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Westlake Legal Group > Posts tagged "Cities"

“If you go ‘transgender rights are our big thing’, you are going to lose that culture war”

Over in the United States, in the competiton for the Democrats’ presidential candidate nomination, Bernie Sanders has suggested that illegal immigrants should have the same rights to welfare as American citizens.

“All of our people – when I say all I also mean the undocumented in this country – all of our people are entitled to basic human rights,” he told a campaign rally.  This is part of what he calls “rethinking America”.

Sanders thus offers a context in which to mull how the Ango-American Left is ceasing to be the movement of the working class.  Thus opening up the space for Boris Johnson to win his “stonking majority” last December.

Tony Blair set the scene in Britain by spurning transitional controls on migration from Eastern Europe in the wake of enlargement.

This was a significant factor in swelling the long-term rejection of Labour by a huge swathe of the working class.  The New Labour years paved the way for the rise of UKIP and the EU referendum.

Lord Ashcroft’s research suggests that immigration was the second-biggest factor in driving Leave voters to back quitting the EU.

And Labour’s reluctance to abandon freedom of movement had an impact four years later.  The Tory lead among CDE voters last year was bigger than among ABC ones.

Neil O’Brien correctly writes on this site today that the Conservatives are endangered in the medium-term by their lack of support among younger voters, city dwellers, public sector workers and ethnic minorities.

However, Labour is lost in the short-term, and for longer too, if its support outside Scotland is restricted to those parts of the population.  There are not enough of them to build a durable majority.

The party’s majorities in some urban seats can be awesome, but the likes of Bristol West and its neighbours, Oxford East, Cambridge, Reading East, the Luton seats and Norwich South are like red islands amidst a blue sea.

And Labour’s main leadership election candidates seem set on digging themselves deeper into working class trouble as the ballot opens.

All three – including Keir Starmer, the likely winner – back restoring freedom of movement (though Rebecca Long-Bailey has suggested that this may be impractical).

The next election is a long away away, but the policy will be an albatross round Starmer’s neck for the next four years (if he wins and doesn’t resile from it).

Tony Blair is Labour’s past rather than its future, and his experiment has left a sour taste, at least in the mouth of those crucial voters in Red Wall seats.

But he is right to argue that the party has no electoral future if it remains rooted in so narrow a part of the population – a gallery that Starmer, Long-Bailey and Nandy are playing to.

His nose for the needs of the day is as acute as ever, and it is significant that he has alighted on transgender campaigners and his party’s future.

“If you go, ‘Transgender rights are our big thing,’ and the right say, ‘Immigration control is our big thing,’ you are going to lose that [culture] war, so you are not going to advance any of the things you want to do,” he said recently.

It comes as Nandy seeks to untie herself from self-inflicted knots over trans – explaining that she signed a pledge card demanding the expulsion of “bigoted” party members despite taking “pause for thought” first.

She went on to complain about pledge cards in general, saying that “with hindsight, if we could have all signed a pledge card at the beginning to say that we wouldn’t sign pledge cards”.

Nandy may not have been entirely serious.  However, it is a statement of the obvious to say that if you don’t want to sign a pledge card…just don’t sign a pledge card.  It’s as simple as that.

This Conservative site might be expected to rejoice at the prospect of the main opposition party setting itself on becoming unelectable if it possibly can.

On the contrary, we want Britain to have a proper opposition – not one set on sending out Ken Livingstone-style search parties for ever-more-hard-to-find favoured and fashionable minorites.

Clement Attlee set the post-war pattern for Labour by welding left-wing economics with a right-wing security policy – or at least a deeply patriotic one.

The party wobbled about during the 1970s and 1980s, but a certain norm of outlook and approach ultimately reasserted itself – until Blair and Gordon Brown quietly tore up the migration consensus and went for growth.

One wonders what Attlee would have made of the shift in his party, and that taking place within the Left throughout much of the Anglosphere, and elsewhere.

At any rate, Labour is leaving space for Boris Johnson to wind down the pace of government if he wants to – and himself advance an immigration policy that is deeply ambiguous.

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

Ed McGuinness: To be One Nation Conservatives means winning over Londoners too

Ed McGuinness is Chairman of Islington Conservative Federation and stood for Hornsey & Wood Green at the general election.

Disraeli, the father of modern Conservatism, famously wrote in his novel Sybil, the nineteenth century equivalent of a docudrama, of “two nations… who are as ignorant of each other’s habits, thoughts and feelings as if they were inhabitants of different planets.” Disraeli was speaking of the rich and the poor, the conditions of whom were vastly more stark than today, at the height of the Industrial Revolution. However, one need only to look at a before and after map of the 2019 General Election to see the emergence of two, separate “nations”, particularly in England and Wales; those in the cities and towns – and those who are not.

Traditional theories point to economic disparity. The perception of cities is that they tend to be the preserve of the wealthy, globalised, educated elite. But those in more rural areas can feel left behind by globalisation concentrating wealth in Capital and regional cities. The idea follows that these two poles become echo chambers, where the Left, who are seen as accepting of multiculturalism and progressive ideas, prevail in cities. Whereas the Right, with its perception of sticking with the same, finds success in more rural areas.

Perceptions are not, however, all as they seem. A YouGov study last year showed that conventional viewpoints of what may be considered Left or Right are changing. Commonly perceived right wing views on stricter discipline in education, for example, are shared by a majority of people who “self-identify” as left wing. The same can be said for attitudes to criminal justice and, most intriguingly, a plurality (47 per cent), of left wing people were in favour of tighter restrictions on immigration. This shows that the Left-Right spectrum is not a sharp line, but a smudge that is far more nuanced than previously thought. The result is that there is an opening to persuade and win over voters who may have, in the past, been overlooked as unreachable.

