Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category


Chris Grayling has come out fighting this week – he has rebuffed an extensive report by think tank IPPR North published earlier this year that demonstrated a huge gulf in transport funding between London and the North, claiming the funding gap is a “myth”. However, regardless of what he may say, the evidence is stark – more than half of England’s transport spending is in London, with more than double being spent per head than in the North as a whole.

But the North is not a homogeneous whole – the North West still receives a lot more investment than other parts of the North. Arguably the worst-off area is the North East. Despite having one of the UK’s largest urban areas around the cities of Newcastle and Sunderland, as well as many other large towns and cities, the total investment in transport in the area is just 1.8% of the overall spending, compared to 54.2% in London alone. This amounts to £220 per head per year – only Yorkshire and the Humber spend less per person (£190 per year).

But what does that look like in real terms? What does that offer the residents of the North East, in terms of the greatest form of public transport of them all – the form that was pioneered between Stockton and Darlington in the 1820s and spread from there throughout the world?




Hi, as many of you know, I currently work for Northern, the largest train operating company outside London. I saw today that a prominent liberal journalist decided to “crowdsource” ideas for a “Crossrail of the North”, and then drew some lines on a map in paint to link presumably the four or five places in northern England that he’d heard of. It’s horrible and I’m going to try and briefly give some context.


Things can only get better

Posted: June 9, 2017 in Politics


Wow, what a night. Well, that showed me…

That was my favourite election night yet – not that there’s a huge amount of competition. I’ve never been more delighted to have been wrong. I’m going to totally drop any sense of impartiality here – I keep getting my objective predictions wrong so what’s the point?


Final thoughts on Election Eve

Posted: June 7, 2017 in Politics


I gave up doing the analysis of seats Labour were possibly going to lose to the Tories around the country. The situation in this election has changed by the week. At the start of this campaign just over a month ago, the Tories were projected by ComRes to get 50% of the national vote, to Labour’s 25%. A landslide of enormous proportions seemed likely. Figures from the left, centre and right of the party faced ousting. Jeremy Corbyn looked like he might be heading a party of less than 150 MPs come 9th June, with no representation in Scotland and the loss of a majority of seats in heartlands like Wales and the North East.



I’ve temporarily stopped writing my State of Play articles in part because the picture in the polls is fluctuating so much, I’m not sure it’s entirely valid to be exclusively focusing on Tory gains/Labour losses now. The latest YouGov Wales poll seems to indicate that further, with Labour, who were 10 points behind the Tories a month ago, now 10 points ahead – the same margin as in 2015, albeit with 7% more. This is being driven by further collapses in the Lib Dem vote, along with Plaid Cymru losing a quarter of their vote, and even some former UKIP votes falling Labour’s way. The Tories are seemingly hoovering up another chunk of UKIP vote.

Labour have been gradually gaining over the last couple of weeks and are now consistently polling higher than their overall total of 2015, not to mention 2010. Some polls have Labour even polling higher in England than in 2005, when they won overall. With Wales now trending upwards significantly, it is only Scotland that looks bleak for Labour – but on the current trend, the next Scottish poll may show a drop in the Tory vote, which would be great news for Labour in any case as it would mean the Tories are less likely to pick up a significant number of seats north of the border.

As far as Wales is concerned, we have now gone from discussing the possibility of Labour losing several seats – Delyn, Alyn and Deeside, Wrexham, Bridgend, both Newport seats, two Cardiff seats, and potentially others – we are now looking at Labour making gains. The Tory majority in Gower is wafer thin and Labour will be targeting winning it back. The same goes for Vale of Clwyd. Cardiff North voted heavily Remain and the Tory majority isn’t substantial. are even suggesting Preseli Pembrokeshire, the seat of former Tory leadership candidate Stephen Crabb, will go back to Labour, which would be an enormous shock. Meanwhile, Plaid’s loss of votes could bring Labour into play in Arfon, where their majority is just 3,668 (13.7%).

