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Westlake Legal Group > Posts tagged "Conservatives"

Does Johnson have the guts to tackle the rigged housing market described by Halligan?

Home Truths: The UK’s Chronic Housing Shortage – How It Happened, Why It Matters and How to Solve It by Liam Halligan

This is the only book I have ever taken into the Terrace Cafeteria at the Commons – where it is my custom to take a late lunch of jerk chicken and rice each Wednesday after sketching PMQs – in whose contents a member of staff has shown an immediate and passionate interest.

He told me he has no hope of ever buying a place to live in the district, just south of the river and within easy reach of the Houses of Parliament, where he was born.

That district, once quite cheap, is now, like everywhere else in the middle of London, prohibitively expensive for anyone on a modest income. If he is ever to get his own place, he will have to move a long way out, and the injustice of this rankles with him.

Liam Halligan sets out in this book what went wrong with the housing market:

“The average UK home now cost eight times average annual earnings, over twice the historic norm. This crippling affordability multiple rises to twelve times across London and the south-east…

“While the UK needs around 250,000 new homes a year to meet population growth and household formation, housebuilding has failed to reach that level since the mid-1970s. There’s a huge backlog shortage of homes, built up under successive governments over decades, which has seen property prices spiral way ahead of earnings. As a result, millions of young adults are stuck in shared, rented accommodation and have put their lives on hold.”

This is an enormous political opportunity for whoever becomes the next Labour leader. Millions of people are stuck paying extortionate rents for year after year, unable, unless they have rich parents, to get together the deposit needed to buy a house.

And this used not to be the case. Halligan was born in 1969, in the suburban, semi-detached, 1930s house in Kingsbury, London NW9, which his parents, who had both left school at the age of 16 without any professional qualifications and did not go to university, had been able to buy on a mortgage, after 25 years owning this little patch of Metroland outright.

For a long time after Halligan’s parents put down roots, home ownership remained a realistic aspiration:

“When I left home back in the early 1990s, over 45 per cent of 25-29-year-olds owned their own home. Since then, that figure has plunged to less than 25 per cent. Even professional couples with impressive qualifications and relatively high incomes are increasingly ‘locked out’ of the property market as prices keep rising faster than earnings…

“Since the end of the Second World War, one of the basic features of the UK’s free society – the ‘British Dream’ – has been that anyone who works hard and saves for a few years should be able to buy a decent home at a reasonable price. As such, the chronic unaffordability of housing, in many parts of the country, is now the major economic and political scandal of our time. It is disgraceful that over recent decades, a combination of cowardice and neglect on the part of successive governments means that, for countless young adults, the dream of home ownership is being cruelly denied.”

The language is not elegant, but it is hard to deny the truth of what Halligan says. In the mid-1930s, 85 per cent of new houses cost less than £750, equivalent to about £55,000 in 2019.

After the passing in 1947 of of the Town and Country Planning Act, almost all new building required planning permission. That, one could say, was the root of the problem, for it has led to an artificial shortage of building land, which in turn has caused the grotesque inflation of house prices.

But Halligan thinks the 1947 Act worked well, for it provided for “betterment” – the greatly increased value of land once it had planning permission – to be paid to the state. This kept land prices down, and gave local authorities the revenue needed to build the roads and other public services which the occupants of new houses required.

Landowners hated having to sell land at existing-use value, i.e. cheap, and under the Conservative governments of the 1950s, that side of the 1947 system was gradually dismantled, until under the 1961 Land Compensation Act, landowners gained the right to receive full value for all sites, including any prospective “planning gain”.

Land prices almost at once started to rise, and landowners, whether private or public, gained a perverse incentive to hold on to their land for as long as possible, in the confident expectation that it would become more and more valuable.

The market in land is horribly rigged, and favours owners over prospective buyers. As Halligan points out, the UK house-building industry, in which many small firms used to participate, is now dominated by an oligopoly of very large firms, who invest in a scarce resource, building land, which they do all they can to keep scarce, and on which they build an inadequate number of often shoddy rabbit hutches.

What is to be done? Halligan, who writes as an economist, wants the 1961 Land Compensation Act reversed, and has interviewed Sajid Javid, now the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who served as Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government from 2016-18, and described the reform proposals which were being developed under his leadership:

“When I was Secretary of State, we worked on a fifty-fifty split of the valuation between local authorities and landowners.

“This would be an efficient and morally justifiable tax. The state is expected to create the infrastructure around new housing, and that needs to be paid for – so fifty-fifty makes sense.”

Javid was “frustrated” when Theresa May removed this measure from the 2017 Housing White Paper. He told Halligan:

“She just didn’t get the the impact of this housing crisis on ordinary families, ordinary working men and women – so the White Paper was gutted, all the strong ideas removed. It is vital we now take radical steps – once Brexit is done, housing is easily the most important domestic policy issue we face.”

Boris Johnson has not yet said very much about housing as Prime Minister, but one hopes he agrees with the Chancellor. For what they do about housing will give a good indication of where their sympathies lie.

Halligan says “there has not been nearly enough resolve to tackle the entrenched supply-side vested interests benefiting from the status quo”.

He means house-building companies such as Persimmon, whose iniquitous behaviour he describes at considerable length, also quoting the memorable condemnation of them in the Commons by Robert Halfon (Con, Harlow):

“On Saturday, I met a group of Harlow residents, many of them on Government Help to Buy schemes, who moved into homes built by Persimmon Homes that are shoddily built with severe damp and crumbling walls. In the eyes of my residents, Persimmon are crooks, cowboys and con artists.”

This was in July 2019, at Theresa May’s penultimate PMQs, and she said in her reply to Halfon:

“We have already announced our intention for a new homes ombudsman to protect the rights of homebuyers and to hold developers to account.”

A new ombudsman is an empty gesture. This distorted market, which enables house-builders to make vast profits from shoddy work carried out at the expense of people in desperate need, requires root and branch reform.

But Halligan underestimates the vested interests which stand in the way of reform. Many an owner, or part-owner with the building society, of a small, shoddily built house (I write as someone in that position myself) enjoys thinking, with a certain ineffable complacency, of its enormously inflated value, supposedly several times what it cost to buy.

These prohibitive prices have to come down, and that is a message Johnson and Javid will be reluctant to convey, especially as according to Halligan, senior Treasury officials believe that tackling the housing shortage “will spark another banking collapse”.