With the Conservative Party having won a thumping majority in the 2019 General Election, one could be forgiven by saying we have recognised this change and reacted successfully. Key pillars of the Conservative manifesto were somewhat non-customary, relying on public spending increases. Although anyone who considers the Conservative Party a party of pragmatism will understand that affordable public spending in order to benefit society is absolutely central to our method of governance. In addition, having been in place two months, there have been a number of policy decisions which have crossed the “established” Left-Right divide. However, let us not consider this Mission Accomplished, the election was dominated by Brexit, and the Government needs to act to deliver, real, tangible benefits to the voters, particularly in the rural North who leant the Conservatives their vote. In tilting towards the North, the Government must not forget the South and London.

The London Assembly and Mayoral elections will be a litmus test for the Conservatives electoral strategy towards, not just the Capital, but our towns and cities in general.

This is important for three reasons:

Firstly, a matter of perception. Mayors are directly elected officials, often elected with huge numbers (the London Mayor is often over one million depending on methodology) making them singularly powerful and influential in their region.

Secondly, winning and holding our towns and cities shows there is no preserve of a single party and therefore a healthy democracy can ensue.

Thirdly, and most importantly, cities and towns have a huge influence on economies of the suburban and rural communities that surround them. To focus on one and not the other may be a tactical success, but will ultimately lead to strategic failure.

For too long the Labour Party has dominated government in London, and they do this by spinning a narrative of Tories being evil, rich and uncaring. This is the traditional Left-Right divide that Labour councillors and candidates want to send around their echo chambers. Not only that, but they actively pursue policies which keep those on lower incomes at the bottom, often ploughing public funds into their own propaganda, from where it is easier for Labour to blame a lack of central government funding for their problems namely, complete mismanagement of our public finances on a local level. Most worrying of all, however, is the impact of the focus on self-promotion and vote retention, rather than the issues that matter most to Londoners – public safety.

Both the Mayor and his complicit Labour councillors have spent their time preening themselves in the mirrors of their traditional voters, blind to the fact that that same electorate feels unsafe in their own streets.

Shaun Bailey and the London Assembly candidates are effectively countering this narrative and holding the Mayor to account. Shaun has an actionable plan for crime, starting with more police on the streets, community groups to give young people a sense of belonging, and zero tolerance on gang activity, all to make London safe. Not only this, but his housing policy gives a sense of aspiration for young Londoners who feel a lack of participation in our property owning democracy – arguably the central pillar of Conservative values. Along with improved transport, attracting business and environmental commitments, it is clear that only the Conservatives can actually deliver what Londoners want, not what a complacent Labour administration says they need.

Westminster is increasingly focusing on developing the North – rightly as it is the only way to truly level-up the country, an unbalanced economy is both inefficient and unfair. We can and we must win the narrative in our towns and cities, or else we risk forever gifting them to the Left, making us a party, not of the whole country but of one half. Multi-generational development can only occur when it is adopted in an integrated fashion, made possible when all levels of government adopt the same guiding principles of public service, safety, and aspiration.

Put another way, we cannot be One Nation Conservatives, in the truest of senses, without speaking to and delivering for every part of the country.

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

Neil O’Brien: Five ways to help resolve the housing crisis

Neil O’Brien is MP for Harborough.

To many Conservative voters, we seem to have built a lot of houses in recent years. Yet much new development seems poor. And young people still can’t afford to buy a house. What’s going on?

The last fortnight saw the publication of Roger Scruton’s final report – a Government Commission on “Building Better, Building Beautiful”. It tries to answer some of these questions.

There’s much in it I agree with. But if we’re really going to “build better” and solve the housing crisis we need massive changes. We need:

A clearer vision of where we want development – with more in cities.

At present, councils have to build enough to meet their “Objectively Assessed Need” (OAN). In practice this means meeting forecast population growth. But the forecast just reflects recent trends.

Instead of saying that the future should reflect past trends, there are strong arguments for preferring more development within cities: it means more walking, less congestion, less pollution and lower energy use.

And as Create Streets has shown, denser cities are not about grim tower blocks. The densest places in Britain (Kensington) and Europe (Barcelona) are nice places to live, dominated by tall terraced houses and low-rise apartments. Paris is twice as dense as New York.

Britain has the least dense cities in Europe. And also cities which have grown very little. Places like Dundee, Glasgow, Liverpool, Sunderland, Birkenhead, Hull and Newcastle all had smaller populations in 2017 than 1981. Let’s choose more regeneration of cities and less sprawl. Let’s change OAN to target building more in cities.

A clear vision of what kind of development we want – with less piecemeal development.

Even if more development happens within cities, there will still be some in suburbs and shires. Do we want more piecemeal, infill-type development, or a smaller number of larger, properly planned developments? Should we stick more estates on the edges of all our villages, or build a stand-alone garden village, or a town extension?

At the moment, we have mainly piecemeal infill. Developers prefer it, as it’s far more profitable. You don’t have to pay for new schools or GPs surgeries, or new roads, or any expensive “place making”. Instead, you can piggy-back off existing facilities.

But infill is the type of development that attracts most opposition. That’s unsurprising: it means building right next to people. And specifically, to people who chose to live on the edge to get a nice view.

There are also physical limits to how much piecemeal development you can have and still have a nice place. Roads through the centre of a village (often not built for cars) become impossibly congested. Even if you had money, there’s no space to expand the village school, because it’s surrounded by houses.

With larger strategic developments, you aren’t building next to as many existing residents. You can plan for the infrastructure properly, get land for that new school. Build a new main road that doesn’t have people living on it, and so on. Let’s give councils the tools to have genuinely planned development, not a free-for-all. First of all that means…

A better system for making development pay its own way.

Part of the opposition to new housing comes from the fact that too often it comes without the infrastructure required.

So your road and the local school and GP’s surgery get overcrowded. People see developers making huge profits while infrastructure is either not provided at all, or the cost is dumped onto the taxpayer.

Section 106, the main way councils secure contributions from developers, is utterly dysfunctional.

Councils cannot use it to fund recurrent expenditure. They cannot use it to fund anything to meet existing needs in the community, only new needs created by the development. Contributions are tied to a very specific purpose. If what people want has changed five or ten years later, tough luck. Because collection is confusingly fragmented between fire, police, health, county and district councils, sometimes developers get away without paying.

