Is Simon Jupp “losing it”?

There have been two analyses of voting trends, pre-dating the by-election results, that indicate how vulnerable Simon Jupp might now be in his “safe” seat in the increasingly volatile Celtic Fringe.

Electoral pact poll may 2022

Collapse  in tory support threatens celtic fringe in south-west poll finds

The by-election reaction that intrigued Owl was the one from the Tory Mid Devon cabinet councillor who said the result was “uncalled for”. This is a phrase that encapsulates the supreme sense of entitlement that Tories hold as a birth right. 

Hugo Swire is a good example. A local MP who, despite his close connections to “Dave”,  never did anything for East Devon

So how good a local MP is Simon Jupp? He has made lots of “promises” of funding for Exmouth which have never materialised. He certainly pushes his hobby horses such as the hospitality sector. But how committed is he to being the member of parliament for all his constituents, working closely with the elected council members to get the best for the district? 

Owl understands from questions put on social media to EDDC deputy leader Paul Hayward that Simon Jupp MP, despite frequent requests, has yet to meet with the majority group in EDDC,  indeed takes an antagonistic line with the council.

Obviously council concerns to get the best for East Devon gets a low priority from him.

Looks like a good way to lose a “safe” seat. – Owl

“Delusional” Boris Johnson ‘actively thinking about’ third term as PM

Prime Minister for life? What a thought to galvanise voting intentions! – Owl

Boris Johnson has said he is “actively thinking” about a third term, amid criticism of his leadership. BBC

Senior Conservatives accused Boris Johnson of increasingly “delusional” behaviour on Saturday night after he said he was already planning for his third term as prime minister, just two days after the Tories suffered a catastrophic double byelection defeat at the hands of the Liberal Democrats and Labour. Guardian

By Alex Forsyth Political correspondent, BBC News

The prime minister was asked if he would like to serve a full second term in office – to 2028 or 2029.

“At the moment I’m thinking actively about the third term and what could happen then, but I will review that when I get to it,” he told reporters.

One Tory MP has said he wants the rules changed so Mr Johnson could face another confidence vote.

Speaking to reporters in Kigali, Rwanda, where he has been at the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting, the prime minister was asked to elaborate on his comment, replying that he was thinking “about a third term – mid 2030s”.

No 10 later suggested he was joking, but it points to Boris Johnson’s bullish mood despite two bruising by-election defeats in the past week in Wakefield, and Tiverton and Honiton.

Following the results, party co-chairman Oliver Dowden resigned, saying “someone must take responsibility”.

The Lib Dems overturned a huge Tory majority in Tiverton and Honiton – their third by-election victory over Boris Johnson’s party in a year.

And Labour retook the seat of Wakefield, West Yorkshire, which it lost at the 2019 general election.

Former Conservative leader Michael Howard called on Mr Johnson to resign following the by-elections, adding “members of the cabinet should very carefully consider their positions”.

Mr Johnson insisted he would lead his party into the next election, and said he wanted to keep driving forward his plan to reduce inequality across the country – what his government calls “levelling-up”.

While acknowledging it would take time, he added that a “huge amount of progress” could be made in two parliaments.

He told reporters: “Forget about me, think about what this country, the UK could do and where it’s gone.

“We’ve embarked on a massive project to change the government, the constitution of the country and the way we run our legal system, the way we manage borders, our economy, all sorts of things we’re doing differently.

“Also at the same time we are embarked on a colossal project to unite and level up. I happen to believe in that incredibly strongly.

“Levelling-up is a great, great mission and it won’t be easily accomplished and people will say it hasn’t worked, it’s not working yet, people in this constituency aren’t feeling the benefits – it’s going to take time and I want to keep driving it forward.”

But Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer accused the prime minister of “taking voters for granted with impunity”, saying “those days are over”.

“They now face a credible Labour Party: a government-in-waiting with a plan to deliver on the country’s demands,” Sir Keir wrote in the Observer.

“For months, Johnson has been privately claiming that he will hold an early election. My message to him is simple: bring it on,” he added.

During his trip to Rwanda to meet Commonwealth leaders, Mr Johnson showed little sign of the pressure he’s faced from critics in his own party who’ve called on him to quit.

