The general election in Hertsmere

Voters are often called upon to solve problems for the political class

Group photo of every Labour MP elected to Parliament in the 2024 general election
What a Labour landslide actually looks like

Especially in Britain, where governments can call elections whenever they fancy it within a five-year term (Fixed Term Parliament Act RIP), we’ll usually be asked to go to the polls when a government is in crisis or has an urgent problem to deal with. In 2017 we were called upon to help Theresa May break her Brexit impasse by giving her a big enough Parliamentary majority to push through a deal (nice work, Theresa). In 2019 we were asked to resolve Boris Johnson’s even more intractable Brexit dilemma (guess he did get Brexit done). But what problem was Rishi Sunak asking us to solve for him by calling an election six months before he had to, in the teeth of the lowest popularity ratings and the worst polling for decades?

We’ve updated our free spreadsheet of results from every general election in Hertsmere all the way back to the first one, in 1983.

It looks like Sunak was desperately hoping that the electorate would rescue him from the Reform insurgency, that Richard Tice wouldn’t have time to organise a national campaign, that Nigel Farage wouldn’t dream of giving up the glamour and the gilded corridors of Trump Tower and that, when forced to choose, unhappy Conservative voters would snap back to the Mother Party and send Reform packing. No such luck.

So who won?

Well, to state the obvious, here in Hertsmere the Conservative Party won, with a majority of 7,992 votes – not bad considering the national picture but almost two-thirds smaller than in 2019, when Oliver Dowden won by 21,313 (it’s the smallest majority he’s won in four general elections). This much-reduced majority compares pretty well with the other seats where Tories held on too. In fact Hertsmere is now the tenth safest Conservative seat in the UK – up from 43rd before the election (even allowing for the fact that there are now so few of them this is still a big improvement).

Polling isn’t recorded at the council-ward level so we can’t tell how different parts of the constituency voted. We’re going to go out on a limb, though, and guess that the issues that motivated prosperous parts of the constituency like ours were VAT on private school fees, capital gains tax and the risk of an update to the 1991 valuations used to calculate council tax. The investment managers among us might also have been worried about Labour’s plans for carried interest.

The average Tory majority at this election was 4,086, which is a number that must put the fear of God into the strategists at CCHQ. The median was 3,572 and the largest in the country was – guess where – Rishi Sunak’s Richmond and Northallerton, where the majority was 12,185.

Lay your bets

Let’s get the succession out of the way. Who will take over the dry husk of the Conservative Party? Who will be its William Hague? Its Michael Howard? The person to rebuild it after the earthquake? We’d assumed the jockeying for leadership of the soundly defeated Conservative Party – reduced to the smallest number of MPs in its history – was well under way before Thursday’s epic collapse but we were a bit surprised to learn that Oliver Dowden might well be supporting outsider Victoria Atkins for leader when the contest comes.

The fear for mainstream political parties in chaotic periods like this is that an ordinary electoral set-back might turn out to be a realignment, a permanent break – like the Tory catastrophe after the Great Reform Act or when the Liberals disappeared as a party of government in the twenties. Is it possible this is what just happened to the Conservative Party?

The Telegraph got excited about this two days before the election but on actually reading the source of their scoop – an article in The Independent – it seems that Dowden was really just buttering up a guest at a Xmas drinks party back in December. Atkins herself, on hearing Dowden say “…there’s only two people from my generation that I could see leading the Conservative Party: Rishi Sunak or Vicky Atkins…” is recorded as saying only ‘wow’.

We wouldn’t mention this bit of Tory Party gossip here if it weren’t for the fact that Dowden has a record of picking winners. If you’d like to make this a little more interesting you’ll currently get between 10-1 and 25-1 on Victoria Atkins for leader (with favourite Kemi Badenoch on 2-1 or even 6-4). We urge caution while things are so fluid, of course, but we’re wondering about a couple of quid on a wildly implausible come-back for Nadhim “Unsecured Loan” Zahawi at 66-1 (Dowden himself is presently at around 50-1 – although we’re about 90% sure that it’s once-a-bagman-always-a-bagman for our MP and that he wouldn’t dream of standing. Prove us wrong, Sir Oliver!).

Composite of official photos of Conservative MPs Rishi Sunak, Robert Jenrick and Oliver Dowden, all smiling broadly in dark blue suits
The gang of three – all, remarkably, still in their seats

And when we say ‘picking winners’, we mean really picking them. Dowden was part of the ‘gang of three’ thrusting young MPs, along with Robert Jenrick and a junior Minister called Rishi Sunak who were first to endorse Boris Johson for leader in June 2019 (look at their happy little faces! Seems so long ago). Anyway, you know how that went.

But canny Dowden was also ‘first to wield the knife‘ when Johnson’s time had come in July 2022 and the letters of resignation started to pour in (do you remember there were so many of them we made a spreadsheet to keep track of them?). We wrote about this back then.

Official three-quarter length portrait of Oliver Dowden MP, smiling broadly. Text overlaid reads: 'Rishi is the best person to lead our country and unquestionably the best person to beat Labour. That's wht I'm backing him to be our next Prime Minister.' Ready for Rishi

Dowden was then among the very first to join #TeamRishi, although it was an idea whose time hadn’t quite come because we had to get through that weird Liz Truss bit before Sunak could assume power as some sort of saviour. “Unquestionably the best person to beat Labour…” you say?

