Hertsmere General Election preview, part four

The Conservative Party

Two men carry a lectern out into Downing Street for a speech by the Prime Minister
Lot of lectern action lately

This is it. The big one. The last of our four guides to the parties standing in Hertsmere at the next general election, whenever that is. We’ve done the fringe parties, the Liberals and Labour so now it’s time to tackle the incumbents, the 800-pound gorillas of Hertsmere politics, the Conservative Party, winners in Hertsmere since the constituency was created, for the 1983 general election – the ‘Falklands election’. The Tories have never even come close to losing here, not even in 1997, when Labour won the largest number of Parliamentary seats in history and squeezed the margin in Hertsmere to six percent.

Four Conservative politicians behind a desk at a press conference, microphones in front of them. Left to right: Margaret Thatcher, Cecil Parkinson, Francis Pym and Michael Heseltine
Cecil Parkinson (next to Thatcher), once MP for Herstmere and – in a competive field – probably the biggest heel in Conservative Party history

The history of the Tories in Hertsmere is essentially the history of the contituency so you’ll want to read our electoral history of Hertsmere, which covers the whole period since 1983 and its three MPs – including the ignominious departure of Margaret Thatcher’s favourite Cecil Parkinson in 1983 and of his successor James Clappison, despatched by fast-track SPAD Oliver Dowden in 2015.

You might think that Hertsmere is one of those home counties contituencies that’s been approximately Tory since the battle of Hastings, or the end of the ice age. And you wouldn’t be wrong. A single county-wide constituency was first created over seven hundred years ago, in 1294 and it persisted until 1885. The Hertfordshire constituency returned – for most of that period – three MPs. Before the franchise was expanded in the late 19th Century the electorate was tiny – In 1868, about 9,000 men in Hertfordshire (landowners, principally) could vote. The first time they got a chance to vote for a candidate identified as a Tory was in 1727. He was a Jacobite noble called Charles Caesar, who was also Treasurer of the Navy. Between then and the seat’s final abolition in 1885 Tories dominated, with the occasional period of Whig control. Between then and 1983 Radlett has bounced around between the constituencies of Watford, South West Hertfordshire and South Hertfordshire.

The odds

In a sea of disastrous polling data from the Sunak period, we’ve seen only one projection that suggests the Tories could lose in Hertsmere – and it’s a doozy. It’s the February 2023 MRP poll from the highly-reliable polling company Electoral Calculus. It gives Labour 509 seats and the Conservative Party 45. In this scenario the Tories aren’t even the official opposition. LOL.

February 2023 MRP poll from Electoral Calculus, showing the following data in a table:
Party	Number of Seats
at GE 2019	Predicted
Number of Seats	Predicted
Change
CON	365	45	?320
LAB	203	509	306
SNP	48	50	2
LIB	11	23	12
Plaid	4	4	0
Green	1	1	0
Reform	0	0	0
Total	632	632	0
Ouch

We know that even the slightly less extreme polling that’s been done since then has been causing panic bordering on hysteria in corridors and bars and meeting rooms in the SW1 area. Such an enormous swing is obviously unlikely and the most recent MRP polling gives Dowden a 1997-sized lead here in Hertsmere. That would bring Labour’s candidate Josh Tapper to within 3,000 votes of Oliver Dowden. We’ve noted before that Tapper must be praying the Gogglebox factor can get him a bit closer.

Chart showing vote share for the Hertsmere Parliamentary constituency for the main parties in the period from 1983 to 2019
Vote shares in Hertsmere since 1983, showing swings to Labour in 1997 and 2017

Crown, church and land

They don’t call the Conservative Party the most successful political party in the world for nothing. This 300 year-old institution, which began life in the ferment after the English Civil War, is so wired into the constitution of middle England – especially rural and landowning England – that it seems almost to be part of the landscape.

The party’s various re-inventions, especially in the period since the industrial revolution, have seen it identified with business (previously the domain of the Whigs/Liberals), with the urban middle class and, more recently, with working class voters, for whom the Tories came to stand for ambition, home ownership and the prospect of a better life for their children.

The fact that this last electoral coalition – the one assembled by Margaret Thatcher in the early 1980s that has seen the party running the country for 32 of the last 45 years – seems finally to be collapsing, in the wake of 15 years of flat wages, growing inequality and diminishing expectations – would, for any ordinary party, presumably mean the end. For the Tories it almost certainly means another re-invention – the Conservative Party is evidently indestructible and will still be with us on the other side of whatever apocalypse awaits us. Like cockroaches and the plague.

Our present Prime Minister – according to a polling firm one of the least popular party leaders in history – has made several increasingly desperate attempts at his own re-invention in the last year or two and, in his most recent effort, is trying to position his party as the ‘national security party’ or the party of geopolitical dread. It’s too early to say whether this relaunch will stick, of course, although the bookies aren’t convinced. At Radlett Wire we have a simple rule of thumb: when the Prime Minister puts a lectern outside Number 10 and makes a speech about nuclear annihilation it’s probably not his country’s security he’s worried about but his own.

The candidate

A composite image of Conservative MP Oliver Dowden, wearing a surgical mask and floating against a virtual reality background
Oliver Dowden floating in some kind of dimensionless alternate reality

We remain, as we have essentially since his election in 2015, deeply impressed by Oliver Dowden. He’s an intriguing figure. Not charismatic, not possessed of any apparent vision or of a distinctive political identity, nor even of deep roots in the Tory party. He is, in his party’s terms, an outsider, but his tenacity and his political instincts have kept him in or near the action since his first election – through one of the most turbulent periods in his party’s (and the Parliament’s) history. He’s a pragmatist – entering politics via David Cameron’s upbeat, socially-liberal, modernising regime, when CCHQ was like the marketing department of a Plc, he had no difficulty subsquently lodging himself in the government of each successor Prime Minister. Only Liz Truss could find no use for him.

As we said in an earlier post here, when the s**t hits the fan he’s always ready:

For a second-tier politician, Dowden’s always been pretty close to the action (once a Number 10 staffer, always a Number 10 staffer). He was first to endorse Johnson to replace Theresa May but also first to resign as Johnson’s final crisis began. Joining #TeamRishi was another low-key masterstroke for our operator, although his return to the front bench was delayed by that weird 49-day Liz Truss thing, during which Dowden was very much on the outside…

How does Hertsmere vote? Radlett Wire
An official photograph of Oliver Dowden MP with a British Army captain's hat crudely photoshopped onto his head
Captain Dowden of the Winter of Discontent Taskforce

We’ve sometimes called Dowden a bagman here. We don’t mean this disdainfully. The bagman is vital to a successful political party. Some politicians are far too grand for this kind of thing but Dowden is always quite happy, as the moment requires, to get his hands dirty, to dispose of a body, to endorse even the silliest talking points – privet hedges, woke roadsigns, hoarding stolen artefactsscolding Netflix and calling for Gary Lineker‘s dismissal on the regular. He’ll step up in defense of the indefensible on the Sunday morning programmes without complaint and he’ll take on the emptiest, gestural nonsense with gusto. For a while during the wave of industrial unrest of 2022 and 2023 he was put in charge of Rishi Sunak’s ‘Winter of Discontent taskforce’. We amused ourselves here trying to find any further trace of activity from the taskforce. None materialised. It was never more than an announcement – the kind of entirely hollow politics you need a strong stomach to pursue with enthusiasm. Dowden has a strong stomach.

Classic teflon

Dowden is as close to clean hands as you’ll get in the contemporary Conservative party, so-far unblemished by scandal. And even when he really ought to have got into trouble he’s somehow squeaked through, untouched. It was Dowden who appointed Boris Johnson’s friend and loan-arranger to be Chair of the BBC. Dowden who was in charge of propriety and ethics when the party was accused of covering up a rape. He’s never been close to the big money but he was one of ten Tory MPs who took paid jobs with party donors during 2022 and for some reason accepted a payment from the hedge fund that bankrolled Liz Truss’s experiment with credibility too.

Local hero

Dowden comes from up the road and went to a school a lot of Hertsmere kids attend. He knows the area and has been a diligent constituency representative. In our experience, he (almost always) answers letters from constituents (your mileage may vary). He’s never, as far as we know, phoned an elderly constituent in the middle of the night asking for money to give to ‘bad people’ and we’re pretty sure he doesn’t own a property portfolio. He’s always ready to make a speech about a car park next to a bin. For all this, as his constituents, we should be grateful.

There will be constituents who question his absolute committment to local concerns, though. The rail freight terminal on the old Radlett aerodrome land is one of those giant projects that will always present a problem for a government minister. He very much wants to be identified with the electors who are going to have an enormous warehouse blocking out their view or a busy new access road keeping them awake.