If this surge is reflected nationally – with working class voters who had threatened to jump ship to the Tories being frightened off by their hard right stance and a poor campaign – Labour could actually be in a surprisingly strong position. One aspect that I had previously overlooked due to Labour’s poor poll ratings but is now coming into play with their recovery is the possibility of them taking narrowish Tory seats that voted Remain, like Cardiff North and Preseli Pembrokeshire. Brighton Kemptown, Stroud and Hendon are other example of this. There is also the issue of the Lib Dems potentially doing the same thing in seats like Twickenham, Kingston and Surbiton and Lewes – if they can be forgiven for the coalition.

All of this creates a very muddied picture. The Tories were all set to make gains in Labour seats which voted Leave and had high UKIP votes last time. But the Labour vote is now resurgent, the UKIP vote doesn’t seem to be falling as squarely with the Tories as it earlier seemed, and the minority party vote (with the exception of the SNP) seems to be fracturing. The Lib Dems are facing a potential wipe-out of all their current English MPs and may be reliant on gains to hold any presence in the Commons at all – Nick Clegg, who benefited from tactically-voting Tories last time, would likely lose his seat if the Labour vote in Sheffield Hallam can hold together.

Far from the Tory landslide we thought, this could get very messy in a totally different way. If the Welsh trend is repeated across the country as the Tory campaign continues to misfire, Labour might have a chink of light, not to win the election but to effectively defeat the Tories – by stopping them passing a Queen’s speech, preventing them from governing and forcing another election.

The Tories won 330 seats in 2015 (331 including the Speaker, but he doesn’t vote), Labour on 232. To gain a majority, a party needs 326 seats, so the Tories have an official majority of 8. However, Sinn Fein have 4 seats and do not take them up in Westminster, so it is a working majority of 12. For every seat the Tories gain from Labour, their majority increases by 2, and vice versa.

Until the last few days, this has been considered a formality. But suppose the Labour vote holds – the Tories take a couple of Leave-voting seats with a UKIP swing, but Labour in turn take a wad of Remain-voting Tory seats. How does the maths work out?

Assuming the Northern Ireland seats stay the same, the Tories will need at least 324 seats to remain in majority government. If the Lib Dems do get wiped out in England and don’t gain any seats, the Tories will gain Richmond Park, Southport, North Norfolk, Carshalton and Wallington, and Westmorland and Lonsdale. That would put them on 335 – an official majority of 18. Labour would gain Sheffield Hallam and Leeds North West, putting them on 234.

The question of the SNP-vs-Tory seats is a big one. The Tories were projected to win as many as 10-12 SNP seats earlier in the campaign, but if the effect there is similar to the one seen in Wales, Scottish voters may now have cooled to the idea of voting for the Tories, and they may only gain 2 or 3 seats. For now, we’ll assume it’ll be 5, putting them in 340, giving them a majority of 28.

So how many seats do Labour have to gain to force a hung parliament? Taking 15 seats off the Tories would take them below the majority line, but they would need to take a further 2 to take them below the working majority line of 324. Even then, though, 323 would probably be enough – the Democratic Unionists and Ulster Unionists, both centre-right parties, could be persuaded to support a Queen’s speech. Between them, they have 10 MPs. 323 Tories plus 10 unionists would give a majority of 14, and a working majority of 18.

The target therefore is getting the Tories below the number of seats where their total could be added to the unionist total and still not reach the working majority line – at the moment that line is at 314. To get below that would mean a net loss of 17 seats, but with the potential gains from the Lib Dems and the SNP factored in, the Tories would have to lose around 27 seats to not be able to make the mark needed to get a Queen’s speech through. If all of those gains were from Labour, that would put them on 261 seats.

For reference, here are the top 30 targets Labour:

1. Gower
2. Derby North
3. Croydon Central
4. Vale of Clwyd
5. Bury North
6. Morley and Outwood
7. Plymouth Sutton and Devonport
8. Thurrock
9. Brighton Kemptown
10. Bolton West
11. Weaver Vale
12. Telford
13. Bedford
14. Plymouth Moor View
15. Lincoln
16. Peterborough
17. Cardiff North
18. Corby
19. Warrington South
20. Waveney
21. Southampton Itchen
22. Keighley
23. North Warwickshire
24. Carlisle
25. Copeland
26. Halesowen and Rowley Regis
27. Crewe and Nantwich
28. Erewash
29. Hendon
30. Ipswich

The truth is Labour will probably need help from the Lib Dems in some seats – here are the Tory-vs-Lib Dem seats inside that range:

1. Eastbourne
2. Lewes
3. Thornbury and Yate
4. Twickenham
5. Kingston and Surbiton
6. St Ives
7. Torbay

There is also Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale, seat of Scottish Secretary David Mundell, which is within range for the SNP on a good night for them.

