By-election news Monday

From Politico London Playbook:

Tiverton and Honiton: It looks increasingly plausible that the Devon seat vacated by porn-watching MP Neil Parish could go Lib Dem, despite the Tories defending a 24,000 majority. The Lib Dem campaign there has been up and running for weeks and there are already signs that Labour is encouraging its voters to go yellow as the opposition parties’ unofficial pact continues. The Liberals have cemented themselves as the blue wall mid-term protest party after winning Tory seats in North Shropshire and Chesham and Amersham in the last year. And today the confident Lib Dem operation releases figures showing Tiverton and Honiton has the worst ambulance waiting times in Devon.

Wakefield: It’s not much better for the Tories in the seat given up by Imran Ahmed Khan after he was jailed for sexually assaulting a 15-year-old boy. A minor candidate there has put “I have never sexually assaulted anyone” on his campaign literature, which tells you everything you need to know about how that contest is going to go. Labour will be expected to overturn the Tories’ 3,000 majority in a seat that is usually always red.

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Anger grows over second homes energy windfall

Both the Observer and Sunday Times carry articles on Rishi’s generosity to second home owners giving them twice the fuel discount, and how it plays within the local communities. – Owl

‘It’s not on’: Whitstable rages against extra £400 for second-home owners’ fuel bills

Mark Townsend 

Peter Robinson stared out to sea and shook his head. “It’s not on. They don’t need more money.”

The “they” in question are the thousands of second-home owners who have converged on Whitstable in recent years. According to the 68-year-old, 40% of all the houses on Albert Street, where he has lived for two decades, are now second homes.

And Rishi Sunak’s latest intervention to help the nation pay its energy bills – £400 for every household – means that Whitstable’s expanding cohort of second-home owners will be rewarded with a double rebate, one for each home.

In the Kent coastal town, such generosity has left many – largely those who own a single home – bewildered. “The house next door to me has been sold to a wealthy developer to convert into holiday homes. The same with the one opposite,” said Robinson, a retired council worker.

Further along Whitstable’s beachfront promenade, retired teacher Sarah Houseman similarly lamented the chancellor’s largesse. “It would seem unfair to give these people more money,” said the 65-year-old. Houseman noted that neighbouring three-bed terraced homes were being rented out to tourists for between £700 and £800 a weekend. “And they have no problem getting that. These people don’t need extra help.”

Like many in the town, she felt that Sunak’s announcement was rushed out last Thursday in order to deaden the outrage that followed Sue Gray’s Partygate report. “It’s not fair to use this [the energy crisis] in order to save their political skin,” she said.

Outside the Sea Farmer’s Dive pub, electrician Max Legett was convinced Sunak’s initiative would be modified to stop it rewarding the wealthy. “There’ll be uproar if it’s not changed.”

Whitstable’s locals call the second-home owners DFLs – Down From London, a reference to the fact that many who own second homes live in the capital. It’s a trend accelerated by the pandemic.

A recent national survey listing the most popular places for second homes included Whitstable as the only town in the south-east, the remainder being largely in Cornwall.

Legett was a DFL once, arriving from south-east London 16 years ago. Now a self-described native, he worries at what has unfolded in the south-west of England. “So far, it hasn’t yet changed the character in the same way as Cornwall.”

For another long-term Whitstable resident, the fact that second-home owners will be given an extra windfall was greeted with a resigned shrug. John Baker admitted he’d given up caring who was buying what in his adopted town. The 70-year-old said that coping with a ruptured achilles tendon and a brain tumour diagnosed in 2017 had made him philosophical. “Some haven’t, but the reality is that some of these second-home owners have worked bloody hard for them.”

Further along a street called Sea Wall, one of those second-home owners – who asked to remain anonymous – conceded that Sunak’s handout to the 772,000 households with two homes rankled.

“It’s absolutely ridiculous, it’s impossible to justify. That money should be given to the most needy,” she said, adding that she donated to local charities and helped out at a food bank to alleviate her conscience.

She said: “I for one will certainly not be keeping that extra £400.”

Subsidising the wealthy: the village of second homes … and they all get a fuel grant

Hannah Al-Othman 

It is easy to see why second homeowners love Chapel Stile, a beautiful village close to both Windermere and England’s highest peak, Scafell Pike.

About 85 per cent of the 160 or so homes in the village are holiday lets or second homes, according to the local MP, the former Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron.

For people who actually live in the village — an increasingly rare breed — the takeover by outsiders is worrying. Many are angry that second homeowners will get the same £400 discount on their energy bill this year, announced last week by the chancellor, as they will.

“That extra £400 benefit for people who do not need it is to completely fail to read the room, to fail to understand one of the biggest things affecting rural communities,” Farron said.

Many of the few remaining full-time residents of Chapel Stile are pensioners — younger people have mostly gone elsewhere, in search of better job opportunities and more affordable housing. On the Rightmove website, properties being advertised for sale around the village include a £725,000 three-bedroom end-of-terrace house in Elterwater, near Ambleside.

“It’s terrible,” said Gordon Smith, 87, who has lived in Chapel Stile his entire life. “There’ll be no local people left. In fact, we’re being driven out.”

Last year a four-bedroom semi-detached house in the village sold for more than £1 million, far beyond the reach of those who have lived here all their lives, often in rented accommodation.