An aerial visualisation of the Radlett rail freight terminal planned for the old aerodrome land

It’s a delicate business, though. Dowden has felt able to participate in the dispute but has reserved his full-throated criticism for the actions of the local authority, Hertfordshire County Council in this case, who say they were obliged to sell the land for the development. It’s always much easier for an MP to criticise the council than to criticise his own government or a major business that may well be a party donor.

We feel for Dowden on this. He doesn’t want to be seen too vocally opposing a development that will bring work to the area at a time when everyone’s fulminating about the sclerotic planning system. The sheer scale of the development and its likely impact on the households affected makes it hard to ignore for a local MP, though.

He’s ready

Screenshot of a tweet from Oliver Dowden MP. Two photos of Dowden with local Conservative Party members. Text reads: Delighted to have been readopted as the Conservative candidate for Hertsmere this evening!

Dowden has been reselected by his local party (they do this sort of thing informally in the Conservative Party) but, as far as we know, he hasn’t actually lodged his nomination papers with the local authority so there’s still a slim chance he’ll run for the hills. We doubt it, though.

As a government minister he’ll evidently be able to draw on significant resources from his party during his campaign but Hertsmere is such a safe seat that it’s unlikely we’ll see many of the top brass here during the campaign. If he’s lucky he’ll be able to call on his friends at South Hertfordshire Business Club again, though. This is a club with no web site, no staff, no premises, no accounts and, apparently, no members (looks like it might share an address with the St Albans Conservative Association, though). According to the Electoral Commission the club gave £82,741.09 to Dowden’s office between 2017 and 2022, making use of a loophole that allows ‘unincorporated associations’ to give up to £25,000 per year to a political party or campaign without saying where the money comes from. Dowden’s not the only MP using this method of accessing anonymous money. There are a number of these secretive organisations, with names like The Portcullis Club and the Magna Carta Club (that one’s given £150,000 to Michael Gove since 2009). Interestingly, they seem to exist only to give money to Conservative politicians and campaigns. Details of the Dowden donations in this spreadsheet.


  • Dowden suffers from a very contemporary political problem. He’s from a nominally working-class background but he speaks and acts quite posh. The same problem afflicts Keir Starmer. But the iron rule is that neither will ever, no matter how much they protest, be accepted as working class. They both really ought to give up trying.
  • Oliver Dowden has had a few goes at the despatch box depping for the boss lately. We can’t say we’ve ever managed to get through a whole session. It’s too much. Watching him labour awkwardly through his scripted jokes is far too painful, like the nasty bit in a nature documentary about seals and killer whales.
  • It turns out that the dreadful Parkinson affair has not yet, over forty years on, been forgotten. A new documentary is in the works.
  • Here’s our big spreadsheet with all the Hertsmere election results going back to 1983 – the only place you’ll find all this information in one place (and we recently added Hertfordshire PCC results going back to 2012 for extra excitement).
  • We group together all our Oliver Dowden posts with the #DowdenLog tag and you can subscribe to these posts in an RSS reader if that’s your thing.
  • You can keep up with what Oliver Dowden does in Parliament at TheyWorkForYou and you can set up an email alert too.
  • We’re on Twitter/X and Facebook and you can follow this blog in the fediverse. Search for @blog@radlettwire.co.uk in your fediverse client (e.g. Mastodon)

What did the council elections tell us about how the general election will go in Hertsmere?

Nothing. Sorry.

Here’s our guide to the whole history of elections in Hertsmere and part three of our preview of the 2024 (or 2025) general election.

Hertfordshire PCC winner Jonathan Ash-Edwards signing something at the count, which apparently took place in a helicopter (or a hot-air balloon?)

The nearest actual elections on Thursday were down the road in London (Khan re-elected with an increased vote share) and up the A1 in North Herts (Labour win). It felt a bit sad to be left out of such a consequential election. I don’t know what it was like in your house over the last few days but in ours we were glued to the news channels and the news feeds.

And we honestly can’t learn much from the results, widely accepted as having been a catastrophe for the Conservative government (and, if anything, actually a bit more catastrophic than the worst predictions), about the situation here in Hertsmere.

Professor John Curtice in a BBC studio talking to the camera about 2024 council election results. Caption reads: Conservatives losing seats - Conservative minister: 'it was always going to be difficult'
Professor Sir John Curtice, wide awake at 05:52

Psephologists think it is valid to project general election results from previous elections, so you’ll find forecasts based on these results in the media. Sir John Curtice, the Strathclyde academic who haunts the TV studios for the whole duration of every election and seems to need no sleep, came up with this projection for the BBC. It obviously gives Labour a big majority in vote share.

John Curtice's Projected National Share for the next general election based on 2 May 2024 local alections. Data at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/articles/c3g935ynj18o
Professor Curtice’s projected national share

But this gives us a pretty unhelpful idea of how things will go, not least because it doesn’t map to actual Parliamentary seats. Others have had a go at working that out. Sky News, for instance, has a projection that suggests Labour will win the election but without an overall majority.

Sky News UK general election projection from 6 May 2024 - data at: https://news.sky.com/story/sky-news-projection-labour-on-course-to-be-largest-party-but-short-of-overall-majority-13128242
Sky News UK general election projection from 6 May 2024

This has been seized upon by Tory spokespeople, including the Prime Minister. It obviously holds out the promise of another ‘SNP-Labour coalition‘ scare campaign. The idea of a Groundhog Day general election campaign fought on this basis is too depressing for words, of course. We may reconsider that plan to move to a monastery.

Here in Hertsmere things obviously look just like they did before the election, except for the important detail that we now have a new Conservative Police and Crime Commissioner. Jonathan Ash-Edwards won by a good majority, Sean Prendergast came second for the Liberals. Again, it’s hard to get much from this data, mainly because the turnout will have been much lower than it was last time – somewhere in the twenties, once it’s been calculated – because hardly anyone votes in PCC elections. We’ve added a sheet for the PCC elections to our big spreadsheet of polling data for Hertsmere – very much the only place in the world where you’ll find all of this data in one place. Tell your friends.

Results for 2024 PCC elections in Hertfordshire

The projection we depend on here at Radlett Wire is the one from Electoral Calculus. Their most recent data, updated a few days before the council elections, gives the Tories approximately the same essentially unassailable lead here in Hertsmere – although their chance of winning has fallen from 71% to 61% across about two months. Labour candidate Josh Tapper has his work cut out.

Electoral Calculus projection for general election result in Hertsmere constituency, updated on 27 April 2024, showing a 61% chance of victory for the Conservatives. Data at: https://www.electoralcalculus.co.uk/fcgi-bin/calcwork23.py?postcode=WD7+8HL
Electoral Calculus projection for general election in Hertsmere, 27 April 2024

Enough politics. Back to watching the rain through the window on this lovely bank holiday Monday.


  • There are two serious electoral models in the UK at the moment. We’re not talking about opinion polls or polls-of-polls (like Electoral Calculus) or guesses from wise columnists or wild social media assertions. We mean academic projects that use actual election results to calculate likely outcomes of future elections. There’s Professor John Curtice’s projected national share, which he does for the BBC and the one from Nuffield College, Oxford profs Colin Rallings and Michael Thrasher. The political parties will also have their own elaborate projections, but they keep those to themselves.
  • Why aren’t all the council elections on the same day?
  • The BBC has all the council, Mayoral and PCC election results and you’ll find the full national results for the PCC elections on Wikipedia.

Hertsmere General Election preview, part three

Labour

The Tapper family, contributors to Channel 4's long-running TV series Gogglebox. Left to right: Amy, Dad Jonathan, mum Nikki and Josh. They're sitting in a row on their sofa and all laughing. Jonathan is holding the remote and pointing it at the TV
The Tappers

Part one of this general election preview is about the fringe parties (including Reform) and part two about the Lib Dems. Part three, about the Conservatives, is next.

Look, we promise we’re not going to go on and on about this but the recently-selected Labour party candidate for Hertsmere, Josh Tapper, USED TO BE ON GOGGLEBOX. That’s him, on the right, with (left to right) sister Amy, dad Jonathan and mum Nikki. You will certainly remember the Tapper family – they were on the programme for eleven series, from the very first programme in 2013 until 2018. Tapper’s TV history has certainly brought his candidacy a lot of national publicity – we can’t imagine the selection of a Labour Parliamentary candidate winning much coverage in The Sun without the Gogglebox factor, for instance.

A composite image of Conservative MP Oliver Dowden, wearing a surgical mask and floating against a virtual reality background
Oliver Dowden floating in some kind of dimensionless alternate reality

Right, that’s it. We’re not going to mention Gogglebox ever again. We’re sure Mr Tapper will be happy to know that. He’ll definitely want us to talk about the fact that he’s one of the youngest Labour candidates in the country (26) and that he’s been put up against no less than Deputy Prime Minister and privet hedge-botherer Oliver Dowden. Dowden has been reselected by his local party but has not yet submitted his nomination papers (so there’s still a slim chance he’ll run for the hills before the election).

