You have to wonder what a former party Co-Chairman gets up to during a turbulent time like this
He’s ready for Rishi. You already knew this. Oliver Dowden’s social media is saturated with Sunak endorsements. If there’s no Ministerial role for our MP in September it’ll be because the other weirdo won. Sunak may be weird but if you rose during the Cameron era like Dowden, he probably looks like the nearest the Conservative Party has to a normal human being right now – the anti-chaos candidate (but wait until Dowden hears about Sunak’s actual policies – don’t think our privet hedge guy is ready for ‘Charter Cities‘).
He ‘wielded the knife’. Johnson loyalists are making a list of MPs they think were instrumental in the Prime Minister’s fall. Dowden may have missed the Pinchergate action but he’s right at the top of the list anyway. Andrew Pierce, in his breathless Johnson panegyric in the Mail says “News of his resignation came through when the PM was in Rwanda. Boris knew immediately that Dowden had planned it in advance.”
He’s mixed up in a complicated anti-semitism scandal. We don’t pretend to understand this case but if you’re a local democracy nerd you may remember that back in April a QC-led internal Conservative Party inquiry into the abuse of a Jewish Labour Party candidate standing in Hertsmere concluded with reprimands for four Conservative Councillors and a local Agent for ‘enabling anti-semitism’. Jewish News quoted the findings, saying the five accused Conservatives were “party to a personal campaign against the claimant in relation to the 2020 by-election, and which continued for many months.”
According to Private Eye’s Rotten Boroughs column (which keeps an eye on local authority malfeasance), the Conservative Party’s disciplinary code was changed after the inquiry’s verdict to permit the reprimanded members to challenge their punishment. The Eye’s assumption is that, as Co-Chairman of the Party at the time, Dowden would likely have been well aware of these changes. Apparently the appeals lodged by the party members are ongoing.
Our MP was way out in front with his resignation from the Johnson government and may have been plotting against the PM for a while
It seems like a long time ago but it’s actually only a month since Oliver Dowden, MP for Hertsmere, resigned as Conservative Party Co-Chairman. And you’d be forgiven for forgetting that it wasn’t actually Pinchergate – the most recent crisis of Boris Johnson’s leadership – that induced his departure; it was the previous one – the catastrophic 23 June double byelection loss in Wakefield and Tiverton and Honiton.
Dowden’s resignation letter was a shock at the time and seemed out of character for such a loyal soldier: a short and blunt critique of the Prime Minister, out of the blue – “We cannot carry on with business as usual. Somebody must take responsibility…” A few weeks on it seems like a relatively mild intervention and, of course, it was only a preview of a flood of over 60 letters, sent by ministers and advisers and PPSs, in the three days between 5 and 7 July, once Johnson had provided the final push by trying to defend his terrible friend Pincher.
Meanwhile, Dowden came out for Rishi Sunak on 8 July, right at the beginning of the process, sharing the boilerplate social media endorsement given to him by Rishi’s team.
Dowden’s support for Sunak is not surprising. The former Chancellor seems to be the closest of the two surviving leadership candidates to the outlook of the pre-Johnson, pre-populist, pre-chaos administration of Theresa May – the panicky interregnum in which Sunak first saw office – and to the seemingly unending nightmare of the Cameron years in which Dowden did. Our MP’s journey – from Cameroonian moderniser to Johnsonite Culture Wars enforcer always seemed an uncomfortable one. Perhaps in supporting Sunak he is rejoining the Tory mainstream.
Street names are interesting aren’t they? A mix of impenetrable, often very ancient, labels for paths and byways that even precede the Roman names and much more modern, deliberately-applied names that often commemorate battles, statesmen, landowners and local dignitories. Sometimes it’s artists and writers. Round my way there’s a whole estate named after poets, which is lovely.
In British towns you might be forgiven for thinking it’s all about the Second Boer War – a particularly brutal war for land and resources fought in South Africa at the turn of the 20th Century that’s widely commemorated – especially in street names.
This particular war was an early ‘media war’ – covered in often uncompromising detail by star correspondents (including a young Winston Churchill) sent by the major newspapers – most of whom enthusiastically supported the British action against the two Boer republics on the other side. The new technology of the telegraph allowed vivid reports to be returned daily and the papers competed to carry the most gruesome descriptions of the fighting.