(although there was a bit of a scare in the small hours, Dowden’s favourite for Tory Party leader Victoria Atkins was re-elected, so it’s still on…).

The two biggest parties – one of them two hundred years old (well over 300 if you count from the origin of the Tories) and the most successful political party in modern world history; and one of them well over a hundred years old and the most durable party of the working class anywhere in the world – are both

The voting

Labour. Of course, as we should have expected, the result here in Hertsmere was another win for incumbent Oliver Dowden. The swing against him was huge – over 20% – and the swing to Labour pretty good too but nowhere near enough. Josh Tapper’s share of the vote, 28%, is the fourth highest ever polled for Labour in Hertsmere, also the fourth largest number of votes, 13,459. But to win he’d have to have done better than Beth Kelly in 1997, whose 19,230 votes and 38.2% brought her to within 3,000 votes of a win. Even if Reform had not existed and every one of Darren Selkus’s 6,584 votes had gone to Tapper, we’d still have a Tory MP today.

General election results for Hertsmere in July 2024 - a screenshot from the BBC web site

This must have been an absolute rollercoaster for Josh Tapper. When selected by his local party back in March he’d presumably have had very limited expectations, in Britain’s 43rd safest Tory seat, but as Rishi’s catastrophic campaign ground on and the polls (so many polls!) began to pile up, he must have allowed himself to think the unthinkable once or twice. We noted some polls here that put Tapper over the line but they were very much outliers. It must be heartbreaking for him to watch the many new, young Labour MPs turning up at Parliament over the last few days. Better luck next time, Josh!

Of course, one of the more remarkable things about this Labour landslide is that it is the product of one of the lowest vote shares in recent political history – 34%. Commentators are calling this result ‘wide but shallow‘ or ‘distorted‘. Fraser Nelson in the Spectator calls it a Potemkin landslide, which is clever. Activists, of course, will say things like ‘that’s how politics works’, or ‘a win is a win’ but will be privately conscious of the fact that Starmer won three million votes fewer than Jeremy Corbyn in 2017 and, startlingly, over half a million fewer than the same bloke in the catastrophic 2019 election. Labour must govern – and quickly make a real impression on the lives of Britons – in the knowledge that Keir Starmer is less popular in electoral terms than the hated predecessor he has expended so much energy to delete from the national memory.

The counter-argument is that where the Labour win is wide but shallow – a ‘sandcastle landslide‘ that could be swept away when the tide comes back in – the Tory position now is narrow and shallow. It has to be a fear for the remains of the Tory leadership that a Parliamentary party with 122 MPs and an average majority of about 4,000 looks very fragile indeed and essentially only one more defeat from total irrelevance – especially when its next leader might well be from an extreme wing of the party and ready to essentially abandon the party’s historic base.

The Liberals. In Hertsmere, Labour remains the only viable opposition. The Liberals fell apart here – again – and there was a 3.2% swing against Emma Matanle. The ruthlessly effective Lib Dem campaign – which has produced 71 seats nationally – focused on harnessing the ‘efficiency’ of the electoral process by investing everything in winnable seats. It was always going to leave Matanle on the outside. In the 1980s the party – before the SDP merger – was the second-largest in the constituency. Matanle’s vote was less than a third of the party’s best performance here in 1983. It will be a long road back.

Table showing all the Liberal and Lib Dem results in the Hertsmere constituency between 1983 and 2024
This list of Liberal and Lib Dem candidates, incidentally, includes Zerbanoo Gifford, the only Zoroastrian (we think) ever to have stood for election in Hertsmere; Laurence Brass, founder of an important Jewish-Palestinian peace settlement who is still serving as a Hertfordshire county councillor almost forty years on and Sophie Bowler, the Lib Dem candidate who won some press coverage in 2015 for being ‘too busy to do any campaigning and consequently won the smallest number of votes for her party in the history of the constituency.

Reform’s performance in Hertsmere was, in national terms, not remarkable. An outer-London green-belt settlement was never going to be a good prospect for the party so their investment here was probably small. Darren Selkus was essentially on his own (at least he was actually visible) and the fact that he was able to bring in 6,584 votes – more even than UKIP at their 2015 high-point (and, remarkably, more than UKIP’s entire national vote at this election) – probably bodes well if he wants to stand again (he stood for the Brexit Party in Epping Forest in 2019 too). His vote here was the largest for a populist party in the history of the constituency (easily enough to get his deposit back). The party took lumps out of the Tory vote this time round but all the parties are conscious that Reform UK will be the primary source of chaos in UK politics for some time yet – and the party really won’t want to stop at humiliating the Tories. Like UKIP before it, the party’s presence in the political landscape is going to focus minds and all parties will be thinking hard about how to make sure Reform can’t come for them in subsequent elections. Labour’s concern will be that Reform came second in 98 UK seats and in 89 of them Labour was the winner.

Huge Union flag draped across a hedge outside a house in the Hertsmere constituency. A sign in the middle of the flag reads: 'SOS Vote Reform. Vote Selkus. He can help us'
From Darren Selkus’s Twitter account

During the campaign Selkus promised to give the whole of his MP’s salary to charity, which suggests that his business – which sells wood veneers – is probably doing well. He’ll be able to give it 100% of his focus again now.