There were tight limits on pooling multiple payments which have been recently eased. But payments are still time-limited, and developers can hold off payments by keeping construction below certain trigger thresholds. So if a developer can hold off paying, the opportunity to secure a site for a new village hall may pass. Or, if there are only enough developments in a given time to pay for half a school, then plans to build up funds may get timed out, meaning developers avoid paying.

For all these reasons, huge sums are returned to developers. In 2014, the BBC found that councils alone had returned £1.5 billion of community funds back to developers. We need to either take off all restrictions on Section 106, or replace it altogether.

Give councils the other tools they need to improve development.

In my constituency, there’s derelict land on the site of an old factory. It’s two minute’s walk from the railway station, which is just an hour’s journey from London. The council first granted planning permission in 2004. But nothing has happened, and the owners currently lose nothing from sitting on their hands.

We need to learn from Europe and the USA. Give councils borrowing power to buy land and grant themselves planning permission. At the moment that’s a legal minefield for them. We should reform the 1961 Land Compensation Act to clarify that local and central government can purchase land at current market use values. We should stop land prices from being inflated by the expectation that developers will get away without paying for infrastructure. We should make Homes England into a sort of Flying Squad to help councils plan and deliver brownfield regeneration. And make sure local planning departments can raise money through developer fees to hire and retain good staff.

Use the tax system to boost home ownership.

Home ownership here is fourth lowest in Europe. While increasing the supply of new homes relative to population growth improves affordability, it does so only in the long term.

France built twice as many homes as Britain since 1970 and real house prices increased half as much there. But in the short term, the effect of more building on house prices is almost zilch, because new supply is so tiny compared to the existing stock.

The only way – and I mean the only way – that we can get home ownership up by the next election is by changing the balance between rented and owner-occupied housing.

From 2002 to 2015 we saw a relentless collapse in home ownership (from 71 per cent to 63 per cent) as the growth of buy-to-let outstripped new supply.

In 2015, we started phasing in limited changes to the tax treatment of buy to let and second homes. It worked. The collapse stopped. Ownership has even ticked up slightly, to 64 per cent. But that’s still low. Ten countries in Europe are over 80 per cent.

We don’t need to, and shouldn’t, change things for existing landlords who have invested on the basis of the current rules. But we must use the tax system to encourage new investments to flow into companies, not into inflating house prices. To favour owning over renting.

We either do this, or we will fail to increase ownership, and we’ll drive young people into the arms of the Corbynistas. Simple as that.

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

Local elections 2020: Holding the mayoralties in the Tees Valley and the West Midlands will be key Conservative challenges

On Thursday May 7th, for most of us, there will be yet more elections. Police and Crime Commissioner elections are being held in England and Wales. Most of England will also be having Mayoral or council elections of one sort or another. I expect that when the results are extrapolated to offer a national political verdict, it will focus on an early test for the new Labour leader, who will have been elected just over a month earlier, on April 4th.

Most of the seats were last contested in 2016. That was a year when the Conservatives made slight losses. The projected national vote share was Labour 31 per cent, Conservatives 30 per cent, Lib Dems 15 per cent, UKIP 12 per cent.

But two of the highest profile contests last took place in 2017. The local elections that year went very well for the Conservatives, even though the General Election that followed was rather disappointing. The projected national vote share for the 2017 local elections was 38 per cent for the Conservatives, 27 per cent for Labour, 18 per cent for the Liberal Democrats, and five per cent for UKIP, with others on around 12 per cent. Ben Houchen was elected the Mayor of the Tees Valley Combined Authority. Andy Street was elected Mayor of the West Midlands. Both these Conservative victories were very narrow. But it was pretty spectacular that they happened at all. That does set the bar high, as losing either, or both, would be presented as a “setback for Boris Johnson”. So the expectations are challenging for those contests. Another election that last took place in 2017 was for Mayor of Greater Manchester. Andy Burnham, the Labour candidate, won last time with a very big majority. Though the Conservatives made gains in Bury and Bolton in the General Election last December, it would be a huge upset for Burnham to lose.

The most high profile battle will be for Mayor of London – as I have written before Sadiq Khan is expected to win easily despite a lacklustre first term and the election having last taken place in 2016.

The full list of Mayoral elections this year is as follows:

  • Mayor of London (and London Assembly)
  • Greater Manchester (combined authority)
  • Liverpool City Region (combined authority)
  • Tees Valley (combined authority)
  • West Midlands (combined authority)
  • Bristol (single authority)
  • Liverpool (single authority)
  • Salford (single authority)

Police and Crime Commissioner elections last took place in 2016. Labour only narrowly won in Cheshire and Derbyshire. Lincolnshire was a fairly close Labour victory. So those will be potential Conservative gains. Contests will take place in the following areas:

  •  Avon and Somerset
  • Cheshire
  • Derbyshire
  • Devon & Cornwall
  • Dorset
  • Gloucestershire
  • Gwent
  • Hampshire
  • Humberside
  • Kent
  • Lancashire
  • Leicestershire
  • Lincolnshire
  • Merseyside
  • Northamptonshire
  • North Yorkshire
  • South Wales
  • Staffordshire
  • Surrey
  • Sussex
  • Thames Valley
  • West Mercia
  • West Midlands
  • West Yorkshire
  • Wiltshire

It is in the elections for metropolitan boroughs where Labour have most to lose if the last General Election is a indication. Rotherham and Salford have all their seats up for election. In the following, a third of the seats are due to be contested:

  • Barnsley
  • Bolton
  • Bradford
  • Bury
  • Calderdale
  • Coventry
  • Dudley
  • Gateshead
  • Kirklees
  • Knowsley
  • Leeds
  • Liverpool
  • Manchester
  • Newcastle upon Tyne
  • North Tyneside
  • Oldham
  • Rochdale
  • Sandwell
  • Sefton
  • Sheffield
  • Solihull
  • South Tyneside
  • St Helens
  • Stockport
  • Sunderland
  • Tameside
  • Trafford
  • Wakefield
  • Walsall
  • Wigan
  • Wirral
  • Wolverhampton

Among the unitary authorities, the following have all their seats up for election:

  • Bristol
  • Buckinghamshire ( a new council)
  • Halton
  • Hartlepool
  • North Northamptonshire (a new council)
  • West Northamptonshire ( a new council)
  • Warrington

These unitary authorities have a third of their seats up for election:

  • Blackburn with Darwen
  • Derby
  • Hull
  • Milton Keynes
  • North East Lincolnshire
  • Peterborough
  • Plymouth
  • Portsmouth
  • Reading
  • Slough
  • Southampton
  • Southend-on-Sea
  • Swindon
  • Thurrock
  • Wokingham

Attention tends to focus on where control of a council changes hands; when only a third of seats are being contested the potential for this is more limited. Labour might do very badly in Sandwell, Wakefield and Wolverhampton – but it is mathematically impossible for them to lose control of the Council this year. But the changes could still be of long term political significance.

