/Why Labour Could Find It Hard To Depose Tories In The New ‘Blue Wall’ – HuffPost UK

Why Labour Could Find It Hard To Depose Tories In The New ‘Blue Wall’ – HuffPost UK

One question has dominated conversations in Labour circles since the party’s crushing election defeat: how does it win back the “red wall” that crumbled to the Tories?

A “humbled” Boris Johnson has already promised to deliver for those who “lent” the Tories their votes in key seats, many for the first time ever, and is planning an investment blitz in the north.

Labour leadership contenders have read the signs and are wrestling with how to reconnect with working class voters, anticipating a second battle in post-industrial towns across England in the 2024 election.  

But as much as the next election will be fought on the usual grounds of personality, policy and values, does the simple presence of Tory MPs in areas for the first time in decades, or even ever, make life that much harder for Labour?

As Tory MP Lee Rowley, who in 2017 turned North East Derbyshire blue for the first time since 1935, told the Commons People podcast: “You get to prove to people with a perhaps natural reticence for the Conservative Party […] that actually we don’t turn up and eat children – we are vaguely house trained and actually we want to get stuff done for our communities.”

Rowley was one of four MPs who spoke to HuffPost UK about the power of incumbency, a little explored political phenomenon that could present Labour with an even bigger mountain to climb.

Cash and visibility 

Tory Robert Goodwill, who won his Scarborough and Whitby seat in 2005 after eight years of Labour, and has held on to it ever since, suggests incumbency is “worth around 2,000 votes”.

And one of the principal reasons is straightforward – money.

Each newly elected Tory MP will have access to an expenses allowance for office costs and staff, while each defeated Labour MP will be immediately cut off.

“The Labour shop front in Redcar will be gone, and replaced by a Tory one,” as Goodwill puts it.

The former minister explains: “I’ve got an office right in the middle of town with my name on it and Conservative branding.

“You can hire 10 members of staff who can help you help constituents and get your messages out.

“You can hire staff including someone to do your press, who will get you in local media regularly.

“You can use the money to send information like newsletters, contact cards and so on.

“We put stickers up 10 years ago with my name and contact details which are still there on nearly every street in the town centre.”

PA Wire/PA Images

A Boris Johnson supporter at Wilton Engineering in Teesside, where the Tories made gains

MPs can also use their new power and resources to help people in the area in the way a candidate never can – and word spreads.

“You get to help out around 500 constituents a year with their local issues, using your influence – that’s around 2,500 people over the course of a parliament and can make a real difference,” Goodwill says.

Trust

But MPs should beware taking the value of incumbency for granted, according to Liberal Democrat ex-MP Norman Lamb.

The former minister was the first ever Lib Dem to win his North Norfolk seat in 2001 before standing down this year and seeing it immediately go back to the Tories.

His majority went up from 483 when he was first elected to a peak of 11,626 nine years later, which he describes as “the impact of incumbency”.

“Virtually everyone knew who I was and that doesn’t just happen – it happens through hard graft, really,” says Lamb.

“It’s body and soul territory. You give it everything and live and breathe it.”

Lamb says it was important to “maintain some humility” rather than “getting pumped up with your own self importance” and “disappearing from view”.

If you’re going to change the political weather and keep it changed then people have to trust you to stick with you

This meant turning up to events like prize-givings or openings – “not just disappearing as soon as you’ve done it and treating people with a degree of contempt, but actually engaging with people and actually listening to them and taking up their issues”.

Lamb would also keep close to the local media to advance local causes as it is “much more trusted than the national media”.

“If someone had their wife stuck in hospital because a social care package hadn’t been arranged and it was going on for months, I would use the press to embarrass the county council into doing something,” he says.

“It’s all about trust. […]

“People can turn up and vote the way they have always voted based on a national campaign and without knowing who their local MP is and just carry on as before.

“But if you’re going to change the political weather and keep it changed then people have to trust you to stick with you, otherwise they will abandon you and go back to old ways.

“And that’s then all about how you go about doing the job.” 

Delivering locally

The incumbency factor is gets multiplied when your party is in government as you can directly lobby ministerial colleagues.

Tory David Morris won Morecambe and Lunesdale for the Tories in 2010, deposing a Labour MP who had been in place since 1997.

MPs “all do jobs in their own way” but Morris says he has “always tried to get big blocks of money for infrastructure projects, and I’ve delivered”.

Morris says his former opponent was more focused on helping individuals with their problems, whereas he helped secure the cash for a link road which had been planned for 60 years before finally being built while he was the MP.

A social media video he posted about a bridge repair got 1,800 views online, highlighting the power of these interventions.

“If you’re an MP and you’ve been established for some time and you have got a track record of delivering, you will hopefully get re-elected,” Morris says.

“When I first stood in 2010, my predecessor was well thought of locally because she never came to parliament – she was basically a social worker instead of a legislator.

“You come here [parliament] to create laws of the land – that’s your primary job.

“But what you can do to great effect if you are savvy enough to do it is find out where you can get the cash to make big differences in your constituency.”

Pressing home the advantage

Ultimately, Rowley says that acting as a lightning rod for local concerns can go a long way. 

His Labour opponent in North East Derbyshire “made a decision” not to talk about the big issues in the seat because she was “busy chatting about all this massive stuff that was in the manifesto”.

He instead focused on the issues that mattered locally, spearheading a rebel campaign to get the government to U-turn and ban fracking.

It was seen as a brave decision for a new MP, but it was ultimately successful.

“There is an expectation now – you get stuck in, you try and advocate for your area and you don’t just do it in a way where you just ask a question in parliament once every three months and that’s enough,” he says.

Rowley adds: “There will be lots of people across the country now who will be waking up with new Tory MPs and it’s for my colleagues to demonstrate what they can do.

“A lot of those guys may have lent their votes, may not be fully convinced.

“There’s a lot of people who didn’t vote for me in 2017 but came over in 2019 and I think there’s a great opportunity there but we’ve got to deliver – we’ve got to do stuff.”

Original Source