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
Change
CON	365	45	?320
LAB	203	509	306
SNP	48	50	2
LIB	11	23	12
Plaid	4	4	0
Green	1	1	0
Reform	0	0	0
Total	632	632	0
Ouch

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

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

Crown, church and land

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

The party’s various re-inventions, especially in the period since the industrial revolution, have seen it identified with business (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 @blog@radlettwire.co.uk in your fediverse client (e.g. Mastodon)

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

Nothing. Sorry.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Results for 2024 PCC elections in Hertfordshire

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

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

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


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

Hertsmere General Election preview, part three

Labour

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now for the politics

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

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

Electoral Calculus projection for Hertsmere general election vote share

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

Tapper’s mountain

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

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

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

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

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


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

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.


Hertsmere General Election preview, part one

The fringe parties

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

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

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

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

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

The Referendum Party

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

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

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

BNP

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

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

UKIP

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

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

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

The Brexit Party

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

The Reform Party

Richard Tice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reclaim?

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

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

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

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

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

The Greens

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

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

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

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

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

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

Communists and socialists

A red hammer and sickle motif

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

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

Even further out

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

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

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

How does Hertsmere vote?

Our constituency has only ever had three MPs: a Thatcher ally removed after he turned out to be quite possibly the greatest heel in Tory history (in a competitive field); a diligent but unremarkable backbencher, ejected to make room for a SPAD on the fast-track; and the SPAD himself

Chart showing election results in the Hertsmere constituency between 1983 and 2019. Full data at a link below the chart.
Voting in the Hertsmere Parliamentary constituency from 1983 to 2019 (full data)

This post was updated on 19 January 2024 and includes data from a 15 January YouGov opinion poll.

The chart shows 36 years of Hertsmere General Election voting, from the Thatcher high water mark of 1983 (the biggest landslide since Labour’s 1945 win) to 2019’s big result for Johnson, via that other high water mark – Blair’s even bigger 1997 landslide.

The Hertsmere Parliamentary constituency has only existed since 1983. Before it there was a constituency called South Hertfordshire that itself only lasted for three general elections. Cecil Parkinson was Hertsmere’s first MP. He had entered Parliament in the 1970 general election that brought the Conservatives under Edward Heath to power. Parkinson became a close ally of Margaret Thatcher and joined her cabinet in 1979. He moved to the new Hertsmere constituency for the 1983 election (the ‘Falklands election’), when he also ran the successful Conservative election campaign. He resigned later that year, after a particularly grim scandal and, although he had returned to the cabinet in the meantime, stepped down again on the day of Margaret Thatcher’s resignation and left the Commons in 1992 (ennobled, of course), to be replaced in Hertsmere by James Clappison, who went on to be a popular and hard-working constituency representative – always a backbencher – for five Parliamentary terms.

Clappison was summarily dumped by his party – one of those brutal ejections that the Conservatives are fond of, for the 2015 election. History records that Hertsmere very nearly became home to one Boris Johnson. In the event, though, Johnson was installed in Uxbridge and South Ruislip and we got David Cameron adviser Oliver Dowden instead. Local boy Dowden is also a hard-working constituency MP, visible in the area and always ready to support local causes. He’s had an interesting few years, first promoted to a junior ministerial role by Theresa May. His period as Culture Secretary under Boris Johnson took in the pandemic and a pandemic bail-out for theatres and art galleries. Moved to the holding position of Co-Chairman of the Conservative Party he took up the Culture Wars with a vigour that some found surprising. In that period he famously endorsed privet hedges and took up arms against unisex toilets and woke road signs.

Boris Johnson and Oliver Dowden jumping
Johnson and Dowden jumping

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 (we learn that he was partying with at a hotel in Leicester Square the night before Kwasi Kwarteng’s dismissal. Schadenfreude, much?). Ultimately, of course, Sunak was choppered in by the membership and Dowden’s (quite short) period in the wilderness was over. There was some speculation at the time that he wouldn’t stand at the next general election, which can take place no later than 28 January 2025. At this writing (19 January 2024) he has not declared his candidacy but it seems likely he’ll stand.


