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Westlake Legal Group > Labour Party

Andrew Gimson’s Commons sketch: Corbyn the Puritan takes on Johnson the Merry Englander

Jeremy Corbyn said Boris Johnson has “a reputation for enjoying life to the fullest”. The jibe was made at the start of his speech, in the course of a rather laboured joke, but many a true word is spoken in jest.

Johnson certainly does have a reputation for enjoying life. He even looks as if he enjoys being Prime Minister.

Corbyn regards him with a disapproving eye. To the Puritan, there is something sinful and self-indulgent about enjoying oneself.

Puritans often make the mistake of supposing their objections to pleasure are widely shared. They think shutting the theatres and cancelling Christmas will be popular.

In the present case, they assume the profound moral revulsion inspired in them by the sight and sound of Johnson is felt by all decent people.

They could be right, but Johnson does not think so. He said of Corbyn, “his policy on cake is neither having it nor eating it”.

In other words, Corbyn is a pinched, mean-spirited figure who wants to stop us enjoying the good things of life.

Johnson has always presented himself as a pro-cake politician. No sooner did he become Prime Minister than he announced that he wants to hand out many of the good things of life at public expense, and will pay for these by letting the free market flourish.

Today he condemned John McDonnell, the Shadow Chancellor, for flinching at the mention of the free market.

He accused McDonnell of conducting “Soviet-era explusions”, purging Corbyn”s lieutenants “as Lenin purged the associates of poor old Trotsky”.

And while McDonnell “tightens his icy grip on the Labour Party”, the contrast with the Conservatives becomes ever starker: “We are putting up wages…they would put up taxes.”

So although the opening salvos in the debate on the Queen’s Speech were unexciting, to put it mildly, from a policy point of view, they did illustrate the antipathy between Johnson and the Labour front bench.

Merry England takes on left-wing Puritanism, indeed rejoices in ridiculing it. That is what will happen in the forthcoming general election.

Not that Johnson had things entirely his own way. Antoinette Sandbach, one of the Tories who recently had the whip withdrawn, called on him to “reverse the Marxist-style expulsions from the Conservative Party”.

One assumes this Merry Englander will do so as soon as he has got Brexit done.

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Tom McLaren: Labour’s Ilford South selection dispute shows the danger of a “strong leader” model for councils

Tom McLaren is a former councillor for Redbridge and a current councillor for Brentwood Borough Council. He stood for the Conservatives for the Eastern Region in the 2019 European Elections.

As a former Redbridge councillor, I read of the suspension of Labour’s Ilford South candidate (and Borough Council Leader) Jas Athwal not just with shock, but also with a wry smile. Whilst no specifics have been released about the charges that he faces, their seriousness is such that following an independent anonymised review, the Labour Party chose to suspend his membership and hence his candidacy for Ilford South. According to LabourList the only disciplinary cases handled by independent investigators are ones concerning sexual harassment, meaning that should the accusations be upheld against Cllr Athwal he could face expulsion from the party.

The campaign amongst the candidates for former Labour MP Mike Gapes’ seat (majority 31,000) has certainly been intense. I have read with a kind of fascinated horror the stories emerging from the branch level campaigns, with allegations of ballot stuffing, invalid voting and aggressive behaviour at more than one meeting. Perhaps the stories seem more lurid when you know the actors, but what is certain is just what this “job for life” selection means for the candidates. With Momentum desperate to secure the seat the timing of the suspension, the night before selection meetings, seemed questionable to say the least; in a stroke it turned the competition on its head, seemingly handing an almost certain victory for the Momentum candidate, Sam Tarry. Until, of course, under tremendous pressure, Jeremy Corbyn stepped in and ordered the selection process suspended.

Beyond just the Ilford South selection, however, the scandal has much more significant ramifications meaning.