One of the happy side effects of the last banking collapse should have been a collapse in property prices, so that people of modest means could once again afford somewhere to live.

But instead, the property market froze, owners stopped moving house, and there was no proper correction to prices, which remain grotesquely high.

My inclination, as a conservative, is to believe that property rights are one of the most sacred guarantees of liberty itself. But since 1947, the state has removed the right of the owner of a piece of land to build on it.

It was beyond Halligan’s scope to describe how some of the tawdry speculative building of the 1930s created a demand for planning controls. In any case, he loves those 1930s houses, grew up in one of them and reminds us that their praises were sung by John Betjeman.

If the nation is going to control what can be built, the nation should also take some of the profits which are reaped by landowners and developers who gain permission to build.

Some years ago, I examined for ConHome how Harold Macmillan managed, as Housing Minister in the early 1950s, to fulfil the Conservative pledge to build 300,000 dwellings a year, which Labour thought was impossible.

He did it by employing every lever, public and private, which was to hand, by sanctioning every single application to build council houses, and often by giving orders in the wartime manner. His achievement paved the way for the Conservative election victory in 1955, for him to become Prime Minister in 1957, and for the Conservatives to win again in 1959.

He had demonstrated that the Tories were better than Labour at providing for the welfare of the people. Not that everything he did was admirable, for as I remarked in that piece:

“Some of the housing built at this time was so repulsive that to this day it makes people deeply suspicious of all new building.”

Will Johnson evince Macmillan’s ruthlessness and flair, or will he fob people off with an ombudsman?

On Tuesday of this week, I attended a reception held at the Commons by ConservativeHome for new Tory MPs, and spoke to a number who feel a burning desire to repay the trust which has been reposed in them by former Labour voters.

But as I entered the Palace of Westminster from the Underground station, I passed a number of rough sleepers already settling down for the night in the white-tiled tunnel.

What a shameful sight. Something here is terribly amiss. Those rough sleepers, so visible in most of our towns, have something to do with the intolerable cost of getting a roof over one’s head, which in turn has something to do with the intolerable cost of property, which in turn proceeds from the artificial scarcity of building land created by the state.

The buck stops with the Prime Minister. Does he have the guts to act?

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

Iain Dale: The time has come to dig up Cameron’s green tree

Iain Dale presents the evening show on LBC Radio and is a commentator for CNN.

After the election, I was chatting to a friend and said one of the ways that the Conservatives could show their commitment to people in the north was to open some regional branches of CCHQ.

Maybe in Manchester, Leeds, Newcastle and Birmingham (OK, I know Birmingham is not in the north, but you get the point). But not for one minute did I think they’d be seriously thinking about moving the whole of CCHQ somewhere else.

And nor should they. Moving the entire organisation out of London is a preposterous idea. London is and will remain the centre of our politics and our government, so it makes eminent sense for the HQs of all political parties to have their central offices there.

To locate them anywhere else would be seen as virtue signalling and gratuitous. To open regional offices with half or dozen or so employees would surely be the more sensible option. This is the equivalent of the BBC deciding to locate Radio 5 Live and BBC Breakfast in Salford – for no other reason that it shut people up who alleged they had a southern bias.

5 Live has become a shadow of its former self since it moved to Salford and BBC Breakfast finds it difficult to attract live guests to Salford – and even if it does, it costs an arm and a leg to get them there by train and then provide a hotel for them.

I hope the Conservative Party consigns this proposal to the dustbin it belongs in, and instead comes up with a revised proposal, which would enable regional offices to manage constituency agents and campaign managers and also have a research facility which can feed regional policy ideas into the centre. It doesn’t really need to be more complicated than that.

– – – – – – – – – –

Carrying on the theme of a new era for the Conservative Party and the country, it is surely time for the party to revamp the tree logo.

Well, when I say revamp, I mean replace. I don’t think it’s a logo the party has ever taken to its heart, unlike its Torch predecessor.

The tree has always been seen as a sop to David Cameron’s green agenda, although of late it’s taken on a Union Flag tinge. Maybe ConHome should challenge its readers to come up with a new design?

– – – – – – – – – –

I have written before in this column about the iniquitous Loan Charge scheme, in which HMRC chase independent contractors for 20 years’ back tax.

Jesse Norman has announced measures to combat some of the worst effects of the scheme, but they don’t go nearly far enough. A Parliamentary campaign is continuing to put pressure on him to go further, and I hope that it is successful.

But there’s another problem of a similar nature on the horizon. In April, the Government is introducing changes to the IR35 legislation, forcing self-employed people to be taxed in exactly the same way as employed people.

This is utterly ridiculous, given that self-employed people don’t get the same benefits as employed people – such as holiday pay, entitlement, sick pay, maternity pay etc.

There are legions of examples of people who will be forced out of business by this ridiculous change, which is driven by people who have no understanding of the enterprise economy.

For a Conservative government to impose these measures really is the last straw for many people. It’s supposed to understand the needs and aspirations of the self-employed and those who run small businesses. I do hope that Sajid Javid will think again, and in his March Budget announce a rollback of these measures.

– – – – – – – – – –

Watching the Labour Party leadership contest is a bit like having a premonition of an imminent car crash but being powerless to stop it.

I shall be careful what I say, gsince I hope to be interviewing all the contenders on my radio show over the next few weeks, but so far can anyone really say that any of them have shown any real comprehension of why the Labour Party has landed up in the situation it finds itself in?

It’s as if they are playing the role of an ostrich in a Christmas pantomime. Some of them think it was all about Brexit – yet they have failed to articulate any policy that is different to the one Labour fought the last election on.

There is no understanding of why so many former Labour voters switched to the Tories. Four of the five are almost certain to want to change the party’s policy to one of Remain, but they don’t understand that this ship has now sailed.

Once we’ve left in just two weeks’ time, that’s it. There’s no going back – not for a generation at least. If they really want to fight the next election on a Rejoin platform, well, I wish them the best of luck, because boy will they need it.

– – – – – – – – – –

So where will you be and what will you be doing to mark our departure from the European Union at 11pm on Friday 31 January?

I fail to give a monkey’s wotsit about whether Big Ben will be donging or bonging at 11pm, but I quite agree that those who voted Leave are perfectly entitled to a celebration. For many, it’s the culmination of a lifetime’s work.

