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Westlake Legal Group > Newcastle

Lord Ashcroft: What my latest surveys found voters south of the border think about the Union

Lord Ashcroft KCMG PC is an international businessman, philanthropist, author and pollster. For more information about his work, visit www.lordashcroft.com and www.lordashcroftpolls.com.

In August, my research in Scotland found a slim majority for independence. In September, my poll in Northern Ireland found a tiny margin for leaving the United Kingdom and joining the Republic. This month, to round out the picture, I have surveyed voters in England to see how they feel about the Union, especially the parts of it that voted to remain in the EU, and how they see the prospect of one or more of the home nations deciding to go its own way.

Who benefits?

Many English voters think Scotland and Northern Ireland respectively benefit more from the Union than the rest of the UK. This is particularly the case among those who voted Leave in the EU referendum, and especially among Conservative Leavers – two-thirds of whom say Scotland benefits most from being part of the Union, compared to one in five who think all parts of the UK benefit equally from its membership.

Westlake Legal Group Screen-Shot-2019-10-20-at-19.11.57 Lord Ashcroft: What my latest surveys found voters south of the border think about the Union United Kingdom The Union Scotland Opinion Pollster Opinion Polls Northern Ireland Newcastle ireland Highlights England Comment Bexley   Notably, people were slightly more to think Scotland benefits disproportionately from being part of the UK than they were to say the same about Northern Ireland.

Just over half of English voters think that England subsidises Scotland financially, and they are divided as to whether or not they are happy with this arrangement (while four in ten say they don’t know whether they subsidise Scotland or not).

Conservative voters are by far the most likely to think that England provides financial support to Scotland – three quarters believe this to be the case, and most of them are unhappy about it. Tory Leavers are also the most likely to think that England subsidises Northern Ireland, but with the difference that they are more likely to be happy to do so.

Westlake Legal Group Screen-Shot-2019-10-20-at-19.11.57-1 Lord Ashcroft: What my latest surveys found voters south of the border think about the Union United Kingdom The Union Scotland Opinion Pollster Opinion Polls Northern Ireland Newcastle ireland Highlights England Comment Bexley   Our focus groups – conducted with voters of different political outlooks in Bexley, south east London, and Newcastle upon Tyne – shed some light on this apparent discrepancy. The widespread view that the English “pay for Scotland” goes hand-in-hand with the knowledge that Scots get certain things – free NHS prescriptions and free university education – that are not available in England: in other words, that English taxpayers are paying for the Scots to have things that they don’t get themselves.

There is an extra dimension to this in Newcastle, where people question the idea of a more prosperous England supporting its poorer neighbour to the north: affluence was really confined to “that belt that goes from the Cotswolds through to London, into Essex to some extent, not as far north as Norfolk and Suffolk, not the Midlands”.

Moreover, it rankled with some of our English voters that Scotland seemed to show little affinity for the Union they felt they were paying to maintain: “It’s always Scotland. They say ‘I’m not British, I’m Scottish’;” “With the Barnett Formula they come out ahead, and they’re still moaning;” “I’ve got nothing against Scotland but if they want to be independent let’s stop paying the funds.”

Indeed, some felt that those who had voted against independence in 2014 had done so for purely economic reasons: “My Scottish friends are worried about their pensions if they become independent. They hate the English;” “I don’t think the people who voted to stay were particularly attached – I think they just thought it was in their best interests.”

These things do not apply in the same way with Northern Ireland, for three main reasons: people feel the province is much less able to support itself financially than Scotland; there was no perception that people there enjoyed benefits that were not available in England; and there was little awareness of a concerted movement to take Northern Ireland out of the UK or “moaning” about the English while enjoying their apparent largesse.

The Brexit effect

A plurality of English voters – including a majority of EU Remainers – think Brexit makes Scottish independence in the foreseeable future more likely, while Leave voters are more likely to think it makes no difference. For some in our groups, this was more because it had given the SNP “an excuse to go for another referendum” rather than any material change: Scots had already had “a chance to make a decision and they bottled it… They decided to stay part of the UK, therefore you have to sort of grin and bear what the general UK decision is. You’ve got to live with that.”