Since taking control of the council in 2014 as Labour group leader, Cllr Athwal has benefited greatly from the “Strong Leader” model that the council operates. In opposition, our Conservative group has been forced to fight numerous campaigns alongside thousands of concerned residents, at times successfully mitigating some of the worst excesses of their policies. The Save Our Suburbs campaign I led in 2015, for example, brought together thousands of residents from the west of the borough, forcing the council to redraw their draft Local Plan, whilst a similar campaign led by Cllr Howard Marks in the east was instrumental in preserving the vitally important sports clubs and playing fields at Fairlop Waters. Even now Redbridge Conservatives are working with residents from across the borough who feel powerless and voiceless when dealing with a council, and a Leader, who show scant regard for their concerns.

And now, the Council has a leader who has been suspended by his political party and is facing serious charges. He should be given every opportunity to clear his name, and should certainly benefit from a presumption of innocence, but the distraction of this case will surely impact on his ability to continue his day to day role. Should he choose not to resign, under the Strong Leader model there will be little opportunity for his removal. A vote of no confidence is possible and could be introduced by the leader of Redbridge Conservatives Cllr Linda Huggett, but would only succeed with the support of Labour members. Whilst Momentum may have no love for their rival Ilford South Candidate, it seems even less likely they would vote with the Conservative Group to remove him.

This issue raises broader questions than just those at a borough level, calling into question as it does the appropriateness of the “Strong Leader” model. Introduced in the dying days of Tony Blair’s government, it bears some of the hallmarks of his premiership, particularly the lack of accountability and the assumption of the benign dictator. The lack of ability to remove a leader who is facing serious allegations is a significant failing of the act and one which should be reviewed.

For the time being, in Redbridge the choice of how this will proceed lies with Cllr Athwal. In reflecting on his position, the responsibility that comes with it, and the role that he plays as a key representative of the people of Redbridge, I hope he will choose to put the interests of the people of Redbridge first.


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Andy Street: Let business beat politics and build the nation’s first ‘Gigafactory’ in the West Midlands

Andy Street is the Mayor of the West Midlands and is a former Managing Director of John Lewis.

At the end of both the Labour and Conservative conferences we saw a key element of the future of UK’s automotive industry put forward, but with sharply contrasting approaches.

The term ‘Gigafactory’ has slipped into 21st century language, a buzzword driven by the ambitions of TESLA and Elon Musk, who expects his facility in Nevada to be the ‘biggest building in the world’ when completed.

But while a Gigafactory is about scale, and manufacturing the batteries needed for the next generation of vehicles, it’s also about creating a site that uses cutting-edge technology, employs thousands of highly skilled people and sits at the heart of a complex and inter-dependent sector.

It’s also much more than a buzzword – the Gigafactory concept is a vital ingredient in enabling the switch to electric-powered transport. Both Labour and us Conservatives agree that the UK must adopt the concept and build the Gigafactories that will make us global contenders in the race to electrification, while supporting thousands of jobs, directly and indirectly.

But there, sadly, the consensus ends – because location is everything when making such monumental decisions in industrial investment.

Labour have decided that politicians – Labour politicians – are best placed to decide where the UK’s gigafactories will be built. The areas they have chosen are Stoke, Swindon and South Wales.

It may be laudable for politicians to try to support communities by sticking a pin in a map and saying ‘build it here’, but this approach increases the chance of failure. The temptation to use key investments to win votes must be resisted. We must learn from the history of the UK automotive sector – and we must listen to those within the industry when they speak.

The demise of the British car industry hit the West Midlands hard. As the centre of the nation’s automotive sector, car building’s decline was a huge factor in the post-industrial malaise that impacted on the entire region in the second half of the 20th century.

The recent resurgence of Jaguar Land Rover has shown that there is a real future here for British automotive. We are building confidence as well as cars.

However, as we face investment decisions that will affect generations to come, we must consider how the choices of the past – often made by politicians with the best of intentions – accelerated automotive decline.

In the 1960s there were two clear examples of this. To prop up mass employment in Glasgow, the Government supported the building of a British Leyland factory in the city, at Bathgate.  The other option at the time was to develop the existing Leyland factory at Longbridge, in Birmingham, investing in the heartland of car manufacturing.