After Gogglebox and Yavneh College in Borehamwood, Tapper found himself in Theresa May’s office, via a civil service apprenticeship scheme, and then worked for left-of-centre think-tank Demos. In 2022 he very narrowly missed election to Barnet council, in the Edgwarebury ward. Tapper is also great-great-grandson of the founder of legendary and late-lamented Aldgate kosher eatery Bloom’s which many will remember fondly (although not for the food).

Now for the politics

So, Tapper is the eleventh Labour candidate in the history of the Hertsmere constituency, since it was created in 1983. He will be hoping profoundly, of course, that he’s not the eleventh loser and he’s probably in with a better chance here than anyone since Beth Kelly, in 1997, who lost by 3,000 votes. That, of course, was the year of Tony Blair’s landslide, when Labour won the largest number of Parliamentary seats for a single party in British Parliamentary history – 418 (more than twice the party’s total at the last general election in 2019).

Sensible projections for vote share at the next election put Labour comfortably in government, of course, but they don’t quite put a Labour candidate into Parliament for Hertsmere. Electoral Calculus, which is the one we usually rely on here, still gives the Tories a comfortable 64% chance of winning in Hertsmere but their likely majority is very much in 1997 territory, which must be exciting for Tapper and his campaign.

Electoral Calculus projection for Hertsmere general election vote share

Hertsmere Labour candidates over the years:
Josh Tapper (2024/25) – civil servant, former Goggleboxer
Holly Kal-Weiss (2019) – special needs teacher.
Fiona Smith (2017) – ex-military, fund-raiser.
Richard Butler (2015) – Councillor in Hertsmere and Hertfordshire.
Sam Russell (2010)
Kelly Tebb (2005)
Hilary Broderick (2001)
Beth Kelly (1997) – NHS manager and one-time Borehamwood councillor, endorsed Josh Tapper for Hertsmere in 2024.
David Souter (1992)
Frank Ward (1987) – went on to stand for UKIP in 2015.
Ian Reed (1983)

Tapper’s mountain

Chart showing vote share for the Hertsmere Parliamentary constituency for the main parties in the period from 1983 to 2019
Vote share in Hertsmere since 1983 (data)

The historic chart makes the challenge for Tapper clear. Even the precipitous fall in support that the Tories have experienced since 2019 – essentially unparalleled in British electoral history – is unlikely to put Josh Tapper into Parliament at the next general election. The grey bar in the chart shows the result in Hertsmere if YouGov’s January MRP projection is correct. It puts Labour about 3,000 votes from a majority – spookily close to that 1997 result. Labour’s bump in support in Hertsmere puts the party at roughly where it was in 2017, when the swing to Labour was the largest in decades and Theresa May got a nasty shock. Nationally, as well as in Hertsmere, the challenge for Labour this time is that the lost Tory votes will be shared between Labour, the resurgent Lib Dems, the insurgent Reform Party and, in some places, the Greens.

Many are already calling the next UK general election ‘the Gaza election’ and it seems certain that the war will be a doorstep issue in Hertsmere, a constituency with a high proportion of Jewish households. Our MP, as a Cabinet Office Minister, has been asked to address the issue on many occasions since 7 October. We’ll admit to having no idea what the impact on voting will be or how Tapper will respond, though.

Since we made the chart there’s been another YouGov MRP poll and it puts Labour even further ahead nationally, with over 400 seats, but it doesn’t move the result in Hertsmere so Tapper evidently still has a mountain to climb.

Of course, Labour will be hoping that Josh Tapper – a charismatic local boy and a TV star – has what it takes to claw back those 3,000 votes. It must be thrilling for him and for local Labour supporters to contemplate that narrowing national gap. If anyone can, we reckon Josh Tapper can.


  • Wikipedia has a list of all the Parliamentary candidates declared so far. Tapper is listed but we’re not 100% sure he’s submitted his official nomination papers and paid his deposit yet.
  • We’ve updated our guide to elections in Hertsmere, going all the way back to the very first election here, in 1983, and we’ve put all the voting data into a spreadsheet.
  • Money will be a concern – for Tapper and for all candidates in Hertsmere. Going up against a government minister in a safe seat like Hertsmere is not cheap. And we know that Oliver Dowden has access to big money for his campaigns, not just via his party but also via business donors. An ‘unincorporated association‘ called the South Hertfordshire Business Club, for instance. A club with no web site, no staff, no premises, no accounts and, apparently, no members (it shares an address with the St Albans Conservative Association, though), according to the Electoral Commission, gave £82,741.09 to Hertsmere Tories between 2017 and 2022. Details in this spreadsheet. Does Josh Tapper have access to that kind of money for his campaign?
  • The MRP technique used by YouGov is significantly more accurate than ordinary polling but not infallible. YouGov’s 2017 poll came very close, predicting the hung Parliament and some of the outlier results, but 2019’s was less accurate, underestimating the size of Johnson’s majority.

Voting in Radlett on 2 May

Calm down, it’s the boring one.

Party control of the authorities electing PCCs in May (Institute of Government)

On Thursday 2 May there are local elections in many parts of England. It honestly seems a bit unfair that just down the road in London they’ve got all the excitement of a Mayoral election. In fact, there are elections in about a third of English councils (107 out of 317), also in 14 unitary authorities, 28 metropolitan boroughs and 34 district councils (details from the Institute for Government). Not here, though. Sorry.

But we do get to vote for something, right?

Here in Radlett we get to vote for a Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC). Absolutely the most boring election possible, right? Few people bother to vote in Police Commissioner elections. At the last PCC election in Hertfordshire, in 2021, the turnout was a fairly respectable 37%, a bit more than half the turnout at the 2019 general election in Hertsmere (70.6%), but that was because the election was on the same day as local authority elections. Turnout will be much lower this time. We can’t believe we’re even typing this. It’s so boring.

The whole idea of a Police and Crime Commissioner is a very recent one – the first ones were elected in 2012. The Conservative government (this is the same government whose legislators are currently sending dick pics to strangers and allegedly getting dogs drunk) said that they wanted to put local policing under democratic control but most people think they wanted to introduce explicitly political PCCs because it would give them an advantage. And they weren’t wrong. In 2021 (a year late because of the pandemic), 76.9% of Police Commissioners elected in England and Wales were Conservatives. The model, of course, is the American system, where many more local officials are elected – from dog catchers to District Attorneys to Chiefs of Police. What’s less clear is how useful they’ve been here in England and Wales. We think it would be safe to say that the jury’s still out.

What does a Police and Crime Commissioner actually do?

Graphic illustrates the function of a Police and Crime Commissioner
From the The Association of Police and Crime Commissioners

Police and Crime Commissioners are responsible for all of policing in their constabulary areas (in some areas they’re also responsible for the fire service). Crucially they appoint the Chief Constable and hold them to account once in role. In this they’re a bit like the Chairs of other public bodies. The Chair of a school’s governing body, for instance, appoints the headteacher but doesn’t run the school. PCCs don’t make policing decisions. They have a budget and can fund smaller initiatives but they can’t set policy. They’ll usually have a fairly substantial team of civil servants working for them and there’ll be a communications function – explaining what they do to the electors. Sometimes they intervene to discipline the Chief Constable and sometimes this goes horribly wrong. Some police chiefs think PCCs can be arbitrary and domineering and they’re probably not wrong. There’s nothing in the rules to stop an elected Police Commissioner from firing the Chief Constable just to make it look like they’re doing something – especially if there’s an election coming.

In 2022 (we expect there’ll have been a bit of an increase since then), the salary of Hertfordshire’s PCC was £78,400 plus expenses (mainly for travel, by the look of it). This is approximately mid-table for PCCs – some are paid substantially more, some less. The PCC’s deputy Lewis Cocking is paid £33,460. Chief Executive Chris Brace makes £112,350 (plus a car allowance) and there are eight more staff paid more than £58,200. It’s not clear from the accounts how many others work in the Hertfordshire PCC’s office. Details from the Herts PCC web site.

We suspect we’d all be a bit more interested in the business of the Police and Crime Commissioners if there was any evidence that they had improved anything. The Local Government Association, reporting in 2020, says the evidence is uncertain. The PCCs themselves, understandably enough, think they’re doing a great job and, in their 2021 report (PDF) list many positive actions – for instance the Beacon Fraud Hub set up here in Hertfordshire in 2019 that helps fraud victims retrieve money from crims – over a million pounds by the time of the report. We’ve been searching for independent evidence of the usefulness of PCCs. So far no luck. If you know of any, please share it in a comment. Perhaps they just need a few more years.