However, this was a minority view. Remainers were unsurprisingly sympathetic to the argument that Scots were being taken out of the EU against their will: “I can identify with their feeling of loss, they’re feeling angry that someone has taken something away that the majority of them wanted to keep. It adds to the longstanding list of things that ‘people in bloody Westminster do and we have to put up with’.”

But English Leave voters – themselves feeling that their democratically expressed will was not being acted upon – also empathised with the Scottish Remainers’ predicament: “I’d be miffed. We’re miffed because we voted out and we’re not;” “Let them have their independence so they can stay in the EU if they want to.”

However, some were less sure that Brexit had hastened Scottish independence, arguing that the post-2016 saga might make some voters reluctant to go through the whole thing again: “If I were Scottish, I would be thinking – is there a Withdrawal Agreement, is it deal or no deal, what does that mean? They don’t want the farce of the three and a half years that we’ve had.”

Indeed, many English Leave voters saw many parallels between some Scots’ desire for self-determination and their own wish to leave the EU: “It’s similar in the way we want to control our own destiny. Scotland want their independence, we want our independence from the EU for roughly the same reasons… Taking back control.”

Remain voters also sympathised – especially with the wish not to be “taken out” of the EU – but often ascribed more noble motives to the independence movement: “With Brexit, a lot of it was prejudice, ‘we don’t want foreigners in our country’. With Scotland it’s not as emotional.” While Brexit had in their view been driven largely by immigration, the Scots “are really into their heritage. It’s ‘I really want to be Scottish’.”

Westlake Legal Group Screen-Shot-2019-10-20-at-19.14.14 Lord Ashcroft: What my latest surveys found voters south of the border think about the Union United Kingdom The Union Scotland Opinion Pollster Opinion Polls Northern Ireland Newcastle ireland Highlights England Comment Bexley   Most voters think Scotland is on course to leave the UK – and while most of those think Brexit has accelerated the process, a large minority of them (and three in ten of all Leave voters) think Scotland would probably vote for independence in the next few years whether Brexit was happening or not.

Westlake Legal Group Screen-Shot-2019-10-20-at-19.16.24 Lord Ashcroft: What my latest surveys found voters south of the border think about the Union United Kingdom The Union Scotland Opinion Pollster Opinion Polls Northern Ireland Newcastle ireland Highlights England Comment Bexley   When the same questions are applied to Northern Ireland, English voters are much less likely to have a view. Apart from the observation that “the religious element is very strong,” very few had any grasp of the dynamics of Northern Irish politics, which seem complicated and even mysterious to many people.

Some were not even aware that Northern Ireland’s long-term place in the Union was even an issue, and for others the question seemed less to do with self-determination, as in Scotland, than with identity: while Unionists there “probably feel much like us, that they’re part of us”, it was natural that others should feel that “Ireland is their own country. There’s water separating England and Ireland. So if Northern Ireland became part of Ireland, that’s Ireland, one whole country.”

Westlake Legal Group Screen-Shot-2019-10-20-at-19.18.28 Lord Ashcroft: What my latest surveys found voters south of the border think about the Union United Kingdom The Union Scotland Opinion Pollster Opinion Polls Northern Ireland Newcastle ireland Highlights England Comment Bexley   Only just over a quarter of English voters – and only one in three Conservative Leavers – think it would be wrong on principle for some EU laws and regulations to apply in Northern Ireland after Brexit but not to the rest of the UK. A plurality – and a majority of Tories – think such an outcome is not ideal, but an acceptable compromise to get a sensible Brexit arrangement.

Should they stay or should they go?

On the big question of Scotland and Northern Ireland’s membership of the union, English opinion largely divides between those who say yes, and those who say it is for the Scottish and Northern Irish people to decide.

Of this latter group – more than two in five of the English population – only a handful say that if either voted to leave the UK they would be happy to see them go. Of those who say it is for Scotland and Northern Ireland to decide, a large minority nevertheless say they would be sorry to see them leave if they chose do so. This means that, overall, most English voters would rather keep the Union together if it were up to them – though they recognise it isn’t up to them.