The names of battles won and lost, the soldiers who fought them and the places they fought over were all well known – much as we came to know the names of cities and battlefields in Iraq and Afghanistan – Fallujah, Basra, Helmand, Kunduz… And because the end of the Victorian period was a time of much housebuilding in Britain’s towns and suburbs it’s no surprise that there are dozens of Ladysmith Streets, Mafeking Roads and Kitchener Terraces all around the UK.
During the First World War the issue was different. Going to war with Germany, a nation with which many – including the Royal family – had close connections, produced new tensions. In the cities, for instance, many were unhappy about British streets that had German names. Some were summarily changed by patriotic Mayors and councils.
In 1916 the London County Council changed the name of Bismarck Road in Blackheath to Edith Cavell Way (Cavell was a nurse, captured and shot by German forces in Belgium in 1915). There’s a street in Stoke Newington called Beatty Road that used to be called Wiesbaden Road. Petitions were raised, questions asked in Parliament. Changing names didn’t become national policy though. In the House of Commons in 1918, faced with a bill to rename all street names of German origin, Leader of the House, Andrew Bonar Law (who, three years later, would become Prime Minister amid a scandal over payment for honours) said: ‘We are engaged, I think, in matters more important’.
Even so, in Leeds:
There are numerous cases in the Metropolitan area of sturdy patriotic British citizens having to live under German direction, so to speak, and the residents of thoroughfares with such pronouncedly Teutonic names as Bismarck, Wiesbaden, Gothenburg, Berlin, Stuttgart, and so on, naturally resent the objectionable denominations.
Streets with German Names, Leeds Mercury, November 11 1915
The Second World War seems to have produced fewer street renamings, perhaps because the German names had been removed 25 years earlier, but in Essex there’s an estate with roads named after Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin. The Falklands War is reflected in a scattering of street names as you’d imagine – there’s a Port Stanley Close on a new-build estate in Taunton. The 40th anniversary of the invasion might produce some new ones.
Some Nelson Mandela Streets, Squares (and Houses) arrived in the early 90s – mostly in communities where the campaign against apartheid had been at its most vigorous, where Mandela’s freedom meant most. That Mandela now sits alongside Kitchener on British street signs is appropriate – not least because in marking the final removal of the racist regime inserted under colonialism it brings the story of Britain’s involvement in South Africa full-circle.
And in Britain, street names are a battlefield again. Our MP, Co-Chairman of the Conservative Party and Minister without Portfolio Oliver Dowden, who has taken on the role of Kitchener in his Government’s Culture War, is back in the trenches.
In time for the May local elections (in which we will not participate, by the way – no elections in Hertsmere till next year) Dowden thinks there’s electoral mileage in taking on lefty councils. The main target is name changes proposed by Black Lives Matter groups and by those who think it’s incongruous that so many of our streets honour men who prospered from imperialism and slavery. There is a plan:
These proposals will give local residents a democratic check against the lefty municipal militants trying to cancel war heroes like Churchill and Nelson.
Under changes floated by Michael Gove’s Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government, local authorities would be required to hold a ‘mini-referendum’ amongst residents when a name change is proposed. This doesn’t seem to be a new proposal, though – and there’s no detail on the Ministry’s web site – so it’s likely that Dowden is re-upping November’s proposal to give neighbourhoods a say in planning changes.
But since Michael Gove himself has recently said that the Government has abandoned plans to bring forward the Planning Bill this provision was contained in, it’s most likely that Oliver Dowden’s referendum idea is electioneering, but it’s certainly fascinating to hear the language of ‘loony lefties’ and ‘municipal militants’ back in the public discourse, over thirty years on. The Mail has gone to the effort of creating an illustration to bring it all up to date:
So, if you’ve decided it would be noble to change the name of your street to Kyiv Crescent, you’ll need to make sure you’ve got the whole neigbourhood with you.
A dramatic result in Radlett’s EU constituency – East of England. A wipe-out for Labour and a big loss for the Tories. An amazing result for the Brexit Party, the Greens and the Lib Dems (oh, and UKIP essentially disappeared).