Then, politicians decided to build a new factory at Linwood, in Scotland for the Rootes Group – whose Midlands plants built famous marques such as Humber, Hillman, Singer and Sunbeam. As a result, half-built Hillman Imps had to be shipped backwards and forwards between Scotland and Coventry to be completed.

None of these factories exist anymore. Perhaps if we had concentrated investment on building up the existing West Midlands factories, benefiting from the expertise and logistical common sense of keeping things close together, outcomes may have been different.

The lesson here, surely, is about politicians allowing their political needs to influence what should be business decisions. For the UK’s first Gigafactory to succeed, it needs to be based on a robust business case. Putting aside local loyalties, as someone who spent 30 years in business, I know this to be simple fact.

Here in the West Midlands we have an automotive cluster, based around the flagship that is Jaguar Land Rover. We have a huge network of supply and support firms that have developed over decades, with a track record of transforming to meet the changing demands of the sector. We also have the foundation industries that make the metals and materials that underpin vehicle manufacture at more than 20 sites.

In terms of battery technology, the Government has already played an important role in helping make the West Midlands competitive in this race, investing £108 million in a state-of-the-art Battery Industrialisation Centre in Coventry, and creating the Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles. In fact, the West Midlands is the UK centre of the driverless car research, with vehicles already being tested on the streets of Coventry and the region’s motorways.

In manufacturing, alongside JLR’s commitment to build electric vehicles at Castle Bromwich, electric drive units are being made in Wolverhampton, with battery assembly at Hams Hall in North Warwickshire. Our brilliant universities in Birmingham and Warwickshire are contributing significant research in partnership with the automotive sector.

So, as the sector moves to electrification, we are reclaiming our place as one of the world’s automotive powerhouses. I would be proud to be known as the Mayor of the UK’s Motor City.

The West Midlands was the first UK region to draw up a Local Industrial Strategy, and the concept of industrial clusters and the benefits they bring in terms of skills, costs and logistics was a formative aspect of its creation. Clearly, the UK’s biggest automotive cluster is taking shape right here – and it is one that is looking ahead to the challenges and innovation of the 21st century, rather than resting on the glories of the past.

We need the UK’s first Gigafactory to be based in the heart of this cluster – minimising transport and disruption costs and maximising the mutual support and expertise that exists here.

Battery manufacture is vital to the success of electric transport, as 40% of a vehicle’s value lies in this crucial component. Batteries are also the heaviest part of the vehicle, meaning their production needs to be near the car’s assembly lines. We must not repeat the mistake of the Rootes factory, and the logistical nightmare of hauling car components around the country, hampering the manufacturing process and driving up costs.

If the batteries are made elsewhere, the laws of economics make it more likely that car manufacturing will eventually be forced to move closer to them – breaking up the successful cluster here in the Midlands, fragmenting the UK sector and fundamentally weakening it.

From an environmental perspective too it is also counterintuitive to build an ‘eco-friendly’ electric car sector that actually increases the need for long-distance haulage, and the accompanying carbon footprint.

That’s why I believe for business reasons the Gigafactory must be in the West Midlands. So, I was delighted that at Conference the Prime Minister spoke of bringing the Gigafactory here, saying our region is seeing ‘a 21st century industrial revolution in battery and low-carbon technology’.

It’s time to remember the lessons of the past. Let’s not repeat the mistake of making this a political decision – least of all one made by the current Labour Shadow Cabinet.

Let’s not let Jeremy Corbyn and co repeat the Hillman Imp experiment and weaken the West Midlands automotive industry for political reasons.

At a recent CBI speech at Conference I set out my vision, as a businessman, of making the West Midlands Motor City again – albeit this time with an electric motor. The business case is there, and business must beat politics.


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Andrew Gimson’s Commons sketch: Johnson becomes the salesman for peace

An affecting reconciliation scene was enacted today in the House of Commons. It was between the Prime Minister and all those whom he enraged and insulted as recently as Wednesday of last week.