This overall view was also reflected and expanded on in our focus groups. Many felt there was something important but intangible about the Union, and that the country would be diminished if one or more parts of it were to leave: “I like being part of the United Kingdom, I do. I think if we divide it we could make ourselves weaker, not stronger;” “We’re known as the four countries together worldwide. The Royal Family, bringing all of us together – people see us as one. I don’t think people abroad see us as separate countries;” “It’s like a family. You have dysfunctional families but you still come together;” “Historically, worldwide, the UK has been a leading force in a lot of areas. If it was all divided up I don’t think we would have the same standing in the world;” “If we separate from Scotland, would there be a border? That would be pretty sad. It would be going backwards. It’s the Berlin Wall all over again and the Mexicans and Trump. It’s not positive.”

As in the poll, very few of our focus group participants actively wanted Scotland to leave. For those who would be least unhappy to see them go, the point was not that we disliked them, but that the Scots seemed to resent the English. As mentioned above, this made the idea of financial subsidies harder to swallow: “We don’t want to be governed by the EU, they don’t want to be governed by us. But they still want our money.”

And while the idea of unity was good in principle, it seemed illusory to some, who often also felt that rivalry and antagonism went back much further than the Union: “You go up to the borders of Scotland and see the castles and everything. We were always fighting;” “I don’t feel we’re united anyway. They’ve fought us for years and years;” “We’ve been segregated for quite a long time actually. I don’t think there’s much unity.”

This also helps to explain why, when asked what they would do if they had to choose between going ahead with Brexit and keeping Scotland and Northern Ireland in the Union, most Leave voters chose Brexit. As was clear from the groups, this does not reflect a callous disregard for the Union but a pragmatic view that all parts of the UK had the right of self-determination. England and Wales had voted to leave the EU; if Scotland and Northern Ireland wanted to chart their own course, so be it: “If they want to be their country, what’s it got to do with us? Just let them crack on” – especially since their campaigns to leave the UK would continue whether we were in the EU or not.

Westlake Legal Group Screen-Shot-2019-10-20-at-19.19.20 Lord Ashcroft: What my latest surveys found voters south of the border think about the Union United Kingdom The Union Scotland Opinion Pollster Opinion Polls Northern Ireland Newcastle ireland Highlights England Comment Bexley   But even most of these voters hoped it wouldn’t come to that: “I’d be prepared to say goodbye to all of them, because that’s what we voted for. But I don’t want that to happen;” “You’d have to change the flag and everything. It wouldn’t be the United Kingdom any more;” “We’re proud of our little nation and I don’t want bits breaking off. I want people to remember us as a dynamic little nation that fought against major powers and beat them. And it’s strength in numbers and historically what we’re known for. I’d rather we all stay together.”

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

Damian Flanagan: What drives the Conservatives’ underlying problems? For answers, ponder our exile from the cities of the north.

So why am I even writing about this secretive group of no-hopers? Because they happen to be called “The Conservative Party” – and it currently runs the country. Also, I happen to be one of them, having recently taken over the running of the newly reformed Manchester, Withington Constituency Conservative Association.

The position of the Conservative Party not just in Manchester, but in cities across the North of England is so dire that it is probably beyond the imaginings of people in the rest of the country and certainly seems to be a blind spot for Conservative Campaign Headquarters. There hasn’t been a single Conservative councillor elected in Manchester for over 25 years, and until two years ago, the council was a hundred per cent Labour, with no opposition whatsoever – leading to zero scrutiny of any Council policies.

In the recent local elections,t he Conservatives sunk to a new low in Manchester, attracting just 6.5 per cent of the vote, half that achieved by both the Greens and Liberal Democrats, and barely 1/9th of the 58.8 per cent achieved by Labour.

The opposition to Labour in Manchester now consists of three Liberal Democrat councillors (who recently complained that the council was too “right wing”). There is also not a single Conservative councillor on the councils in Liverpool, Sheffield, Leicester, South Tyneside, Gateshead, Newcastle…

So why should people elsewhere care about this? If Northerners like Labour so much, shouldn’t they just be allowed to get on with it?

You could argue that the local elections were an aberration and that people were venting their frustration with the Brexit stalemate in Westminster, that two unrelated issues – local government and national government – were being conflated.

Yet the crisis over Brexit and the full-scale retreat of the Conservative Party from many cities in the north of England are profoundly connected.