What the PCCs do seem to have done is given the governance of policing a slightly higher profile. Police Authorities, the somewhat bureaucratic institutions they replaced, had some formal independence but also had a reputation for being ineffective talking shops and most people didn’t even know they existed. Even more boring. In 2016, only 8% of electors could name their PCC, though, and it seems likely that a clear majority of people still wouldn’t be able to. Can you?

Interestingly, Police and Crime Commissioners used to be elected by a kind of proportional representation called the supplementary vote (SV) system, where voters could choose a first and second choice vote. This has been scrapped and you’ll now just pick a single candidate, as you do in ordinary elections.

Who’s who?

David Lloyd, outgoing Police and Crime Commissioner for Hertfordshire
David Lloyd, outgoing Hertfordshire Police Commissioner

Hertfordshire’s current Police and Crime Commissioner, former financial adviser David Lloyd, is one of the longest serving in the country. He’s been in the role since the very first election in 2012. But he’s off to a research job at Birmingham University. The Tory candidate for the role on 2 May will be Jonathan Ash-Edwards, a former council leader. He’ll certainly win. There are also candidates from the Greens, Labour and the Liberal Democrats. Here are your candidates, in alphabetical order. Try not to get too excited.

Your candidates

All the candidates have their own web sites, of course, but the most comprehensive source of information about their various platforms is the official government booklet.

Jonathan Ash-Edwards, Conservative candidate for Police and Crime Commissioner in Hertfordshire in 2024. He's a smiling, bald white man, leaning against a white wall, wearing square glasses, a nice blue suit and matching tie.
Leaning on a wall a speciality
Jonathan Ash-Edwards, Conservative

To be honest, we suspect you could probably have guessed what Jonathan is promising without looking. Let’s look at the headlines: more police, safer streets, lower tax, prevent crime, provide responsive policing, support victims, keep Herts safe and listen to you. Classic combination of vague and unachievable. Lower tax, for instance. If you have any idea how a Police and Crime Commissioner can influence tax rates you should explain in a comment. We particularly like ‘prevent crime’, though. Go Jonathan! Read the whole lot in the official booklet.

Matt Fisher, Green Party candidate for Police and Crime Commissioner in Hertfordshire in May 2024. He's a smiling, bald white man, wearing a nice blue suit and a very bright, flower-pattern tie which matches his pocket square
That’s not a real hankie is it?
Matt Fisher, Green Party

Matt doesn’t have a policy platform at all, as far as we can tell, but he does have the best tie/handkerchief combo by about a mile. Read his biography in the booklet.

Thomas Plater, Labour candidate for Police and Crime Commissioner in Hertfordshire in May 2024. He's a smiling, bearded white man, wearing a dark suit and a pale blue shirt with no tie. His portrait is framed at a jaunty angle and lighting is moody
Only non-bald candidate
Tom Plater, Labour

Tom offers: “…a real plan to tackle crime in our neighbourhoods, by smashing drug crime, combating violence against Women & Girls and reducing anti-social behaviour. We will do this by taking real action. If elected I will put more bobbies on the beat, who know our local communities inside out, with their policing led by the intelligence they gather. I will work with domestic abuse charities to put their workers into 999 call centres to work alongside our brilliant call centre handlers. I will review and improve vetting practises across Hertfordshire Constabulary.

Again, without wishing to be too cynical, we’re impressed by Tom’s ambition to ‘smash drug crime’ from his nice office in Hertford. More in the booklet.

Sean Prendergast, Liberal Democrat candidate for Police and Crime Commissioner in Hertfordshire in May 2024. He's a smiling, bald white man, wearing a nice blue suit with no tie. He is in a field, trees in the background.
Apparently in a field
Sean Prendergast, Liberal Democrats

If anything, Sean‘s platform is even more ambitious than the others’. His priorities are to increase visible community and neighbourhood policing, stop violence against women and girls, solve burglary and vehicle crime and to tackle and prevent antisocial behaviour. We might scoff at the idea that Mister Prendergast will be able to ‘solve vehicle crime’ during his time in office but he’s the most credible challenger to the Conservative candidate. He’s a former Police Community Support Office and PCC candidates from his party have come closest to beating the Tories in Hertfordshire in previous elections. The switch from the supplementary vote (SV) system might reduce his chances of winning, though. Read the booklet for the detail.

We’ve been going on about the official booklet. It’s an A5-sized PDF published by the Secretary of State for the Department of Levelling Up, Housing & Communities, presumably as an aspect of the campaign to get people interested in PCCs. We can confirm that it’s not working. Anyway, in addition to the candidates’ biographies, it also has some general information about the role of Police and Crime Commissioner and a statement by the County’s returning officer. Electors of Radlett, contain yourselves.


Hertsmere General Election preview, part two

The Liberal Democrats

Liberal Democrat Party leader Ed Davey in front of a big fake clock with the words 'Time's Up for Rishi Sunak' on it. Behind the clock a groupf of Liberal supporters holding placards
Tick tock

Part one of this guide to the general election in Hertsmere, about the fringe parties, is here.

Okay, now it’s getting interesting. The next general election is still an unknown number of months away. It can’t be later than 28 January 2025, though, and the Prime Minister says he assumes it’ll be in the second half of this year. For some reason he’s explicitly ruled out 2 May 2024. Here in the Hertsmere constituency candidates are coming out of the woodwork (although only two have got as far as submitting their papers). We understand that Oliver Dowden, our MP, will stand again. Or at least that his constituency party has re-selected him – but there’s nothing official yet.

Reform Party Parliamentary candidate Darren Selkus
Darren Selkus, Reform Party candidate

Last year we published the first in a series of general election guides, introducing the fringe parties (taking in all the wannabes and also-rans and going all the way back to the independent Communists and the Natural Law Party). Darren Selkus, army veteran and CEO of an East London wood veneer company, who made it into the national press when he stood for the party’s earlier incarnation, the Brexit Party, in Essex in 2019, had already announced (on Twitter/X obvs) that he’s standing for the Reform Party (not so fringe these days) and he’s actually submitted his papers.

The Liberals chose their candidate last year and she is now also officially on the ballot. Two candidates have come forward for selection by Labour – one who used to be in the army and one who used to be on Gogglebox. Labour Party members in Hertsmere will be choosing their candidate at a meeting on 19 March (more about Labour in the next part of this four-part guide).

In other news

In May 2023 we learnt that Georgia Elliott-Smith, a sustainability consultant, was going to stand in Hertsmere for Gina Miller’s True & Fair Party, founded in 2021. Miller was going to be coming to Hertsmere to launch a campaign in June. We’re pretty sure this didn’t happen. Elliott-Smith’s candidacy was never formalised and she’s not listed on the True & Fair Party’s web site. Her LinkedIn makes no mention of True & Fair. Oh dear.

Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised. It probably seemed like a good idea at the time but, in the space of a few years, the whole Miller project has gone from slightly ridiculous but quite influential to slightly ridiculous and, well, irrelevant. Gina Miller has said that there’ll be nine True & Fair candidates in the general election and the party is obviously still active but we’re going to go out on a limb and say the list of five candidates on the party’s web site might shrink a bit further as the election approaches.

Nothing from the Greens yet. They’ve put up candidates at the last two general elections and, before that, in 2010. One might argue that standing in Hertsmere would be a pointless exercise for a party so unlikely to win but they’ve announced they’ll be standing in every seat in England and Wales in the general election – a critical rite of passage for a party with national ambitions.

So, in this post, we’ll cover the Liberal Democrats. Next it’ll be Labour (the selection battle will be out of the way by then) and then, finally, we’ll consider the candidacy of the incumbent, Oliver Dowden, and the history of the Tories in Hertsmere (the blue line along the top of the graph).

A tale of woe

Every general election in Hertsmere since the constituency was created.

The Liberals in Hertsmere could have been contenders. In the first two elections of the constituency’s history – before they’d absorbed the SDP and were still just Liberals – the party was the second-largest in Hertsmere. It can’t be coincidental that the party’s decline here began at the following election – 1992. Liberal Democrat vote share here fell from the mid-twenties into the teens for the period until 2015 and then, precipitously, again, to between five and six percent in 2015 and 2017. Sophie Bowler, who stood in 2015, managed to secure the party’s lowest vote ever in the constituency and fourth place behind UKIP, although this might have had something to do with the fact that she was just too busy to do any campaigning. The party’s national collapse in this period, which came after the catastrophic coalition period, was the largest recorded since 1931 (and that was the Liberals too). In 2019 the party recovered somewhat and candidate Stephen Barrett, business manager in a local school, recorded a 12.6% share.