The Greens must be wondering what they have to do to have an impact in British politics. If any party should be disrupting UK politics from the margins then surely it ought to be the party of the climate crisis and of protecting the environment? But no, once again, the disruptive force – here as across Europe – is a reactionary populist party. A party, in fact, that explicitly opposes Net Zero and advances a kind of ‘la-la-la-not-listening’ approach to global warming. Reform UK Chairman Richard Tice explains that, because the UK’s economy is relatively small, cutting emissions here would “make zero difference to climate change”, so we should focus on adaptation (taller sea walls, flood-resistant crops, factor-50 and so on) rather than participating in the worldwide energy transition.

The Green Party put up a candidate in every seat in England and Wales this time and now has four MPs, one fewer than Reform – a big breakthrough. In Hertsmere, John Humphries, a veteran campaigner who stood here in 2019, continued the party’s steady growth in share. Where the party took seats this time they came from the major parties but it will be a long time before the Greens represent a threat to the Tories here.

One of the party’s challenges is that, once elected, Green MPs will be subject to the same local political pressures as everyone else. It’s already started: this Telegraph story is from two days after the election:

Would a Hertsmere Green MP be brave enough to support the construction of a thousand PassivHaus homes on the green belt? Or a big solar farm on agricultural land in the constituency?

The Independents. The other group that’s really boomed in the 2024 general election is the broad church of candidates with no party affiliation. We counted 487 candidates in the general election with the word ‘independent’ in their party name, the largest number ever in a UK election – most constituencies in Britain had five or six candidates, which is more than usual. Six Independents were elected to Parliament this time. One of them was Jeremy Corbyn, of course. Four of them were so-called ‘Gaza candidates’, standing against Labour in seats that have larger Muslim populations (and one is an independent Unionist in Northern Ireland). The press have been quick to suggest that these one-issue candidates are the thin end of an Islamist wedge or ‘a failure of integration’ but a quick look at their biographies suggests otherwise: one Lib Dem barrister, one solicitor, one IT consultant (and school governor) and the chair of a Muslim advocacy group. We’d suggest that standing for Parliament is about the best evidence of integration you’ll find.

Hertsmere’s Independent is Ray Bolster. Bolster kept us guessing by remaining entirely invisible for the first five weeks of the campaign – no web site, no social media, no leaflets. But in the few days before the poll he put his head above the parapet and put out a leaflet. We learnt that Bolster is a local man, an RAF veteran and a life-long peacenik. His 536 votes doesn’t look at all bad when you consider how elusive he was during the campaign.

A quote from Ray Bolster's election leaflet from the Hertsmere general election in July 2024 - "I am in my eighties and recently widowed. This is my final call. Join me as I stand for politics from the heart. Join me to fight for a better Britain… and a fairer world.
No concerns about age here

The only other Independent in the history of Hertsmere was Ronald Parkinson, who stood as an Independent Communist in 1983 and polled a remarkable 1,116 votes (although the fact that he had the same surname as the winning Tory may have contributed to this total).

Table showing results in 1983 general election in the Hertsmere constituency.

  • Detailed results for Hertsmere from the BBC (with nice charts) or from Wikipedia (with a simpler table of results).
  • We’ve updated our spreadsheet of results from every general election in Hertsmere all the way back to the first one, in 1983 (you’ll also find council and PCC results).
  • Since Oliver Dowden remains our MP we can continue keeping an eye on him. Follow the #DowdenLog tag here.

Farage’s contract

It’s chaos at Reform HQ but that’s how they like it…

Speaker of the House of Representatives Newt Gingrich presents his Contract with America in in front of a huge map of the USA.
A man with a contract

For an insurgency polling in double digits and threatening to disassemble the most successful political party in history, Reform UK is a pretty shabby outfit. Neither a high-gloss, updated 20th Century dinosaur like Le Pen’s National Rally, nor a dark, ideological machine like Alternative for Germany, nor even a big-money hostile take-over of an establishment party like Trump’s operation. But maybe we shouldn’t expect a slick operation here, maybe it’s not very British to expect a challenger from the far right to be anything other than scrappy and a bit lairy.

The man in the photo with all the American flags is Newt Gingrich – not a British politician, of course, but pugnacious Speaker of the US House of Representatives during the 1994 Congressional mid-terms, a veteran conservative political operator who wrote the Republican party’s programme for that election, an enormously influential document that many credit as the beginning of the populist turn, the epic shift in American politics that ultimately produced you know who.

Darren Selkus, army veteran and business owner, is Hertsmere’s Gingrich. Read about him on the Reform web site.

Gingrich’s document was no mere manifesto, no mere platform. It was a contract. A Contract with America. The idea was that instead of promoting a dry programme of dry legislation to be fought out vote by arduous vote through the congressional system once in power, the party would lay out an ambitious reworking of the system itself. Gingrich was a political visionary who saw an opportunity to put the Republican party back at the heart of things. In this he wasn’t so much a proto-Trump as Trump’s inverse – he wanted to shift the power in American politics back from the presidency to a radicalised congress.

His contract was more than the usual shopping list of policies carefully weighted for viability; it was a series of linked measures that would, together, overturn decades of post-war liberal orthodoxy – economic, social, diplomatic, everything. It begins with eight pledges – reforms to the congressional system aimed at cementing a conservative model of governance indefinitely. It’s a fascinating document, not least because it self-consciously marked the end of folksy, optimistic, forward-looking Reagan conservatism and the beginning of the darker variety the whole world is now familiar with – George W Bush’s messianic militarism, Trump’s ‘American carnage‘.

Britain’s Gingrich?