As you know, I voted Leave and am just pleased and relieved that the people’s choice in the referendum will now finally be carried out.

Will I be celebrating? It will be a bit difficult, given that I will be driving up the M5, where I will have been compering an evening with Jonathan Dimbleby at the Northcott Theatre in Exeter. If you live in the South West and would like to join us, you can book tickets here.

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

Robert Halfon: Only the paranoid survive – especially in the world of Conservative politics

Robert Halfon is MP for Harlow, a former Conservative Party Deputy Chairman and President of Conservative Workers and Trade Unionists.

I haven’t yet read Dominic Cummings recommended tome, High Output Management by Andrew Grove, the extraordinarily successful, former Chief Executive of Intel. For one thing, when I tried to order it a few weeks ago, it had mysteriously and temporarily sold out, probably because of a civil servant raid of Amazon. I did, however, buy another book by Grove entitled, ‘Only the Paranoid Survive’ – probably better suited to my temperament, anyway.

The core argument of this book is that, however successful a business or organisation may be, at any time it will face a ‘Strategic Inflection Point’ (SIP) – a major change or disruptor, that will see a competitor emerge with a new product, that could have huge impact on the viability and profitability on that business.

The SIP could come at any time and is often hard to predict. It could happen at a time when the company is seen as almost invincible, yet because the business fails to respond in the right way to the challenge, it ends up being swept away by the tsunami of the new SIP disruptor.

All through the book, there are examples of companies where this has happened, including SIPs facing his own organisation, Intel. Although Only the Paranoid Survive was written in 1995, Grove predicted the major disruptor effect of the internet, in terms of software, media and connectivity.

I can think of others. Remember Blackberry (I am one of the few that still have one – as I love keyboards)? It used to be one of the most popular mobiles in the world and democratised email through handheld devices. Yet in just a few years it lost its market share because the management failed to understand the rise of the Apple iPhone and the democratisation of smartphone apps. By the time it did, it was too late. Only a few years ago did Blackberry start selling mobiles with Android Apps. Now, Blackberry is just basically a software security company and contracts out to other companies the making of keypad android phones.

Grove argues that the best way to respond to SIPs is through open debate within the company, initial chaos and then a clear and unbending vision of how to succeed. He notes that, “all eggs should be put in one basket”, rather than trying to do a bit of everything, seeking to please everyone. He does warn, however, to  “watch the basket”.

It is also important to listen to those middle-managers and sales force, i.e. those at the coalface, as they can often see best what is happening and identify emerging trends. Interestingly, he notes that data, however important, is not everything. You need instinct, anecdote, and emotional intelligence, too:

“You have to be able to argue with the data, when your experience and judgement suggest the emergence of force that may be too small to show up in the analysis that has the potential to grow so big as to change the rules your company operate by. The point is, when dealing with emerging trends, you may very well go against the rational extrapolation of data and rely instead on anecdotal observations and your instincts.”

Why does this book matter? The answer lies in what Grove says about fear and complacency:

“Fear can be the opposite of complacency. Complacency often afflicts precisely those who have been the most successful. It is often found in companies that have honed the skills that are perfect for the environment. But when the environment changes, these companies may be the slowest to respond properly. A good dose of fear may help sharpen the survival instincts.”

I have lost count as to how many Conservatives I have recently met or spoken to (and I’m absolutely NOT including the brilliant, new, Northern MPs who have been elected – quite the opposite), who assume that we will be in power for the next ten to fifteen years and that it is all over for the Labour Party. That worries me.

Not only is this not true psephologically, as recently highlighted by Lewis Baston in The Critic magazine (the Red Wall faces major challenges), but Conservatives are also not winning younger voters to the cause.

Moreover, the Labour Party, a historical movement, is not going to be steeped in the mire of Corbynism forever. At some point, they or something else, at an unpredictable moment in time, will represent a strategic inflection point to the Government. Who is to say that if Labour elect a Corbynista person mark 2, that individual will still be there in two years time? Half a decade is an eternity in politics.

This is why, continuous change and reform, both in Government and in campaigning, is vital, if Conservatives are to withstand a Strategic Inflection Point when it inevitably happens.

The electorate remain volatile. Party tribal loyalties grow weaker every political day. Huge voter swings in one direction one time, could become huge voter swings in another way the next.

It is worth reading this book. As Grove notes – a man who survived Hungarian fascism, Nazism and Communism and arrived in the USA as a penniless immigrant – fear stops complacency and can mean continued success. Only the paranoid survive, especially in the world of Conservative politics.

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

Unity Howard: New sponsors. Targeted investment. Building talent. The next steps for school reform.

Unity Howard is Director of the New Schools Network.

According to Deltapoll, education was the third most important issue in the recent general election campaign. The manifesto commitments of the main parties focussed on funding rather than detailed specifics on policy areas: so what should we expect for education reform?

The Conservative Party won this election by targeting seats in areas that had not voted Tory before. As the Prime Minister said, these communities have “lent him their vote”. To keep them he must deliver real change – education must be central to that.

The New Schools Network has analysed the 41 seats in England which switched party to the Conservatives. Thirty-one are in local authorities that have a negative progress score at GCSE level, while only 10 exceeded the national average at end-of-primary testing.

We know that Brexit was at the heart of so many votes, but it was by no means the only factor. Indeed, I see it as merely part of a wider motive – a desperate plea for change from communities who know their local schools are not good enough, and who have placed their trust in the Conservatives to improve their lot.

We need a new vision for this next decade: one with a lifespan that exceeds just one parliamentary cycle. And if that vision is to resonate with those who voted Conservative for the first time, then it must centre on social mobility.

As a first step, the Government should initiate a new wave of sponsors for academy trusts, particularly in the Midlands and the North. We need businesses, charities, and other organisations who can bring their own expertise, and give back to the communities they serve.

For example, the FTSE 100 captains of industry should become school sponsors to play a hands-on role developing their next generation of employees in England. And we saw recently, a private donation to Winchester and Dulwich College, targeted at white working class boys, was turned down on equality concerns. The state sector is crying out for support– and will gladly be the recipient if private schools continue to turn their noses up.