Boris Johnson established, in those exchanges, a reputation, in his critics’ eyes, as a bully and a brute, whose irresponsible language inflamed an already dangerous situation and showed a despicable disregard for the threats faced in particular by women MPs.

But Johnson has throughout his life made every effort to mend fences with those to whom he has given mortal offence. Not for him the festering grievance, the angry silence, the lasting grudge. He always wants to make it up.

So today we got Johnson the peacemaker, making “a genuine attempt to bridge the chasm, to reconcile the seemingly irreconcilable”.

He set out to be “constructive and reasonable”, agreed it is ” to the credit of our European friends that they have accepted the need to address these issues”, spoke of the need for “a spirit of friendship and sensitivity” in order to settle any remaining difficulties in Ireland, “minimise any disruption” and “open a new chapter of friendship with our European neighbours”.

Jeremy Corbyn refused to accept anything has changed. He accused the Government of wanting “a Trump deal Brexit”, and asserted that “no Labour MP could support such a reckless deal”.

Would Johnson allow himself to be riled? Might he retort that he already knew of quite a number of Labour MPs who could well support his deal?

Not a bit of it. The Prime Minister declared with statesmanlike restraint that he was “disappointed” by “some of the tone” of the Leader of the Opposition’s comments.

Johnson added that it was quite “reasonable” for Corbyn to ask about the standards of “environmental and social protection” which the UK will maintain after leaving the EU.

He assured the Labour leader that these standards would be “the highest in the world”, and added that once we have left, we would be able to do various things we cannot do while remaining in the EU, such as ban “the cruel export of live animals”.

The Prime Minister hoped Members across the House would support that measure. He did not allude, as he would have done if he had been in a different mood, to the desire of many Labour MPs to export Corbyn to Venezuela.

Ian Blackford, for the SNP, dismissed the Government’s proposals as “a plan designed to fail”, and once again, Johnson was “slightly disappointed by the tone” of his remarks.

The Democratic Unionists were not in the Chamber. Lady Hermon (Independent Unionist, North Down) said the DUP, which looks with favour on the Government’s proposed deal, does not represent the majority of people in the province, and Johnson’s plan “proves quite clearly that he does not understand Northern Ireland”.

Did Johnson bridle? Not a bit of it. He promised to “abide by every clause and principle of the Good Friday Agreement”, and said he would be “more than happy to meet with the Right Honourable Lady” to go through his proposals with her.

Here was Johnson the salesman, anxious to meet each potential customer and seal the deal. He said he would be “more than happy” to meet Yvette Cooper (Lab, Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford), Ben Bradshaw (Lab, Exeter), who had accused him of wanting to turn Northern Ireland into “a smugglers’ paradise”, and Patricia Gibson (SNP, North Ayrshire and Arran), who accused him of seeking to “blame the EU for his failure”.

Pat McFadden (Lab, Wolverhampton South East), an expert on the EU, was praised by the Prime Minister for making “a legitimate point”.

Praise rained down on the Prime Minister from his own benches. Conservatives of the most varied hues acclaimed his statesmanship.

Sir Peter Bottomley (Con, Worthing West) called on the Prime Minister to “rescind the withdrawal of the Conservative Whip” from the 21 Tory MPs who voted for the Benn Bill, which seeks to avert a no deal Brexit.

Johnson did not go quite that far. He said “the consequences of the Surrender Act” – as he prefers to call it – “are very serious for our ability to negotiate”.

But he added that the aim now is “to bring the whole country together and bring the House together – that would be the best way forward”.

Peace has broken out, and the vehemence of Johnson’s behaviour last week makes the change in his demeanour all the more welcome to many though by no means all MPs.

The frustrations of the last three years have created an almost universal desire to get Brexit over and done with, and here is Johnson the salesman promising he can take care of it all, and mend the divisions which rend the country.