Gingrich was working as an insurgent inside one of the two governing parties, of course. He’d been an operator since the 1960s. Trump began as an outsider but entered the Republican party and hollowed it out brutally. It’s his party now. Farage has not yet achieved a position inside the Tory Party but he’s been influencing the shape and direction of the party pretty directly for twenty years now. He’s a kind of parasitic shadow leader, directing the mighty, 300 year-old Conservative Party, pint in hand, from the saloon bar. It’s only a few years since Farage looked like he was finished. Boris Johnson had cannily replaced him as populist folk hero, Brexit was finally done and the man himself seemed to be more interested in the goldmine on the other side of the Atlantic. But his influence endures. And we suspect he’s not finished with the Tory party yet, whether he’s elected in Clacton or not.

The Gingrich contract must have come to mind for many on Monday when Nigel Farage launched Reform’s ‘Contract With You‘. This contract isn’t quite as ambitious – and it’s likely to be a lot less influential (we suspect it was written in a bit of a hurry – count the typos).

Reform’s document steers clear of grand claims. It’s essentially a pretty focused list of policies designed as a response to a probable Labour government. Farage is positioning his party as the effective opposition in the coming Parliament. His assumption is that the Tories, no matter how many seats they finally win, will be so diminished, so intellectually exhausted that they’ll have little to offer while the party is laboriously rebuilt. That Reform, even from a base of a handful of seats, will dominate on the critical issues. And they might be right (they’ll need to win a few seats, though).

Beginning on the very first page we’re into a sequence of commitments that are carefully weighted to offer a challenge to the likely governing party without being in any way deliverable. Finding £50 Billion of savings in the civil service, a sum equal to the whole defence budget, seems implausible to say the least, for instance. Taking back £35 Billion per year from the commercial banks without causing mini-budget levels of market chaos likewise.

Pledges pledges pledges

You will find the obligatory numbered pledges at the beginning, though – obviously an indispensable element of any contemporary manifesto. These numbered pledges, for some reason, all begin with a kind of John Lennon flourish: 1) Imagine Smart Immigration, Not Mass Immigration; 2) Imagine No More Small Boats in the Channel; 3) Imagine No NHS Waiting Lists; 4) Imagine Good Wages for a Hard Day’s Work; 5) Imagine Affordable, Stable Energy Bills.

In this rather boring package, the only place where the language soars a little is in the final policy section, headed ‘Reform is needed to defend and promote British culture, identity and values’ (intriguing use of the passive voice there). This is where we find the more inflammatory bits – the obligatory mention of sharia law (not a single mention in the whole document of Farage’s favourite ‘Judeo-Christian values‘ though), anti-woke legislation, de-banking, dumping equalities legislation and so on. But it’s striking how unambitious this all is. Farage and Reform here are not reaching for a consitutional remaking of Great Britain or for the destruction of the liberal institutions of the post-war settlement. In fact all we get are some rather managerial proposals about running the NHS more efficiently and a predictable kicking for the old enemy – the BBC.

Policy Area Annualised Savings Over 5 Year
Electoral Term Amount in £ billions
Immigration Savings £5
Employer Immigration Tax £4
Energy Savings - tax subsidies & scrap Net
Zero £30
Benefit Saving - 1 million plus back to work £15
Transport & Utilities Savings £5
Slash wasteful Government spending
Save £5 in 100 incl govt depts. quangos,
commissions £50
Stop bank interest on QE reserves £35
Cut foreign aid by 50% £6
Sub-Total Potential Savings = £150 billion pa = Almost £3,000 per Adul
Comedy cost savings

In the financial section Reform turns out to be as obsessed with the zero-sum tax-and-spend calculations as the major parties. And this is interesting, not least because it’s not very revolutionary. Only a very cautious insurrectionary party would be so interested in retaining tight control over expenditure after the revolution. Of course it’s possible that this very cautious package is meant to answer fears about Farage as a potential Mussolini, seeking election so that he can cancel elections and rule forever, but we’re ready to bet that this is it. We’ve reached the limit of Reform’s intellectual and ideological ambition.

The table of savings at the end reads like the kind of Dragon’s Den forecast that would make Deborah Meaden weep – various conveniently round numbers totted up in a table so that party spokesmen can claim it’s ‘fully-costed’. Evaluating this lot would cause the entire staff of the OBR to faint in unison.

So why a contract?

Back in the nineties, the Contract With America wasn’t quite the ideological bulldozer Gingrich hoped it would be – it was essentially cut to ribbons in congress – by hostile conservatives from within his own party as well as by Clinton’s Democrats – reduced to a pretty thin set of compromised measures, most of which failed to pass. Gingrich went from sole proprietor of a congressional earthquake to “who?” in a few years. But his aggression, his unwavering rejection of the bi-partisan conventions of congress and his disrespect for his party’s elders have all influenced American politics to the present day.

Nigel Farage raises a glass of wine in a BBC green room in May 2017. He's gurning characteristically.
Another man with a contract

So, back to the UK general election of 2024. Why would a party leader want to attach this ‘contract’ idea to his policy programme?