The Conservatives lost two of their three MEPs in our EU Parliamentary constituency, leaving them with one. The Liberal Democrats gained two seats – from zero last time around, Labour’s only MEP in the region has gone and the Greens have their first seat. The extraordinary factor here, as in so many other constituencies, is the performance of the Brexit Party – the largest party by a mile. The detail shows the scale of their win. Their vote in East of England is almost four times bigger than the Tories’.
Looking more locally, at the voting percentages for our council district – Hertsmere – there’s some fascinating detail. Turnout was 36.39% (compared with 36.4% for the East of England and 37% nationally. Across Europe, the figure exceeded 50% for the first time).
You can see that UKIP’s share of the vote has fallen by 26.3% to 2.7%. Lord Ashcroft’s fascinating post-election polling (an essential read after every important election these days) suggests that 68% of UKIP voters, at the national level, switched directly to Farage’s party, with most Brexit Party votes overall coming from 2017 Conservative voters. The Hertsmere numbers suggest slightly more of the UKIP voters switched and slightly fewer of the Tories. Instructive, though, to remember that UKIP’s vote in Hertsmere in the 2017 General Election was 3% (our full 2017 results post is here).
The Conservatives’ collapse in Hertsmere is dramatic but they’ve lost a substantially smaller share then at the National or East of England level, falling only 20 percentage points to 17.7%. Ashcroft’s numbers also suggest that almost 40% of the Lib Dem vote nationally came from 2017 Labour voters and a quarter from 2017 Tories.
In some ways the Green Party’s performance, both in Hertsmere and at the East of England level, is most interesting – their increase in vote share has been enough to get them just above the threshold for a single seat and they’ve essentially swapped places with Labour, whose share has fallen to just below the threshold, but the whole picture is so complex – somebody really did shake the kaleidoscope.
Nationally, it’s not so different. According to Laura Kuenssberg on the BBC election results programme, if the Conservatives had done this badly in a UK general election they’d have won no seats at all.
At the wider European level it’s been a good night for the far right – the largest parties in the Parliament from both France and Italy are now from what we would once have called the nationalist fringe – and for the Greens. The largest groups in the new Parliament are still from the socialist and centre right blocs but they no longer have a majority – this is going to be interesting.
Radlett is in the East of England constituency for the EU Parliamentary elections. We’ll send seven MEPs back to Brussels (and, for half the time, Strasbourg, of course). In 2014 the East of England elected these MEPs from three parties (full election results are on the BBC web site).
Our representation in the EU is already pretty patchy. Of the three UKIP MEPs on the list, only Stuart Agnew still represents the party. The others have defected to other parties. Vicky Ford no longer represents the Conservatives either: she is now a UK MP. And Richard Howitt retired in 2016. The European Parliament web site has the current line-up of MEPs. Whatever the outcome of today’s elections, the list of MEPs is going to look very different.
Candidates for today’s election are listed on the BBC web site. There are a lot of them – 54 individuals, representing nine political parties (one of these is an independent). The big parties all put forward seven candidates but you don’t vote for an individual, you vote for a party group. The voting system then takes over and assigns seats to parties according to their vote share.
MEPs are returned to the EU Parliament using a system chosen by each of the 28 member states. In Britain we use a proportional representation voting system (except in Northern Ireland) that’s called the D’Hondt system. The i Newspaper has an explainer. The count takes place on Sunday (most other member states are voting on Sunday) so we’ll have a result early on Monday.
Who to vote for, of course, is up to you. The polls put the Brexit Party out in front by a wide margin, wider even than UKIP’s big win in 2014. The two main parties are likely to take a beating, the Tories especially. What will be most interesting – given the odd, presumably short-term nature of this Parliament – is whether the anti-Brexit parties can put on as many votes as the pro-Brexit ones. If the outcome is an approximate balance of pro- and anti- votes – we’ll essentially be back where we were in June 2016. So much for resolving the Brexit conundrum!
In February and March of this year we ran the same poll again. We deliberately asked exactly the same question. It’s the same question, of course, that was printed on the ballot form at the referendum – “Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?”
The overall result increases the Remain margin substantially. If Radlett were to vote again now our poll suggests Remain would win by a comfortable 10% margin (Leave 45.2% – Remain 54.8%).
