Brexit: that election

Following on from my piece yesterday, I promised to continue with my analysis of the election, taking in Bolsover and Hartlepool, amongst others.

Post-election analysis is a rich seam, exploited to huge extent by the legacy media and others, even if it does not seem to have captured the attention of the blog commentariat, who yesterday scarcely referred to my themed subject in more than a hundred comments (some of which had to be deleted).

Quick off the mark has been Lord Ashcroft with another of his polls, who on Friday published a long piece headed, “How Britain voted and why: My 2019 general election post-vote poll”.

When we recall, however, that just before election day, some polls – not least the famous YouGov MRP poll – were not ruling out (and even predicting) a hung parliament, the opinion poll seems to me to be a pretty shaky instrument on which to base an understanding of such momentous events as general elections.

To be fair, Ashcroft largely presents his data and leaves his readers to make up their minds on what they mean. But this seems less so with the BBC who seem to employ the technique of sending camera teams to do a series of vox pops and then using them as a basis for analysis.

This is certainly the case with Bolsover where, in its self-important way, the BBC purported to tell us: “How Dennis Skinner lost his Bolsover seat”.

Typical of the content is an interview with “lifelong Bolsover resident and mother-of-six Mandy McKenna, 36”, who tells us that people stopped trusting in Labour. “Voting for Labour felt like a wasted vote”, she says. “I voted for the Conservatives. It hurt – I didn’t want to – but I felt I should vote for someone”. She then adds that she felt “surprised” Mr Skinner lost his seat but declared: “No-one round here has any faith in Jeremy Corbyn”.

Another source the BBC relies on is former miner Malcolm Tomlinson, 75, who took part in two strikes. He says he voted Conservative and was happy with the result. “I’ve voted Labour all my life but I just didn’t like Corbyn or his cronies”, he says, “It’s nothing to do with Brexit, although we did vote leave. If Labour had a decent leader I wouldn’t have changed”.

Self-evidently, there is a Corbyn factor at play here, and that much has been widely acknowledged. And no-one will deny that the different policies on Brexit, as between the parties, also exerted a powerful effect.

However, it is my view that these headline issues are only part of the story, indicated especially by my analysis of the Sedgefield constituency, where I suggested that the transition from Labour to a Conservative seat was part of an ongoing, long-term trend. The indications are, therefore, that sooner or later, the seat was going to turn, with or without Corbyn and/or Brexit.

And, as we slide out of the Northeast, and travel south, via parts of Yorkshire, when we arrive at the Midlands constituency of Bolsover, we seem to have evidence of the same trend here, illustrated in my graph above. (Unfortunately, the Microsoft default colours have Labour in blue and the Tories in orange).

Bolsover, of course, is an ex-mining town, with the last deep pit, Markham Colliery, ceasing production in 1993. If we pick up the fate of the incumbent, Dennis Skinner, from 1983 when he is in the forefront of the battle to save the pits, his star is in the ascendency.

Skinner actually peaks in 1997, when Blair won his famous victory, while Tory fortunes are in steady decline. But the Bolsover constituency is going through hard times. Skinner’s popularity starts to decline but, for nearly ten years, both Labour and the Tories are in decline.

Just before the turn of the century, though, Derbyshire County Council lead a coalfield task force to bring the Markham Colliery site back into use, bringing into existence by 2011 a new Enterprise Zone, one of many developments which have transformed the constituency – with more to come.

This timeline charts the remarkable changes to the Markham site which, by the end of March 2018, was employing directly in excess of 1,600 people – jobs very different from the types available when Skinner took his seat in the Commons in 1970.

This is part of a general transformation of the region, which has become the centre of a logistics hub part of what is known as the “Golden Triangle” housing an estimated 150 million square feet of warehouse space in the Midlands – more than in Greater London, Scotland and Wales combined.

The latest firm to come to Bolsover is none other than Amazon, which is opening a new customer fulfilment centre, creating 200 permanent jobs. Recruitment began in March 2019.

Returning to my graph, we see a parallel change in the politics. From the 2005 election, when Skinner’s fortunes are already sharply in decline, the Tory count takes a decisive tilt upwards and has continued ever since. The big leap, though, was between 2015 and 2017, which suggests that Theresa May could have played a part in restoring tory fortunes, despite the relatively poor performance in the 2017 election.

In 2017, for Skinner, we probably see the initial Corbyn effect. As with Blair, there is a modest “halo effect” which rubs off on local candidates. But, when we come to last Thursday’s election, all is revealed. Although the Conservative, Mark Fletcher, takes the seat with 21,791 votes, his count does not exceed even the lowest of Skinner’s counts to that date.

What actually gives Fletcher the seat is not the performance of his party, per se, but the fact that Skinner’s vote plummets to a record low- more than half the 1997 level, ending his 49-year tenure. Taking the cue from the BBC’s vox pops, this is undoubtedly the Corbyn effect, into which is rolled his equivocation on Brexit.

Thus, to characterise the loss of such seats – as many have done – as the “red wall” crumbling is in my view a misleading analogy. A better comparison might be the behaviour of the sea in the run-up to a Tsunami where the water recedes from the shoreline, often to reveal long-forgotten artefacts which have been hidden by the waters.

In this case, the Corbyn “tsunami” caused the electoral “water” to recede, exposing the steady, incremental rise in the Tory vote in key Labour constituencies, which have undergone a political transformation as a result of structural and demographical changes.

Without the Corbyn/Brexit effect (two sides of the same coin), it seems possible that Labour might have won this election, or that there might have been a hung parliament. But, given the underlying trends, it would have only been a matter of time before the so-called “red wall” was breached, if not necessarily in quite such a spectacular manner.

With that, though, I’ve had enough of this election. In my view, this is not the great Johnson victory, but a reflection of a botched Labour campaign – where the party lost votes in both “leave” and “remain” areas – made possible by the long-term trend favouring the Tories, and a few other local effects.

In truth, I don’t think the Tories have the first idea why they actually won the election. But then, who am I, as a humble blogger, to have an opinion on such matters? We need to leave it to the experts, who tell us they know the answers.

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