It stands out from the crowd. The contract language quite cleverly opens up some distance from the other parties’ documents. It’s the only set of promises in play that’s not a manifesto, not a dreary document like all the other dreary documents. At his launch, Farage said: “today is not a manifesto launch. If I say to you ‘manifesto’, your immediate word-association is ‘lie’…”

Contracts are for consumers. The idea of a contract is actually a pretty good expression of our relationship with contemporary politics. Electors in the third decade of the 21st Century are not expected to engage with politics – as activists or organised workers or even as enthusiastic private citizens. We’re expected only to consume politics, to rate its quality via occasional elections and sometimes to switch brands, in the same way we switch gas providers or mobile phones. Meanwhile, political movements are over, replaced by narrowly-focused campaign groups. Incidentally, this explains why we feel so disempowered and disconnected from politics, why so many people say “they’re all the same…” – the politicians like it that way.

Businesses love contracts. Reform UK is a business. It’s the image they’re looking for. Tice and Farage and Habib have enthusiastically embraced the ‘start-up’ idea. Journos and critics noticed ages ago that Reform UK is not a conventionally incorporated political party. Columnists and social media geniuses thought the revelation that the party is just an ordinary limited company would be an absolutely killer gotcha. “Look, it’s not a political party, it’s a scam!” Of course it made no difference at all. Nobody cares. Limited companies are famously easy to set up in Britain. It costs £50 and takes less than 24 hours. The fact that the simplest and most robust organisational form for this new force in British politics was actually an off-the-shelf company really does suit the project. A disruptive, entrepreneurial enterprise like Reform probably ought to be a business and not a fusty old not-for-profit.

Chaos suits Reform

Reform UK wasn’t ready for the election when Sunak announced it but that’s fine – it’s a start-up – the rag-tag Reform team mobilised resources with the ‘fuck you’ energy of a tech entrepeneur. ‘Move fast and break things’ could almost be their slogan. Hiring and then quickly firing candidates as they’re exposed as racists and lunatics is all part of the energy of an insurgent party. When opponents get excited about the chaos inside the Reform operation they’re profoundly missing the point. That’s how they like it – and, let’s face it, voters seem to like it too.

What’s in this contract?

Next time we’ll look at the content of Reform UK Ltd’s ‘Contract With You‘ and possibly at the policies of their unlikely collaborators, the SDP

Be prepared

Fear is back

The entrance to the world war two 'Report and Control Centre' in Radlett in the UK. A concrete-built structure with a large, arched, gated entrance, at the end of a short path covered with leaves and overgrown. An explanatory sign in the foreground reads: 'Radlett & District Museum
Radlett Control & Reporting Centre
This Wartime Nissen hut was built in 1939 by local builder Wings, as a key point of contact for civil defence. It cost £425 to construct and has two rooms plus a toilet. Today, the structure is in good shape and in the care of Aldenham Parish Council. It has been used for storage, the restoration of a vintage motorbike and the breeding of maggots for fishing.'

Why does Rishi Sunak want us to prepare for war? Why does Oliver Dowden want us to fill the cupboard under the stairs with tins of beans and bottled water? And what’s any of this got to do with a concrete shed in the middle of Radlett?

If you walk up Gills Hill towards the park you’ll pass a lovely bit of green called Scrubbitts Wood and if you look over the gate at the North East corner you’ll see a concrete structure that looks like an old garage or possibly an air-raid shelter. Everybody used to call it ‘the air-raid shelter’, in fact, but recently a handy sign has gone up by the gate explaining that it’s actually a World War Two ‘Report and Control Centre’.

Round enamelled sign, red with white text, reads: 'Radlett & District Museum
Radlett Control & Reporting Centre
This Wartime Nissen hut was built in 1939 by local builder Wings, as a key point of contact for civil defence. It cost £425 to construct and has two rooms plus a toilet. Today, the structure is in good shape and in the care of Aldenham Parish Council. It has been used for storage, the restoration of a vintage motorbike and the breeding of maggots for fishing.'

It’s a communications node in the wartime civil defence system. There was probably a telephone line, quite possibly female volunteer despatch riders. It’s not easy to understand why you’d put such an important bit of infrastructure in Radlett but there it is, defying the passage of time, right in the middle of the village.

Structures like this were put up all over Britain during the war, and were part of a huge – and hugely-effective – collective effort to protect Britain during what was unarguably the country’s greatest crisis for over a hundred years. Civil defence during the war was a bureacratic-voluntary hybrid, of the kind Britain is famed for. It’s how we roll, how the whole Empire was run.

The cold war

Famous still from 1984 film 'Threads' about the aftermath of a nuclear war in Britain. A man in a traffic warden's uniform has a bloody bandage with crude eye-holes covering almost his whole face. A rifle at his shoulder, dazed expression on his face.

After the war, of course, began another war. And a modernised, atomic-age version of the wartime civil defence structure came into being. One of its functions was to put the fear of God into us about nuclear armageddon. If you grew up in this period you’ll remember the public information films at the cinema and terrifying fictional visions like Threads and When the Wind Blows. Some of us are still haunted by the Protect and Survive booklets you could pick up in doctor’s surgeries and libraries right up until the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

The end of history

President of the USA Ronald Reagan against a blue curtained background making a speech behind two press microphones
Amiable B-movie schlub saves world

But then amiable B-movie schlub Ronald Reagan implausibly won the cold war. The communist gerontocracy basically died. The long Soviet experiment collapsed. Things changed, of course, and there was that odd decade during which everybody felt they could breathe again. The booklets were pulped, they scrapped the sirens and Tony Blair’s New Labour won the biggest electoral landslide in modern British history. American political scientist Francis Fukuyama famously wrote a book called ‘The End of History and the Last Man‘, published in 1992, in which he proposed that the end of the cold war and the benign economic climate signalled a definitive end to the chaos and conflict of the twentieth century. Liberal democracy had won the battle of the ideologies and would become the unquestioned norm everywhere and forever. Oops. This dreamy mood lasted about ten minutes and was finally finished off by 9/11.