Think back to the last time that the Conservative Party enjoyed thumping majorities of over 100 in the House of Commons and was able to act decisively. You have to go back to Margaret Thatcher and the 1980s, a time when the Conservatives still had MPs in urban constituencies in places like Manchester, had a considerable group of representatives on the council there and could appeal to voters in northern cities.

Since being rooted out of those northern cities in the 1990s, the best the Conservatives have been able to hope for are slim majorities in general elections, leaving them highly vulnerable to party divisions over Europe.

Having the vision and doggedness to produce policies that re-engage with the inhabitants of places like Manchester, Liverpool, Sheffield, Leicester, Tyneside and Newcastle has seemingly not been in the mindset of anyone in the Conservative Party. That needs to change urgently.

The fact is that the Conservatives have for over 22 years been incapable of ruling without the support first of the Liberal Democrats and now of the Democratic Unionists. Parliament has been paralysed, Brexit frustrated and finally the Conservatives went begging to Labour for agreement with their policies. All these things are intimately connected to the fact that there has not been a Conservative councillor elected in Manchester for 25 years.

Imagine, though, that the Conservatives were to declare their determination to win back these “lost” Northern cities, starting by setting up a permament office in Manchester and sending some of their best people to find out what exactly is going on and to find a solution to the ingrained antipathy to Conservatives. Supposing we were to make it a marquee policy that we will not, as Conservatives, accept the age-old, north-south wealth divide – why should we? There is no reason whatsover why the north should be poor.

Let’s commit ourselves as Conservatives to those neglected northern cities by taking radical measures: offering tax incentives for companies to set up there and moving government departments north – the relocation of sections of the BBC to Salford and the creation of Media City there has been transformational in the economy of that area.

Let’s commit ourselves to the end of failing, inner city northern state schools which trap many children in a cycle of ignorance and poverty for life, and demand that minimal standards are met instead, and that we will closely monitor and put in targetted resources to these areas until that happens.

Imagine if people in the North began to think of the Conservatives not as the “Nasty Party” only concerned with their own interests and support base in the south, but rather as the visionaries who lifted them, once and for all, out of relative poverty and offered unprecedented opportunities, rediscovering the entrepeneurial drive and world-beating heritage of these post-industrial cities.

In Manchester, the populace are constantly told, over and over, that the source of all problems are “Tory cuts”. It is a matter of almost existential, religious belief.

The local governments of such cities as Liverpool, Manchester, Sheffield and Newcastle – cities which once led the world as centres of invention and industry – tend to focus on a culture of welfare. There is little sense that a spirit of enterprise, self-reliance and sense of public good is required to guarantee a prosperous future: it’s this compassionate and engaged Conservative vision that the North needs to rediscover.

As Conservatives, we need to support and nurture such a vision. But we are not going to manage it as a London-centric organisation that just views the cities of the north as largely unwinnable provincial backwaters.

The Conservative revolution that needs to begin in cities across the North should also transform the Conservatives nationally. The Conservatives cannot be merely a party of the South and the countryside: it must strongly engage with the interests and concerns of England’s northern cities.

Many people think the great irresolvable fault line in British politics lies between Britain and the EU or else on the border of the Irish Republic. But delve further into what exactly is causing the underlying weakness and reliance on coalitions in Conservative governments, and you will see that it is the long Conservative exile from the cities of the North which is a chief cause of what is stopping the UK advancing forward with decisiveness and unity as a nation.

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

Richard Wearmouth: Labour’s hard left Mayoral candidate is a threat to the north east

Cllr Richard Wearmouth is the Deputy Chairman of the North East Conservatives and the Cabinet Member for Regeneration on Northumberland Council.

Next month, voters in North of Tyne face a clear-cut choice. Do they opt for a Conservative mayor with a track record of partnership for the good of the region? Or do they elect an unknown Corbyn activist with no relevant experience whatever?

‘North of Tyne’ is England’s latest devolution deal, offering greater control on jobs, schools, homes, and the wider economy. It covers over 800,000 people across Newcastle, North Tyneside, and Northumberland. Crucially, the mayor’s job brings control of a £600 million budget for economic development, as well as a high-profile ambassadorial role for one of the economic jewels in the northern English crown.