Hertsmere Liberal candidates over the years:
Stephen Barrett (2019) – secondary school business manager.
Joe Jordan (2017) – software engineer.
Sophie Bowler (2015) – compliance officer at a financial firm
Anthony Rowlands (2010)
Jonathan Davies (2005)
Paul Thompson (2001)
Ann Gray (1997)
Laurence Brass (1987) – now a Hertfordshire County Councillor.
Zerbanoo Gifford (1983 and 1992) – human rights campaigner.

We’re pretty sure that only one of these candidates has their own Wikipedia entry and that’s Zerbanoo Gifford, a veteran human rights campaigner.

Return to influence?

So, in the history of the Hertsmere Parliamentary constituency, the Liberal Democrats have gone from contender to influential third party to basically irrelevant and – they must be hoping – back to some measure of influence. The only way is up. Of 13 Parliamentary by-election gains since 2019, four have been for the Lib-Dems (against seven for Labour, one for the Tories and one for George Galloway’s Workers Party). This pattern is likely to repeat in the next GE. The Electoral Calculus average of opinion polls suggests the Lib-Dems could win 40 or more seats nationally – five or six times the party’s 2019 low of eight seats, although their projection for Hertsmere is not quite so positive for the party and puts Reform substantially ahead of the Liberals.

Projection of general election result in the Hertsmere parliamentary constituency from Electoral Calculus in March 2024. Shows Conservative with 71% chance of winning, Labour 29%, all other parties 0%
Electoral Calculus projects that the Liberal vote in Hertsmere will fall by over 40% and gives the party a 0% chance of winning. Ouch.

So one of the LibDems’ new seats won’t be Hertsmere, but a good share of the vote here would put them back in a position to influence the outcome. The Liberal candidate thinks she’s the natural recipient of tactical votes. With Reform also surging there’s even a small chance that the Conservative vote will be squeezed enough to give Labour a go here. But when we say a small chance we mean a very, very small chance. We’ve only seen one – very extreme – projection of a Tory collapse that gives Labour Hertsmere (remember, even in the 1997 Labour landslide Hertsmere stayed firmly Tory – you can see how close they came in the graph above). Electoral Calculus gives the Tories a 71% chance of a win in Hertsmere, even with the party at 18% in the polls.

The candidate

Emma Matanle, Liberal Democrat candidate for the Hertsmere Parliamentary constituency. Head-and-shoulder portrait against multiple Liberal Democrats placards. She's smiling and wearing a gree velvert jacket and black roll-neck top
Emma Matanle, Liberal Democrat candidate for Hertsmere

Emma Matanle was chosen as candidate for Hertsmere in March of last year. She’s very much a contemporary Liberal politician. Back when the Liberals were the party of free trade, individual liberty and progress, Liberal Parliamentary candidates used to be businessmen or sometimes University lecturers, Methodist firebrands, even the occasional working class radical. The party of freethinkers still attracts the odd outsider and eccentric (also the occasional certifiable loon) – and we love them for it – but it’s essentially now a bog-standard, and honestly rather charmless, party of the technocratic political centre, a category that’s been under a lot of pressure thanks to the populist turn worldwide but which survives in Britain thanks, mainly, to first-past-the-post voting.

Matanle’s LinkedIn (it’s a requirement for a contemporary politician to have an up-to-date LinkedIn profile) says that she’s currently writing briefings for the Local Government Information Unit, a membership body that does research for local authorities in the UK and elsewhere. We’re not 100% sure what writing briefings involves but it sounds like excellent preparation for 21st Century politics.

Conservative MPs are still, typically, entrepreneurs, lawyers, stock brokers, bankers and landowners (also hedge fund managers, of course). Further to the left they mostly now come from NGOs, charities, consultancies and think-tanks. In Labour it still occasionally happens that a working-class candidate makes it all the way to the Commons but in the Liberal Democrats this never happens. The party is essentially an entirely middle-class and professional entity.

That’s not to say that they won’t occasionally win in working-class seats – they’ll do so in the South West of England – but the membership is now all middle class and the elected politicians are from what is often now called the Professional Managerial Class – the credentialled elite who basically run all of our institutions. For a mainstream political party this is not necessarily a bad thing. The middle class might be skint but it’s still a large and influential group. A party that only appeals to this group – to the interests of school teachers, middle managers and small business-owners – can and will win elections, especially in the more prosperous South of England, although probably not in Hertsmere.

Our Liberal Parliamentary candidate, Emma Matanle, is from this new heartland. She’s spent time at the UN and at Chatham House (a hawkish international relations think-tank). She’s a qualified lawyer and a councillor in St Albans, volunteers for the Scouts and stood for Parliament once before, in South West Bedfordshire in 2019, polling a very respectable 10.2% of the vote, reflecting the same post-coalition recovery in the Liberal Democrat vote seen nationally in that general election.


How to keep tabs on your MP

Right at the base of our democracy is the idea of representation. We send our MPs to Westminster to vote on our behalf. How they vote is our business.

Of course, once they get to Westminster they usually become ridiculous figures – and they quite soon join one of the two available categories. They’re either pompous, wounded egomaniacs or grasping, bitter kleptomaniacs. This seems harsh but there are really hardly any exceptions. The number of MPs who make it through even their first term without some kind of psychic damage is tiny. Our electoral system favours dweebs and maniacs. The system shrugs off the normies – they’re gone after their first term – back to accountancy or running a charity with a disease in its name. These are the sane ones.

Anyway, here at Radlett Wire we’ve been keeping an eye on our MP – The Rt Hon Oliver Dowden CBE, MP for Hertsmere – since he was elected in May 2015, displacing his predecessor James Clappison in one of those cold-blooded political assassinations the Tory Party is uniquely good at. It’s not clear yet to which category Dowden belongs. It sometimes takes decades for this to become obvious. We’ll keep you informed. Here’s how we keep up with him.

Oliver Dowden acceptance speech 2017. Photo from Hertsmere democracy team.
Oliver Dowden addresses the crowds after winning in 2017 by a majority of 16,951

Start here. Veteran social enterprise They Work For You maintains the best database of your MP’s voting record as well as a useful summary of their position on the most important issues. Over the years, the site has quietly become an integral part of the British electoral machine. MPs who initially resented it because it makes emailing your MP too easy have now adjusted to the flow of communications and take it for granted. You can sign up to get an email alert every time your MP does something interesting in Parliament.

Scene inside the Houses of Parliament in Westminster. Chaotic cables and piping under a low ceiling. A sign reads: No access unauthorised Respiratory equipment and overalls must be worn
Asbestos, rotting cables, leaking pipes.

Go to the source. Parliament may be falling down but its digital systems are a genuine wonder – and a model for Parliaments and assemblies around the world. It’s easy to call up your MP’s speeches in the house, questions for the Prime Minister, contributions to select committees, the works. You can also watch Parliamentary debates live while in session, debates in Westminster Hall and there’s an archive of video from committee sessions going back to 2007.

Set up a Google alert. The absolute backbone of lazy Internet research. There must be a billion live alerts running worldwide. Search for what you’re interested in, turn it into an email alert, set the frequency and level of detail. Simple. Our daily alert for ‘Oliver Dowden‘ is vital to this blog and regularly produces unexpected gems. For instance, Dowden, in his role as a senior Cabinet Office Minister, is responsible for enforcing the rules on foreign investments in UK businesses. The system was set up to impede the Chinese takeover of swathes of British industry – mainly because this is a big policy priority for our American allies. It’s a total mess, of course, and entirely ineffective, so Dowden is now planning an embarrassing u-turn but we’d have known nothing about any of it without our trusty Google alert.

An official photograph of Oliver Dowden MP with a British Army captain's hat crudely photoshopped onto his head
Captain Dowden

Pay attention to what they say. Dowden’s web site is pretty good. You can sign up for his ‘end of term report’ and read his columns for various local freesheets. None of this is very interesting, of course – in fact it’s almost the definition of paralysingly boring – but it’ll give you a sense of your MP’s priorities.

Socia media remains vital. Politicians are still active on X (formerly known as Twitter) and on Facebook. Some of the more adventurous have built audiences on Instagram and TikTok (do you remember Matt Hancock’s smartphone app, inventively called ‘Matt Hancock’, dating from back when he was just a figure of fun, before he became a Shakespearean farce?). You’ll often find politicians publishing statements, resignation letters and endorsements on social media without publishing them anywhere else. The platforms have become a proxy for a press office and the nearest we’ve got to an archive. During the Pincher affair we recorded over 70 resignation letters published on Twitter alone.

Subscribe. Most web sites still offer their content in a vintage format that many consider to be the last non-evil thing on the Internet. It’s called RSS and it allows to you add a feed to a simple reader app on your mobile or your computer and automatically get updates whenever new content is added. We’ve got one here at Radlett Wire and we’ve even got a niche feed for our MP. Add one or both to your RSS reader for ultimate convenience. RSS is still used extensively by journalists and researchers. It’s kind of a trade secret. Don’t tell anyone.