Among the district councils, Gloucester and Stroud have all their seats up for election.

The following have half their seats up for election this year:

  • Adur
  • Cheltenham
  • Fareham
  • Gosport
  • Hastings
  • Nuneaton and Bedworth
  • Oxford

These district councils have a third of their seats up for election:

  • Amber Valley
  • Basildon
  • Basingstoke and Deane
  • Brentwood
  • Broxbourne
  • Burnley
  • Cambridge
  • Cannock Chase
  • Carlisle
  • Castle Point
  • Cherwell
  • Chorley
  • Colchester
  • Craven
  • Crawley
  • Daventry (postponed in 2019 pending reorganisation in Northamptonshire)
  • Eastleigh
  • Elmbridge
  • Epping Forest
  • Exeter
  • Harlow
  • Hart
  • Havant
  • Hyndburn
  • Ipswich
  • Lincoln
  • Maidstone
  • Mole Valley
  • North Hertfordshire
  • Norwich
  • Pendle
  • Preston
  • Redditch
  • Reigate and Banstead
  • Rochford
  • Rossendale
  • Rugby
  • Runnymede
  • Rushmoor
  • South Lakeland
  • St Albans
  • Stevenage
  • Tamworth
  • Tandridge
  • Three Rivers
  • Tunbridge Wells
  • Watford
  • Welwyn Hatfield
  • West Lancashire
  • West Oxfordshire
  • Winchester
  • Woking
  • Worcester
  • Worthing

In the local election last year, it was rather a relief for the Conservatives that so many councils elect by thirds. The question will be if the big losses to independents and the Lib Dems will be repeated.

A lot can change over three months. But it seems hard to believe that a new leader will dramatically enhance Labour’s standing. They will be defending council seats in several of the areas where they performed very poorly at the General Election. So at this stage it looks likely that Labour will face yet further setbacks.

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Eddie Hughes: Our values must drive CCHQ. That means moving it to a town or small city – not a big one.

Eddie Hughes is MP for Walsall North.

On Monday evening next week, we will have the introductory meeting of the Blue Collar Conservatism caucus. More than 120 Conservative MPs have signed up so far to be part of this great movement, and I’m hoping to have the opportunity to make the following pitch.

Don’t move from London to another metropolitan bubble.  Moving from London to, for example, Manchester, would be nearly pointless

The news that CCHQ is going to move out of London is excellent. The goal has to be to make it more representative of Conservative voters, and more in tune with ordinary people. However, the risk is that it moves from London to, say, Manchester, which is incredibly similar – a large metropolitan area which is very diverse, has lots of graduates, and is politically unlike its surrounding areas.

Indeed, in political terms, we would be moving from the single largest urban conurbation in the UK where we have roughly three-in-ten seats (21 out of 73 so 29 per cent) to the second largest conurbation where we have one-in-three seats (9 out of 2,  so 33 per cent).

Telling our new voters that we are changing, and so we are moving out of London to the city most like London in the whole of England risks being seen as patronising and illustrating a lack of understanding. Manchester is more like London than most of the Conservative seats in the country, including the new seats we gained in the last election.

If we are going to change the adviser network, we need the Conservative Research Department and comms team to move.

As an MP, you meet a lot of advisers. Some of them are great and genuinely helpful and conservative in every sense, and unfairly get a lot of flack. Others seem less conservative and more about networking in the London social scene than applying conservative principles and policy expertise to get the right results. The Conservative Research Department (CRD) and comms teams have to move when CCHQ moves. There is no need for a policy or comms presence in London outside Number 10 and the existing special adviser network.

Moreover, we need to ensure that those coming up as advisers are people that are not trapped in a metropolitan bubble, but are focused on the issues our voters, who tend to be in small cities, towns and rural areas – whether in the South, Midlands or North – are focused on.

So the new CCHQ seat needs to be in a town or small city.

The heart of the Labour core vote is the large metropolitan areas – Manchester, Liverpool, Sheffield, Leeds, Birmingham, London. These areas tend to have higher number of graduates, smaller numbers of SME businesses, and more ethnic diversity, all key drivers of the Labour vote. As noted above, simply moving from a large metropolitan base to another is likely to keep CCHQ stuck in a metropolitan mindset.

With this in mind and writing as an MP from one of our recently-acquired Blue Collar seats, the new CCHQ office has to be somewhere that is not a large metropolitan area. Suggestions I will put to the Blue-Collar Conservatism caucus are as follows:

  • Stoke-on-Trent. All three MPs are now Conservative (up from none in 2010). With 2 trains an hour less than 90 mins to London, it fulfils the criteria. It is an hour from Manchester, Liverpool, Birmingham and Warwick universities and has Keele university nearby.
  • Derby. While only one of two MPs from Derby are now Conservative, 9 out of 11 in surrounding Derbyshire are Conservative. It also has two trains an hour from London and gets there in 90 minutes. It is close to Nottingham university and not too far from some others (e.g. Sheffield is an hour away, ditto Warwick and Birmingham).
  • York. While York itself is Labour, North Yorkshire has 12 MPs and only 2 are Labour and 3 are 2017 or 2019 gains. It is just over 2 hours from London but several hundred miles away. This would be close to York and just a half hour train from Leeds and hour from Newcastle.

