Gill Morris Communication
Gill Morris Communication

DevoIntelligence Panel talks GE17

Gill Morris

by Gill Morris on June 12, 2017, posted in Devo-Ed, devoComment, General Election 2017, Greater Manchester, Liverpool City Region, London, North East, Sheffield City Region, Tees Valley, The North, West Midlands, Yorkshire categories

It was a night full of shocks and incredulity. With the wind in Labour’s sails and unexpected Tory and SNP losses, winners were losers and losers proved to be winners. YouGov’s claim that Jeremy Corbyn would do better than expected, rang true across the country and the anti-austerity brand hit the mark. Theresa blew her cover and bombed on the doorstep. Her car crash campaign exposed her weaknesses for all the nation to see. It will now surely prove bloody difficult to be strong and stable if at the same time the PM is being propped up by the DUP.

This national picture is familiar but how is it reflected at a regional level and what does it mean for devolved politics? DevoIntelligence has brought together public affairs professionals from across the country to provide their comment and insight into the impact of the events of 8th June on the regions and nations of the UK.

 

Northern Ireland, Will Chambré, Chambré Public Affairs @WillChambre

The surprising result in the 2017 General Election may yet have profound consequences for devolution in Northern Ireland. The DUP looks set to play a major role in UK politics – supporting the Conservatives to form a sustainable Government.

The unionist party, contrary to some rather sensationalist media reports, will not be demanding sweeping socially-conservative concessions of the Conservatives. Rather, the party is seeking to position itself as acting “in the national interest”.  This will likely include guarantees on the pension triple lock and winter fuel payments for pensioners.

At a more parochial level, demands may include capital contributions towards infrastructure projects, perhaps including providing money for the NI Investment Fund; more money to speed healthcare transformation; and maintenance of the Common Travel Area post-Brexit.

However, there are also risks.

The UK Government has been officially neutral in Northern Ireland – backing neither unionists nor nationalists – since 1990. This was a key plank upon which devolution was built.

The DUP propping up a Conservative Government arguably undermines this neutrality – and consequently the UK Government’s status as an ‘honest broker’.

As a result, many fear the Con-DUP deal may prove an obstacle to talks, which resumed yesterday (12 June), aimed at restoring power-sharing. Therefore, while the DUP’s new-found power may yield valuable concession for Northern Ireland in the near term, in the longer term, it has the potential to lead to further obstacles to the resumption of normal devolved government.

 

Scotland, David McIntosh, Dram Communications @dramcom

The political sands have shifted in Scotland as the likelihood of second vote on independence disappears into the long grass.  The Scottish Conservatives very successfully made ‘stopping a second vote’ their core message and repeated it a every opportunity.

The first hint of a Tory revival north of the border came in last month’s local authority elections but nobody quite predicted that, as well as holding their one seat, they would add a further 12.  They took with them some big scalps, former FM Alex Salmond and the SNP’s Westminster leader Angus Robertson were both beaten by the Tory swing.

Scottish Labour’s vote share also rose as the party took advantage of the very late Corbyn bounce.  This gave them seven seats with Ian Murray, more than comfortably, holding Edinburgh South.  East Dumbartonshire saw the return of Lib Dem Jo Swinson and Edinburgh West was taken by Christine Jardine.   This significantly changes the political dynamic in Scotland.

The SNP did however, win the election in Scotland, returning 35 MPs and with their experience of operating ‘supply and confidence’ and minority administrations, will continue to prove a formidable force.  One thing is for certain, there has never been a more important time to engage in Scotland.

 

Wales, Cathy Owens, Deryn @cathy_owens

Welsh voters were as annoyed as their English counterparts that Mrs May called this ridiculous election with a good 20% of the population who might have considered staying at home came out to say in very British way, that up with this they would not put. Not just to protest the needlessness of the process, but also to stick two fingers up at the newspapers they read in huge numbers.

While most people may not have seen it coming, it was an extraordinary night for Labour. With 49% of the vote, they took back Cardiff North, Gower and the Vale of Clwyd from the Conservatives and increased majorities elsewhere. The only problem for Welsh Labour is that it is difficult to claim that Carwyn Jones won unilaterally, given how much better Corbyn’s Labour did across the UK.

The Conservatives had a terrible night in Wales. While they increased their share of the votes by 6 points, they clearly misjudged where those votes would be, leading to some very squeaky moments during the night, and a net loss of 3 seats.

Plaid Cymru may have 4 MPs but they are talking up a good result. They did not breakthrough elsewhere and it’s just good enough that they will spend another election cycle not reassessing their position, and not openly discussing their strategy, sales patter and policy platform. And the Lib Dems and UKIP? Well, both seem like no-legged, properly dead ducks; both Labour and the Tories gained ground at their expense.