  • Our favourite RSS reader, now that Google Reader has gone, is a Mac app called Reeder. There are plenty of others – for all platforms.

Shall we fire this thing up again?

There’s an election coming. We can feel the electricity in the air.

A three-quarter-length portrait, taken in the light from a window in a long room at Windsor Castle in 2023 by photographer Hugo Burn and shows His Majesty King Charles III wearing the Royal Navy uniform of an Admiral of the Fleet and official medals and decorations. He leans on a small table, his sailor's cap and white gloves on the table.
This is not Oliver Dowden, it’s the King in a sailor’s uniform. That’ll be £8 Million.

We haven’t posted here for seven months. We took a break and meanwhile, you may have noticed, the world got even more dark and weird. But Rishi Sunak says his ‘working assumption’ is that we’ll have a general election in the second half of this year so the politics is about to get a bit more interesting (and then there’s the polling). Maybe it’s time to start blogging again.

So what’s our MP actually been up to?

In the intervening period, Oliver Dowden, who was appointed Deputy Prime Minister by Rishi Sunak after Dominic Raab resigned in April of last year (there was another bullying scandal. We know, it’s really hard to keep up). Dowden remains Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Secretary of State in the Cabinet Office and has continued to excel as a bagman, flitting from studio to studio, mopping up after everyone from Peter Bone to Boris Johnson to Suella Braverman (remember her?) to Michel Mone to the boss himself and picking up salient issues as they hit the inbox – strikes, Artificial Intelligence (for designing bioweapons and for getting rid of surplus civil servants) and Chinese takeovers of UK businesses, for instance. He’s got bit parts in the Covid Inquiry and in the Post Office scandal, of course (we could include definitely not covering up for a rapist in the Conservative Party, asking Netflix to tell everyone The Crown is made-up, casually snubbing the Greek Prime Minister and more-or-less constantly complaining about Gary Lineker but honestly this list is getting a bit long).

We don’t want to be too dismissive. Dowden did collide with a few big issues along the way – he addressed the UN about Ukraine, spoke for the government on the Gaza protests and called a Cobra meeting about the terror threat. The fact that Oliver Dowden actually ran the country for a few days during the Summer holidays may or may not fill you with dread.

Untouched by scandal

None of this is what you’d call inspiring is it? But this constant focus on the political nitty-gritty and selflessly stepping up to defend the indefensible when asked to has obviously served Dowden well. No detectable scandal (that 25 grand payment barely gets him into the top 50 MPs), no public shaming, he’s not been asked to leave via the back door of Number 10 once yet. Classic teflon.

The boss is back

A departure for the ages

It must be, er, bewildering (Upsetting? Galling?) for Oliver Dowden to see his first political boss David Cameron, who departed the scene like a thief in the night (humming) in 2016, actually re-entering government via the back door, though. In a just world Dowden would have eclipsed his sensei by now but, tragically, he finds himself down the table from the old Etonian again. It must be maddening, especially as Cameron didn’t even have to go to the trouble of getting elected this time – he just strolled into the House of Lords and picked up his ermine (and his £104,360 per year salary).

Perfectly normal

Head-and-shoulders portrait photograph of Azerbaijani leader Ilham Aliyev in an ornate frame. He's wearing a black suit, white shirt and dark blue tie. He sits against a flag and emblem of Azerbaijan

So, let’s get to that portrait of the King. Oliver Dowden has chosen a photograph of Charles III wearing the uniform of an Admiral of the Fleet, with the many medals and insignia he has earned in that role, taken in one of his castles. It’s A3-sized and comes in an oak frame1. If you represent a ‘public authority’ you can get one for nothing (you just have to send an email). What you’re required to do with it is not specified – although we assume you’re supposed to hang it on the wall in the lobby, like they do in Azerbaijan. The cost to tax-payers is expected to be £8 Million. And we’re all going to carry on acting like this is a perfectly normal thing for the government of a democracy to do in 2024.

YouGov MRP poll - chart with text that reads: Labour would win 120-seat majority if election were held tomorrow. Median seat count estimates in latest YouGov MRP, based on modelled responses from 14,110 British adults. Chart shows 385 seats for Labour and 202 seats for Conservative.
For a Tory MP this is what gets you updating your LinkedIn in January 2024

In our next post we’ll look at the recent polling, including last week’s allegedly hyper-accurate MRP poll, commissioned by Lord David Frost and paid for by a shadowy group calling itself The Conservative Britain Alliance (the Electoral Commission wants to know who they are), that’s put the fear of God into Tory MPs and triggered this week’s frenzied (and highly entertaining) festival of recrimination and panic in the corridors and meeting rooms of the House of Commons and CCHQ.


  1. Some people have raised concerns about the little camera at the top of the picture frame. We’re pretty sure you can just put a bit of tape or a Post-It Note over it, although we’re not sure if that’s actually allowed. ↩︎
  • As a Cabinet Office minister, Oliver Dowden remains responsible for the government’s 22-person propriety and ethics team – he’s this guy‘s boss. It’s still not clear what they actually do.
  • We’re urged to recognise Lord Cameron’s selfless devotion to duty. He’s promised not to collect his daily £342 House of Lords attendance allowance while collecting his £104,360 per year ministerial salary, for instance, and he’s had to give up the enormous sums he’s been earning as a consultant and adviser in the private sector. In every year since he resigned he’s claimed the allowance for former Prime Ministers – the Public Duty Costs Allowance (PDCA) – which runs to a maximum of £115,000 per year and it’s not known if he’ll continue to claim it now that he’s a minister. Meanwhile, the Serious Fraud Office hasn’t finished investigating the affairs of his former employer Greensill Capital, where Cameron’s salary was £720,000 per year (he was also given shares in the company and sold them just before it went bust for £3.3M)
  • At Radlett Wire we’re convinced that there’s some value in keeping an eye on the conduct of a local MP – especially in a constituency like ours that’s been dominated by one party since its creation forty years ago. It’s one of the worthwhile things that local blogs all over the country still do. We’ve grouped all the Dowden posts together with the tag #DowdenLog. You can use an RSS reader to subscribe to the blog or just to our gripping Oliver Dowden updates. If you follow Radlett Wire on Twitter/X, on Facebook and now in the Fediverse (search for @blog@radlettwire.co.uk on Mastodon or your favourite ActivtyPub service) we’ll also share every Dowden post there.

Dowden steps up

For the Deputy Prime Minister, our MP, it’s time to become part of the story.

A composite image of Conservative MP Oliver Dowden, wearing a surgical mask and floating against a virtual reality background
Oliver Dowden floating in some kind of dimensionless alternate reality

You’re a successful politician, you’ve played the game, moved with the populist times, you’ve gone to America and come back an anti-woke crusader. You’ve picked your allies carefully. More to the point, you’ve measured out your support for the big beasts cleverly and you’ve not really put a foot wrong. In a cabinet stuffed with chancers and bullies and weirdos you’re practically a saint. But you’re stuck in the second tier and the clock is ticking. What to do?

Oliver Dowden’s come a long way from speech-writer and trouble-shooter in David Cameron’s office while his party was in opposition. He’s developed a reputation for political savvy and good timing. He’s moved around the fringes of power, taking up various important bagman roles and he’s never disgraced himself. But there’s less than a year to go before the most likely date for the next general election and Dowden must get a move on if he’s to make an impact before he’s back on the opposition benches and kissing babies at the fair.

He’s clocking up valuable hours at the despatch box and cultivating an implausible new ‘working class’ image (although he must realise that if it’s not possible for the leader of the Labour Party, it definitely won’t work for him).

So it’s easy enough to understand why he’s decided now’s the time to pick sides in the war of succession between Johnson and Sunak. Johnson’s allies are briefing that Dowden is the source of the leaked diary entries that kicked off the latest chapter of Johnson’s unconscionable persecution. They’re calling Dowden a ‘compliant tool of the blob‘. It’s game on.

And if you’re going to step into history, to become more than a footnote in the big monographs that will be written about the period you need to act. Dowden’s fervent hope is that taking his opposition to the Johnson faction up a gear and cementing himself more firmly to Project Sunak, he’ll secure a bigger job and a more important role, closer to the elemental core of Britain’s crown-constitutional weirdness, when the wheel turns and the Tories are re-instated, as they surely will be, to their natural leadership position in the fullness of time.

Hertsmere General Election preview, part one

The fringe parties

Nigel Farage raises a glass of red wine and his eyebrows in the green room at an episode of BBC Radio 4's Any Questions in Hurstpierpoint on 5 May 2017. He's wearing a blue suit and tie
“Fringe? Moi?”

