Meanwhile latest news from the Beauty Salon

The Conservative Party candidate in the Tiverton and Honiton by-election has been accused of “trying to erase” Boris Johnson from her campaign because he is seen as “toxic” to her hopes of retaining the traditionally safe Tory seat.

Tory candidate in Tiverton by-election accused of ‘trying to erase’ meeting with Boris Johnson

By David Parsley 

Mr Johnson visited the constituency last Friday to support his candidate Helen Hurford just hours after Chancellor Rishi Sunak had been in Devon to back her.

However, while the former headteacher turned beauty salon owner published a video of herself with Mr Sunak, she has not publicised the visit of the Prime Minister on any of her campaign social media sites or flyers.

Residents and rivals claim she sees Mr Johnson as a vote loser following Partygate and the parliamentary investigation into whether he lied over the lockdown-breaking activities of Downing Street during the Covid-19 crisis.

Following last week’s victory for the Prime Minister in the confidence vote by MPs, Ms Hurford, who is defending a Tory majority of more than 24,000, told i she would have supported Mr Johnson had she already been an MP.

She said: “If I was an MP at that time, I would have voted in favour of Boris because we need a leader that makes the big calls. He’s made the right decisions on those big calls.”

Last Saturday, Ms Hurford added that she considered Mr Johnson as “an asset” to her campaign, and that she would post a picture with him on her campaign sites in the coming days.

She said: “Yeah, it will go on. Perhaps Rishi may have felt that he would have been overshadowed.”

However, four days on since Ms Hurford told i that she would promote the Prime Minister’s support for her, she has failed to do so.

Instead, Ms Hurford has posted pictures of a visit by Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove on Saturday, and one from employment minister Mims Davies on Monday.

As well as Mr Sunak, she has also posted pictures and videos of herself with the Tory party’s co-chairman Oliver Dowden, Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab, and tourism minister Nigel Huddleston.

She is yet to promote last week’s visit of the Prime Minister in her campaign literature.

The official Twitter account for Tiverton and Honiton Conservative Party features pictures of Mr Gove, Mr Dowden and Mr Raab, but has avoided making any reference to the Prime Minister’s visit to the constituency so far. Ms Hurford does not have a Twitter account.

Ms Hurford’s main opponent claimed her campaign was avoiding any mention of Mr Johnson as he was a “vote loser on the doorsteps”.

Liberal Democrat candidate Richard Foord said: “There’s clearly been some hand-wringing in the local Conservative campaign about how to deploy Boris Johnson. Their conclusion was not at all, but they had no choice to but to accept the invitation that the Prime Minister made to himself to visit her in the constituency.

“I think he rather forced himself upon them. This is how I would read it. They’re trying to erase him from their campaign.”

Mark Field, a lifelong Conservative voter in Axminster, said he would not be voting for the Tories again until Mr Johnson was replaced as leader of the party.

“I didn’t even know he’d been in the constituency,” he said. “They snuck him in and out under our noses, didn’t they. And no wonder, he’d only get booed if he walked through Axminster. Even by many of us who voted for us last time. No wonder she’s hiding the fact that she met him. He’s toxic to her campaign.”

Ahead of Mr Johnson photo opportunity with Ms Hurford, he received a mixture of cheers and boos during a surprise visit to the Royal Cornwall Show.

Ms Hurford has been approached for comment.

The by-election was triggered by the resignation of Tory MP Neil Parish after he admitted watching porn in the House of Commons on his mobile phone.

Demand for new UK homes still outstrips supply, say building firms

“Overall, build cost inflation has been offset by house price gains and we expect this trend to continue.”

The average selling price of a Bellway home is expected to exceed £305,000 this year.

What a surprise – Owl

Julia Kollewe 

Bellway and Crest Nicholson, two of Britain’s biggest housebuilders, have said demand for new houses continues to outstrip supply, pushing up prices and offsetting the rising cost of building materials and energy.

Bellway posted strong sales for the four months from 1 February to 5 June, when house reservations averaged 253 a week, compared with 239 in the same period last year.