And Mr Johnson refused to comment on a report in the Times that he planned to build a £150,000 treehouse for his son Wilf in the grounds of Chequers, the prime minister’s country residence, with possible funding from a Tory donor.

Mr Johnson has faced renewed criticism from inside his party after losing the safe Tory seat of Tiverton and Honiton to the Liberal Democrats

On Saturday he said the question of his leadership was “settled” after he won a confidence vote among his own MPs.

But Tory backbencher Andrew Bridgen confirmed he wanted the party’s rules changed so that Mr Johnson could face another vote of confidence before 12 months are up.

Under the current rules, Mr Johnson is technically safe from a challenge until next June.

Mr Bridgen told the BBC: “Boris Johnson is actually galvanising an anti-Boris Johnson vote.

“The leader of the party should normally be more popular than the party itself, but what we’re seeing with Johnson is he’s a huge drag on the ticket.”


Andy Burnham says Labour must ‘seize moment’ and back proportional representation

Labour should back proportional representation for Westminster elections to allow more cooperation between political parties on a programme of urgently needed social reform, says Andy Burnham.

Toby Helm 

Writing for the Observer in the aftermath of two byelection defeats for the Tories, brought about in part by tactical voting by Labour and Liberal Democrat supporters, the mayor of Greater Manchester says PR should be at the heart of an entirely new approach to politics and policymaking.

Burnham insists he is not talking about any form of “electoral pact” involving Labour and other parties, and that his intervention is not part of a leadership bid against Keir Starmer. “This is nothing of the sort,” he says. “I am doing this because I want Keir to seize the moment.”

But off the back of the byelections, he argues there is now an opportunity for the Tories’ opponents to work together more. Doing so, they could create a political system in which power is spread more evenly and fairly, rather than being concentrated in what he describes as a “small Whitehall elite” as a result of a first-past-the-post election system, which traditionally has favoured the Tories.

Changing the voting system, a move likely to boost small parties and increase the chances of coalitions, would foster a spirit of consensus and agreement on other radical and necessary elements of political modernisation, such as replacing the House of Lords with an elected second chamber and more devolution.

“What I am proposing is cooperating now on a programme for political reform. At a grassroots level, Labour is moving towards support for PR,” he says.

“If the party as a whole were to embrace it, it paves the way for agreement with other parties on wider reforms: an elected senate of the nations and regions to replace the Lords and maximum devolution of power out of Westminster.”

These new structures, with the number of MPs from different parties better reflecting the votes cast, would then pave the way for cooperation and consensus on key challenges facing the country, the Manchester mayor suggests.

Instead, today’s Conservative government was an example of paralysis and dysfunction, in which the governing party was seeking division with its opponents in a desperate effort to stay in power, rather than focusing on the urgent national issues affecting the British people.

“Just when we needed a grown-up government, we got one which is not governing but is campaigning for its own survival by inflaming divides and starting fights,” Burnham writes.

A spirit of cooperation was needed on issues such as housing, social care, and public services, with the same urgency as after the second world war.

Burnham adds: “My starter for 10 would be: good housing as a human right in UK law and a major council housebuilding programme to make it real; a higher basic minimum income for all and the end to insecure employment; social care on NHS terms and a substantial increase in mental health spending: and the re-nationalisation of rail and re-regulation of bus services.

“Whatever the precise policy programme, the enormity of the change needed can’t be denied and will require consensus and political foundations to sustain it for a generation or more.”

Labour policy is not to support PR for Westminster elections although several motions on the issue will be put to the party’s conference in September. The country’s largest union Unison recently backed PR for Westminster elections at its annual conference in a move welcomed by electoral reform campaigners as a “huge boost”.

Double defeat points to unwinding of Conservative Brexit coalition

“The Conservatives’ two strongest issues in recent elections, Brexit and immigration, no longer exercise voters, and the government’s efforts to revive them have fallen flat. Alongside the all-consuming cost-of-living crisis, voters’ rising concerns include the NHS, the environment and housing – all stronger terrain for Labour than the government. And a quarter of voters now name “lack of faith in politicians” as one of their main concerns, unlikely to be a winning topic for any government headed by Boris Johnson.”