Calm down. The general election could be as far away as 28 January 2025. It could be a lot sooner, though. Now that the Fixed Term Parliament Act is no more and Prime Ministers may call elections whenever they want, subject to the maximum term, the element of surprise is back. May 2024 looks good because it would coincide with some local elections. Earlier than that wouldn’t give the Conservatives time to claw back enough of Labour’s polling lead – which has been diminishing across the last few months but still stands at 16% or 200 seats. September 2024 is probably the latest it’ll practically happen. The unknown is how Rishi Sunak is feeling on any given day. Our money is on 2 May 2024.

Candidates have to submit nomination papers if they want to stand but they won’t be asked to do so until after Parliament is dissolved, so you’ve got plenty of time to raise the deposit if you feel like standing. Local parties are already selecting and adopting candidates. Oliver Dowden got the good news from his local party last month (Boris Johnson a month before that).

In Hertsmere, in addition to the incumbent, we now know about one other candidate for the 2024 general election. Darren Selkus, army veteran and CEO of an East London wood veneer company, has announced (on Twitter obvs) that he’s going to stand for election, for the Reform Party, successor to the Brexit Party and offspring of UKIP (Selkus stood for the party in the Hertsmere Borough Council election last week and polled 53 votes). If Mr Selkus does manage to get his papers in to stand in Hertsmere, he’ll be far from the first candidate from the populist right to do so, of course.

This post will be the first of our General Election previews and we’ll use it to discuss the fringe and populist parties that have stood in Hertsmere since it came into being in 1983. In later posts we’ll tell the stories of the bigger parties in the constituency.

The Referendum Party

A smiling Sir James Goldsmith campaigning for his Referendum Party at the 1997 UK general election. Behind him a party banner and a union flag

Buccaneer businessman, James Goldsmith – a man who, while still at Eton, won £250,000 in today’s money on the horses and promptly left school, a man who was a billionaire in the seventies, way before it was cool – started the Referendum Party in 1994, several years after Alan Sked founded the party that would become UKIP, but Goldsmith’s party will be remembered as the originator of the idea of a popular vote on EU membership. While UKIP was still a nerdy ginger group, Sir James was busy sending VHS tapes to five million British households (you’ve probably got one in your loft).

The Referendum Party was the absolute OG eurosceptic party, setting the tone for the two decades of populist tumult that would follow. Goldsmith’s party polled 1,703 votes in Hertsmere in 1997 and in the general election beat UKIP in almost every seat where both stood. The party’s programme looked pretty kooky back then but who’s laughing now? Goldsmith died later in the same year, the party disbanded and, well, the rest is history…

BNP

Photograph of British National party leader making a speech in front of a BNP union flag logo

Fast forward to the high-water mark for anti-immigration sentiment at the end of Labour’s 13 years in office. Immigration had increased steadily under Labour and a surge in asylum applications caused by the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq had put Blair and later Brown on the back foot (there was discussion of withdrawing from the ECHR). Local man Daniel Seabrook polled 1,397 votes for the British National Party in Hertsmere in May 2010, a few months after Nick Griffin, the party’s leader, made his controversial appearance on the BBC’s Question Time. In this period the party held 50 council seats and in 2009 won over a million votes in the EU Parliamentary elections and sent two MEPs, including Griffin, to Strasbourg, where the party joined with other European racist and nationalist parties in the formation of a new group, the Alliance of European National Movements. The BNP had been founded in 1982 by former members of the National Front and has subsequently, at least in electoral terms, disappeared entirely – a measure, let’s face it, of how thoroughly the party’s bitter, hateful worldview has been absorbed by more mainstream parties.

UKIP

The United Kingdom Independence Party, thirty years old this year, is a paradox. A party that, like other parties on this list, has now more-or-less disappeared but can make a reasonable claim to being the most important UK political party of the last twenty years and is responsible, in a pretty direct way, for one of the most consequential changes in modern British history. A party that’s never had more than two Westminster MPs but turned British politics upside-down and routinely polled millions of votes in general elections. A party that, at its peak, had Britain’s fifth largest membership but has now been reduced to a bitter, anti-woke husk that can barely fill a village hall (but supports Hyperloop).

UKIP first stood in Hertsmere in 2010 and, in 2015, candidate Frank Ward, a local councillor who, nearly thirty years earlier, had won almost 20% of the vote for Labour, achieved a pretty decent 6,383 votes, a high-water mark and more than twice the Liberal Democrat vote in that election. Ward’s breakthrough was, of course, part of a national surge that saw the party win 3.8 Million votes, making UKIP comfortably the third largest party in the UK. In the 2014 European Parliament elections, UKIP won more votes than all other UK parties and 24 seats in the Parliament. You know what happened next.

It’s been downhill since then, of course. In 2017 the UKIP vote in Hertsmere was cut to 1,564 and in 2019 the party didn’t stand at all. UKIP limps on, with a policy platform that looks more like the BNP’s than the old UKIP’s, and won a total of zero seats in the local elections (losing 25) last week. The party now has no elected positions anywhere in the UK and is led by one-time Tory Minister Neil “Cash for Questions” Hamilton.

The Brexit Party

You’ll remember the Brexit Party, Nigel Farage’s one-policy, post-referendum party, which had a short and checkered history and absolutely smashed it in the last ever UK election for the European Parliament. The party made an awkward, unreciprocated deal with the Conservatives and, as a result, stood down in hundreds of Conservative constituencies for the 2019 GE, including ours. Farage moved on and the Brexit Party became the Reform Party.

The Reform Party

Richard Tice

At last week’s local elections the party that grew out of the Brexit Party “struggled to make headway”, as they say in the media. They wound up with a total of six council seats in England and Wales and, where they stood, they averaged 6% of the vote. In Hertsmere candidates in Potters Bar and Shenley managed a total of 130 votes. Nationally, the party’s founder Nigel Farage has lost interest and President Richard Tice has somewhat sunk from view, although he can be seen on Talk TV fairly regularly.

In Britain, the rigid FPTP electoral system obviously doesn’t favour minority parties and, as a consequence, they tend not to bother developing detailed policy programmes. There’s not much incentive to workshop a forty-page manifesto when you’ll never ever get a chance to implement it.

Slide from a Reform Party presentation about economics:
EXECUTIVE SUMMARY – REFORM UK SOLUTION
• BIG, BOLD, EFFECTIVE - £74 bn stimulus:
• Cut tax – zero income tax below £20k / year = save almost £1,500 /year per person
• Cut cost of living by reducing other taxes:
• Scrap VAT on energy bills = save £100 / year per household
• Scrap environmental levies = save £160 / year per household
• Reduce fuel duty by 20p / litre = save £240 / year per driver
• Cut wasteful Govt spending – save £5 in £100 = £55 billion per year
• Reduce VAT from 20% to 18% - save £300 / year per household
• Unlock Shale Gas Treasure: £1 trillion + of levelling up, by drilling down - will cut bills

So it’s interesting that Reform’s policy platform is quite well-developed. It looks a lot like those of some other European populist parties. The economics is interventionist and broadly expansionary, there’s a plan to invest in the NHS and it’s all costed and funded in some detail. As you’d expect there’s a lot of emphasis on tax cuts and energy independence. Immigration comes up but is not the primary concern. Although they’re probably due an update, the party’s four missions don’t look too different from the big parties’ (and no mention of ‘woke’).

Four-part platform of the UK Reform Party:
Lower Taxes
Secure Borders
CheaperEnergy
Zero Waiting Lists

So, if the Reform Party stands in Hertsmere, what are their prospects? Well, they don’t look too good. The current government’s policy platform sits squarely on the populists’ lawn – ticking all the boxes, especially the big one labelled ‘small boats’.

The always fascinating Electoral Calculus actually projects a 7.1% share for the Reform Party in Hertsmere, better than for the The Green Party, but still gives the Tories a 67% chance of winning.

Reclaim?

There’s another right-wing party we should look at, not least because this party has just done what the others on this list have rarely achieved and acquired for itself an actual MP.

A black and white photograph of Laurence Fox wering combat camouflage, from the Reclaim Party web site. The text 'your freedom, reclaim it' is overlaid.

You might say that Laurence Fox’s Reclaim is not quite a party. It may have leapfrogged the electoral process into Parliament but it doesn’t yet have a policy platform. When the party’s leader does get an opportunity to communicate his priorities, it’s essentially 100% anti-vax and anti-woke. If Reform resembles a scaled-down Fidesz or a Brothers of Italy, serious parties of the populist right, with programmes and long-term ambitions, Reclaim resembles a protest group, formed in the tendentious shouting match of social media – and, if we’re honest, more of a vehicle for its charismatic leader than a movement. The ‘leadership’ page lists only one person and that person’s photograph appears three times on the homepage. The manifesto is inchoate. Here’s the whole thing:

The political platform of the UK Reclaim Party - text under six categories: free speech, sovereignty, a dynamic economy, power of the state, rule of law and equality
The entire policy platform of Laurence Fox’s Reclaim Party

It’s worth keeping an eye on Reclaim, though, the party has already attracted substantial funding from the usual billionaires and with a Westminster seat we can expect the money to continue to flow. Don’t rule out a rash of Reclaim Parliamentary candidates in 2024.

