers, I wanted to take this opportunity to draw on my experience at the Department for Education and offer a wider perspective on some of the particular challenges that we face.

And by ‘we’, I mean several groups.

I mean the country…as we face up to testing times and seek to find ways to bring people together after years of rancour and division.

I mean the people who run businesses…as trust in business – and in the economic consensus that sustains it – continues to fall.

I mean the Conservative Party…now so consumed by Brexit that our great successes as a government over the past decade – and all the progress we have made as a country – has been forgotten.

And I mean politics as a whole…because what we know from Edelman’s own research is that trust in – and respect for – our political system is falling. And that creates the space for the populists, with their divisive rhetoric and easy solutions, to fill.

That is what we are witnessing today. Populism is on the march. It threatens to upend not just our political system, but so many of the old certainties on which we have come to rely. And it’s on the march for a simple reason: because mainstream politicians have not done enough to listen – let alone respond – to the priorities and concerns of the people who pay our salaries and give us our jobs.

But my conviction this morning is this: it is not too late to turn things around.

For if there is one thing my time at the Department for Education has taught me it is that if you do the hard work nothing is impossible. If you approach each challenge with what Martin Luther King described as the “fierce urgency of now”, change can happen. And a clearly articulated vision, the drive to make it happen, and the determination to see it through can yield extraordinary results.

That is why I believe so passionately in the capacity of politics and politicians to make a difference – to change lives for the better, which is what we all set out to do. Because I have seen it happen. And it is why I recoil when I hear politicians attacking the political process in this country. There will always be disagreements between parties and politicians. But I believe that politics is a noble calling; that people enter a life in politics with good intent; and that politics at its best can provide the forum in which we settle our differences, overcome divisions, and find the compromises that allow us to all move forward together.

Clearly, this may sound like a romantic view given where we are today.

It is widely accepted that we are in the midst of a political crisis, the like of which few of us has experienced before.

We are witnessing a clash between the twin forces of direct and representative democracy which has unbalanced our system of government and thrown it into a tailspin.

But this clash between the two forms of democracy is – like the issue of Brexit itself – about something even more profound. It is about power. And where we believe power should lie.

As much as anything, Brexit is an argument that says power should reside at the level of the nation-state – not at a supranational level where institutions are often unaccountable and typically all too remote.

The vote to embrace Brexit and to leave the EU was partly about the issue of where political power should lie, but it was also driven in large part by people who felt utterly powerless themselves in the face of macro political, economic and social forces over which they had too little control, or none at all. In other words, Brexit was and is about the assertion of power at every level.

And the determination to deliver Brexit is driven by a simple belief: that power should ultimately lie with the people of this country – not with any other body, group or organisation.

In 2016 Parliament and the Government were explicit: the decision whether to leave or not leave the European Union would be decided by the referendum. The people’s decision was final. That is why so many MPs have set aside their own concerns, or have been prepared to compromise by accepting a deal that they think is imperfect, in order to deliver the will of the people. Because ultimately, in a democracy, the people are sovereign. They are the masters. And government is their servant.

It is to the Prime Minister’s eternal credit that she has never once forgotten this fact. Despite all the difficulties, she has always been determined to deliver the will of the people: because she knows that to fail to do so will only reinforce the sense of powerlessness that drove so much of the Brexit vote and risk opening the doors of our democracy to populism.

The crisis of capitalism

Yet, this is where we are today: confronted by the very real prospect of the rise of a narrow-minded and nasty populism of the right led by Nigel Farage or Tommy Robinson and a romantic but equally nasty brand of populist socialism on the left led by Jeremy Corbyn. A man who seeks to create and exploit perceived imbalances of power; who attacks and demeans the media – and encourages his supporters to do the same; who despises our allies while refusing to condemn the actions of our foes; who uses the language and the rhetoric of the populist as he seeks to set one against the other.

Yet who, despite this, continues to command a loyal following among younger voters and managed to attract substantial number of their votes at the last general election just two years ago to put him on the brink of Number 10. And we Conservatives must not kid ourselves that Corbyn’s brand of socialism is so-outdated and extreme that it will not be attractive to those of all backgrounds and economic circumstances who nevertheless feel ignored by our current polity or whose concerns have been left unaddressed.

This fact was brought home to me recently during a trip to the theatre.

The musical Hadestown is a love story, but it carries a deeply political – and undeniably left-wing – message. It denounces the values of capitalism while venerating the ideals of a socialist society.