War without end

A large crowd of American soldiers in full uniform with helmets and weapons against a dusty background

And we entered the era of the War on Terror (capital ‘W’, capital ‘T’). The Americans recruited a ‘coalition of the willing‘ (you might not remember this but you were definitely in it) and moved onto a war footing, invading Afghanistan and then Iraq. One of those wars became the longest in American history. Deaths in all of the post-9/11 wars, the wars we can classify as connected with the War on Terror, now amount to several million (including hundreds of British servicemen and women and thousands of Americans).

The USA is, in fact, legally and politically, still at war. A law passed in 2001, giving the President essentially unconstrained power to make war against enemies, real and perceived, is still in force, discussed periodically in the US Congress ever since but never repealed. Of course, here in Britain we just do as we’re told, so we’re effectively still at war too. The absence of a written constitution makes it much easier for UK governments to tag along with the Americans (as Tony Blair said to George Bush “I will be with you, whatever…”).

A century of emergencies

The happy optimists of the last decade of the last century could hardly have anticipated the drama of the first quarter of this one. A sequence of regional and world financial crises (including the biggest one since the great depression), dozens of popular uprisings brutally put down across the world, a hundred-year pandemic, a major European war, the populist turn; all overlaid on the building turmoil of the climate crisis. None of this was in the plan.

And the response of the major powers – including here in Britain – has been, in almost every case, to dial up the anxiety, to legislate, to militarise and to take a variety of increasingly authoritarian actions. Social and economic elites – even liberal and left-wing elites – almost everywhere turned to repression and away from democracy or other forms of popular deliberation.

In an emergency, all bets are off. A government may require us to stay indoors, allow us to protest but without being a nuisance or impose long prison sentences for non-violent action. Ancient rights are suspended and recently-acquired rights are reclassified and unwound. And we can expect more of this as the multi-dimensional crisis intensifies.

But hold on, what’s this got to do with tins of beans?

Well, Oliver Dowden, in his role as Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, is in charge of resilience (in addition to a long list of other tasks, including ‘civil contingencies’, the COBRA committee and that portrait of the King…). Resilience in this case doesn’t mean bouncing back when your boss gives you a bollocking. It’s more about preparing for climate change, terrorism and war. Dowden’s brief includes flooding, heatwaves, cybercrime, sabotage by state actors and, for some reason, he’s chosen this moment to amp it all up, to dial up the anxiety and ask us to start hoarding pasta and toilet paper again.

Screenshot from UK government Prepare web site, black text against orange background reads: 'Get prepared for emergencies'

Hardly anyone noticed this but in the morning on the day of Rishi Sunak’s surprise election announcement (do you remember it? It was raining) Oliver Dowden announced something else – he announced an inexplicable new web site and a campaign to persuade us all to prepare for disaster. The web site is called ‘Get Prepared for Emergencies’ and it’s a slightly uncanny throw-back to those cold war public information booklets. There are many exclamation marks and a guide to preparing for the worst. You’ll learn how many bottles of water you should buy (three litres per person, per day, FYI), how to prepare your house for a flood and what to keep in the boot in case you need to leave home in a hurry. There’s a checklist to download.

Geopolitical dread

And this all came about a fortnight after the Prime Minister’s oddly dystopian speech warning us about, well, everything. He spoke, at his lectern, of the threat from “…gender activists hijacking children’s sex education…”, “Iranian proxies firing on British ships in the Red Sea…”, “countries like Russia weaponising immigration for their own ends…”, “criminal gangs finding new routes across European borders.” Read the speech, it’s all there: artificial intelligence, trans ideology, small boats, cancel culture, Putin’s ambitions and… nuclear anihilation.” Sunak’s painting a picture here and it’s not a happy one. It doesn’t actually mention alien invasion but we suspect it’s on a checklist somewhere.

Alien invasion movie still - spaceships hover over planet's surface, dark and frightening background

It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that the Conservatives have decided their last chance against the inevitability of defeat in July is to weaponise dread, to trigger the entire voting-age population, to reduce us to a kind of quivering electoral jelly, waiting for the catastrophe and hoping against hope that Rishi can rescue us. The logic is that this dread will cause us to cling to the Tories when it comes to placing an X in the box, that we cannot imagine a better way out of this miserable, grinding, 14-year nightmare than to vote for the people who made it.

There’s a kind of contemporary horror movie-vibe to all this. These hollow men in suits, standing at lecterns, informing us in bloodless terms that our freedoms are to be suspended and that our larders and cellars must be filled in case of catastrophe. It’s grim.

Signing the pledge

Meanwhile, Labour, of course, in closely shadowing the Conservative policy offer, must carefully match the beligerance and dread Rishi’s bringing. Yesterday Keir Starmer made it clear that he’s not just going to retain Britain’s nuclear deterrent but double down (in fact the party’s calling it a ‘nuclear triple-lock’, which is catchy). Starmer’s promise is not new. In fact it’s consistent with the stance of all UK governments since 1962. In that year Harold Macmillan and JFK signed the Nassau Agreement, permanently cementing Britain’s dependence on the US military-industrial machine. To vary this relationship would be costly and almost certainly diplomatically impossible. Every Prime Minister since then has acknowledged the geopolitical realities of the North Atlantic compact and signed on.