It may be interesting to see how Labour and Plaid MPs work together in coalition discussions occur in Westminster but I have a sneaking suspicion that regardless , we may all be losers. Another General Election in the Autumn?

 

Liverpool City Region, Martin Liptrot, Communications Specialist

Normal service was resumed in Liverpool City Region as the weighing scales came out to replace the counters, such was the overwhelming size of Labour’s success. The slimmest majority in LCR going into the election was top ten national Tory target, Wirral West. Labour’s Margaret Greenwood was defending just a 400 majority and with the UKIP candidate stepping aside and an unhelpful Green candidate joining the race, many expected a Tory win. Nonsense. Following Jeremy Corbyn’s rally on the beach a couple of weeks before, Greenwood was handsomely returned with a 5,000 majority.

Corbyn’s nemesis, Angela Eagle who triggered the last leadership challenge, was returned with an improved 23,000 majority, and Alison McGovern, chair of the Blairite Progress group was also rewarded with an enhanced 7500 majority. Safest seats in the country, Bootle, Knowsley, Birkenhead and Riverside returned landslides again, and Liverpool Walton – where Corbynista Unite aide Dan Carden was parachuted in to replace newly minted Metro Mayor Steve Rotheram – there was no electoral backlash as Carden secured 85% of the vote. The only seat out of the City Region’s 17 that didn’t return a Labour MP was Southport where the LibDems were pushed into third as the Tories took their seat away.

What does this mean for local politics? UKIP and Greens disappeared entirely and the Liberal Democrats – the main opposition in LCR had a woeful election, struggling to retain deposits as much as make gains. A solid red belt exists across LCR but when we look at the political inclinations of these MPs, it clear that this is a centre-left block not a hard-left phalanx.

 

Greater Manchester, Ross Cathcart, DevoConnect @ross_cathcart

If success is defined as results minus expectation, Greater Manchester can only be seen as a thumping victory for the Labour Party. In April, with a promised landslide on the horizon, the Conservative party electoral machine targeted any seats in the region with less than a 5,000-vote majority. Familiar figures such as Johnny Reynolds, Ivan Lewis, Barbara Keeley and even Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Debbie Abrahams were all Tory targets.

How different things looked the morning after. As Greater Manchester followed the country in realigning toward two-party politics, all incumbent Labour MPs saw their majorities rise steeply and the smaller parties suffered. The greatest swings were seen in south of the region while in the de-industrialised communities of Bolton and Wigan it was less apparent. Bury North, held by Tory MP David Nuttall since 2010, in the end proved the only seat to change hands with an energetic local Labour campaign catapulting former councillor James Frith to victory. Between Mayor Andy Burnham’s resounding success in May and 8th June’s results, Greater Manchester has confirmed, if they were ever in any doubt, its Labour credentials.

How does this translate into devolved politics? There is a danger that the Labour dominance in the North West will lead a preoccupied and defensive May government to continue its preoccupation with the more electorally attractive West Midlands or indeed tempt them to step away from the agenda altogether. GMCA and Andy Burnham should dispense with their more combative language and instead articulate the areas where local and central government can cooperate. With Gavin Barwell moving to No 10 and Sajid Javid only reluctantly allowed to retain his position, a DCLG in flux will surely welcome the reconciliation.

 

North East, Joe Dancey, Endeavour Advisory @josephdancey

With no net changes after the most hotly contested general election campaign in the North East of England for decades, you’d be forgiven for imagining it’s a case of ‘plus ca change, plus ca meme chose’.  Yet below the surface, there are new trends at work.

The Tories’ share of the vote in the region rose to its highest since 1983. It is clear that voting Conservative is no longer the taboo it once was for previous generations.  However, CCHQ’s redirection of resources to ultimately safe Labour seats proved overconfident and contributed to what senior Conservatives in the region have described as a “bloody terrible” campaign. The widely expected victory for the policy-minded Simon Clarke in Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland was therefore cancelled out by the defeat of James Wharton in Stockton South.

Jeremy Corbyn and a new generation of MPs in the North East have clearly engaged new voters, championing local issues like steel jobs. That partly explains the ability to win back voters who previously supported UKIP and the Lib Dems.  As per the national picture, North East university seats in Newcastle and Durham proved resilient for Labour too.

So, in apparently contradictory fashion, those seeking to engage government and MPs across in the North East should aim to work constructively with a refreshed Labour Party now within reach of becoming the largest party at the next election.

At the same time, expect the region’s Conservatives not to allow a misfiring national campaign to derail them again, as they plot to turn near misses and stretch targets into blue gains next time. Indeed, the party’s potential in the region is proven by the success of Conservative Ben Houchen’s hard won victory in the Tees Valley mayoral race back in May.

So apparently no change, but things are definitely not the same.  Traditional party ties have loosened. The North East political landscape is up for grabs whenever the next election comes.

