Red wall

The chart that will decide Rishi Sunak’s fate

After his five key pledges speech this week, one can only conclude that Rishi Sunak must have been shown the chart.  The chart in question crops up in a regular update that polling firm YouGov puts out on the key political issues, as seen by various segments of the electorate. It measures the priorities of those who voted Conservative in 2019 and therefore have it within their collective power – and potential inclination – to grant the party yet another term in office. And it has told a consistent story for the past two years. The three biggest issues for voters – miles ahead of anything else – are the

Exclusive: disgraced MP to quit

Independent MP Imran Ahmad Khan has today decided to stand down from the Commons – three days after being found guilty of sexually assaulting a 15-year-old boy. Elected in December 2019 for the ‘Red Wall’ seat of Wakefield, the backbencher had the Conservative whip removed in June 2021 after he was charged for the offence.  The outgoing MP has now released a statement in which he says: Owing to long delays in the legal process, my constituents have already been without visible parliamentary representation for a year. Even in the best case scenario, anticipated legal proceedings could last many more months. I have therefore regrettably come to the conclusion that it is intolerable for constituents

Boris Johnson’s coalition of voters is falling apart

Boris Johnson enters the third year of his premiership in a much weaker position than when he started it. Alongside major rebellions inside his own party, humiliating by-election defeats and growing speculation across Westminster about who will succeed him, he has another problem: the coalition of voters who propelled him into Number 10 Downing Street is now rapidly falling apart. One reason why Johnson emerged with the biggest Conservative majority since Margaret Thatcher’s third and final majority in 1987 is because he united Leavers; those who have felt ignored, neglected and even held in contempt by much of the ruling class. While this process began under Theresa May, Johnson’s ‘Get

Does Rishi Sunak really understand red wall voters?

Rishi Sunak thinks Boris Johnson goofed badly when he conspired to upend Commons standards procedures. And he agrees with his red wall colleagues that this appeared to place the government on the side of a privileged elite. That is certainly the standard interpretation of his comment this week that the government needed to do better – and indeed unattributable briefings by an ally say that he regarded the episode as a ‘mistake’ which should be acknowledged by someone of cabinet rank. But if red wall Tories are tempted to regard Sunak as the true keeper of their flame then I suggest they think again. Because while Johnson has indeed gaffed, the

What are the limits of Boris’s ‘levelling-up’ agenda?

No doubt Boris Johnson has many qualities but the only one that comes to mind is this: he is not a conservative. That realisation may be dawning a little late on his more spirited supporters, who gave short shrift to anyone making this point during the flaxen-haired dauphin’s campaign for the crown, but it sunk in some time ago with his savvier opponents.  Boris’s non-conservatism is not the primary obstacle to the Labour party (or the broader left) regaining parliamentary power. But it is an added hindrance that could be done without. However, it also presents an opportunity to use a nominally Tory government to advance policies that wouldn’t ordinarily

Labour is in last chance saloon

If they have any sense – a proposition I will test later – officials from Labour, the Liberal Democrats and Plaid Cymru will be beginning meetings to work out a pact for the 2023/24 election. If they do not agree to a joint programme, there’s a good chance that Conservatives will be in power until a sizeable portion of this article’s readership is dead. The next redrawing of constituency boundaries in 2023 is almost certain to favour the Conservatives, adding ten seats to the already unhittable target of 123 constituencies Labour needs to win to govern on its own. There’s a possibility that Scotland could be independent by the end

Why I spoilt my ballot paper

The headline ‘Government to allow people to hug’ one might have expected to hear on early evening news bulletins in January 1661, shortly after Oliver Cromwell was posthumously executed and puritanism began its slow and welcome withdrawal from England. It sounds a little odd in 2021. Below the headline came the inevitable caveats from the medical clerisy. While hugging you should turn your face aside so as to minimise the risk of infecting the person you are embracing. I think people are also enjoined to keep their hands well above the waist — during amorous encounters with people in your ‘bubble’ you are allowed only to ‘get your tops’, as

How does the ‘red wall’ story end?