Bringing outside expertise into schools was once central to the academies movement, as organisations like Dixons, the Co-op, the Merchant Venturers, and others sponsored local schools. That is a hallmark of responsible capitalism, but a new generation needs to step into the academy world, and needs to be given enough support to hit the ground running. At NSN, we are well placed to support them as we already do with new school applicants.

However, it is crucial that collaboration is at the heart of this – working with the existing school sector to create a settlement that works for everyone and that will outlast the parliamentary term. This includes allowing local authorities to open up their own multi-academy trusts, paving the way to full academisation.

Next, the Government needs to prioritise targeted investment in initiatives for the most left behind communities. This shouldn’t reinvent the wheel on new programmes, but rather leveraging better incentives to take on struggling schools, thus avoiding the spectre of ‘orphan’ schools with no willing sponsor. This includes more support for new academy trusts in underserved areas based on successful models in the rest of England.

Third, the Government must invest in building talent. Higher starting salaries are always welcome, but practical support is needed to develop the next generation of leaders to reach their full potential – help that goes way beyond just the National Professional Qualification for Headship.

Highly successful trusts should be allowed to replicate the KIPP Fisher Fellowship model in the US to identify and support new leaders. NSN has launched a CEO mentoring scheme but we cannot do this alone – we need Government intervention for every layer of school leadership and, crucially, funding.

Fourth, Onward research during the election found that further education (FE) is another pressing concern for new Tory voters. More funding for this sector is a good first step, but will not be enough of itself. That’s why the Government should use the free school model to bring much-needed innovation into this sector.

Finally, of course, the new Government needs to put its shoulder to the wheel again on the free school programme. New schools are a proven success, particularly in areas broadly untouched by other educational reforms. We must re-animate the original model, allowing charities, community organisations and groups of teachers and parents to establish their own school in the areas of the country which most need them.

The Conservatives started the revolution in education reform in schools, empowering communities to come together in areas otherwise abandoned. Instead of being content with their work to date, we need the new Government to take this even further.

Boris Johnson’s Conservatives showed that they can win the confidence of the country. Now is the time to prove they are worthy of that confidence by driving through the vital reforms that are desperately needed to ensure by 2024 every child can access a good school place in England.

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

Eddie Hughes: Yes, let’s move CCHQ resources to the regions. But do so authentically.

Eddie Hughes is MP for Walsall North.

Last month’s produced the largest Conservative majority since 1987, ended the Brexit impasse and saw the emergence of Blue Collar Conservatism – now the true voice of hard working people up and down this country. It’s vital that we demonstrate that we are worthy of the trust that these voters have placed in us.

With this in mind, one proposal being considered is the idea of slimming down the Conservative Party’s Central Office (CCHQ) in London and moving its resources to the regions. But this must go beyond mere symbolism. If we are going to set up a CCHQ in the regions we must do so in a manner that does not patronise nor condescend to those we are seeking to serve.

We can learn a number of lessons from the BBC’s decision to relocate large parts of its operation from London to Salford in 2011, in an attempt to create more specialised content and to boost their approval ratings in the North.

The BBC’s plans to better serve its audience in the North, by having northern people creating television shows that would appeal to a northern audience, appear not to have been realised. The 2017 National Audit Office report found that a total of 894 members of the existing London staff had been paid relocation allowances worth a total of £16 million – with just 39 people from Salford having been recruited to work at the new Salford based HQ. What’s the point of re-locating if you’re still almost exclusively employing people from London and not the area you’re moving to?

Dominic Cummings is thinking along the right lines. His blog proposed an unorthodox approach to the recruitment of new staff for Number Ten. I’m not suggesting that we adopt the same approach for the regional CCHQ office, but it would be appropriate to experiment with new ways of identifying talented people who may not naturally apply for such roles.

A similarly unorthodox approach has been adopted by a number of leading organisations, keen to move away from restricted talent pools, often exclusively made up of students at Russell Group universities with at least a 2:1 degree. Instead, they are choosing to focus on school leavers and unearthing the hidden talent that already exists in the labour market.

The publisher Penguin Random House, for example, has removed the ‘degree filter’ from its recruitment process, so that academic qualifications no longer act as a barrier to talented people entering the industry. Job applicants are encouraged to demonstrate their potential, creativity, strengths and ideas.

The advertising firm J Walter Thompson (JWT) has enacted an innovative recruitment process, moving away from its reliance on university leavers as its default source of talent. JWT has adopted a ‘blind CV’ recruitment, which will no longer be looked at until the candidates are whittled down to a much later stage. Instead, applicants are now asked to answer six questions which demonstrate their skills and suitability for the job, and their answers are used to assess them for interview selection. This has led to JWT focusing on candidates’ skills and talents rather than academic opportunity and achievement.

What surprised me most of all is how forward-looking our Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) has become. The Social Mobility Foundation (SMF) recently ranked MI6 in the top 75 UK employers who have taken the most action on social mobility. In a bid to attract talented individuals who might not otherwise consider themselves to be suitable candidates, MI6 has launched a new recruitment programme aimed at increasing the number of female, ethnic minority and working class recruits.

Rather than focusing on academic credentials, candidates are being judged on the suitability of their skills to the role with job adverts focusing particularly on their problem-solving abilities, enthusiasm, team spirit and their determination to make a positive impact. MI6 continues to work hard to broaden its appeal and has committed to create a workplace that is representative of the country it serves. The Conservative Party would do well to follow its lead.

If we really are becoming the Party of Blue Collar Conservatives, capable of representing and reflecting the voices of hard working people up and down this country, our Party must be the change that we want to see.

The Prime Minister gets it. He has said many times that former Labour voters have “lent” us their votes for this election. So if we are to deserve their continued support, we need a wholesale upheaval of CCHQ, not just short-term, virtue-signalling tampering.

In December 2019, the Conservative Party took down the so-called Labour red wall across North Wales, the Midlands and Northern England. If we get this right, we have a once in a generation chance to obliterate it forever, to put the Labour Party into the dusty history books and to put in its place a Party that truly cares, understands and is equipped to improve the lives of so many people.

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

Richard Holden: The Red Wall. My part in its downfall. How I was won North West Durham – Labour since its creation.

Ric Holden is MP for North West Durham

Peggotty’s Café, Wolsingham, County Durham

Just a just a couple of days before nominations closed, I got a call and was told that the previous Conservative candidate for North West Durham had withdrawn. After chatting with family and close friends, I decided to throw my hat in the ring.