“It’s absolutely disgusting,” Sue Monk, 71, said. “They have pots of money to start with. They do local people out of being able to own a home because we can’t afford them. We’re all in rented accommodation. Why they should get it for their second homes, I have no idea.”

Monk, who lives alone, is keeping her head above water but only because she manages her money carefully. “I’m on the basic state pension — I’ve nothing else,” she said. “I don’t put the television on till five o’clock at night, and I usually switch it off at about eight. I switch lights off, I limit the washing machine to a couple of washes a week.”

Chapel Stile is just a few miles northwest of the tourist honeypot of Ambleside, with its cafés, pleasure boats, and watersports. It is an enviable place to call home but locals pay a premium to live in the Lake District.

Housing costs are high here and incomes are low, with many working in the tourism and hospitality sectors. Public transport is expensive and unreliable, leaving many households no choice but to run a car. Even local shops charge higher prices for a loaf of bread than city convenience stores.

Asked why the money is being given to second homeowners, the Treasury insisted that it would be impossible to differentiate between which energy bills are paid by those with more than one home.

The average median full-time salary for somebody living in Farron’s constituency, Westmorland & Lonsdale, is £20,400 a year, below the average of £23,700 in the North West of England, according to ONS data for 2019-20. Farron said: “The thing to remember about an area like ours is we’ve got very low unemployment, but low incomes. And on top of that, the cost of living in a rural community is that much greater.”

However, Jeremy Lewis, 57, who runs the local shop in Chapel Stile, puts it bluntly. “I basically earn my living from the tourists,” he said. “So I don’t want anything to stop them coming.”

Boris Johnson, the party animal, has vomited over standards in public life

Standards in public life.

The first two paragraphs of Andrew Rawnsley’s column in the Guardian describe vividly the depths to which Boris Johnson’s leadership has sunk – Owl

Andrew Rawnsley 

Picture the squalid scene that confronted the cleaning staff on the morning after a night before of drunken delinquency by the denizens of Downing Street. Wine stains on walls. Pools of sick. Empties spilling out of bins. Mounds of party detritus on the floor. The heart of government, the place where you’d most hope for sobriety in the middle of a pandemic, turned into a vomit-splattered nightclub. The only heroes in Sue Gray’s investigation into Partygate are the security staff who suffered abuse when they tried to break up illegal gatherings and the cleaners who had to mop up.

Now try to picture scenes of all-night boozing, puking, punch-ups, vandalism and law-breaking at Number 10 under any other prime minister. You can’t. Nothing like this happened under any of Boris Johnson’s predecessors. The character of organisations is immensely influenced by the example set by the person at the top. When that person is Mr Johnson, you get a culture of selfish, arrogant, entitled, amoral, narcissistic rule-breaking that combines, in the true spirit of the Bullingdon Club, snobbery with yobbery…..

Coded message from Ben Bradshaw?

A former Labour minister has appeared to suggest that voters in the Tiverton and Honiton by-election should consider going Liberal Democrat in a bid to oust the Conservatives.

Tiverton and Honiton by-election: Ex-Labour minister appears to suggest voters go Lib Dem

Colin Drury 

Ben Bradshaw – who was culture secretary between 2009 and 2010 – said his party should fight for every vote in the seat.

But, in what some will regard as a coded message, he added: “What some Labour members and activists don’t always appreciate is that a lot of Conservative voters, if they want to give the government a kicking will vote Liberal Democrat but they wouldn’t vote Labour…

“So if we have a joint purpose of wanting to send the prime minister a message and ultimately defeat this government in a general election then I think there are very good prospects of a Lib Dem victory there.”

The race for Tiverton and Honiton – a sprawling, largely rural Devon constituency – prompted by the resignation of Neil Parish who admitted watching porn in the House of Commons, is being widely touted as a two-horse race.

The Tories currently enjoy a 24,239 majority and have held the seat since it was created in 1997 but the Lib Dems believe they could steal it on the back of anger about Partygate and rising living costs.

Suggestions have been made that Labour will fight only a bare minimum campaign here to allow yellow candidate Richard Foord a clear run, with the Lib Dems returning the favour in Wakefield where another by-election is being held the same day.

Both parties have denied such a pact.

But Mr Bradshaw’s comments – initially made on Radio 4’s The Week In Westminster – will be seen as a tacit endorsement of voting tactically.

On Friday, he went further when he compared Tiverton and Honiton to North Shropshire – where the Lib Dems won a by-election in December.

The MP for neighbouring Exeter told The Independent: “The figures are very much like the figures in North Shropshire, and, as there, people are furious with the Tories not just because of parties and the cost of living crisis, but because of the way the government’s treated rural areas and farming and fishing industry in particular.

“Johnson’s Brexit deal is an absolute disaster for our farmers so, you know, I would hope for the people of Tiverton and Honiton will send a clear message to the government.”

Asked if he was recommending tactical voting, he said: “If you look at by-elections in North Shropshire, Chesham and Amersham, and Batley and Spen, the voters didn’t need to be told how to vote.”

Daisy Cooper, deputy leader of the Lib Dems, said: “There is no doubt the Lib Dems are the only party that can beat the Conservatives here… This by-election is a unique opportunity to send Boris Johnson a message and that’s why supporters of all parties are backing us.”