This time we added a question too: “Is this how you voted in the referendum?”, with possible answers: “Yes, this is how I voted in 2016” and “No, I’ve changed my mind since then.” A total of 11.1% of our respondents (26 individuals) say they have changed their minds about Brexit since they voted in the referendum. And nearly two-thirds of them switched from Remain to Leave. Now this is probably a fairly fragile number – would you admit to changing your mind about a really big decision like this? And the swing that it reveals towards Leave is obviously contradicted by the overall swing in our numbers towards Remain. So this number is likely to remain an intriguing detail rather than a particularly revealing insight
Small print: fewer people participated in our poll this time – 235 against 361 – and, of course, it’s not a valid opinion poll because participants are self-selecting. We can’t tell if the same people participated this time as last time and we can’t be 100% sure that everyone who voted was from Radlett (although we were able to eliminate duplicate votes and spam).
Does all this help us to understand how Radlett will vote in tomorrow’s EU Parliamentary elections? Probably not. For the EU vote the story looks simpler and – as is often the case with Brexit – more complicated at the same time. In this vote – one we were never meant to have – we’re likely to see a big swing to both pro-Brexit parties and anti-Brexit parties. That’ll be helpful, won’t it
About a week ago, just before the 2017 General Election, we asked you which local issues would motivate you to vote. We did this for the last election too, back in 2015.
So, in order of importance to you, here are the issues that got the Radlett electorate voting, with the 2015 position in italics and the number of votes for each issue (in brackets).
1. The NHS (140) – up from 3rd position
2. Local amenities (134) – up from 8
3. The freight terminal and the green belt (133) – down from number 1
4. Caring for the elderly (130) – up from 11
5. Crime and policing (130) – down from 4
6. Transport and commuting (129) – non-mover
7. Young people (129) – up from 9
8. Development in Radlett (121) – down from 2
9. The Newberries car park development (121) – new entry
10. Housing (120) – up from 12
9. Local business (117) – down from 7
10. Environment (114) – non-mover
11. Or is it really all about Brexit? (112) – new entry
12. Schools (105) – down from 8
The NHS has displaced the freight terminal as your number one concern since 2015, the Newberries car park redevelopment is a new entry at number nine and, although we were really expecting you to tell us that Brexit trumps everything else, it was the second-least important issue in the survey. Does this reflect a national loss of interest in the mechanics of Brexit, now that it’s a done deal? And will the biggest electoral surprise in decades throw the whole Brexit calculation in the air again anyway?
It’s also fascinating that schools have dropped from number eight to last place. The huge cuts coming down the pipe for all state schools are clearly not freaking out the population of Radlett.
And on the national scale, Tory donor (and noted tax avoider) Lord Ashcroft runs a large and detailed survey of UK voters after every major vote. His most recent data is absolutely fascinating. He shows, for instance, that the only age group that voted majority Conservative in last week’s election was the over-55s.
That’s 34 years of Hertsmere General Election voting data, from the Thatcher high water mark of 1983 (the biggest landslide since Labour’s 1945 win, you’ll remember) to 2017’s most surprising result, via that other high water mark – Blair’s even bigger 1997 landslide.
Clappison was summarily dumped by his party for the 2015 election, though, to make room for David Cameron adviser Oliver Dowden. Dowden himself has spent the last two years building a reputation for hard work and commitment to the constituency and he has, of course, now been re-elected with a higher share of the vote, although a slightly smaller majority.
What all the results in the chart have in common, of course, is the winner. Hertsmere has been a comfortably Conservative seat throughout. Even the Blair revolution, in which Labour took 418 Parliamentary seats, the largest number ever held by a UK party, couldn’t (quite) touch that and, although Fiona Smith has lifted the party further from that dreadful 2010 result, the Corbyn uprising has done essentially nothing to close the gap.
In some ways, the Liberals’ trajectory in the constituency since 1983 is the grimmest of all – steadily falling from a quarter of the vote and second place ahead of Labour – to little more than 5% this year. That’s a snapshot of the national challenge for Farron and his party.
This chart shows the Conservatives’ winning majority in Hertsmere, over the 34-year period. You can see just how close things got in 1997. It’s fascinating to note how long it’s taken the party to recover from that enormous electoral shock.
And this chart shows turnout over the same period.