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Contempt for the Labour leader is no substitute for the hard work of showing why his policies are wrong

The Labour Conference is going even worse than expected. Kevin Schofield, editor of PoliticsHome, yesterday afternoon posted on Twitter the comments of a Labour MP after the Brexit votes:

“We look like a chaotic, scruffy, angry, deluded and dangerous rabble. We hate success, hard work, intelligence and wealth. We like mediocrity, laziness and irresponsibility. We aren’t sure what we think about the biggest crisis facing the country since the war. We are chanting, cult-like, the name of a leader who has a public approval rating of -65. Why would anyone vote Labour? We deserve everything coming to us.”

So morale among moderate Labour MPs, which is the majority of them, could be better. But it would be unfair to blame this all on Jeremy Corbyn, with his public approval rating of -65. He has been put in a very difficult position by Brexit, where the pro-Remain views of most of his MPs and members conflict not just with his own long-established, albeit in recent times unexpressed support for Leave, but with the views of several million Leave-supporting Labour voters.

Whoever was leading the Labour Party would find this conundrum hard to resolve, and Boris Johnson, with his insistence on leaving with or without a deal by the end of October, has made the problem harder.

For as Charles Moore suggested in yesterday’s Daily Telegraph, the Prime Minister has set a trap for his opponents. By treating October 31st as a serious deadline, he “has driven many of them to reveal their true colours as Remainers instead of keeping up the pretence that they just want a good deal”.

Jo Swinson, the inexperienced new leader of the Lib Dems, plunged straight into that trap, adopting a far more definitive Remain policy than was needed, one which appalled some of her older colleagues and will make life harder for her party’s candidates in areas such as the West Country.

Corbyn has been wily enough not to plunge into the Johnson trap. He can be mocked for the ambiguity of his policy on Europe, but there is also a certain hard-headedness to what he has done.

The Labour leader is not trying to compete on Europe with the LibDems – on that, they will always be able to outbid him. But he reckons the electoral demand for old-fashioned socialism is higher than many of those who scorn him care to realise.

In the 2017 general election he was proved right about that. Contempt for Corbyn is no substitute for the hard work of showing why his policies are wrong, and addressing the discontents to which he claims socialism is the answer.

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David Skelton: From Gateshead to ‘Ghosthead’, how our towns have declined

David Skelton is the author of Little Platoons: How a revived One Nation can empower England’s forgotten towns and redraw the political map. He founded Renewal, dedicated to broadening Tory appeal.

There’s been an impressive urban renaissance in our great cities. The Baltic in Newcastle, the transformed stations in Manchester and Birmingham, Millennium Square in Leeds and the waterfront in Liverpool, are all testament to this. Sadly, this only tells half of the story. Travel only a few miles from these reborn city centres and there are too many examples of towns that continue to be “left behind”.

Walk only a few miles from the Baltic in “Newcastle-Gateshead” (a phrase that nobody other than marketing men use) and you’ll arrive in Gateshead town centre. As the local newspaper puts it: ‘You will see signs with letters missing, windows without glass and shutters pulled firmly down.’ In 2016, one fifth of the stores in Gateshead town centre were empty, with the Evening Chronicle saying that the town had gone from ‘Gateshead to Ghosthead’.

There are forgotten towns like this all over the country, often blighted by appalling transport links, poor digital infrastructure, a lack of skilled jobs, declining communal spaces and insufficient entrepreneurialism. They have all been more negatively impacted by deindustrialisation and the after effects of the banking crash. Mass immigration from EU accession countries changed the nature of some of these towns almost overnight.

The policy of successive governments has done little to make things better. A focus on linking big cities with London has left many towns exposed, and a fad for out of town shopping and business parks has hollowed out town centres. A myopic obsession with Higher Education meant that government actively encouraged all the talented young people to leave town when they turned 18. This has resulted in what some academics have described as ‘urban shrinkage’, where some towns face both a falling population and diminishing new business growth. It has also produced a deeply divided nation, where GDP per head in the City of London is almost 19 times that in County Durham.