I thought that the local Association might go for me – I grew up in a similar area (albeit on the wetter side of the Pennines) in a semi-rural former industrial village on the Lancashire/Yorkshire border; I’d got experience having been a candidate before and had been heavily involved in campaigning since I was a teenager.

But, to be totally honest, looking at the previous results, it was difficult to believe that this key brick in the ‘Red Wall’ could tumble.

North West Durham was created in 1950, and had returned Labour MPs comfortably its entire existence. Theresa May and Tim Farron (both good local campaigners) had both been trounced in 1992, and Labour’s majority had varied between a “low” of 15 per cent of the vote (with a 6,500 or so majority in 1983) and a “high” of 54 per cent (with a 25,000 or so majority in 1997.

Even with Jeremy Corbyn in place, Laura Pidcock held the seat very comfortably in 2017 with well over half the vote and an 18 per cent majority of almost 9,000 votes. To win by just one vote would require a swing of almost ten per cent.

To the campaign and the seat: my agent, David, and the Association Treasurer, Marian, met me at the Punch Bowl in Edmundbyers at 6pm on Wednesday, 13th November to fill in my nomination papers.

I’ve since learnt that they had both been very disheartened before the meeting, having lost a candidate, and were worried about having a replacement at such short notice who wasn’t super-local.

I didn’t know at the time but do now that when they both got home that night and called each other to say how happy they were, after meeting me properly, with how things had panned out.

So how and why did a seat that’d never been Conservative go blue for the first time?

Big picture

I may be wrong, but I think that the former Labour MP who wrote that it was all Tony Blair’s fault was wide of the mark.

As far as I saw, there were two factors the put us in the ballpark: Corbyn (and by extension Corbyn’s Labour Party) and his policy on Brexit.

It became patently obvious to me after chatting to people locally that they felt that they’d been taken for granted by Labour for a long time, but that this had been crystalised by its “we know better” attitude over Brexit – especially after being told by the party in 2017 that it would deliver on the referendum. This was re-enforced by the nature of Corbyn’s Labour.

The average person I met on the doorstep in North West Durham is moderate and sensible. They know you need good jobs and thriving businesses for the tax revenues for good public services. They’re not Marxists obsessed with looking back to the Miners’ Strike. They’re people who want to get on, work hard for their families but have also have a real sense of community, wand ho don’t want to see those working hard at the bottom trapped without opportunity to succeed.

Labour just didn’t understand. Portraying themselves as almost a pastiche of ‘Old Labour’ in a bizarre attempt at cultural appropriation of a “working class” image fell flat. Local people got the same impression they’d have got if someone hung a Lowry on the wall of an Islington townhouse and then waxed lyrical about what a cultural icon Gracie Fields was to Northern millworkers. Labour handed us an opportunity to capitalise on.

The national campaign was tight and focussed. The concentration on delivering Brexit and on the domestic priorities of the British people was bang on. But I don’t think we’d quite have made it in North West Durham if it had been just this national picture alone.

Little picture

We started campaigning almost immediately. With hardly any data to go on, I blind canvassed different parts of the constituency to get a feel for the most prominent local issues (one of the worst things you can do as a candidate is to fail to recognise that your local association know ‘their bit’ of the area well, but individually rarely understand the whole seat.)

After a couple of nights at a room in the local pub I rented a cottage in Weardale for the duration of the campaign, and purely by being around got myself involved in the local community – including attending a rather boozy night at the Wolsingham showground (thanks Mark!)…

I threw myself into daily campaigning across the constituency with daily Facebook updates and tweets. Our tiny team grew steadily with the support of some of the more active Association members and people who got involved when they saw what we were doing. We went everywhere and spoke to as many people as we could. And people liked it. They liked seeing someone fighting. And they told their friends.

Labour’s reaction locally was unbelievable. I became convinced they had better data from generations of campaigning. Their slavish re-iteration of Labour’s national messaging was helpful. It was like campaigning against a cult rather than a political party.

When Labour did campaign, they turned people off. They had a mistaken belief in the strength of the personal brand of the sitting MP. On the doorstep they’d pretend to be more pro-Brexit or pro-Remain depending on how the person answered the question on the doorstep. Then people talked to their neighbours and found out they were again being treated as fools by the local Labour Party.

And the rest, as they say, is history. On the night we got a 10.5 per cent swing, turning an almost 9,000 Labour majority into a Conservative majority of 1,144.

This is the first of many of these fortnightly columns, and the only one to focus on what has happened, rather than the future. The future is clear, and along the lines of what the Prime Minister has already said. A lot of people lent us their votes this time in the hope of something new and different.

We need to build long-term trust to hold seats like North West Durham. We can win again but we must deliver. Better transport (better bus services, improved roads and, hopefully rail too), protecting and enhancing local services (Shotley Bridge Hospital, GP Services) and ensuring local police and schools have the resources they need are all vital.

What is key underpinning this is for those of us who have had the honour of being elected by these communities to fight remorselessly and with positivity for our communities. The people aren’t stupid as Labour would have you believe. They know that if you try you won’t succeed every time ,but they want you to try – and for your ambition as their MP to match their ambition and aspirations for themselves, their families and communities.

By showing people locally that we get this, we stand a good chance not just of holding seats but of gaining more. If I were in the MP in Wansbeck, Hull East or Sunderland now, I would be rightly very concerned about the next election because it’s clear, from the Prime Minister down, Conservatives see 2019 as a new baseline, not a high water mark.

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As 2020 begins, we look back on ten years in which Tories first led the movement for austerity…and then against it

This decade is only nine years old.  When it ends there will be many different ways of assessing it.  But one aspect is already clear to those who follow British politics.

This has been a decade dominated domestically by the Tory Party.  First, it rode the first big wave – namely “austerity”, the attempt to restore the status quo pre-the financial crash.  Then, just as that wave exhausted itself, it leaped to board the second one: “anti-austerity”.  Labour never got a look in.

Let us explain – with a hat-tip, and more, to Larry Elliott of the Guardian.

The 2010 election was a debate about which party would best restore the status quo ante – that’s to say, the political and economic model founded by Margaret Thatcher and reinforced by Tony Blair.  This was based on London, finance, services, the South, high migration (at least under Blair), a strong pound, relatively cheap foreign labour, law, traditional media and rising house prices.