The point of this list is to not be exhaustive. It is to point out that simply moving from one large metropolitan region in the South to another one in the North is not what is necessary. If we are trying to ensure that CCHQ in future is more representative of the typical voter, and if we are trying to send a signal, we need to make sure we choose a small city or town to base ourselves in, not just move from London to another large metropolitan area.

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

Ian Warren and Will Jennings: Addressing the needs of towns is key to winning this election

Ian Warren is a data analyst and political consultant. Will Jennings (pictured) is Professor of Political Science at Public Policy at the University of Southampton. They are co-founders of the Centre for Towns.

Towns will decide who enters the door of Number 10, Downing Street on Friday 13th December. Going into this election, around two-thirds of the top 100 marginal seats are ‘town’ constituencies. On current trends we are likely to find most of the closest contests will take place in our towns on election day. This is because Labour continues to pile up large majorities in major cities across England and Wales, whilst the Conservatives dominate in rural and semi-rural communities. What remains are dozens of marginal constituencies in small and medium-sized towns, and which are often highly competitive from election to election.

At the Centre For Towns, we believe the electoral importance of our towns can be leveraged in a positive way to draw specific policy commitments from all political parties. In recent months both Labour and the Conservatives have spoken about the needs of people in towns through policies on devolution, high street regeneration, broadband, and (our particular favourite at the Centre for Towns) buses. We have welcomed the Government’s Stronger Towns Fund and Future High Street interventions but also recognise the Labour Party’s commitments to coastal and post-industrial towns; types of town which face perhaps the most acute challenges of all of the UK’s towns.

On current projections, the Conservatives may find themselves representing coastal towns like Grimsby, Workington, Barrow and Rhyl on December 13th. They could also be representing post-industrial towns in Nottinghamshire, the North East and South Yorkshire. Should Labour manage to hold on to seats like Bolsover, Bassetlaw, Rother Valley, Rotherham and Hartlepool, it will have done so by the skin of its teeth on current polling. Either way, the two main parties will need to confront the desperate needs of those places and deliver both short- and long-term solutions.

Recognising those challenges and identifying the towns with the most pressing needs is only the first step. We require a deeper analysis and understanding of challenges faced by towns than that which, for example, informed the Future High Street fund (welcome though that was). At the Centre For Towns we have detailed how an ageing population has markedly changed the composition of towns across Britain (as shown in the figure below). Places do not age at the same rate everywhere. Our towns have steadily aged over the past 30 years as more and more people live longer and younger generations move away, whilst our cities have grown younger as they have attracted large numbers of young people for work or study.

Westlake Legal Group Towns-age-rate Ian Warren and Will Jennings: Addressing the needs of towns is key to winning this election Young People Towns Tory Manifesto 2019 Strategy policy development Older people Marginals Labour Manifesto 2019 Highlights demographics Comment Coastal Communities Cities 2019 General Election

An ageing population, combined with the Conservatives holding a 40-point lead over Labour amongst older voters, has meant many towns are more friendly to the Conservatives than they were a decade ago. The table below (with data on demographics generated from the Centre for Towns data tool) reports information of the population of some key marginal towns over the last three decades, specifically their increase in the number of over-65s and decrease in those aged between 18 and 24. This reveals a stark pattern. These ex-industrial and coastal towns have aged markedly, while the number of young people has declined, and this trend is projected to continue into the middle of the century. For such areas, these profound demographic shifts will require a response from all political parties.

Westlake Legal Group Towns-demographic-changes Ian Warren and Will Jennings: Addressing the needs of towns is key to winning this election Young People Towns Tory Manifesto 2019 Strategy policy development Older people Marginals Labour Manifesto 2019 Highlights demographics Comment Coastal Communities Cities 2019 General Election

An ageing population diminishes the spending power of a town, often pushing its high street into a spiral of decline as it increasingly caters to discount retail while flagship retailers shut down. It also means larger numbers of older people who enjoy free bus travel and fewer working-age commuters paying full fare. Bus companies close unprofitable routes as a result. The growing number of old people living in towns means shortages of social care provision are felt acutely. Housing needs in older towns are different. So is transport planning and the skills base. The list goes on.

These present fundamental challenges for a government of any colour. What is it about coastal and ex-industrial towns, for example, which has seen a fall in the proportion of 16- to 24-year-olds? What can be done to ensure our young people see them as attractive places to make a home and get on in life? We want our young people to fulfil their ambitions wherever that may be, but is it healthy that so many don’t believe their home town offers the sorts of economic or cultural opportunities which make superstar cities so attractive? So, whilst we welcome short term support for high streets, for example, our public policy will need to confront much deeper concerns about the future viability of our towns.

At the Centre For Towns we want politicians from all parties to recognise these challenges and address them with long-term planning that transcends party politics. Crucially, we have consistently asked that our towns’ greatest asset, their people, are given the power and resources they need to tackle some of these challenges themselves. Devolution is still a patchy settlement in England. City-regions are the devolved geography of choice, but vast tracts of land are excluded from city-regions. Indeed, even within city-regions, towns are too often treated as dormitory units rather than places with their own identity and distinct contribution to make. We are hopeful that the party manifestos will commit to hyper-devolution of the kind which empowers people in towns to turn their areas around, giving them a clear sense of agency.

This belief in the power of people in communities should appeal equally to both the Conservatives and Labour. In the coming election, the pivotal importance of our towns to the result should help concentrate their minds. Our hope is that after 12th December the focus moves to long-term planning and devolution of real power and resource to towns themselves. After all, isn’t this what they meant when the public voted to ‘take back control’ in June 2016?

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Large towns are offering a route to Conservative revival. How can we return the favour?

There was some interesting polling analysis carried out for Centre for Towns recently. We are familiar with regional breakdowns of support for political parties. But in this exercise, YouGov was asked to crunch the numbers for villages, towns, and cities. The Conservatives continue to be the dominant force in villages and small towns. By contrast, even with their current dire ratings, Labour would still have a big lead in the cities. December 12th could deliver a huge Conservative landslide, but Labour would still win every seat in Liverpool, Manchester, and Newcastle.