And as I watched it being performed, I became aware of a remarkable phenomenon. I looked around me. The theatre was full of what would best be described as middle-class young people. Intelligent professionals. The future of this country. Full of idealism and hope. The kind of people who cheered Jeremy Corbyn at Glastonbury and gave him their vote two years ago. And they cheered again at Hadestown.

It was a revealing moment for me. Because those young people were essentially cheering the destruction of an economic and social system that has done so much more to advance their goals and values than any other the world has ever known.

The capitalist system has done more than any other to lift the poorest out of poverty, to open the world up to exploration, to inspire the inventions that have transformed the ways in which we connect and talk, expand our knowledge, broaden our horizons. It’s a system that has helped us treat diseases that were otherwise regarded as death sentences; that has supported the expansion of freedom where previously repression and dictatorship reigned; that is developing technology to help tackle climate change. And let us remember that it is a system that quite simply helps us to fund the lifestyles we want and the public services we rely on. That helps us to lead the good life we want for ourselves and others.

No other economic or social system comes close to being able to make the claims that capitalism can make. And yet here we are, in 2019, with an audience of intelligent and informed young people cheering its destruction and replacement with something we know to be much worse: systems that crush the spirit of those with an enterprising bent. Socialist systems that always end in one-party states, with freedoms smashed by the jackboot of the secret police. It happened right across Eastern Europe until 1989 and it is happening in Venezuela and North Korea today. Which is why we should worry when a generation of young people seem oblivious to its horrors.

A host of recent studies have shown a creeping tendency for young people in the West to think that democracy – the very thing we so often take for granted – may not necessarily be the best or most viable form of government. One such study from January 2017 found that a quarter of the young people surveyed agreed that “choosing leaders through free elections is unimportant”.

Given the near unimaginable sacrifice of countless people in the past and in some other parts of the world today, it should come as a profound shock that so many could be so blasé about such fundamental liberties.

The causes of that crisis

This is a political crisis. And it goes to the heart of the crisis of capitalism too as the two things so often go hand in hand.

But if we step back, it is not hard to discern the roots of the crisis. For the evidence is all around. And we – moderate, mainstream politicians – must accept our share of responsibility.

Yes, the capitalist system has lifted people out of poverty and generated millions of new jobs, but it has also created a world in which the average pay ratio between a FTSE 100 CEO in the UK and their employee is 145 to 1. To me and to many, that just doesn’t seem fair.

Yes, the wealth created by the capitalist system has extended educational opportunities and helped to increase our collective knowledge, but it has also fostered a system in which a university vice-chancellor can earn £450,000 a year while students leave university plagued by debts as they start out on their working lives. That just doesn’t seem fair.

Yes, the globalised capitalist system may have broken down borders and fostered a more connected world, but it has also allowed big corporations like Google, Amazon and Facebook to make huge profits and use outdated double tax treaties designed for a mercantilist era to undermine the spirit of taxation that says you should pay your fair share. That just doesn’t seem fair.

Yes, the capitalist system has benefited many – but it is far from perfect. There will always be those who try to exploit it and so Government has a crucial role to play to enforce the rules, to change them where necessary, and so to maintain public consent. Over the last few decades, Labour and Conservative governments have been guilty of ignoring the steady scream of dissatisfaction, anger and powerlessness that is now overwhelming our political system. So it is essential – both for the defence of capitalism as the best system to govern our economic and social life, but also for the future of the Conservative Party as we face up to the threats of populists like Jeremy Corbyn – to seek to swing the balance of power back in favour of those who too often feel powerless in the face of the big economic and social forces that hold sway.

A party that stands with the powerless

And that means embracing the zeal of the revolutionary and adopting the fierce urgency of now, as we seek to take up the mantle of change.

The starting point is to be clear that the Conservative Party should stand up for all those who feel powerless in Britain today. It should stand for all those who feel they have too little control. It should stand up for the weak and stand up to the strong. It should be the party for all those who feel their voice is unheard as they go about their lives in modern Britain.

We must talk with passion and conviction about the everyday problems of modern life. We need answers to the challenges parents face with the rising costs of child care and the concerns confronting the children of elderly parents navigating their needs for social care. We need answers to the difficulties of would-be first-time house buyers. We need to take action, and be seen to take action, to deal with this generation’s greatest challenge: the devastating impact of climate change.

I believe that there is much for us to learn from the approach we have taken with education over the past few years. We have broken the stranglehold of Local Authorities and shifted the power to parents and pupils. The academies and free schools programme has revolutionised educational provision in this country partly because those schools know they have to be more responsive to local parental demands. We have introduced greater competition, given parents and pupils an element of control – and outcomes have been transformed.