So, back to the elections. What all the results in our chart have in common, of course, is the winner. Hertsmere has been a comfortably Conservative seat for its whole history. Even the Blair revolution, in which Labour took 418 Parliamentary seats, the largest number ever held by a UK party, couldn’t (quite) touch that and, since then, although Corbyn narrowed the gap a bit in that surprising 2017 result, the Tories are now further ahead in Hertsmere than they’ve ever been.

In some ways, the Liberals’ trajectory in the constituency since 1983 is the grimmest of all – essentially a steady fall from a quarter of the vote – and second place ahead of Labour – to less than half that and a poor third place. Among the also-rans, you can see the collapse of the far-right parties as their platforms have been absorbed by the ever-adaptable Tories.

This chart shows the Conservatives’ winning majority in Hertsmere, over the 36-year period. You can see just how close things got in 1997. It’s also interesting to note how long it’s taken the party to recover from that enormous electoral shock – essentially a whole political generation.

Chart showing the Conservative candidate's winning majority in parliamentary elections in the Hertsmere constituency between 1983 and 2019
Full data

And this chart shows turnout over the same period, a pretty steady picture that puts Hertsmere a little above the 2019 average for the UK – although roughly in line with other constituencies with a similar, older-than-average, age profile.

Chart showing turnout in parliamentary elections in the Hertsmere constituency between 1983 and 2019. Full data is in a spreadsheet linked below this graphic.
Full data

To keep the top chart simple, we’ve left out the minor parties – the levitating transcendentalists from the Natural Law Party (please watch their amazing 1994 European Parliamentary election broadcast); James Goldsmith’s Referendum Party, whose programme looked pretty kooky at the time but now looks like a model of sanity; the Independent Communist candidate whose vote exceeded 2% back in 19831; Arthur Scargill’s Socialist Labour Party and the BNP, whose Daniel Seabrook ran once in 2010 before being rendered entirely irrelevant by UKIP.

On 15 January 2024, polling company YouGov published a big national opinion poll – commissioned by the Daily Telegraph and using the gold-standard MRP technique which involves a much bigger sample than ordinary polls and clever demographic weighting. The result induced visible terror in Tory MPs and a frenzy of recrimination in the corridors and meeting rooms. For Hertsmere the projected result is dramatic but leaves Dowden in his seat:

Chart showing election results in the Hertsmere constituency between 1983 and 2019 plus data from a January 2024 YouGov opinion poll. Full data available in a spreadsheet linked below this graphic.
Full data

In fact, if this actually happened, the Conservative margin in Hertsmere would still be slightly larger than it was in the 1997 Labour landslide. The Reform Party, aiming to stand everywhere, polls 10% in the YouGov estimate, which is interesting but, in Hertsmere, not material to the result.

The raw data, including the smaller-party numbers not shown above, is in this spreadsheet, with the graphs, in case you’re interested, you weirdos.


  1. It took us a minute to figure out that it’s actually quite unlikely that there were 1,000 Communists in Hertsmere in 1983 and much more likely that the fact that the candidate’s surname, like the winner’s, was Parkinson, contributed to his surprising vote share. ↩︎

What were the big issues for General Election voters in Radlett?

About a week ago, just before the 2017 General Election, we asked you which local issues would motivate you to vote. We did this for the last election too, back in 2015.

So, in order of importance to you, here are the issues that got the Radlett electorate voting, with the 2015 position in italics and the number of votes for each issue (in brackets).