The company expects to complete more than 11,110 homes in the year to the end of July, a 10% rise from last year. Material shortages are starting to ease, although bottlenecks remain at regional level, affecting bricks, blocks and roof tiles in particular.

Jason Honeyman, the Bellway chief executive, said: “Demand is strong, reservations are ahead of last year and our order book remains substantial.

“Overall, build cost inflation has been offset by house price gains and we expect this trend to continue.”

The average selling price of a Bellway home is expected to exceed £305,000 this year.

There are some signs that the housing market is starting to cool amid the worsening cost of living crisis. Halifax, one of the UK’s biggest mortgage lenders, last week reported that annual house price growth had slowed but remained in double digits.

Crest Nicholson said it built 1,096 homes in the six months to 30 April, up nearly 8% from the same period last year. It made an adjusted profit before tax of £52.5m, up from £36.1m, and raised its full-year forecast to between £135m and £140m.

Peter Truscott, the Crest chief executive, said: “No one in the construction sector is immune from the current impacts of input cost inflation. However, we are managing to successfully offset this with sales price inflation in a market with strong demand and relatively poor levels of supply. Finally, the tapering off of Help to Buy, which is due to end in April 2023, has had no measurable impact on our sales rate to date.”

He said Crest’s developments were often in areas that are benefiting from the rise in home working since the Covid-19 pandemic. “We continue to see this rationale being cited by customers in their reasons for moving home,” he added. The firm is opening three new divisions, the first two in Yorkshire and East Anglia.

Bellway said the government’s help-to-buy scheme was used by customers in 16% of house purchases, compared with 22% last year and 39% in 2020. It is mostly being used for apartments in and around London, but Bellway has been building fewer apartment blocks in recent years. At the same time, it said the availability of higher loan-to-value mortgage loans was “gradually improving”, allowing people to buy with smaller deposits.

More than 35 homebuilders agreed in April to pay £2bn towards fixing unsafe cladding on high-rise buildings in England after the 2017 Grenfell Tower fire, but a further £3bn is needed. Michael Gove, the housing secretary, said the further £3bn would be raised by an extension to the building safety levy, forcing industry to pay for the remedial work on buildings where the developer cannot be traced or forced to pay up.

Bellway said it had set aside £187m since 2017 to cover cladding work to apartment buildings more than 11 metres in height, and in April it pledged to cover buildings constructed since April 1992, which will cost a further £300m. It has appointed a managing director to lead its new building safety division to oversee the work.

Crest took a £48m charge related to cladding work on buildings taller than 18 metres last October, and said it recognised the “significant distress caused to residents”. When it signed the pledge in April to carry out work on all buildings more than 11m tall, it took a further £105m charge. With regards to fixing “orphaned” tower blocks, Crest said it would not pay towards any buildings it had not constructed.

When will the bottom of the barrel be scraped no further? Only the Tory party can decide

On the news round:

” … Johnson was dialling in from a farm just over the Devon border, where he was campaigning and simultaneously hiding over the weekend in the run-up to a by-election in one of the safest Tory seats in the country, which he looks set to lose after one of his MPs was caught watching porn in the House of Commons chamber. 

If he loses that, it could be the end of him, but it’s not up to us. Only the Tory party gets to decide when the bottom of the barrel can be scraped no further, and you wouldn’t like to bet how far down the U-bend they’re prepared to follow their leader. …”  (extract)

As by-election gets closer, expectation management grows

A couple of contrasting articles published in the past few days caught Owl’s eye:

Tory gloom deepens as Lib Dem poll rating spikes before crucial Tiverton and Honiton by-election (extract)

….Tory gloom around losing the upcoming Tiverton and Honiton by-election next week will have deepened after a new poll showed support for the Liberal Democrats spiking.

With nine days to go until voters head to the polls in the Devon constituency, there is a growing expectation that the Conservatives will lose a seat they have held ever since it was created in 1997.