While the Conservatives are further ahead in the villages and Labour’s lead has fallen in the cities, the contention is that it is the towns where the shift in opinion will be of the greatest electoral impact. Ian Warren says:

“At the Centre For Towns we also categorise places according to their characteristics. We use six main types of towns based on those characteristics: Ex-industrial towns; University towns; Market towns; New towns; Commuter towns; and Coastal towns. Ex-industrial towns included here are important election target towns like Kirkby- and Sutton-in-Ashfield, Barnsley, Bolton, Bury, Burnley, Crewe, Doncaster, Dudley, Hartlepool, Heywood, Mansfield, Redcar, Rotherham, Walsall, West Bromwich and towns across the south Wales valleys. Coastal towns include Barrow-in-Furness, Blackpool, Workington, Cleethorpes, Grimsby, Morecambe, Southport, Rhyl and Llandudno. University towns includes places like Canterbury, Cambridge, Chester, Huddersfield, Lancaster, Loughborough, Poole and Preston.”

In 2017 “Labour performed very well in university towns and ex-industrial towns…, whilst the Conservatives did very well in coastal towns, commuter towns, market towns and new towns.” The polling suggests that has changed:

“Labour now trail the Conservatives in every place type. Perhaps remarkably, the Conservatives now hold five-point leads over Labour in both ex-industrial towns and university towns whilst extending their leads in the other place types. The Lib Dems are now in second place in commuter towns and market towns.”

In order to get a decent sample, YouGov added together several of their polls. This makes it a bit out of date with it going back to the middle of October. Since then there has been some shift from the Lib Dems to Labour. Warren concludes:

“We are also pleased at how the media are visiting many of our towns; another small example that the towns agenda is cutting through. The Conservatives would be foolish to believe the leads they currently hold are secure, whilst Labour have some time to regain their position in our towns. All of which should mean a higher profile for people in our towns; and that can only be a good thing.”

What are the Conservatives doing to earn their support? In July, the Prime Minister announced “a £3.6 billion Towns Fund supporting an initial 100 towns. So that they will get the improved transport and improved broadband connectivity that they need.” The first hundred “town deals” have been published. Labour has pointed out that not all are among the most deprived. The claim is that it is skewed to help Tory MPs in marginal seats. The counter-argument would be that  the money should not just be handed over without some clear prospect of it being spent effectively. The local authorities that lost out should put in a better bid for the next round.

What more can be done?

Transport improvements are obviously important. Preston has done well from having a direct motorway link with Manchester and Birmingham. HS1 has helped Ramsgate and Margate.

Provision for higher education is also key. Cornwall has a problem with a lack of universities. Bright, young ambitious people leave to go off to college, then don’t always come back. Huddersfield succeeds partly because it has a university.
There is a University of Brighton campus in Hastings and St Leonards. Derby University is good news for Buxton. Jesse Norman wants a Hereford Institute of Technology.

Planning policy can be very damaging. Housing development is needed to thrive. But it must be beautiful. Souless, ugly new buildings are not places where people would choose to settled down and start a family.

For Conservatives though, the route to prosperity will ultimately rely on free enterprise rather than subsidies and state intervention. A switch towards more self-employed people, with businesses run from home is particularly positive for towns. So is the flexibility of employees working from home a few days a week. If you live in Clacton, for example, and work in London every day that’s a bit much – one or two days a week not so bad. Therefore Clacton is reviving. Brighton and Hove is doing very well. As technology improves this will be easier.

That old Thatcherite idea of Enterprise Zones could be dusted off. When Corby lost its steel works in 1980 it was all looking pretty grim. But the brownfield land was used for new businesses and new private housing. Being an Enterprise Zone helped.

One final thought. The Conservatives should not get too sucked into seeing towns and cities as competing lobby groups. One of the most reliable indicators of a town succeeding is to be near a successful city. Hebden Bridge is a nice place to live but is it crucial that its residents can commute to Leeds or Manchester. Good news for Leeds and Manchester is good news for Hebden Bridge.

We will rise or fall together. Bribes, gimmicks and managerial meddling are not required. It is about getting the fundamentals right. With strong economic growth our villages, towns and cities can all thrive.

Westlake Legal Group CFT_YG_TYPE2 Large towns are offering a route to Conservative revival. How can we return the favour? Transport Towns Regional Aid Regeneration Opinion Polls Local government Enterprise Zones Cities 2019 General Election

 

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Jack Airey: How to unleash the power of the Union 2) Infrastructure can reinforce the Union

Jack Airey is Policy Exchange’s Head of Place.

“Re-inventing patriotism, refreshing the mandate of the UK nation state and creating a new national consensus,” Michael Gove has argued, “is the Unionist mission of our times.” At Policy Exchange we agree with this sentiment. Regardless of the Brexit arrangements that are ultimately agreed with the European Union and brought into law by Parliament, it has been clear for some time that the case for the Union needs to be made anew.

On Conservative Home, Paul Goodman has suggested a new Department for the Union should lead this strategy of national renewal. After decades of half-hearted support for the Union from successive governments, an effective strategy requires intellectual creativity and greater readiness to challenge nationalist arguments. Convincing younger generations who dislike nationalism but are apathetic to the Union should be seen as the priority. It is they, after all, who would be most impacted by the economic effects of dismantling the UK Single Market. And it is on their shoulders that the responsibility for protecting the Union will eventually fall.

In the second of Policy Exchange’s three-part series on the Union for ConservativeHome, we argue that closer economic integration achieved through better infrastructure should be central to the story of modern Unionism. Upgrading the UK’s infrastructure is an opportunity to bind places closer through trains and trade, as Policy Exchange recommended in its report Modernising the United Kingdom. It can mean we truly live in a ‘one nation’ country.