It seems a very tall order, but it’s not entirely out of the question. It’ll take a lot to go in Labour’s favour – they’d need to hold all their marginals against the Tories, which seems unlikely, the SNP continuing to get huge support across the board in Scotland, and probably a small Lib Dem revival in some of their former seats, as well as taking some seats in areas that voted Leave. Frankly, even with optimistic polling, it seems very unlikely. But with momentum with Labour, anything seems possible right now. The fact that we’re even discussing this, having previously been discussing a potential Tory majority of 200 and the potential destruction of the Parliamentary Labour Party only a few weeks ago is remarkable – and shows that there’s still a long way to go before this election is decided.


The North West has long been a Labour heartland. There are still plenty of constituencies which are essentially no-go areas for the Conservatives – the moment a Tory gets elected in Liverpool is the moment you know things are dire for Labour. But despite having a lot of well-off suburbs, this was a region that went almost totally red during the Blair landslide years, and the Tories have had to chip away over the last three elections to gain a more significant presence.

However, as in the other northern regions, this may be about to change. 16 Labour or Lib Dem seats here had a right-wing party majority in 2015. With the collapse of the UKIP vote incoming, these seats will come into play in this election, and if the Tories take all of them, they will have a majority in the North West region:


Ilkley Moor

The second region covered (as defined by the EU regional constituencies) is Yorkshire and the Humber, a vast beautiful area covering everything from Richmond to Sheffield, and Ingleton to Spurn Head. Politically the region can be divided in three – the large rural constituencies which are safe Conservative seats and probably always will be, the urban seats in places like Leeds, Sheffield, Bradford and Hull which mostly vote Labour, and the post-industrial seats in West and South Yorkshire, surrounding the big cities. It is the latter that could prove decisive in this election.

Unlike in the North East, a lot of these post-industrial seats already have a history of being tight and changing hands. Seats like Calder Valley, Colne Valley, Halifax and Keighley and switched between the Tories and Labour, often during the big landslide elections. Most famously, the two elections held in the new seat of Morley and Outwood have been decided by a handful of votes, with former Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls ousted in 2015.

But there are plenty of other seats teetering, and once again this hasn’t necessarily been extensively covered by the media yet. Labour have 33 seats in the region but most of these face some kind of threat from a potential UKIP collapse – especially now that UKIP aren’t standing in many of these seats.

There are some where it seems extremely unlikely they can be toppled – Barnsley Central, Barnsley East, Bradford East, Bradford West, Hull North, Leeds Central, Sheffield Brightside and Hillsborough, Sheffield Central, and Wentworth and Deane should all be comfortable holds even if the Labour-Tory swing is bigger than expected.

At the other end of the scale, there are 10 seats where the combined Tory+UKIP vote was bigger than that of the Labour MP:

Batley and Spen: When Jo Cox won this seat in 2015, her majority was 6,057 (12%) over the Tory candidate. However, UKIP picked up 9,080 votes (18%) to finish third. After Cox’s assassination by a far right activist, all the major parties declined to stand against Labour’s Tracy Brabin, and she took 85.2% of the vote in the by-election. But in 2017 these parties return, with the exception of UKIP. This has been a Labour seat since 1997, prior to which it was a Tory seat from its formation in 1983 – Batley has mostly been represented by Labour since 1922. A 6% swing would be enough for a Tory win here in West Yorkshire.

Bradford South: The only Bradford seat which is currently remotely close, Labour’s Judith Cummins won in 2015 with a majority of 6,450 (17.2%). The Tories finished second with 9,878 (26.3%), but this was only just ahead of UKIP, who picked up 9,057 (24.1%), making a combined majority of the vote between the two right-wing parties (50.4%), some 7% ahead of the Labour vote. This hasn’t been won by the Tories since 1918, and has been Labour continuously since the Attlee landslide of 1945. The swing looks big at 8.5% but it’s a very winnable seat for the Tories.