The Lib Dems are eyeing a hat-trick of by-election victories after their recent successes in Amersham and Chesham, and North Shropshire.

Their hopes will have been boosted by a Redfield and Wilton Strategies survey, which revealed the Lib Dems have climbed to 15 per cent support in a poll of national voting intention.

This is two percentage points higher than last week’s poll.

A downbeat Conservative source told MailOnline that punters shouldn’t be betting against bookies, who have installed the Lib Dems as favourites in Tiverton and Honiton.

Meanwhile, a separate poll revealed that more than two in five (43 per cent) of rural Conservative voters – such as those found in the Devon constituency – thought the party took rural communities for granted…

….Lib Dem leader Sir Ed Davey said: ‘This Conservative Government simply doesn’t care about rural parts of the country.

‘Conservative MPs and candidates ignore these communities at their peril.

‘There is a growing revolt at a Conservative Party which allows rural health services to be cut to the bone and fails to save people from the cost of living crisis.

‘Rural areas are being hardest hit by this financial crisis as petrol prices spiral and no help is given for those relying on heating oil.’

Are the Lib Dems in danger of being over-hyped (again)? – UK in a changing Europe

Chris Butler Lecturer in Politics at the University of Manchester and a former Campaigns Staffer for the Liberal Democrats between 2007 and 2015. (extract)

The Liberal Democrats’ short betting odds in Tiverton and Honiton seem to be based on two heuristics. Firstly, that the Liberal Democrats are traditionally strong in South West England. Second, that the Lib Dems are proving to be electorally successful in rural areas as evidenced by their sensational by-election victory in North Shropshire last year.

Let’s deal with these two points in turn. Whilst the South West of England was indeed a strong area for the Liberal Democrats between 1997 and 2010, since nailing their flag to the mast over Brexit the basis of Liberal Democrat support has migrated to affluent well-educated areas in the Home Counties.

In Cornwall, where the Liberal Democrats won all six Parliamentary seats in 2005, the party now holds just 13 of 87 seats on the unitary authority and only came second in two of the parliamentary seats in 2019.

Of course, last autumn’s sensational victory in North Shropshire showed that the party did have the potential to win in leave-voting Leave areas and it is this that has primarily led to the expectation of Liberal Democrat victory in Tiverton and Honiton.

The potential for Conservative defeat is aided by the tacit electoral alliance of Labour and the Liberal Democrats acting as a pincer movement on the governing party with the former focusing on Wakefield and the latter on the Devon seat. Issues over payments to farmers and ambulance waiting times provide fruitful issues for the Liberal Democrats to campaign on.

But the party’s success in North Shropshire was also helped by the Conservatives’ complacency. They clearly under-estimated the Liberal Democrats’ potential to win in rural leave-voting areas and lazily selected a ‘lawyer from Birmingham’; a mistake they haven’t repeated this time around….

……..To win in Tiverton and Honiton the Liberal Democrats would require a 22.8% swing, smaller than what they achieved in last year’s by-elections in Chesham and Amersham and North Shropshire but still a tall order. There is a possibility that if the Liberal Democrats pull off an enormous swing, but one not quite enough to win, this will change the narrative for Boris Johnson, given how much Conservative defeat in Tiverton & Honiton is assumed by commentators……

…..The perennial problem for the Liberal Democrats in trying to gain multiple parliamentary seats at an election is simply one of capacity. Unlike the larger parties, Liberal Democrat parliamentary success relies disproportionately on a strong local ground campaign to overcome problems of credibility.

To encourage tactical and switch voting Liberal Democrats need to convince voters that they can win in their area and they achieve this through a strong poster campaign, personal contact with voters and an emphasis on the local context. This requires boots on the ground and is much more difficult to scale up than the Conservatives’ usual tactic of national direct mail and social media advertising.

Focusing on the local context also means that the party’s most effective messages are covered by the more restrictive constituency spending limits. Whereas parties such as the Conservatives who wish to focus on a national message are able to take advantage of the far more generous national campaign spending limit……