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 to a 25 year old DJ, Jared O’Mara, 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, which will now be made more difficult with Bassetlaw and Chesterfield withdrawing this week. that they are withdrawing. 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.
Read about the 2017 General Election results for every region in the UK, with analysis from our DevoIntelligence Panel here.