Robert Ford (Robert Ford is professor of political science at Manchester University and co-author of The British General Election of 2019)

Wakefield and Tiverton and Honiton are at opposite ends of the country geographically, socially and politically. But they have two features in common: both voted Leave heavily in 2016, and both turned against the Conservatives last week. Defeats on the same day in a northern “red wall” seat and a southern rural stronghold suggest that, six years on from the EU referendum, the Conservative majority Boris Johnson stitched together with a promise to “get Brexit done” is beginning to unravel.

For both opposition parties, the byelections have a distinctly 1990s flavour, with the return of a pattern from the Major years that has been largely absent in the past decade of Conservative government – voters in both seats seemed determined to eject Tory incumbents and flocked to the local opposition candidate seen as best placed to do so. Tactical coordination among Labour and Liberal Democrats voters is back, and if replicated at a general election, it could put a lot of seemingly safe Conservative seats in play.

Labour’s first byelection gain since Ed Miliband’s 2012 win in Corby ticks a lot of boxes for party strategists – a red wall seat recovered, on a healthy swing which if replicated across similar seats would put Labour on the brink of government. This is a big boost for Keir Starmer, whose leadership was plunged into crisis just a year ago after the loss of heavily Leave-voting Hartlepool.

The Liberal Democrats have now gained three safe Tory seats on huge swings in a year. A toxic government and a dull but unthreatening opposition have enabled the Lib Dems to finally escape the long shadow of coalition. The Lib Dems are once again able to act as an all-purpose vehicle of discontent for voters eager to vent their spleen at an unpopular government even if still sceptical of the Labour opposition.

Byelections are not, on their own, reliable indicators for the contest to come. Margaret Thatcher weathered many heavy swings in the mid-1980s before winning a landslide in 1987; John Major suffered a debilitating double whammy similar to last week’s result in 1991 and prevailed a year later, and David Cameron lost two seats to Ukip in autumn 2014, less than a year before securing a majority against the odds. Yet these past Tory leaders have been able to draw on advantages over Labour in leadership, the economy and the issue agenda to bounce back. The Johnson government looks more vulnerable on all three fronts.

While “boring” is the most common word used to describe Starmer in focus groups, this is better than voters’ verbal reactions to Boris Johnson, the politest of which include “liar”, “buffoon” and “untrustworthy”. The prime minister’s approval ratings, which collapsed in the wake of the Partygate scandal, remain dismal. Starmer may not excite voters, but bland beats toxic, and Starmer is therefore the first Labour opposition leader since Tony Blair to regularly beat his Conservative rival on the “best prime minister” question.

Worryingly for Conservatives, Johnson’s fall has been steepest with the Leave voters who form the bedrock of their new electoral coalition. The prime minister held stratospheric ratings with Brexit backers until last autumn. Partygate brought him crashing down to earth.

The economy has long been the Conservative trump card. Thatcher, Major and Cameron all played on doubts about Labour’s economic competence to rally wavering voters. This advantage, too, is fading fast under Johnson. The government’s ratings on every aspect of economic management have slumped as inflation has soared and wages have fallen. Labour has taken the lead on many economic performance measures, again putting them in their best position since the heyday of Tony Blair’s opposition. And with further strikes and energy price rises ahead, the worst may be still to come for the government.

The broader agenda offers little comfort. The Conservatives’ two strongest issues in recent elections, Brexit and immigration, no longer exercise voters, and the government’s efforts to revive them have fallen flat. Alongside the all-consuming cost-of-living crisis, voters’ rising concerns include the NHS, the environment and housing – all stronger terrain for Labour than the government. And a quarter of voters now name “lack of faith in politicians” as one of their main concerns, unlikely to be a winning topic for any government headed by Boris Johnson. The government, then, is in a deep hole. It may yet get deeper. The present economic troubles divide a Conservative coalition held together by little beyond Brexit.

The interventionist instincts of new Conservative voters and MPs from depressed red wall seats put them perpetually at odds with the small-state instincts of the traditional home counties. Internal opposition has already forced government retreats on planning, transport, energy and much else besides.

A popular and strong prime minister could force MPs into line, but Johnson has neither popularity nor authority. Voters dislike him, colleagues distrust him, and four in 10 Conservative MPs have already voted to dispatch him. The Houdini of modern politics can never be fully counted out, but the escape act ahead looks daunting indeed.