We have successfully taken on the education establishment and changed the way that reading is taught, pushing our country up the international league tables for reading. We have transformed maths teaching both at primary and secondary, reformed our GCSEs, removed thousands of worthless qualifications that the poorest in society were being duped into taking. Grammar, punctuation and spelling are now being taught as never before and we’re testing to ensure children know their times tables.

There is a great deal more to do. Sometimes I feel as if we’ve only just begun when you consider the fact that in Nottingham, which is the 8th most deprived area in the Indices of Multiple Deprivation, 80 per cent of secondary schools are rated good or outstanding compared to just 50 per cent in prosperous Hertsmere, 243rd most deprived out of 326 local authority districts in that same index.

In other words if it is possible for schools to be good or outstanding in some of the most disadvantaged areas of the country, why can’t it be so in all areas of disadvantage? And if it is possible in some areas of disadvantage, why are there some prosperous areas with too many underperforming schools and poor standards?

Why is it that one state school in east London, Brampton Manor Academy, recently reported that 41 of its students have received offers from Oxford and Cambridge but, although the DfE does not centrally collate information on university offers, looking at the 2017 destination tables, there were no students with an Oxbridge destination from Blaby, Bassetlaw, Braintree, Broxborne, Broadlands (in Norfolk), to name just the local authorities beginning with a B; and none from Chorley, Corby, Castlepoint, – you see where this is going! Overall, there were 45 out of 323 local authority districts with KS5 students without a single student with an Oxford or Cambridge sustained destination. A good education is the fundamental building block for a good life. Ensuring that every child attends a good school must be central to the Conservative Party’s mission to stand for the powerless, ensuring the success of our reforms, the opportunities they represent, is spread to every corner of the country.

So there is more to do in Education, but with vision, drive and determination we have already come so far. And it is this spirit – this revolutionary zeal that has informed our education reforms – which we Conservatives must apply across the full realm of political life as we seek to tip the balance of power in favour of the hardworking people of Britain.

There are some who argue that the anger in our political discord is also driven by the pace of social reform that we have seen over the last two decades. Some seem to relish the kind of culture wars that dominate debate between many Democrats and Republicans in the United States.

I am, unashamedly, a socially liberal Conservative. How could I not be? My life has been completed by legislation introduced by Tony Blair and David Cameron to recognise same sex relationships. Having always believed that marriage and family were the cornerstone of a strong, free and happy society, being able to marry as a gay man was the greatest moment of my life. And what have I discovered since? That my joy has been shared by so many of the people I work with every day, by members of the Bognor Regis and Littlehampton Conservative Association, by constituents who I meet at my surgery, at community coffee mornings, in local businesses, out on the street. I simply don’t buy the argument that the British are a moralistic, disapproving and mean-spirited people.

We are a nation that embraces change, gets on with it, and doesn’t worry too much about what other people do unless it gets in the way of their lives. We laugh at, rather than obsess about, what goes on in the bedroom: we are the nation of ‘Carry On’ and ‘Mrs Brown’s Boys’. Innuendo is a national pass time. Isn’t it, Mrs?

What people do worry about is a feeling that change is being imposed and they are unable to express a view. That an elite in Westminster has little interest in or knowledge of how change can impact everyday life. Where concerns about immigration are dismissed or ignored, where people feel talked down to, where long held values can become out of fashion overnight, it is hardly surprising that a sense of powerlessness grows.

Tackling this sense of powerlessness over the actions of vested interests – whether in the political class or in large economic corporations – offers a way forward for the Conservative Party.

Let us think, for example, of the role that big tech plays in our lives today – and of the way in which the behaviour of the big tech companies has damaged the reputation of capitalism as a whole.

We embrace all the advantages of new technologies. We share details of our lives with family and friends. We click a button and have almost anything we want delivered to our door. A question that once involved a trip to the library can now be answered by a simple tap on a screen that we all keep in our pockets. As an Education Minister and as a citizen of course I welcome that. And of course, none of it would have happened if we didn’t live in capitalist, democratic societies.

But at the same time, elements of the tech revolution have gone too far. They have produced new concentrations of power. Supranational companies that see themselves as alternatives to the nation-state. Organisations and corporations that think they can’t be controlled.

Now, because the capitalist system still works, these big tech companies may soon have had their day. New start-ups are emerging to take on the behemoths with better, more people friendly alternatives.

Again, this simply wouldn’t happen under a socialist economic system of command and control.

So, we need to support these endeavours. But in the meantime, we need to take action too.

That means having the courage to regulate where we need to regulate. It means enacting policies that disrupt these concentrations of power. And it means ensuring that these companies are paying their fair share of tax.