To keep the top chart simple, I’ve left out the minor parties – the levitating transcendentalists from the Natural Law Party (please watch their 1994 European Parliamentary election broadcast); James Goldsmith’s Referendum Party, whose programme looked pretty kooky at the time but now looks like a model of sanity; the Independent Communist candidate whose vote exceeded 2% back in 1983; Arthur Scargill’s Socialist Labour Party and the BNP, whose Daniel Seabrook ran once in 2010 before being rendered entirely irrelevant by UKIP. The smaller-party numbers are all included in the raw data, though, in case you’re interested.
(sources: Wikipedia and BBC)
Blimey, what a night. British politics has been turned on its head. Young voters have challenged the electoral status quo as never before. A Prime Minister brought low by hubris. But you don’t want to know about all that. You want to know what happened here in Hertsmere, right?
As expected, it was not an exciting night in Hertsmere. The photograph (from Hertsmere Borough Council on Twitter), taken during Oliver Dowden’s acceptance speech, properly expresses the frenzy at the count in Borehamwood. It was a good night for Dowden, though. He was re-elected with more votes and an increased share.
He’s won a smaller majority though, and that’s all about a substantially better performance from Labour and the collapse in UKIP’s vote. Fiona Smith, a first time candidate for Labour, built on Richard Butler’s work in 2015, taking Labour’s vote to 14,977, over 6% more than in 2015 and a 28.7% share, the party’s highest since 2001. I predict a solid political future for Fiona Smith.
UKIP’s loss mirrored the national numbers. David Hoy polled only 1,564 votes, 75% fewer than in 2015.
The Liberal Democrats polled almost exactly the same as in 2015, which itself was a thirty-year low point, and the Greens’ return to Hertsmere politics made essentially no difference. Return to two-party politics, anyone?
Turnout was 71%, the best since the high water mark of 1997, when it was 74%.
First of all, if you live in Radlett and can vote, do complete our one-minute survey about local issues influencing Radlett voters. We’ve done this before and it produces lots of useful insight. It’ll be online until 5pm today and we’ll share the results this evening.
We essentially already know the result of the 2017 General Election in our constituency, Hertsmere. It’s the 103rd safest seat in the country for the Conservatives. Only an gigantic electoral earthquake could unseat Conservative incumbent Oliver Dowden so, for Hertsmere, it’s all about the details:
Will Oliver Dowden improve on his 2015 majority of 36.9%? His majority was very close to his predecessor James Clappison’s in 2010 but he had managed to improve his party’s share by more than 3% over 2010.
Will the post-Brexit political ferment increase turnout from 2015’s 67.9%, which was itself up from 64.7% in 2010? National turnout for the 2015 General Election was 66.1%, up over the previous three General Elections but still substantially down on the average for the second half of the 20th Century, when over 70% of the population showed up to vote every time. Some pollsters are projecting a big increase in turnout, thanks to a rush of enthusiasm from young people enthused by Jeremy Corbyn. We’ll see.
Can the Liberal Democrats’ candidate Joe Jordan possibly improve on his party’s disastrous 2015 Hertsmere performance – 2,777 votes, down 11.8 ooints on 2010? 2015 was an especially bad year for the Liberals, for reasons you’ll probably remember, but many think the party has badly miscalculated the electorate’s interest in re-running the Brexit vote. This may even reduce the Lib Dems’ share.
Will UKIP’s vote, which was 6,383 or a 12.7% share in 2015 (over three times the party’s 2010 vote) shrink sharply as it is expected to nationally?
Can Labour’s Fiona Smith overcome the concerns of Hertsmere’s Jewish community, on antisemitism and the party’s position on Israel? She’s been working hard to do so in the constituency but with Labour’s share in 2015 at not much more than a third of the Tory vote, it’s not looking good.
And will the return of The Greens to the fray, with Sophie Summerhahyes, who only joined the party in 2015, further reduce Labour and the Lib Dems’ share in the constituency?
We’ll share the Hertsmere result here and on Twitter and Facebook as soon as we have it. The count, at Allum Lane Community Centre in Borehamwood, is always well organised so we’re expecting a fairly early result. Also on Twitter, the Borehamwood Times and the press team at Hertsmere Borough Council will also be providing election news overnight.