Dewsbury: A classic swing seat which has flip-flopped since long-time MP David Ginsburg left Labour for the SDP in 1981, handing the seat to the Tories in 1983 with a split centre-left vote. It changed back to Labour in 1987, before returning to the Tories in 2010, and then back to Labour again in 2015. Paula Sherriff won the seat by 1,451 (2.7%) on a swing of 2.8%, but UKIP finished third with 6,649 (12.4%). UKIP are not standing this time which in theory should hand this seat back to the Tories, with only a 1.4% swing needed. Despite the name, it actually covers most of the southern part of Kirklees beyond the town of Dewsbury itself.

Don Valley: Former minister Caroline Flint has been MP here since 1997, but Labour have held this seat in South Yorkshire since 1922. Despite increasing her majority to 8,885 (20.9%) in 2015, she was significantly helped by the rise of UKIP, taking votes from the Tory candidate to finish third with 9,963 votes (23.5%). It would take a sizeable swing of 10.5% for the Tories to oust one of Labour’s best-known female MPs, but UKIP have now withdrawn, which leaves Flint massively exposed to a potential Tory surge.

Great Grimsby: With Austin Mitchell stepping down, UKIP targeted Great Grimsby as one of their potential gains in 2015. However, their challenge ultimately fell flat as the split of the right-wing vote allowed new Labour MP Melanie Onn in with a majority of 4,540 (13.5%). The Tories finished second with 8,874 (26.3%), and UKIP third with 8,417 (25.0%). It’s a clear demonstration of a right-wing majority in the seat of just under 4,000. However, UKIP aren’t giving up the fight just yet, selecting Fisheries Spokesman Mike Hookem – best known for taking it outside “mano el mano” with Steven Woolfe in Strasbourg last year. The Tories need a 6.8% swing, or just over half of the UKIP vote, to win the seat for the first time since 1935 – nationally the polls suggest the Tories are indeed taking just over half of the UKIP vote. The Tory candidate is Jo Gideon – perhaps replacing the outgoing Gideon who used to represent Tatton?

Halifax: This is the sort of seat Labour usually hold when they are doing OK, and the Tories only take when they are doing really well – the last time they won it was 1983. But Holly Lynch’s majority in 2015 was just 428 (1%), one of the smallest in the entire country.  By contrast, UKIP picked up 5,621 votes (12.8%). With a swing of 0.5% needed, only a fraction of the UKIP votes switching over would give the Tories the seat.

Penistone and Stocksbridge: Labour’s Angela Smith won this seat, a mix of rural areas and former industrial towns, with a handy majority of 6,723 (14.3%) on a swing of 3.9% away from the Tories. However, this was of course in part due to another UKIP surge, as they picked up 10,738 votes (22.9%) to finish third. Though on the surface it seems like quite a safe seat, needing a 7.2% swing to the Tories to change hands, the reality is that big UKIP vote may drop away just as quickly as it appeared – the Tory+UKIP percentage of the vote was 50.6%. Penistone has been continuously represented by Labour since 1935.

Rother Valley: We come to a rare seat where UKIP actually finished second ahead of the Tories, which does make it slightly trickier to predict exactly what will happen. In 2015, Kevin Barron held a majority of 7,297 (15.5%) over UKIP, with the Tories in third on 10,945 (23.3%). This was an increased majority from 2010, when Barron’s lead over the Tories was 5,866 (12.5%). Theoretically this is a safe seat, always held by Labour since its creation in 1918. But that combined UKIP+Tory 2015 vote was 51.5%, though it is hard to guess exactly where that UKIP vote will go. The Tories need a 10.2% swing to take it.

Scunthorpe: The Lincolnshire steel town has been represented by Labour since 1987, but Nic Dakin’s majority over the Tory candidate (Jo Gideon again) in 2015 was 3,134 (8.5%). UKIP’s total of 6,329 (17.1%) was just over half the Tory total – half of that switching to the Tories this time would give the seat to them on a swing of 4.3%. As recently as 2001, the Labour majority here was 14,173 (34.1%).