Conservative candidate, Charlie Hoult, is a businessman who built up a marketing business in London to 400 staff before he returned to Newcastle to run the family firm: a business park he has helped transform into a hub for 150 creative businesses. He also founded tech network, Dynamo, to grow the wider North East economy, representing the region’s 42,000 IT workers. Dynamo started NE Futures UTC, a new £13 million state secondary school in Newcastle for 600 students, and the £30m National Innovation Centre for Data – emerging from discussions Hoult led with then-chancellor, George Osborne.

He is a well-connected pragmatist who can work with government and businesses to deliver the beacon projects we need in core sectors like advanced manufacturing, medical science, digital and finance. Hoult is campaigning under the banner of ‘Projects not Politics’, referring to £100m of projects he has already initiated. He was led to this mantra by Ben Houchen, the Mayor of neighbouring Tees Valley, who told him that 75 per cent of his role is project delivery and must operate above politics.

This election may look a battle of red on blue, but Houchen, in an all-Labour council area, has proved it is possible for a Conservative to win, particularly with second choices at stake in the supplementary voting system in place. Labour’s North of Tyne candidate is Jamie Driscoll, whose job is Newcastle’s Momentum chief organiser. He has just 10 months as a city councillor. In February, he defeated Newcastle City Council’s centrist leader Nick Forbes, to secure the Labour candidacy.

Driscoll’s campaign leaflets present him as a man of experience and a friend of business. His online election biog says he was a “project manager and company director in the electronics and IT sector”. A quick bit of research shows that Driscoll was indeed director and company secretary of a firm, Floppidog.com, listed more than 15 years ago and it is unclear if it ever even traded. More recently, Driscoll was the sole director of Pits and Politics Festivals Ltd, formed specifically for a two-day hard-left ‘festival’ in 2018.

What we do know about Driscoll’s most recent past is that has spent the last few years homeschooling his children. This may be laudable, but it will offer scant assurance to voters of North of Tyne that he has the front-line business experience needed to be Mayor.

The question voters will want to ask is: what has Driscoll actually done in his career that qualifies him to control a £600m economic development budget? When it comes to ideas, Driscoll has been more expansive. His self-published little red book, The Way of the Activist, offers insight into his world view. It includes absurd claims that “money is literally created at the stroke of a keyboard. We can never run out”, or that “nine times out of ten, owners contribute absolutely no work to the production process”.

Hard-working company founders in this region find this view of their contribution completely insulting. I fear international investors, reading this, will take fright and look elsewhere, cutting off a vital source of regional growth.

Driscoll condemns “big corporations that don’t pay their taxes” and features tech giant Amazon in his campaign video as the bad guys. Yet The Way of The Activist is printed, you guessed it, by none other than Amazon. This is one of a series of Driscoll ironies, which have left him regarded as something of a charlatan, even inside his own party. Like many left-wingers, he seems happy to compromise his own ideological position to maintain his lifestyle. He lectures in Facebook videos about climate change, for instance, while driving a gas-guzzling 4:4 Land Rover Defender to conferences. As for Driscoll’s stance on Brexit, don’t ask. ITV’s Joe Pike did – and the YouTube of his car-crash interview went viral on political blogs nationwide, for all the wrong reasons.

I can’t be alone in worrying about uncosted and untested policy plans from the hard-left Labour man. Fantasy and unwanted proposals include a new ‘people’s bank’ and a ‘green energy company’. These smack of totalitarian grandstanding. Both would take the new mayor into high-risk sectors that could absorb the entire mayoral budget without targeting core priorities: jobs, skills and rural growth. Surely the new Mayor should leave speculative investment to the private sector and, instead, use public money to pump-prime projects and leverage partner investment.

Untested policies from a novice Labour candidate are raising ever-louder concerns North of Tyne. Alongside uncompromising hard-line Momentum politics, voters have good cause for concern about their future. We don’t want our region to become a test bed for the radical left, and nor do our region’s voters.

We must keep pressing the positives for our region. We are winners, are already winning – the region just ranked at number one for digital business growth, above even London. As Charlie Hoult has said, let’s build up from where we are – not risk a return to the slow lane.

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