The voters were not quite willing to entrust the task to David Cameron.  So he formed a coalition with the Liberal Democrats.  As Chancellor, George Osborne then got on top of the worst of Labour’s debt and deficit, and salvaged the economy – though it remained a high immigration, low productivity, southern-based model.

In 2015, the middle of the decade, the Liberal Democrats were punished for entering the coalition, and the Conservatives reaped the political gain of restoring the Thatcher/Blair model to near normality.  Their vote inched up to 37 per cent; Ed Miliband failed to persuade the people that he would deliver a convincing alternative, and the LibDem implosion delivered Cameron a small overall majority.

So the first half of the decade had produced a pro-austerity Tory majority. Cameron then had little alternative but to deliver the referendum he had promised on Britain’s EU referendum.  This had nightmare consequences for him.

Ultimately, as Lord Ashcroft’s polling suggests, the referendum decision was about self-government.  But there was a lot more to it than that.  Those who did well out of the system tended to vote Remain.  Which is why London and much of its hinterland plumped to stay.  (Scotland and Northern Ireland were special cases.)

Most of provincial England, however, didn’t feel it was gaining from the Thatcher / Blair settlement – from the trend to services, finance, the capital and especially high migration.  Lord Ashcroft’s research confirms that the last was the second big factor at play in delivering the referendum result.  When push came to shove, the voters, faced with a binary choice shorn of party politics, voted against the status quo.

And so it was that the cause of Remain, fronted by Cameron and George Osborne, lost out to that of Leave, led by…Boris Johnson and Michael Gove.  The referendum became a blue-on-blue conflict.  Jeremy Corbyn’s position was ambigious and Labour made little impact.

Out went Cameron and in came…Theresa May, after Gove and Johnson fell out.  For a while, she looked like the perfect solution to the Brexit conundrum: a former Remainer who would deliver Leave, and grasped the difference between the Somewheres, with their rooted attachment to place and nation, and the Nowheres, with their lack of commitment to either.

Then came the disaster of the 2017 election.  May over-reached by seeking a mandate both for Brexit and reform.  This reminded non-Conservative Leave voters that the Tories were the party of austerity – a cause that the latter had formally given up on arguing for anyway.

May lost her majority, scraped back into government…and saw her administration vanish into a dispute between Conservatives who ultimately were prepared to leave the EU without a deal and those who would not.  Boris Johnson resigned over Chequers, in the wake of David Davis, and became the de facto leader of the former.

Once again, the main political action was blue-on-blue, with Philip Hammond, Amber Rudd, Oliver Letwin and Dominic Grieve in one corner, and Johnson and the Spartans in another.  The Party lost 42 Ministers to Brexit, including Steve Baker, Sam Gyimah, Dominic Raab, Jo Johnson, Esther McVey, Andrea Leadsom and Rory Stewart.  Labour took no clear position – and was sidelined again.

The rest is recent history.  May was deposed, Johnson entered the consequent leadership election as front-runner, and defied precedent by winning.  After a long series of defeats he then pulled off a near-landslide election victory, in which the Tories became Britain’s working-class party – a transformation that their 2017 wins in Mansfield, North East Derbyshire and Walsall North, inter alia, presaged.

Some will acknowledge these developments while disliking our description of them.  What is “austerity” anyway, they will ask? – pointing out that public spending has risen year on year since 2010. (We add that most departmental spending was reduced during that period.)

In any event, Osborne was accused of easing up on deficit reduction many times: read this Andrew Gimson article, from 2014, and find a list of examples.  The former Chancellor again took a path of least resistance in 2015, when he found £27 billion going spare down the back of the public expenditure sofa.

But you may insist that Osborne and austerity are synonymous.  In which case, we refer you to Philip Hammond’s post-EU referendum autumn statement, in which he junked his predecessor’s fiscal rules.  The new Chancellor promised instead to balance the budget “as soon as is practicable”.  If John McDonnell had said so instead, there would have been a riot (at least in the Tory press).

This takes us to a core point about austerity: one can claim it never happened; or try to define it out of existence; but the word does describe a broad consensus for slowing the growth in public spending that preceded the Coalition.  (Labour also pledged in 2010 to reduce the deficit, but to do so more slowly.)

In one sense, it is clearly outrageous for the Conservatives, having led the charge for public spending retrenchment, the Thatcher/Blair economic model and EU membership, to turn turtle and now push for still higher spending, regional growth and Brexit.

But that’s politics for you.  Labour, torn between pro-Brexit majorities in most of its provincial seats and anti-Brexit passion in its north London fastnesses, was never able to take a clear position one way or the other.  And its Blair/Brown era support for globalisation, and Miliband/Corbyn era unwillingness to renounce relatively high migration, did for it among a big swathe of the white working class.

So will Johnson now be able to finish what he is seeking to begin: the transformation of the Conservatives into a more regional, less London-centric, pro-manufacturing, lower migration, weaker pound, and more-slowly-rising-house-prices party?  ConservativeHome will let you into a secret. We have absolutely no idea.

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Alistair Lexden: The origins of One Nation – now in fashion once again within the Conservative Party

Lord Lexden is the Conservative Party’s official historian. His website can be found here

]On 4 December 1924, Stanley Baldwin spoke at the Royal Albert Hall, with members of his Party filling every seat. The Tories had just achieved a great election victory, winning 419 seats and gaining an overall Commons majority of 223. The Liberal vote had collapsed and Labour had lost ground in its heartlands. Baldwin knew that his Party’s approach to policy had to be redefined if it was to retain its unexpected ascendancy.

Baldwin told his audience that the Party must show that “ we stand for the union of those two nations of which Disraeli spoke two generations ago: union among our own people to make one nation of our own people at home which, if secured, nothing else matters in the world.”

That was the first time that the phrase that was to become so famous had been heard. During the five years that followed, Neville Chamberlain, the most remarkable social reformer the Tories have ever had, gave substance to Baldwin’s vision. The social services became the largest item of public spending for the first time; contributory pensions were introduced for most working people; the framework of a national health service, Chamberlain’s greatest passion, began to take shape; a massive house-building programme began which, in the 1930s, rose to an all-time record level.