HMS Vigilant, the third of the Royal Navy's Vanguard Class nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines. Dramtically backlit against a cloudy sky

Under this and most of the subsequent agreements the British nuclear deterrent is essentially a North European branch operation of the vast American one. You don’t need to be a peacenik to feel uncomfortable with this relationship, with the fact that important parts of the UK nuclear weapons system literally belong to the United States government, that Britain’s 58 warheads are considered part of a larger US-controlled pool of weapons, that targeting, maintenance and other aspects of deployment are decided by American generals and that although it might be technically possible for a British submarine captain to launch a Trident missile independently, it would be unthinkable in practical terms and could actually be stopped by a US government with a mind to do so. According to one academic, the UK’s nuclear arsenal doesn’t meet ‘the 1940 requirement‘, meaning it could not be used in a situation when the country stood alone as it did at the beginning of the second world war.

No UK government has ever had the courage to challenge this and the economics of operating an advanced nuclear weapons system – with cold-war levels of preparedness – independently of the USA is so scary that this is very unlikely to change. It’s almost certain that even if a unilateralist government were to come to power (as it nearly did in 2017, remember) it would quickly acknowledge the realities and renew the deal. This unequal relationship is a deeply entrenched aspect of the Atlantic hierarchy. It’s essentially impossible to imagine altering it, let alone abandoning it.

Fear wins again

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

Oliver Dowden’s stock of tinned food, Sunak’s dead-eyed scare tactics and the UK’s unvarying committment to the nuclear status quo are all aspects of the same, rigid security orthodoxy and the same increasingly hysterical emergency politics that govern our lives in the developed economies. Fear is a political currency – and when politicians deliberately and cynically mobilise our anxieties it’s a sign of their fragility. It’s undemocratic and regressive and we’re probably stuck with it.

Voting in Hertsmere on 4 July

Everything you need to know

Oliver Dowden acceptance speech 2017
Oliver Dowden addresses the crowd after his 2017 victory in Hertsmere.

Who are the Hertsmere candidates?

Ray BolsterVeteran peace campaignerInd
Oliver DowdenIncumbent and Deputy PMCon
John HumphriesShenley management consultantGreen
Emma MatanleBriefing writer and councillorLib Dem
Darren SelkusArmy veteran and business ownerReform
Josh TapperCivil servant and GoggleboxerLabour
General Election 2024, the candidates in Hertsmere, in alphabetical order
Conservative MP, Deputy Prime Minister and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Oliver Dowden in long shot turns to his left and smiles at the camera in Downing Street
The incumbent
Grid of four photos of candidates in the Hertsmere Parliamentary constituency for the 2024 UK general election - clockwise from top left: Josh Tapper Labour, John Humphries Green, Darren Selkust Reform, Emma Matanle Liberal Democrat - their surnames are overlaid
The pretenders

There’s some detail about all of these candidates in the party guides we’ve already published – click the links in the table.

We updated this post on 7 June 2024 to reflect the final nominations for Hertsmere. There’s a complete list of candidates in all constituencies on the BBC web site. There’s a further update, made on 1 July, adding some information about Green dandidate John Humphries and Independent Ray Bolster.

The time has come. The election has been called and is in the diary for Thursday 4 July. You presently have no MP. Nobody does. There are now only candidates. Oliver Dowden, although he is still Deputy Prime Minister and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, has carefully changed his social media bios to reflect this.

By election day, some of the 4,515 individuals – the largest number of candidates ever for a UK general election – who managed to get their papers in by the deadline will have wthdrawn and some will have lost the support of their parties but none can now be removed from ballot papers, so some electors will have to be careful not to vote for someone who has stood down. We also notice that YouTuber Niko Omilana, who has registered for election in multiple constituencies, contrary to the rules, is still on the list – eleven times.

The deadline for submitting a nomination passed on 7 June. Georgia Elliott-Smith from Gina Miller’s True & Fair Party, said she was going to stand here in Hertsmere but then disappeared and has not submitted her papers (looks like only four candidates ultimately got their forms in for True and Fair). Independent Ray Bolster, a mysterious late entry, has caught us by surprise. We know nothing about Ray and hope to learn more soon. Obviously we’re disappointed there’ll be no surprise come-back for the levitating Natural Law Party.

Close-up head-and-shoulders portrait of Hertsmere Parliamentary candidate Ray Bolster. He's an elderly man in an outside location, smiling, wearing a purple jumper.
Ray Bolster, independent candidate for Hertsmere

Update for 31 June 2024. We now know something about all six of the candidates standing in Hertsmere (the largest number of candidates in Hertsmere since 2010). Mystery independent Ray Bolster is a mystery no more. According to the Welwyn & Hatfield Times Bolster is an RAF Medical Corps veteran and a long-time anti-racism campaigner who fought against anti-semitism in London’s East End in the 1960s and was a founder of the Watford Anti-Racist committee in the 1970s. He’s picked this unlikely location to campaign for the Gaza vote, calling for an immediate ceasefire. We suspect Bolster may attract a few votes from voters who don’t feel represented by any of the larger parties on this issue but his complete absence from the first month of the campaign doesn’t bode well for his vote share. We’re pretty sure he doesn’t have a web site, a social media presence or any printed material. Hardly anyone entering a polling booth will know who he is. Good luck, Ray!