1. The NHS (140) – up from 3rd position
2. Local amenities (134) – up from 8
3. The freight terminal and the green belt (133) – down from number 1
4. Caring for the elderly (130) – up from 11
5. Crime and policing (130) – down from 4
6. Transport and commuting (129) – non-mover
7. Young people (129) – up from 9
8. Development in Radlett (121) – down from 2
9. The Newberries car park development (121) – new entry
10. Housing (120) – up from 12
9. Local business (117) – down from 7
10. Environment (114) – non-mover
11. Or is it really all about Brexit? (112) – new entry
12. Schools (105) – down from 8

The NHS has displaced the freight terminal as your number one concern since 2015, the Newberries car park redevelopment is a new entry at number nine and, although we were really expecting you to tell us that Brexit trumps everything else, it was the second-least important issue in the survey. Does this reflect a national loss of interest in the mechanics of Brexit, now that it’s a done deal? And will the biggest electoral surprise in decades throw the whole Brexit calculation in the air again anyway?

It’s also fascinating that schools have dropped from number eight to last place. The huge cuts coming down the pipe for all state schools are clearly not freaking out the population of Radlett.

Our 2017 election survey results are here. And you can read the 2015 results here.

And on the national scale, Tory donor (and noted tax avoider) Lord Ashcroft runs a large and detailed survey of UK voters after every major vote. His most recent data is absolutely fascinating. He shows, for instance, that the only age group that voted majority Conservative in last week’s election was the over-55s.

Elections in Hertsmere since 1983

A line chart showing Hertsmere Parliamentary election voting data, from 1983-2017That’s 34 years of Hertsmere General Election voting data, from the Thatcher high water mark of 1983 (the biggest landslide since Labour’s 1945 win, you’ll remember) to 2017’s most surprising result, via that other high water mark – Blair’s even bigger 1997 landslide.

The Hertsmere Parliamentary constituency has only existed since 1983. Before it there was a constituency called South Hertfordshire that itself only lasted for three general elections. Cecil Parkinson, a close ally of Margaret Thatcher, held the seat from 1983, when he also ran the extraordinarily successful Conservative national campaign. He was replaced, after a particularly egregious scandal, for the 1992 election, by James Clappison, who went on to be a popular and hard-working constituency representative for five Parliamentary terms.

Clappison was summarily dumped by his party for the 2015 election, though, to make room for David Cameron adviser Oliver Dowden. Dowden himself has spent the last two years building a reputation for hard work and commitment to the constituency and he has, of course, now been re-elected with a higher share of the vote, although a slightly smaller majority.

What all the results in the chart have in common, of course, is the winner. Hertsmere has been a comfortably Conservative seat throughout. Even the Blair revolution, in which Labour took 418 Parliamentary seats, the largest number ever held by a UK party, couldn’t (quite) touch that and, although Fiona Smith has lifted the party further from that dreadful 2010 result, the Corbyn uprising has done essentially nothing to close the gap.

In some ways, the Liberals’ trajectory in the constituency since 1983 is the grimmest of all – steadily falling from a quarter of the vote and second place ahead of Labour – to little more than 5% this year. That’s a snapshot of the national challenge for Farron and his party.

This chart shows the Conservatives’ winning majority in Hertsmere, over the 34-year period. You can see just how close things got in 1997. It’s fascinating to note how long it’s taken the party to recover from that enormous electoral shock.

Chart showing winning majority in Hertsmere Parliamentary constituency from 1983 - 2017

And this chart shows turnout over the same period.
Hertsmere General Election turnout data, 1983-2017

To keep the top chart simple, I’ve left out the minor parties – the levitating transcendentalists from the Natural Law Party (please watch their 1994 European Parliamentary election broadcast); James Goldsmith’s Referendum Party, whose programme looked pretty kooky at the time but now looks like a model of sanity; the Independent Communist candidate whose vote exceeded 2% back in 1983; Arthur Scargill’s Socialist Labour Party and the BNP, whose Daniel Seabrook ran once in 2010 before being rendered entirely irrelevant by UKIP. The smaller-party numbers are all included in the raw data, though, in case you’re interested.
(sources: Wikipedia and BBC)

Hertsmere – the results are in

Oliver Dowden acceptance speech 2017Blimey, what a night. British politics has been turned on its head. Young voters have challenged the electoral status quo as never before. A Prime Minister brought low by hubris. But you don’t want to know about all that. You want to know what happened here in Hertsmere, right?
Screenshot of 2017 election results from Hertsmere Parliamentary constituency

As expected, it was not an exciting night in Hertsmere. The photograph (from Hertsmere Borough Council on Twitter), taken during Oliver Dowden’s acceptance speech, properly expresses the frenzy at the count in Borehamwood. It was a good night for Dowden, though. He was re-elected with more votes and an increased share.