Conservatives today would be proclaiming proudly that they were Baldwinian One Nation Tories if the founding father’s reputation had not been so gravely damaged, very unfairly in my view, by the widespread belief after 1939 that he had not rearmed in the face of the Nazi menace. The high unemployment which blighted the inter-war years also cast a shadow over his achievements.

Churchill, who reversed his once high opinion of Baldwin, was disinclined to use his trademark term. He referred to Tory democracy as his guiding inspiration, a vague phrase coined by Lord Randolph Churchill, the father he adored. Asked what it meant, Lord Randolph replied, “mainly opportunism.”

Nothing more might have been heard of One Nation if a number of able, ambitious younger Conservatives, elected for the first time in 1950, had not adopted it as the name of a group they formed to win attention for themselves as advocates of moderate ideas suited to the post-war world of consensus politics.

It was Angus Maude, the possessor of a powerful political mind, who came up with One Nation. The name adorned a pamphlet—in effect the group’s manifesto—which set Party members talking excitedly at the 1950 Party Conference.

It contained sentiments suited to the time. “Socialists believe that the State should provide an average standard for those in need. We believe it should provide a minimum standard, above which people should be free to rise.”

It was the kind of language the Tories needed to distinguish themselves from Labour without threatening major political change. There has been a One Nation group of MPs almost constantly since then, formulating no more than mildly controversial policies to help counter “ the almost traditional anti-intellectualism of the Tory Party”, as The Economist put it in 1954.

Tory Central Office decided that this badge of moderate Toryism would be much more effective if a great name from the past could be attached to it. Since it denoted a commitment to healing a great social divide that Disraeli had famously dramatised in the 1840s in his novel Sybil: or The Two Nations, he was obviously their man.

He had also given the vote to a limited number of working men in urban areas in 1867 and introduced a few mild measures of social reform in 1875. They could be hailed as the starting-point of One Nation Conservatism, giving it a most useful venerable veneer.

In two famous speeches on public platforms (where he rarely appeared) in 1872, Disraeli had spoken of “ elevating the condition of the people.” The speeches were now reprinted for the Party faithful, and quotation from them appeared frequently in the utterances of Party leaders from Anthony Eden onwards.

Disraeli’s One Nation Conservatism was born as a convenient historical fiction.

Margaret Thatcher subscribed to it until the mid-1980s. She stopped referring to One Nation when her “ wet” critics began to claim it as exclusively their property, on the grounds that Disraeli would never had contemplated any reduction in public spending, something which had no basis whatsoever in fact.

If Boris Johnson now gives real political substance to what has become an overused catch-phrase, he will recreate the Tories in the image of “ Honest Stan” Baldwin. But will the ghost of Disraeli ever be laid to rest after its most useful service since 1945?

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Sunder Katwala: The Conservatives, ethnic minority voters, and the election. Next to no progress.

Sunder Katwala is the Director of British Future.

Not being white remains the number one demographic predictor of not voting Conservative. The party was once again only half as likely to secure the vote of an ethnic minority Briton as of their white British fellow citizens in this General Election. But while that ethnic vote gap was the difference between a hung parliament and a working majority in 2017, Boris Johnson’s Conservatives found another route to a majority in 2019, winning Leave-majority seats from Labour across the North, the Midlands and Wales.

Ipsos-Mori’s How Britain voted in the 2019 election overview estimates that Labour won 64 per cent of the ethnic minority vote, with the Conservatives on 20 per cent (+1) and the Liberal Democrats on 12 per cent (+6).

Labour’s share is nine per cent down on 2017, but level with the party’s performance with ethnic minority voters in 2015. The Conservative performance in 2019 and 2017 reflects a modest decline from securing almost one in four ethnic minority voters (24 per cent) in 2015 in the Ipsos-Mori series.

The Liberal Democrat share doubled in this election – rising from six per cent in 2017 and four per cent in 2015 – though the centre party had won 14 per cent of the ethnic minority vote in 2010 before entering the coalition.

These figures would translate into over two million ethnic minority votes for Labour and perhaps 750,000 for the Conservatives – though the Conservatives would have another three-quarters of a million votes if it were able to level up its performance among minority groups. Caution is advisable about these indicative numbers – there is less data about the ethnic minority vote than any other section of the electorate, with no full-scale academic study since 2010.

There are different patterns among different parts of the electorate: the Conservatives have made some modest progress with British Chinese and Indian voters, while slipping back from a low base since 2010-15 with black British, Pakistani and Bangladeshi voters.

The most diverse Cabinet in British history may have laid the ghosts of the era of Enoch Powell – but the Windrush scandal and the party’s record on anti-Muslim prejudice have created new barriers to expanding the party’s appeal. The Conservatives won 13 per cent of the British Pakistani-origin vote in 2010, but that had fallen back to five per cent by 2017 – and is unlikely to improved this time.

A governing party should certainly not be content with one in twenty voters from a significant minority vote – a share no better than the estimated six per cent of British Jewish voters who voted for Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party, mired in an anti-semitism crisis. The clarity and credibility of the party’s review into the handling of anti-Muslim prejudice may offer an opportunity to reset and rebuild.

The Conservatives paid particular attention to winning British Indian-origin voters – but with very patchy results. In Harrow East, where Bob Blackman is the only Conservative to represent a ‘minority-majority’ seat, he outperformed colleagues across London by winning an increased majority on a five per cent swing to the Conservatives. There was also a dramatic 15 per cent swing to the Conservatives in Leicester East – a constituency where six out of ten votes are Indian-origin – after Keith Vaz stood down in ignominy, replaced by Labour NEC member Claudia Webbe. Labour’s majority was reduced from 30,000 to 6,000, but Webbe still won over 50 per cent of the vote.

Analysis suggests these results reflected local dynamics, rather than a national pattern. Joe Twyman of DeltaPoll has shown that there was no correlation between the proportion of Indian-origin voters in a constituency and changes in either Labour or Conservative support.

That applies similarly if the exercise is repeated for Hindu voters. Any dramatic swing to the Conservatives among Indian or Hindu voters should show up in these seats. “If you want to play the politics of voting blocs, then let’s play the politics of voting blocs”, Trupti Patel of the Hindu Forum of Britain told the Times of India – but the claim to command a Hindu voting bloc finds no support in the date.