The Government’s infrastructure strategy should have two focal points, the first of which is improving cross-border infrastructure. Devolved administrative boundaries should not in principle artificially hinder cross-border growth, yet in practice too often they do. Projects of this nature have been mooted in the past. They have, however, been driven by other necessities. For instance, in an attempt to get Northern Irish Unionist MPs to abstain in a 1979 confidence vote on James Callaghan’s premiership, Roy Hattersley urged (unsuccessfully) the then Prime Minister to build a pipeline from mainland UK to Northern Ireland.

A number of projects are possible, both ones that the Government can deliver on its own and others that can be delivered in partnership with devolved administrations. Enhancing road capacity to better link North Wales to Merseyside and Greater Manchester, for instance, will be a no-brainer for Grant Shapps, Secretary of State for Transport, and Ken Skates, the Minister for Economy and Transport in the Welsh devolved government. Whatever the case, the Treasury should take a more ambitious approach to funding new transport infrastructure projects across the whole of the UK, rather than just those that begin and end in England.

Priority should be given to investments that support jobs and prosperity, opening up labour markets and also those that encourage more sustainable, greener use of transport, as well as improving the amenity of communities. Some projects might not literally span two sides of a border, but their delivery would yield benefits across the UK. For example, improving the capacity and quality of road networks around Belfast Harbour and Cairnryan Port would make life easier for people using the ferry service that runs between north-eastern Northern Ireland and south-western Scotland.

The Government’s ambition to connect the UK better should not be confined to transport. It should also launch a new Forest of Britain project: a green spine running the full length of Britain. This would consist of a single, unbroken, two mile-wide line of protected natural habitats from John O’Groats to Land’s End, via the east of Wales. It should aim to connect as many existing nature conservation sites as possible along its route. As one of the longest rewilding projects in the world, it would attract tourists to areas along its route for walking, riding and other activities.

The second focal point of this strategy to better connect the UK should be giving places more control over how infrastructure funding is spent in their area. It is local people and local businesses who know the projects that will make the most difference to their daily lives and operations. Local leaders should be entrusted to decide how money is spent rather than Whitehall civil servants. The best returns on infrastructure investments, after all, tend to come from smaller projects that improve connectivity in communities and within towns and cities.

Increasing local control over spending on regional infrastructure is essential to a wider programme of devolving economic powers post-Brexit – what the Government has already called its “levelling up” agenda. Places across the UK should be given more powers actively to shape their local product and labour markets, taking more responsibility for improving economic efficiency. But as part of the bargain, policy makers must also raise their game in terms of analysis and audit. Systematic evaluation is needed to identify what works from what disappoints, along with consistent financial reporting across local authorities and devolved institutions across the UK.

Demonstrating the value of the Union and making the case about why it matters to our future is a chance to appeal to voters who resent nationalism and separatism. Closer connection between nations and places through better infrastructure is a critical part of that. It must be at the heart of today’s Unionist mission.

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Ian Lewis: The Conservatives must not give up on Manchester, or Sheffield, or Liverpool…

Cllr Ian Lewis is the Leader of the Conservative Group on Wirral Council.

For all political parties, you’re only as good as your next election. Currently, things look better than they have for a while.

As many of my colleagues and friends head to Manchester, for what is hopefully the last Conference before a General Election, many will be buoyed by the latest polls.

No doubt there will be much talk of the ‘bounce’ since the new Leader was elected, contrasting with the increasingly public rows among the Corbynistas.

As soon as one election is out of the way, we start again by focusing, understandably, on the next election. But, too often, as a Party, we look at our performance judged by the current cycle and the current alternative.

Yet, if you put our position into perspective or, as some of us call it, the real world, consider this:  there won’t have been this many Conservatives in the City of Manchester since, well, the last Conference.

Others are more qualified than me to talk about the historical trends and the reasons why some areas of the country are now more, or less Conservative, than 20, 40, or 50 years ago.

40 years ago, at the council elections held on the same day as the General Election, we still came out with 33 seats on Manchester City Council. In Sheffield, we had 22 councillors. And in my nearest city, Liverpool, we had 21. Now, 40 years later, we have none. Not one. Zero. Nil. And any fair-minded assessment would say we’re nowhere near getting one.

How can a ‘One Nation’ Conservative Party, the most successful political Party in history, have ZERO councillors in so many of our largest cities?

The other day there was a council by-election in Liverpool, caused incidentally by a Labour councillor and the City’s Mayor being forced to resign after a racist video emerged. In that by-election, our Party stormed to last place with 96 votes, while Labour, despite all their woes, won 1,153. So what, you may say. But, as one of our Party’s greatest campaigners, Andrew Kennedy (him of leafy Kent), pointed out, when he was involved in Liverpool’s politics, we held that Ward.  You could say things went downhill after he left. Look at the increasing demographic shifts in the cities – more students, growing ethnic diversity and LGBT communities – coupled with long-term residents who have often lived through industrial decline – and you can see why the traditional Tory message struggles to resonate.

The historic trend away from the Conservatives in our biggest Northern cities isn’t a problem that will be contained within those cities. Nowadays, people move home more often, as we see from the constant battle to maintain VI data on VoteSource every month. Sometimes people are leaving the cities because the services (in Labour councils), not least the schools in many cities, are simply not good enough.

The Right to Buy, arguably the most successful policy introduced after 1979, also enabled and encouraged more people to move. When people move, they take their voting intention with them. So that’s why the war for the ‘Metropolitan vote’, having been lost in the cities many years ago, is increasingly being fought in the places that could still elect Conservative MPs. Many of the people moving out of the Tory-free zones don’t move that far – sometimes to the neighbouring suburbs – such as Sefton and Wirral – which is still commutable to the city.

Until 1986, Conservatives ran both those Merseyside councils. We’ve never had a majority in either since then and we struggle to elect a single MP. As always, there are exceptions – such as Chris Green MP in Bolton West and Damian Moore MP in Southport – and the leadership of Robert Alden on Birmingham City Council – but we (the Party) need to address this and recognise that reversing our Metropolitan decline is a (very) long-term, but necessary, project.