And the Greens. From recent press, we also now know more about our Green candidate, John Humphries. The party made a commitment to stand in every constituency in England and Wales at this election – a critical step for any national party with ambitions to government – and the Greens have stood in Hertsmere before, in 2010, 2017 and 2019. Humphries was the candidate in 2019. On the face of it the party of the environment ought to do well in a constituency that’s literally in the London green belt.

In some parts of the UK there’s been an effective but sometimes awkward alliance formed between Greens of the ecological variety and people more motivated by conservation and opposition to development. There’s a tension within the party between the historically more narrowly-focused environmentalists and the progressives with an interest in social issues and redistribution. It’s hard to imagine suburban green belt-warriors feeling much of a connection with the trans activists and de-growthers in the national party. The manifestos don’t tell us much about the green belt. Reform UK and the Liberals don’t mention it at all. Labour, Conservatives and Greens have essentially identical positions on protecting the green belt. No party dare go near the idea of dismantling the whole ridiculous apparatus and replacing it, for instance, with a rational set of protections for nature and green space while permitting a desperately needed house building.

PartyFrom the manifestoMentions
Conservative“Retaining our cast-iron commitment to protect the Green Belt from uncontrolled development…”2
Green“Elected Greens would seek to strengthen and prevent any rollback of existing protections of the Green Belt”2
Labour“Labour is committed to preserving
the green belt which has served
England’s towns and cities well
over many decades.”
Liberal Democrat“Everyone should be able to enjoy open green spaces, clean blue rivers and the beauty of Britain’s coast.”0
Reform UK“Legislate to ban ULEZ Clean Air Zones and Low Traffic Neighbourhoods. Scrapping Net Zero.”0
Mentions of the term ‘green belt’ in the 2024 party manifestos

The parties and the history. As a loyal reader of Radlett Wire you’ll be aware of our four-part guide to all the parties standing in Hertsmere: part one, the fringe parties (including Reform and the Greens); part two, the Lib Dems; part three. Labour; part four, the Conservatives. You’ll also have read our definitive history of the Hertsmere constituency, which goes back all the way to our very first MP, in 1983, disgraced Thatcher ally Cecil Parkinson.

Your new constituency. Like many constituencies in Britain, Hertsmere is a different shape for this election. In fact, it’s smaller, both geographically and in population terms. The purpose of the boundary changes was principally to bring the ‘electorate quota’ – the number of voters living in each constituency – to between 69,724 and 77,062 voters. Population change over the decades had caused some, mostly urban, constituencies to get much bigger than that and some, mostly rural, constituencies much smaller. The changes are thought to have strengthened the Conservative Party’s electoral advantage in Britain, but not by much – and certainly not by the enormous amount that was originally feared. The overall number of constituencies hasn’t changed.

Map showing the changes to the boundaries of the Hertsmere Parliamentary constituency for the 2024 general election in the UK
Boundary changes

The effect in Hertsmere is not drastic – one Bushey ward has moved out of the constituency and one Hatfield ward in. The overall effect will be to reduce the voting-age population of the Parliamentary constituency by about 7%. Pollsters and news outlets have had the considerable headache of reflecting the new populations in their data. For instance, the Electoral Calculus projection we’ve been sharing here regularly is for the new constituency boundaries.

Voting in Radlett, whatever the election, is run by Hertsmere Council. They run the count and provide the polling places. The returning officer works for the council (when Sunderland and Newcastle race to get their results out first it’s a battle between two councils). Hertsmere will publish a list of polling places closer to the date of the election but it’s safe to assume the Radlett ones will be at Phillimore Hall, the Radlett Centre and the United Synagogue as usual.

Registering to vote. You’ve got until midnight on 18 June to get your name on the register. Once you’re registered you can apply for a postal vote but you’ll have to do it by the end of the following day, 19 June. If you think you won’t be able to get to the polling station on the day you can send someone to vote for you – a proxy vote. You’ve got until 5pm on 26 June to apply (and, if everything goes pear-shaped, you can set up an emergency proxy at any time up till 5pm on polling day).

Fun fact. You’ve still got time to stand for election yourself. You’ll need ten people to nominate you and £500, though.

Voter ID is now required for all UK elections. The Conservative government thought this would give them an electoral advantage, since young voters and poorer urban populations are less likely to have good ID, but Jacob Rees-Mogg thinks it’s backfired. Here’s a list of permitted forms of ID. Check it carefully because you may find you don’t have the right kind. It helps to be old. For instance, senior railcards and 60+ Oyster cards are okay but not young persons’ railcards or student ID. You don’t need to take the polling card you’ll be sent in the post. If you’ve got no valid ID you’ve got until 5pm on 26 June to apply for a voter authority certificate (you don’t need ID to get one, which seems like a bit of a loophole, but you will need to know your National Insurance number).

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, dumped by the party for 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 (the principal towns in the county also returned their own MPs). Before the franchise was expanded in the late 19th Century the electorate was tiny – In 1868, about 9,000 men in Hertfordshire (landowners and later the ‘ten-pound men‘) 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 blip 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
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

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 (which had previously been the domain of the Whigs), with the urban middle class and, much 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 – and 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…

From How does Hertsmere vote? Radlett Wire, updated 19 January 2024
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

Oliver 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 Cecil 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 there too, should you be sad enough.
  • We’re on Twitter/X and Facebook and you can follow this blog in the fediverse. Search for 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:
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:
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:
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


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.