There is nothing un-Conservative about this. Capitalism does work best when least fettered by rules and regulations that can crush innovation and stifle enterprise. But the free market has always relied on rules and the rule of law for it to function. It relies on the state to provide security, infrastructure, enforcement of contracts, title to land and the protection of intellectual property.

We need to make sure those rules and regulations are fit and proper for the challenges of the 21st century, as Teddy Roosevelt did to tackle the concentrations of power at the start of the 20th century.

But ‘Big Tech’ has become a common target. What about other areas where the balance of power has become inverted and has grown out of all control? Where can – and must – politicians act?

Utility companies who use confusing, complicated policies and tariffs to bewilder and exploit consumers. Who know that they can get away with it because our lives are busy and therefore they have effective power and control. A Conservative Party that stands up for the powerless shouldn’t stand by and let people be exploited by these multinational corporations. There’s nothing un-Conservative about that. We need to show the will and desire to tackle these monopolies of power and give people more control.

Insurance companies who ramp up premiums on the unwary and loyal, hoping we won’t notice or will be too busy to care. Hoping that the busy lives we lead will mean we acquiesce too easily.

Bosses exploiting their workers. Creaming off vast profits while cultivating or tolerating a culture of bullying and intimidation further down the chain. We should be angry at such people and such companies. The unpleasant and unacceptable face of capitalism of today.

Investment banks foisting investments they know to be worthless on unsuspecting savers in their retail division.

Estate agents promising higher valuations to home owners in exchange for higher commissions knowing full well the ultimate sale price would be less.

House builders, increasingly dominated by just a handful of companies, building homes of questionable design and resulting in thousands of complaints about poor construction, while making ‘super profits’ that the free market is meant to be designed to compete away.

Banks which are supposed to provide capital for new businesses and young people wanting homes but which are caught deliberately driving small business to the wall and which refuse young people mortgages because of their own malpractice in the past – denying a generation entry to property ownership, the foundation of a capitalist system. Is it any wonder that a musical rendition of a non-capitalist society sounds so appealing to that generation?

An agenda for a bold renewal of Conservatism

It should be our task as a party to act with urgency to correct these abuses and address these injustices, driven by a determination to speak out for the powerless at all times. It must be our mission to restore trust in the political system and in politics as a noble calling; something that with vision, drive and determination can change lives for the better.

To do so is not to validate Jeremy Corbyn and Labour. It is to thwart them. For if we fail to do so – if we fail to address the very real areas in which the capitalist system is failing – a long period of left-wing, socialist government is surely on its way. And it won’t be long before the cheers fade and the idealism is at an end.

This is an insight as old as Conservatism itself. Change to conserve has always been our mantra. Make change where the system is failing to preserve faith in the whole. As Burke put it “A state without the means of some change, is without the means of its own conservation”.

So let us harness that insight and embrace this agenda for a bold renewal of Conservatism. Safeguarding and shaping the future by addressing the challenges of today.

A party for the powerless with a revolutionary zeal to pick up the mantle of change.

Determined to take on vested interests and monopolies of power.

Determined to stand with the people every step of the way.

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Candidate applications open in seven more seats, including two extremely close marginals

Seven more parliamentary seats are currently open for candidate applications. Following what appears to be a deliberate pattern – possibly to offer opportunities to candidates with different aims and plans – the tranche ranges from two hyper-marginal seats (Barrow in Furness and Keighley), via four with majorities of a few thousand, up to one (Sefton Central) which has a pretty huge Labour majority. Two (Barrow, and Bury South) were won by Labour in 2017 but have incumbent MPs who have since departed to sit as independents.

Notably, all but one (Sefton Central) are estimated by Chris Hanretty to have voted Leave in the referendum. Given this fact, and the mood of the Conservative grassroots about the Government’s Brexit delay, it will be interesting to see if that has any bearing on the eventual selections.

Here are the seven seats:

Barrow in Furness: Incumbent: John Woodcock (sitting as an independent since 2018). Labour majority: 209.

Bassetlaw: Incumbent: John Mann. Labour majority: 4,852.

Bolton North East: Incumbent: David Crausby. Labour majority: 3,797.

Bury South: Incumbent: Ivan Lewis (sitting as an independent since 2018). Labour majority: 5,965.

Gedling: Incumbent: Vernon Coaker. Labour majority: 4,694.

Keighley: Incumbent: John Grogan. Labour majority: 249.

Sefton Central: Incumbent: Bill Esterson. Labour majority: 15,618.

Applications close on Friday 10th May.

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WATCH: “The local elections are going to be difficult” for Conservatives, says Whately

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