He’s won a smaller majority though, and that’s all about a substantially better performance from Labour and the collapse in UKIP’s vote. Fiona Smith, a first time candidate for Labour, built on Richard Butler’s work in 2015, taking Labour’s vote to 14,977, over 6% more than in 2015 and a 28.7% share, the party’s highest since 2001. I predict a solid political future for Fiona Smith.

UKIP’s loss mirrored the national numbers. David Hoy polled only 1,564 votes, 75% fewer than in 2015.

The Liberal Democrats polled almost exactly the same as in 2015, which itself was a thirty-year low point, and the Greens’ return to Hertsmere politics made essentially no difference. Return to two-party politics, anyone?

Turnout was 71%, the best since the high water mark of 1997, when it was 74%.

What to expect from General Election day in Hertsmere

Polling station in New South Wales, Australia, in 1925First of all, if you live in Radlett and can vote, do complete our one-minute survey about local issues influencing Radlett voters. We’ve done this before and it produces lots of useful insight. It’ll be online until 5pm today and we’ll share the results this evening.

We essentially already know the result of the 2017 General Election in our constituency, Hertsmere. It’s the 103rd safest seat in the country for the Conservatives. Only an gigantic electoral earthquake could unseat Conservative incumbent Oliver Dowden so, for Hertsmere, it’s all about the details:

Will Oliver Dowden improve on his 2015 majority of 36.9%? His majority was very close to his predecessor James Clappison’s in 2010 but he had managed to improve his party’s share by more than 3% over 2010.

Will the post-Brexit political ferment increase turnout from 2015’s 67.9%, which was itself up from 64.7% in 2010? National turnout for the 2015 General Election was 66.1%, up over the previous three General Elections but still substantially down on the average for the second half of the 20th Century, when over 70% of the population showed up to vote every time. Some pollsters are projecting a big increase in turnout, thanks to a rush of enthusiasm from young people enthused by Jeremy Corbyn. We’ll see.

Can the Liberal Democrats’ candidate Joe Jordan possibly improve on his party’s disastrous 2015 Hertsmere performance – 2,777 votes, down 11.8 ooints on 2010? 2015 was an especially bad year for the Liberals, for reasons you’ll probably remember, but many think the party has badly miscalculated the electorate’s interest in re-running the Brexit vote. This may even reduce the Lib Dems’ share.

Will UKIP’s vote, which was 6,383 or a 12.7% share in 2015 (over three times the party’s 2010 vote) shrink sharply as it is expected to nationally?

Can Labour’s Fiona Smith overcome the concerns of Hertsmere’s Jewish community, on antisemitism and the party’s position on Israel? She’s been working hard to do so in the constituency but with Labour’s share in 2015 at not much more than a third of the Tory vote, it’s not looking good.

And will the return of The Greens to the fray, with Sophie Summerhahyes, who only joined the party in 2015, further reduce Labour and the Lib Dems’ share in the constituency?

We’ll share the Hertsmere result here and on Twitter and Facebook as soon as we have it. The count, at Allum Lane Community Centre in Borehamwood, is always well organised so we’re expecting a fairly early result. Also on Twitter, the Borehamwood Times and the press team at Hertsmere Borough Council will also be providing election news overnight.

Your Hertsmere candidates are:
Oliver Dowden, Conservative.
David Hoy, UKIP @1DavidHoy
Joe Jordan, Liberal Democrats @GeekofHearts.
Fiona Smith, Labour @Fiona4Hertsmere.
Sophie Summerhahyes, Green Party @Barber_Sophie.

Here’s our detailed analysis of the 2016 referendum vote and of the 2015 General Election vote in Hertsmere.