 

Yorkshire, Sam Popper, DevoConnect @sampopper

When the Conservatives launched their manifesto in Halifax, a former cotton-mill town in West Yorkshire, the height of their ambition was clear. Although the constituency became ultra-marginal in 2015, with Holly Lynch winning it by 500 votes, it has been held by Labour for thirty years. It is in the heart of the North and not a place where being a Tory is something to be proud of. And yet, this time it felt different; the attempt to move into Labour’s Brexit heartlands looked deadly serious.

With a ten-fold increase in her majority, Lynch needn’t have worried. Although down the road, Craig Whittaker, the Tory MP for Calder Valley, might well be – his 4,000 vote majority was reduced to a few hundred. This was replicated across West Yorkshire: Jason McCartney, Co-Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Yorkshire & Lincolnshire, lost in Colne Valley as did Kris Hopkins in Keighley. Vulnerable Labour MPs in Wakefield and Dewsbury held their seats, and with three gains, Labour is not far from its 2005 dominance where it held 20 of the 22 constituencies in West Yorkshire. The momentous fall of Nick Clegg in Sheffield Hallam means South Yorkshire is now entirely red, too.

However, the picture was not the same across Yorkshire. No seats changed hands in either Humberside or North Yorkshire (they have not done since 2005), and there was a swing to the Conservatives in many places, such as Great Grimsby, where the large UKIP vote transferred en masse. The divergent picture for cities was demonstrated in York, where Rachael Maskell added some 15,000 votes to her majority for Labour. Despite UKIP standing down, the Tories barely increased their vote share.

What next? The difficulty in building consensus for a devolution deal in Yorkshire has been well-documented; it will not be made any easier by a kettled Tory government preoccupied by shoring its own authority and navigating Brexit negotiations. The regional divisions made evident by the election mean a pan-Yorkshire deal may be more difficult. Leaders of South Yorkshire must maintain momentum for mayoral elections in 2018. West Yorkshire needs to keep on pressing. The new Keighley MP, John Grogan, has long been an advocate for devolution and will be a useful parliamentary ally. Appetite for devolution is not infinite; the region will ultimately be left behind if local leaders don’t cooperate. Let’s hope they do.

 

West Midlands, Nicola Davies, Seaborn Communications @seaborncomms

The West Midlands was seen as key to general election victory given its cluster of ‘marginal seats.’ Throughout the campaign the region featured strongly receiving repeated visits from both Theresa May and Jeremey Corbyn.

What message did the voters of 28 parliamentary seats within the West Midlands mayoral area deliver? Was it call for change or consolidation?

Analysis of the results of the West Midlands mayoral election in May seemed to suggest the Conservatives could make gains across Birmingham, Coventry, Wolverhampton and in Dudley and Walsall. Gains did not materialise and the only seat to change hands was Walsall North which moved from Labour to Conservative. The upshot is that Labour now holds 20 seats and the Conservatives 8. Walsall North was one of the Tories’ top target seats with fewer than 2000 votes separating Labour and the Conservatives in 2015. Labour’s David Winnick had held the seat since 1979.

However, Tory high hopes of winning back Gisela Stuart’s vacated seat of Birmingham Edgbaston and Birmingham Northfield fell well short with Labour polling over 50% in both seats. What is clear is that the political landscape in West Midlands is currently a two horse race – the Liberal Democrats failed to come second in any constituency.

The national landscape is fascinating and still evolving. What will it mean for Brexit? What will it mean for the Devolution?

Speaking on BBC Five Live on 9th June Mayor Andy Street said Theresa May should stay on as Prime Minister but needed to start “listening.” As the newly elected Mayor keen to push ahead with his agenda for the West Midlands Andy Street will be keen to secure the ear of the Prime Minister – will she be paying attention?

 

London, Steve Barwick, DevoConnect

London emerged as a clear citadel for Labour with stunning victories in Battersea and Enfield. One of the biggest scalps claimed in the night was Housing Minster Gavin Barwell’s whose wafer-thin 168-vote majority fell victim to a thumping 5.1% swing to Labour’s Sarah Jones. Similarly, Kensington, once-thought Tory stronghold vaunted as ‘the UK’s richest constituency’ (a claim that belies the stark inequality within the seat), turning red, even if only by a handful of votes, was a result that few expected. Overall the swing to Labour was far in excess of the trend in the country nationally (6.4% to 1.8%); London has emerged even stronger as a bulwark against an enfeebled May Government.

Sadiq Khan has continued to play a statesman like role since the outrage at Borough Market on the Saturday before the General Election –  resisting for example the temptation to last out at Trump’s miserable, misinformed and malicious tweets. His stature has increased as May’s has diminished which is bodes well for the future of devolution.

 



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