It should have come as no surprise that these towns voted decisively for change in the Brexit referendum. Delivering Brexit is, of course, fundamental to maintaining democratic trust and delivering national renewal, but a first priority of post-Brexit Britain must be to turn these towns around.

It was heartening that the Prime Minister used his first major speech to address these issues. He argued that:

Towns with famous names, proud histories, fine civic buildings where unfortunately the stereotypical story of the last few decades has been long-term decline… Time and again they have voted for change, but for too long politicians have failed to deliver on what is needed.

As I set out in my new book, Little Platoons, we need a transformative agenda to renew long neglected towns:

Delivering world-class infrastructure

Without adequate infrastructure, parts of the UK are doomed to fall further behind. Proper investment in road, rail and digital links into town centres will provide the basis for a vibrant private sector.

Devolution and the creation of ‘prosperity hubs’

Power should be devolved to the local level, whether that be city, town or even neighbourhood. But devolution alone isn’t going to turn around towns that are well behind. Government should give special powers to elected mayors of the towns and conurbations that have the worst levels of deprivation. They should be declared as ‘priority prosperity hubs’ and provided with extra extra powers and resources, with a mandate to do whatever it takes to bring about economic regeneration.

Reviving town centres

The towns with the highest levels of deprivation should be able to charge the lowest level of business rates. Government should encourage community-based regeneration, with a promise to match a multiple of an amount raised locally for innovative regeneration projects. Town centres should be at the core of local economies, with a focus on jobs and businesses being located in the town centre rather than in distant business parks.

Reindustrialisation of forgotten towns

The UK’s productivity has suffered because our economy has deindustrialised more than any other major Western nation. We should explicitly aim for reindustrialisation of many towns. Measures should be taken to incentivise R & D investment and high value manufacturing. Centres for applied research should also be established in some of these towns.

A vocational education revolution

Government should invest heavily in creating world class vocational education, reversing a status quo, where the UK lags behind every other major European country. Towns should be empowered to create a “dual learning” system, where young people from the age of 14 will be able to continue their academic education, but also develop vocational skills in partnership with local employers. Vocational centres of excellence, in partnership with key employers, should also be established within our towns.

We should also move towards a higher minimum wage, lower taxes for workers and more employee share ownership. Such a transformative agenda would help change towns into well connected, high skill, high entrepreneurship locations.

It could also help to redraw the political map. Many towns that once felt an almost familial attachment to Labour have now abandoned a Party that has ignored and belittled them in favour of a metropolitan identity politics. Once staunchly Labour towns, such as Bishop Auckland and Stoke, now dominate the battleground of marginal seats.

The same towns that spearheaded the Brexit coalition could form the basis of an expanded Conservative coalition. Becoming the party associated with the positive transformation of towns could reshape British politics forever, making the Party the natural home for the urban working class in newly rising towns and, with it, recreating One Nation.

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Virginia Crosbie: A Conservative victory depends on women voters

Virginia Crosbie is Director of Women2Win, Deputy Chair of Kensington, Chelsea and Fulham Conservatives and the Conservative Policy Forum’s Champion for Social Mobility.

Losing the women’s vote – a trend or a one off?

In 2017, for the first time ever, a smaller proportion of women voted Conservative than men. In the last six decades women have tended to support the Conservatives slightly more than men, and as a Party we have come to rely on the women’s vote.  Was 2017 a one off or is this the beginning of a very worrying trend?

This problem is getting more acute among younger female voters. In the 2015 and 2017 General Elections women, especially those under the age of 40, were more likely than men to vote Labour. In 2017, 73% of women aged 18-24 – nearly three times the figure in 2010 – voted Labour compared to 52% of men.

The trend does not seem to be improving; a poll recently by the think tank Onward found that only 8% of young women (compared to 20% of young men) say they will vote Conservative.

Losing the women’s vote made a significant difference to us in 2017; the Conservatives were only nine seats (excluding the Speaker) short of an outright majority, and a large number of seats were only narrowly lost. In 2017, 97 seats were won by a margin of 5% or less. A small improvement in women’s voting would have meant a lot more Conservative seats.