The Greens

A large group of Green Party campaigners gathered for a portrait with placards

Is it fair to put the Green Party on this list, in between the loons and the lefties? Perhaps not. They have managed to get one MP elected – unlike almost everyone else in this post (no, Laurence, Andrew Bridgen does not count) – and they have, to an important degree, set the agenda in metropolitan Britain and in Scotland for some years. They’re like the anti-UKIP – a party of huge emotional and cultural relevance to a big chunk of the electorate but with not the slightest chance of winning a general election.

Of course, with net zero now official policy for all the major parties, the Greens might fear that they’re beginning to look a bit redundant. And now that, out of the blue, trans rights has become a wedge ‘culture wars’ issue for general and national elections, the party’s principled stance on the issue might turn into a serious electoral risk that it’s hard to mitigate, as it has for the SNP.

The Greens first stood in Hertsmere in 2010. Candidate Arjuna Krishna-Das polled 604 votes – not at all bad for a first try (although it was less than half the BNP vote). The candidate disappeared for the next election, though, and in 2015 there was no Green candidate at all in Hertsmere. We looked into it at the time and learnt that Krishna-Das had – confusingly – defected to a ‘counter-jihad’ UKIP spin-off calling itself Liberty GB, an outfit that has now so thoroughly disappeared its own web site has been taken over by spammers.

Since the Green Party returned to the ballot in Hertsmere it’s been all good news. The party added c 50% to its vote in 2017 and nearly doubled that in 2019. Electoral Calculus projects another doubling for the GE, so that must be encouraging. What’s fascinating about the Greens in Britain though, is how urban they are. The party evidently does have rural support but, even in areas like ours, where big chunks of the countryside are threatened by developers, they’re not strongly identified with opposition to building on the green belt and certainly aren’t seen as standing for the big rural or suburban causes.

It’s a confirmation, if needed, that the Green Party is really a party of the young and of the university-educated and not of the people who actually occupy the green bits of the country. Having said that, the party now controls its first council and it’s a pretty rural one.

Communists and socialists

A red hammer and sickle motif

The fringe parties aren’t always on the right, of course. In 1983, the year the constituency came into being and the year of Margaret Thatcher’s second landslide, a candidate standing as an Independent Communist won 1,116 votes in Hertsmere. We’ve long been puzzled by this fact – that there were, apparently, over a thousand communists in this prosperous part of the Home Counties at around the high point of Thatcherism, but we did eventually notice that the candidate’s name, Ronald Parkinson, was pretty close to the name of the winning Conservative candidate, Minister and confidant of the Prime Minister Cecil Parkinson. Since then we’ve been advising fringe candidates in Hertsmere to change their names.

James Dry stood twice for the Socialist Labour Party in Hertsmere, in 2001 and 2005, polling over 500 votes on his second try. The party, founded and led to this day by one-time miners’ leader Arthur Scargill, stood in 114 Parliamentary constituencies in 2001 but a split in the party that year, over the matter of support for relations with comrades in North Korea (we kid you not), diminished its standing. The party hasn’t put up a candidate since 2010 but continues to campaign for the reopening of the coal mines.

Even further out

A group of men wearing Natural Law Party t-shirts participate in yogic flying
Cutting crime

We’ve saved our favourite till last. In the early nineties, the worldwide Transcendental Meditation movement saw fit to start a transnational political party, the Natural Law Party. The idea was to apply the principles of TM, including the magical practice of yogic flying, to social and political problems. The party stood in at least 74 countries and even put up a candidate for President of the United States. In Britain the lavishly-funded party stood in every single Parliamentary seat and did so twice. In Hertsmere the party never did better than 373 votes (and we suspect the movement’s connections with Hare Krishna may have contributed to that total). The party’s presence across the country gave it access to TV election advertising and its broadcasts caused much amusement, not to say consternation. In this one, UK party leader Geoffrey Clements claims, for instance, that the yogic flyers had already reduced the crime rate in Liverpool and improved exam results across the whole country (he doesn’t address the fact that, if it’s possible for TM to improve things so much before they’ve been elected, there doesn’t seem to be a good reason to vote for them).

It’s tempting to think that what we need now, at this fractious time, is another political party that can solve deep social problems by the power of thought alone and without going to all the trouble of being elected.

Onwards and sideways!

Oliver Dowden is the consummate bagman. A loyal and effective consigliere. Always at the service of the leader, always ready.

Official portrait of MP and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Oliver Dowden at a desk with two union flags behind him
Oliver “Two Flags” Dowden at a desk

We’ve written here before about Dowden’s progress around the fringes of the Cabinet. This time he’s been asked to add the role of Deputy Prime Minister to the already very long job description of Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. For a Prime Minister to appoint a deputy is often a way to reward loyalty or to shore up an uncertain leadership by bringing in an ally. Dowden’s appointment ticks both boxes – he’s been a loyal supporter of Sunak since his resignation from Johnson’s cabinet last Summer and is considered a member of the PM’s inner circle (Dowden was on the doorstep in Bushey this weekend with Sunak’s wife, Britain’s most famous non-dom Akshata Murty).

Deputy Prime Ministers come and go. It’s a job title that’s in the gift of the Prime Minister and can be switched on and off at will (the first one was Clement Attlee during the war) It doesn’t attract a salary (Dowden will still be pulling down the £158,257 he makes for his current roles, though, so don’t worry) and usually has no office. Sometimes a deputy PM can have a more formal role. Nick Clegg, you’ll remember, led his half of the coalition from the Deputy’s office. Thérèse Coffey chaired two committees during her tenure as Deputy to Liz Truss last year (although it’s not recorded that they actually met – she wasn’t there for long). John “Two Jags” Prescott, a very visible (not to say pugilistic) Deputy, chaired nine.

A composite image of Conservative MP Oliver Dowden, wearing a surgical mask and floating against a virtual reality background
Oliver Dowden floating in some kind of dimensionless alternate reality

It’s probably safe to assume that Dowden won’t be taking on any committees or formal tasks while in the new job. He’s got plenty to be getting on with in the Cabinet Office – he’s in charge of freaking us all out, for instance. He’s also got a track record for taking on empty or nominal roles as needed. He’s in charge of the government’s anti-woke activity, for instance and, as far as we can tell, his Industrial Action Taskforce, assembled in November last year, has never actually met – or done anything at all, in fact.

As for Dowden’s personal prospects, he must be wondering whether he’ll ever make the jump from the lower tiers into one of the big jobs. So far he’s managed one full-ministerial role: he was Culture Secretary between 2020 and 2021 but he’ll probably now be remembered only as the man who appointed Richard Sharp Chairman of the BBC (new revelations about that in the Sunday Times this weekend). Oops.

Graph from Electoral Calculus polling company showing the UK general election opinion polling average between December 2019 and March 2023
Ouch

And the clock is ticking, of course. The polling looks bad. No matter what you think of the competence or authenticity of the Starmer Labour Party, a Tory win in 2024 has to be a long shot. Electoral Calculus, a polling company, calculates a rolling poll-of-polls – an average of all the public opinion polls. As of 22 April 2023 it suggests the Tories might slump from 365 to 113 seats (and a 95% probability of a Labour majority). Their best case prediction is for 244 Conservative seats, which would be better than Labour’s 2019 performance (203 seats) but would still put the Tories in second place.

A chart from the ELectoral Calculus polling company showing the number of seats predicted to be won by each party at the next UK general election, from February 2023
Double ouch

And that’s before you even get to the worst case. Electoral Calculus specialises in a clever statistical polling technique called MRP (multi-level regression and post stratification, since you asked) to calculate what are usually thought to be more accurate predictions – pundits and strategists always rush for the MRP projections. They did the last one in February (when the Tories were doing even worse than they are today, to be clear) and it suggests a grand total of 45 Conservative seats. In this scenario, the Tories aren’t even the official opposition and even Oliver Dowden loses his seat. Boom.

So if Dowden is to score one of the Great Offices of State he’ll need another fairly dramatic upset this side of the general election or he’ll need to bide his time. Really bide his time.

  • I made use of this terrific explainer about the Deputy Prime Minister role from the Institute for Government.
  • The Wikipedia entry for Deputy Prime Minister is fascinating – and goes into the various definitions of the role. Attlee, for instance, was de facto Deputy Prime Minister but never formally appointed. Michael Heseltine was the first to carry the formal title.