At Redwall Abbey Does fiction provide any guide as to the ultimate fate of Labour’s Red Wall? — Redwall Abbey was the setting for a series of children’s novels written by Brian Jacques between 1986 and his death in 2011. It revolved around the peace-loving creatures of Mossflower Wood who were forced to fight invading vermin. The first of the novels, called Redwall, featured an orphaned mouse who had become a novice monk and was forced to fight off an evil, one-eyed rat. At the end of the final novel, published posthumously, an otter and hedgehog emerged triumphant over the ‘vermin’ — a loose band of creatures which included rats,

A Tory rebellion is brewing against planning reforms

Boris Johnson used the Queen’s Speech on Tuesday to set out the policy reform he plans to do now that the pandemic is easing. This was largely centred on attempting to flesh out the ‘level up’ agenda through a focus on skills, industry and planning reform. It’s the latter bill that poses the greatest risk. Already Tory MPs have come out in opposition to what ministers say will be the biggest shake-up of the planning system in over 70 years. The government hopes the relaxation of the rules will pave the way for a home-building boom that will help it hit its goal of 300,000 new homes per year, ease

Boris shouldn’t take the red wall vote for granted

There are two popular reactions to the Hartlepool by-election, which one you favour depending largely on your political tribe. The first holds that the white working class has reacted against a woke, metropolitan Labour party and its knee-taking leader, Keir Starmer. The second holds that the town’s racist and xenophobic population are still fearful that their beloved Brexit might yet be undone, and were desperate to vote against a Labour candidate who had backed Remain. Both of these narratives in fact boil down to pretty much the same thing: that the people of Hartlepool are a sad and angry bunch who tend to vote against things rather than vote for

Why did Britain fall out of love with speedway?

It’s classified by the government as an ‘elite’ sport but you’ll struggle to find it mentioned in the national press. The current European champion is a Briton — Robert Lambert — but I’d be surprised if many people reading this have ever heard of him. It was once reckoned to be Britain’s second most popular spectator sport but the weekly numbers attending this summer’s shortened league season will be in the low tens of thousands. I’m talking about speedway, which has dropped out of national consciousness so much that it’s often necessary to explain what it actually is: motorbikes, four riders, racing four laps around an oval circuit at up

Labour’s problems are piling up

Can things get any worse for Keir Starmer? Yes appears to be the answer, if the latest YouGov poll is anything to go on. While the Tories have surged ahead to 43 per cent, support for Labour has tumbled down to 29 per cent. It’s important not to blow a single poll out of proportion, but nonetheless these numbers make for grim reading for the Labour leader. That 14 per cent lead for the Conservatives is the largest since mid-May 2020, when the recently elected Starmer was still digging his party out of the polling abyss of the Corbyn period. A year on – and coming weeks before a crucial

Diane Abbott has exposed Keir Starmer’s Red Wall dilemma

Were Keir Starmer more like Gordon Brown in temperament then by now he’d be throwing his mobile phone at a wall and ranting about the bigotry of the electorate. Instead, he plods on. Or perhaps we should confine ourselves to saying merely that he plods given the lack of any discernible sign of progress. YouGov produced more terrible numbers for Starmer this week when its monthly tracker poll on public views of his performance emerged. A month ago, it showed him in net negative territory for the first time, at -6 in the split between those saying he was doing well compared to those saying he was doing badly.  Now that

Starmer’s long game: party repair comes before opposition politics

What is Keir Starmer thinking? His approach might baffle Tory MPs, who wonder if he will ever spring to life. The answer, though, is that he’s playing a long game. He hopes he will be a strong opposition leader when the time is right. For now, it is time to offer support to Boris Johnson’s government. The pandemic has created tricky terrain for the shadow cabinet. Much like in wartime, normal political rules don’t apply, because ‘people want the government to succeed’. Starmer’s supporters say coronavirus means the Labour party has been squeezed out of the conversation. It’s not as simple as Starmer not knowing what he wants, even if

Left behind: how Labour betrayed its base

I love the labour movement. I love its history, its traditions, its brass bands and banners. I love its rousing songs, anthems and festivals. I love its slogans and rallying cries, inspired, as they are, by an abiding faith in the collective spirit and the seductive vision of the New Jerusalem. For all that tribalism is given a bad name these days — sometimes with good reason — I feel tribal about my attachment to the labour movement. And I offer no apology for that. As it was for millions of others who grew up in working-class communities, tribalism in the cause of labour was for me less a matter

Boris’s red wall problem

When Boris Johnson met with his cabinet in person for the first time in four months on Tuesday, his aim was simple: to boost morale. He was conscious that the replacement of normal meetings with virtual ones had led to ministers feeling muted. He believed that giving everyone some face-to-face time would help, and pushed hard for an actual meeting. Johnson won that argument, even if the cabinet did have to meet in the faded grandeur of the Foreign Office’s Locarno Suite to allow everyone to be socially distanced. This is not what Johnson’s team envisaged when he won his 80-seat majority in December. They assumed with a majority that