Nor do outdated gatekeeper claims of this kind become any more legitimate if pursued from the right or the left. Similarly, the Overseas Friends of the BJP generated headlines in both India and Britain, claiming it would campaign to remove anti-Indian MPs from parliament, identifying several Labour MPs with Indian heritage a key targets. This much underestimated the political pluralism of British Indian views. Labour won 18 of the 20 seats with the highest number of Indian voters – and there will be seven Conservatives, seven Labour MPs and one Liberal Democrat MP with Indian heritage among the 65 ethnic minority MPs in the Commons.

The record ethnic diversity of the new Commons reflects the growing realisation that few voters vote on the skin colour of their candidates – so that a large number of black and Asian Conservatives representing areas of low ethnic diversity. So a One Nation party should keep its distance from campaign like “Operation Dharmic Vote” in Leicester, which appeared to explicitly propose voting on the grounds of the faith or ethnicity of candidates. The argument should have been about relative merits of the candidates and parties.

In theory, Brexit was an opportunity for the Conservatives with ethnic minority voters – since the third of British Asians and quarter of black British voters who voted Leave are larger shares of the electorate than have ever voted Conservative. But it also proved a barrier among upwardly mobile graduate and young professionals voters who the party was targeting during the Cameron era. Corbyn-sceptic black and Asian voters were more likely to switch to the Liberal Democrats this time – but the Conservatives might hope to try again once the debate about Brexit moves on.

Overall, the 2019 changes in the ethnic minority vote appear to be broadly in line with those among the electorate overall. That pattern is reflected in actual votes in the 75 most ethnically diverse constituencies, where Labour won 58 per cent of the vote, a fall of seven per cent, with the Conservatives on 27 per cent, matching their 2017 share exactly, and the LibDems up by four per cent to nine per cent, according to Omar Khan’s analysis for a forthcoming Runnymede Trust briefing paper.

Those figures represent all votes cast – by white British and ethnic minority voters – in constituencies where ethnic minority voters make up over a third of the electorate, and a majority of voters in the 50 most diverse seats. Up to half of the ethnic minority population live in these 75 constituencies.

The Conservatives hold five of these seats, having lost several others since 2015, holding just Harrow East and Hendon among the 30 most diverse seats – holding off opposition challenges in Finchley and Golders Green, Cities of London and Westminster, and the Prime Minister’s constituency of Uxbridge.

London voted differently from the rest of England. Labour’s dominance in London is almost entirely attributable to the ethnic minority vote gap. A YouGov poll for the Mile End Institute showed the two major parties neck and neck among white Londoners – a Labour lead of one per cent, compared to a 52 per cent lead among ethnic minority voters, where Labour led the Conservatives by 68 per cent to 16 per cent, with the Liberal Democrats on 11per cent. It is the ethnic minority electorate which means that Labour won 49 seats to the Conservatives 21 and three for the LibDems – and London’s Conservatives will need to work out how to develop a distinct pitch to recover in the capital.

Shaun Bailey will lead the London Conservatives in next May’s Mayoral election, but all 21 London Conservative MPs are white British. Given that the first Asian Conservative MP in London was elected back in 1895, and the second from 1992-97, it is surprising that Mancherjee Bhownagree in the nineteenth century and Nirj Deva in the twentieth century still await a twenty-first century successor. There is growing ethnic diversity on the Conservative benches across Essex and Kent, Hampshire, Surrey and Yorkshire, but not in the capital city during the first two decades of this century.

The contenders for the Labour leadership need to grapple with how to broaden the party’s electoral coalition. Two million ethnic minority voters make up one-fifth of the party’s national vote. The new electoral map confirms Labour as the party of the cities, but the party now needs to construct a bridging cross-class, cross-ethnic coalition across the cities and towns if it is to govern again. That will be heard if the party’s inquest descends into an exchange of culture war caricatures – as some voices stereotype the voters that it has lost as neanderthal xenophobes while others insult those it has keep as out-of-touch metropolitans.

The Conservative Government may face choices between bridging and polarising too. It wants to ensure that this Christmas 2019 realignment was not just for Brexit. Will the government prioritise delivering for its new constituents on bridging issues – the NHS, schools and reviving the high streets – that have a broad cross-ethnic appeal, or will it seek advantage in feeding the culture war polarisations that increasingly fuel US politics in the Trump era? Do ethnic minority working-classes feature in the party’s account of rewarding contribution, or will approaches to meritocracy that can combines class and race barriers – like the pioneering race disparity audit – now get shelved?

The tone as well as the policy on post-Brexit immigration reforms will be one early indicator: a skills-based system that is nationality-blind could have broad appeal if ministers are heard to make the case for contribution and compassion alongside control.

The 2019 election shows that not yet solving the problem of how to appeal to ethnic minority voters is not yet an existential electoral issue. Yet it remains core test of any claim to govern for One Nation that the Government’s agenda should resonate and deliver for citizens of every faith and ethnicity.

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Brexit. The story of 2019 in a single paragraph.

Theresa May pledges Brexit by March 29 over a hundred times but it doesn’t happen. DEFEAT.  She then promises it by April 12 but it doesn’t happen. DEFEAT.  She then says that she is not prepared to delay Brexit beyond the end of June but the end of June comes and it doesn’t happen. DEFEAT.  She has said that the European elections must not take place but they doDEFEAT. The Conservatives come fourth behind the Brexit Party, the Liberal Democrats and Labour with eight per cent. DEFEAT.  The Conservatives drop to about 20 per cent in the polls. DEFEAT.  May resigns and a leadership election takes places which Boris Johnson wins. VICTORY.  Johnson gets Parliament prorogued but is over-ruled by the Supreme Court. DEFEATThe Tory gang of 21 rebel and he loses his majority. DEFEAT. An extension is forced on him by the Benn Act. DEFEAT.  Which succeeds because he has lost control of the Commons timetable. DEFEAT.  Oliver Letwin and John Bercow have teed the Commons up for the Act. DEFEAT.  Johnson has commited to delivering Brexit by October 31 “do or die” but hasn’t. DEFEATHe seeks a general election and loses. DEFEATHe seeks it again and loses. DEFEAT.  His poll rating and the Conservatives’ goes up. WFT? He cuts a Brexit deal with Leo Varadkar. WFT? He presses for an election for a third time and the SNP plus the Liberal Democrats and then Labour let him have it. Ooops.  He wins the election by a landslide.  COMPLETE TOTAL AND UTTER VICTORY.  

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