One of the great reforms to the Party by Michael Howard was establishing the Conservative Foundation, to secure our long-term finances.  For our metropolitan areas, it’s time we had a long-term political plan. We may not get a council seat soon in any of those cities, but could we win a polling district?  Short-term sticking plasters like the ‘City Seats Initiative’ or the PR-driven efforts of David Cameron have zero lasting impact and won’t suffice.

Our message and our approach to the issues in the cities needs to be improved and yes, that will take cash. Money that would, no doubt generate an earlier, and bigger, win in the nearest ‘marginal’. But look back – and today’s ‘marginal’ may well have once been a ‘safe’ seat – Sheffield Hallam (in the news now for all the wrong reasons) had a Conservative MP in 1979 – with a 15,000 majority.

Enjoy your Conference in Manchester. But look beyond the Secure Zone and ask what we need to do to re-establish ourselves.

 

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Neil O’Brien: How to rebalance Britain’s unbalanced economy – by levelling up, not levelling down

Neil O’Brien is MP for Harborough.

Even Brexit, it turns out, is about location, location, location. Ben Ansell, an Oxford professor, has found that in wealthier areas, where the price of a house averages £500,000, 70 per cent voted to remain. Poorer areas, where the average house price was £100,000, were an exact mirror image, with 70 per cent voting to leave.

Like a disclosing tablet, the EU referendum highlighted the different economic experiences of different places over recent decades: booming London and the most prosperous home counties voted to Remain, as did Scotland, the next richest part of the country. The reviving cores of our large cities did likewise. But smaller towns and cities, the countryside and coastal places voted overwhelmingly to Leave, as did Wales.

In response, Boris Johnson recently set out his ambition to “level up” poorer areas in a fantastic speech in Manchester. It’s the right thing to do – and it makes political sense too. The 2017 election saw us losing ground in wealthier-but-Remainy areas, and gaining former Labour seats in the midlands (and north) which we’d never gained before. We have huge potential to win in seats where people have felt taken for granted and left behind for many decades.

The economic case for levelling up is clear too. There are no G20 countries which have a more regionally imbalanced economy than the UK and are also richer than the UK. Conversely, all large countries that are richer per head than the UK have a more balanced economy.

In other words, a more balanced economy is a stronger one. In a highly unbalanced economy, resources like land and infrastructure end up overloaded in some parts of the country, and under-used in others, which is costly and wasteful. Given that workers (particularly lower skilled people) don’t simply move away from their families in the face of local economic problems, having greater distances between unemployed workers and job opportunities may well compound problems matching people to job opportunities. There might even be compounding mechanisms: if some areas have high unemployment that can lock in patterns of worklessness.

But to bring about a more balanced economy, there are two big lessons that the Prime Minister must draw from previous successes and failures.

First, the crucial thing is to attract private sector employment – particularly jobs that are knowledge and investment-intensive. The work of academics like Enrico Moretti and think tanks like the Centre for Cities shows how gaining “brain jobs” in the private sector has a much bigger multiplier effect than just moving public sector jobs to an area.

Tax breaks for inward investment can be very effective in attracting in new investment, which is why most other countries offer them. Within the UK, probably our most successful ever regional intervention was Margaret Thatcher luring Nissan to Sunderland with a mix of investment tax breaks, lobbying and the offer of cheap land (an old airfield). It’s now one of the most successful plants in the world.

When people think about regeneration, they often start with plans for a new tram or shiny cultural facility, which tend to be popular, and can indeed help growth in areas that are already motoring along. But such investments aren’t going to do much for areas where the economic engine has rusted up and needs restarting. Detroit famously built a fancy monorail intended to fight its economic decline: but in a city where every factory was gone it remained largely unused, drifting through a city that looked like it had been bombed flat. Without private sector investment, there’s no demand for it or anything much else.

Second, different things work in different places and a different set of policies are needed for our towns than our city centres. During the 1970s and 1980s the “inner cities” were a byword for decline. But in recent decades capital cities and the centres of other larger cities have outperformed other areas, right across the world. The shift from a manufacturing to a professional services economy (plus the growth of universities) revived the centres of our cities.

There are still many problems to solve in our cities, but the places that have struggled the most in recent decades have been rural areas, smaller towns and cities, and the outer parts of large cities (even outer London). Places on the coast and places without a university have suffered particularly badly from a brain drain. Labour have tried to capitalise on their discontent with glossy ads like their film “our town”.

What to do for towns is even trickier than helping big cities grow. Though there are trendy small towns from Hebden Bridge to Hay-on-Wye, simply copying ideas from big cities, like “culture-led regeneration”, is often a recipe for failure in small towns.

Improving connections between city centres and towns might help – Tom Forth has highlighted just how bad we are at this in Britain. The Prime Minister’s new fund to help regenerate town centres is a good move and will make them more attractive. We should do things like re-examine funding historic funding formulas for government spending on science, transport and housing, which are still heavily geared towards supporting London and other areas that are already growing fast. And we should offer devolved economic powers to counties, not just big cities.
The more we can use free market mechanisms to help poorer towns, the more likely we are to succeed.

Looking at Britain as a whole, chronically low investment rates are a big part of our long-term productivity problem. We should cut taxes on business investment across the whole country, and make the UK’s capital allowances among the most generous in the world (at present they’re among the least).

But to level up poorer areas we should go further, and have even more generous tax breaks for investment there, where the problem of low investment and low productivity is most severe. We should also empower the Department for International Trade to take part in the same aggressive tax competition for inward investment that countries in Asia, the US, and our neighbours in Ireland do so successfully. And we should use those tools to encourage inward investment into poorer places.

More generous capital allowances would help lagging regions anyway, even if introduced across the board. While manufacturing accounted for around a quarter of productivity growth nationally since 1997, it provided 40–50 per cent of productivity growth in poorer regions like Wales, the West Midlands and North West. Manufacturing requires roughly twice as much capital investment as the rest of the economy, so an investment-hostile tax system hits poorer places harder.

Ever since the referendum, there’s rightly been renewed focus on how to help poorer places. Helpfully there is decades of evidence about what does and doesn’t work. If we can join up an energetic new Prime Minister with the bit between his teeth, plus a new agenda for left-behind places, then we can really get things moving.

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