Wakefield: The city has been represented by Labour continuously since 1932, but has already drawn media attention for the situation currently developing there. Mary Creagh, a Shadow Cabinet member throughout Ed Miliband’s tenure as leader who briefly ran for the leadership herself in 2015, faces a significant threat. Her majority in 2015 was just 2,613 (6.1%) over the Tories’ Antony Calvert, who had narrowly lost to Ed Balls in Morley and Outwood in 2010. The UKIP vote was 7,862 (18.3%), which is high enough that the Tories would expect to take the seat on a swing of 3.1%. To make the situation seemingly easier for them and bleaker for Labour, UKIP confirmed early on that they would stand aside. Calvert is standing again for the Tories, and is likely to become an MP at the third time of asking; Creagh is seemingly doomed.

Beyond these, there are still further seats where the margin is likely to be close, even if the 2015 Tory+UKIP vote isn’t quite bigger than the Labour vote – here are the tighest:

– Doncaster Central – Labour 49.1%, Tory+UKIP 44.8%, notional majority 1,707 (note: no UKIP; Rosie Winterton’s seat)

– Hull West and Hessle – Labour 49.2%, Tory+UKIP 37.4%, notional majority 3,772 (note: currently Alan Johnson’s seat, but he’s stepping down)

– Leeds North East – Labour 47.9%, Tory+UKIP 40.6%, notional majority 3,543 (note: no UKIP)

– Leeds West – Labour 48.0%, Tory+UKIP 38.6%, notional majority 3,623 (note: Rachel Reeves’ seat)

– Rotherham – Labour 52.5%, Tory+UKIP 42.5%, notional majority 3,790 (note: UKIP a strong second here)

– York Central – Labour 42.4%, Tory+UKIP 38.4%, notional majority 1,921 (note: no UKIP; also no Green, who polled 10% of the vote)

Here are some slightly longer shots, but not as unlikely as you’d think – remember that while a majority of 5,000 might seem like a lot, only 2,501 people who previously voted for the MP would need to change their mind and vote for the second-placed party to swing the result. If Labour drop below 25% of the vote nationally, these seats will come into play:

– Doncaster North – Labour 52.4%, Tory+UKIP 40.9%, notional majority 4,545 (note: Ed Miliband’s seat)

– Hull East – Labour 51.7%, Tory+UKIP 38.3%, notional majority 4,726 (note: John Prescott’s former seat)

– Leeds East – Labour 53.7%, Tory+UKIP 39.9%, notional majority 5,277 (note: Richard Burgon’s seat)

– Leeds North West – Lib Dem 36.8%, Labour 30.1%, Tory+UKIP 25.5%, notional majority (over Tory+UKIP) 4,868 (note: no UKIP; potential three-way marginal so hard to call)

– Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford – Labour 54.9%, Tory+UKIP 42.1%, notional majority 5,859 (note: Yvette Cooper’s seat)

– Sheffield Heeley – Labour 48.2%, Tory+UKIP 33.6%, notional majority 6,162 (note: Louise Haigh’s seat)

– Sheffield South East – Labour 51.4%, Tory+UKIP 39.3%, notional majority 5,069

There’s also one further important seat – Sheffield Hallam, the seat of former Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg. There was a lot of hype around this seat in 2015 because for a while looked like the Deputy Prime Minister would lose his seat, a huge symbolic blow for the party after five years in government. However, Clegg held on, defeating the Labour candidate by 2,353 votes (4.2%).

One might expect Clegg to retain his seat a bit more comfortably this time. But there’s a catch – the Lib Dems aren’t picking up votes. If you believe the polls, both Labour and the Lib Dems are hovering around the same percentage of the vote nationally as they got in 2015. In fact, if anything the Lib Dems are facing being squeezed in an election that is a clear two-horse race. That would presumably leave Clegg, like all the other Lib Dems, under threat. While we don’t have the Ashcroft constituency polls to make it exciting this time, we shouldn’t forget that he is still very much at risk of losing his seat, although I would still expect him to win again.