The women’s vote is becoming increasingly important due to demographics. Women currently make up 54% of the UK electorate reflecting the fact that women have a longer life expectancy than men, and turnout amongst older voters is higher. As the population ages and with women living on average 3.6 years longer than men – the women’s vote is becoming more and more important. Based on statistics from 2017, men and women are equally likely to vote, therefore with the proportion of female voters growing, we have a natural advantage if we can recover our appeal to women.

Winning back the women’s vote

It’s not clear why we are losing the women’s vote, and why we have failed to connect with younger women. Is it because women have been disproportionately affected by austerity? Is it because women are more worried than men about crime, the NHS and the future of the next generation? When I’m out campaigning I’m keen to ask people why they are not voting Conservative. Please can you share the feedback you have had on the doorsteps.

With over 15 million women now working, and with more than 500,000 women giving birth each year, we have an opportunity, an opportunity to ensure that we have the policies in place to support every woman and her family. As a party we have made great strides to improve the workplace for women with gender pay gap reporting, flexible working and greater maternity and redundancy protection. We need to shout about these successes so that young women know these are Conservative successes.

We also need to face up to some difficult questions. With more female MPs and more female MPs driving policy decisions, does this mean that Labour’s policies are more likely to appeal to women? Almost half of Labour MPs are women, whereas only one in five Conservative MPs are women. Labour has forced this figure through with ‘All Women Shortlists’ – something that is against our core Conservative values of hard work and merit. But does the number of women MPs matter? Has this given Labour an advantage? And if this has, what do we propose to do about it?

Increasing political engagement

Women are more likely to be politically engaged if they can vote for candidates they can relate to.  Has this been the key to Labour’s success? In the 2017 General Election the Conservatives fielded 184 women candidates (28.4% of their total) versus 256 for Labour (40.6%). Labour fielded a significantly higher number of women candidates than the Conservatives in seats that Labour already held. In safe seats where Labour had a majority of 20-30% the difference was even more marked with over 50% of candidates being women. Since 1979, an average of 86 seats in each election became available as MPs stood down. As 2017 was a snap election only 31 MPs announced they would not stand for re-election.

Women are significantly under-represented among Conservative candidates, MPs and also councillors. After the 2019 local elections just 30% of Conservative councillors are women. Since local government has a disproportionate impact on women’s lives it would make sense for women’s voices to be better reflected in decision-making.

A higher number of female councillors, candidates and MPs can be interpreted as a sign and driver of political engagement for women. The AskHerToStand cross-party initiative by 50:50 Parliament has been successful in increasing the number of women coming forward to get involved in local politics or Parliament. Has your local association thought of hosting an AskHerToStand event to motivate more women to get involved? If not, then they should do so urgently.

Also, the ‘Make It Your Business’ initiative encourages and supports women entrepreneurs. I’ve hosted four ‘Make It Your Business’ events, and found it a great way to recruit women who do not appreciate that their entrepreneurial values are aligned to Conservative values. Get in touch if you would like to arrange one.

I’m keen to hear your thoughts and what has worked for you. I would especially like to listen to our younger members as to how we can broaden our Conservative base and deliver our message.

Encouraging more female members – a good place to start

I’m keen to help and I am regularly asked by Conservative Associations how they can attract more young members and particularly more women members. Seven out of 10 of our Conservative Party members are male, and we have a long way to go to achieve the parity that Labour, the Lib Dem’s, Greens and the SNP achieve. A good place to start is by supporting women to become association officers. The Party already has so many great initiatives and groups to attract new voters – the Conservative Policy Forum (CPF), the Conservative Women’s Organisation (CWO), CWO Diversity, Conservative Young Women (CYW) and the Young Conservatives (YCs).

Another initiative is for associations to build stronger relationships with universities, and encourage more students to join through student campaigns. I saw first hand how the students from Winchester University Conservative Society worked exceptionally hard to deliver leaflets in the recent local election.

