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.

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 one

The fringe parties

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

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

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

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

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

The Referendum Party

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

The Brexit Party

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

The Reform Party

Richard Tice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

The Greens

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

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

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

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

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

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

Communists and socialists

A red hammer and sickle motif

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

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

Even further out

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

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

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