If we are to win a majority in Parliament at the next General Election it is critical that we win the women’s vote. It’s going to take soul- searching and hard work, not just words. I hope this paper opens up the debate and helps us focus on how we can do this. We are missing out on a huge pool of voters and talent for our party. This is not political correctness this is political common sense. By working together to address the gender disparity of voting intentions I hope that it will help us succeed as a party.

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Johnson has the inestimable advantage of a divided Opposition

The best news yesterday for Boris Johnson was written by Tony Blair’s former Director of Communications. Alastair Campbell brought out a lengthy denunciation of Jeremy Corbyn under the headline “Why I no longer want to be readmitted to Labour”, and repeated this message in numerous broadcasts.

There could be no more striking proof that the Opposition is for the time being irreparably split. Labour Remainers feel so betrayed by Corbyn that many of them have decided to switch to the Liberal Democrats.

It is true that Tory Leavers felt so betrayed by Theresa May that at the recent European elections, they switched in huge numbers to the Brexit Party.

But the Conservative Party reacted to that shock by electing a new Leader, and the Brexit Party is now being squeezed, as Mark Wallace noted on Sunday in his analysis of the most recent opinion polls.

The nearer the Johnson Government comes to delivering Brexit, the tighter that squeeze will become.

But suppose Parliament manages to block Brexit? Can Tory Remainers, including such resolute figures as Dominic Grieve, find some way at the eleventh hour, in alliance with the Opposition parties and with intransigeant negotiators in Brussels, Dublin and other European capitals, to delay the whole process, or even to bring it to a juddering halt?

This is a question on which it is possible for well-informed people to disagree. We find ourselves bombarded with mutually incompatible assertions about what can and cannot happen.

Johnson, however, is building a fallback position. If as he takes the country towards No Deal he finds his path blocked, or severely impeded, by a parliamentary coalition of Remainers, he can say, “Very well, let us have a general election, and let the people decide whether they wish to proceed with Brexit.”

What then will Labour MPs decide to do? Most of them know, as Campbell has pointed out, their party is in no condition to win such an election, and could indeed be destroyed by it.

In a Brexit election, Labour cannot be as welcoming to Remain voters as the Liberal Democrats, or to Leave voters as the Conservatives.

Jo Swinson has yet to make an impact as Lib Dem leader, but she is at least much newer than Corbyn, and much clearer on the European issue.

And Johnson is not just clear on Europe. By hastening to announce the increased spending on various public services which one would expect to find at the heart of a Labour manifesto, he has stolen the clothes a more dynamic Labour leader would already be wearing.

Many Labour MPs probably do not know themselves what they would do if confronted by the threat of an early general election. The problem for their party is that they might split several different ways.

Some might reckon that under Corbyn, a leader whose abilities as a campaigner were underestimated in 2017, the party could still perform well.

Some might call for a new leader, which would be difficult or impossible to arrange in a hurry, or for a Lib-Lab pact, which again would be difficult or impossible to arrange in a hurry.

And some might decide to do just about anything to avert an early general election. They might decide to accept Johnson’s argument that proceeding at full speed towards No Deal is the only way to obtain the necessary concessions from the EU.

Divided parties seldom do well in elections. Nor do divided oppositions. One of the conditions for Margaret Thatcher’s success in the 1980s was the splintering of the Left, with the formation in March 1981 of the SDP.

Johnson is an ebullient campaigner, who plainly hopes that by mobilising public opinion, he can place pressure on MPs to support what the Government is doing.

Campbell writes of “Johnson unspeakably now prime minister and changing the dynamic of the political debate”. Those words indicate a certain haplessness, an inability to work out how to get to grips with this new opponent.

Johnson has “unspeakably” seized the initiative, and no considerable figure on the Opposition side yet seems to have the faintest idea how to deal with him.

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WATCH: McDonnell insists reports of a split with Corbyn are “rubbish”

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WATCH: Thrasher predicts Conservative losses of “around about 400” council seats

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