The northern road to prime minister Miliband

by Jonathan Todd

You wait an eternity for a female Cumbrian MP and then two seem set to come along at once. Lee Sherriff, Labour’s candidate in Carlisle, is regularly applauded in speeches by shadow ministers. Sue Hayman has more recently been selected by Labour to fight Workington, a seat the party has invariably held throughout its history.

Polling by Lord Ashcroft suggests that Sherriff is set to turn around the 853 majority of Conservative MP John Stevenson. Iain Dale also calls the seat narrowly for Labour. Assuming Labour suffer no Cumbrian losses, this would give Labour at least four of the six Cumbrian seats.

Labour faces tougher fights in Westmorland and Lonsdale, where Tim Farron defends a majority of over 12,000 for the Liberal Democrats, and Penrith and the Border, a Conservative citadel, granting Rory Stewart a majority of over 11,000. These seats have never been red and cover much of the Lake District National Park, which draws visitors from across the globe. The more Labour inclined seats have their charms but are less well travelled.

Stevenson is Carlisle’s first Conservative MP since Ronald Lewis won the seat back for Labour in 1964, the year Harold Wilson first became Prime Minister. In 1983, an unhappier general election year for Labour, the party’s commitment to unilateral nuclear disarmament allowed Cecil Franks, the Conservative candidate in Barrow and Furness, where the building of nuclear submarines has long been a major source of employment, to ask at every opportunity: “If Labour gets elected, what will the lads do on Monday?”

John Hutton defeated Franks for Labour in 1992, meaning that four of the six Cumbrian MPs again were Labour, but it took another five years for the government to become so too. If Sherriff were to win Carlisle, it might herald another period in which four of the six Cumbrian MPs are Labour but the government is not. Equally, Carlisle is the kind of seat to give Ed Miliband hope.

As average weekly earnings in Carlisle lag the average for Great Britain by around £120, it is a place where Labour’s cost of living focus is likely to have had resonance and decisions taken by the Tory-led government are unlikely to always have been well received. With diligent local campaigning, it should be possible to transfer this grievance with the government into support for Labour. A recent profile in the New Statesman indicates that Sherriff is providing such campaigning with aplomb.

The profile does not mention that Sherriff, like Hayman, was selected through an All Women Shortlist (AWS). When I return to Cumbria, where I grew up, the use of this selection method is raised more frequently with me than any other political issue. Anne Pickles, a columnist on local papers, has speculated that AWS could assist UKIP in Workington. But UKIP seem less well-established in west Cumbria than they are in other coastal areas, polling only 876 votes at the 2010 general election in Workington.

A little further north in Carlisle, though, Ashcroft’s polling indicates that UKIP have moved from polling 2 per cent of the vote in 2010 to being on course to poll 18 per cent this year. Some way from seriously challenging for the seat but a sharp increase, nonetheless. Whether this support is drawn disproportionately from those who voted Labour in 2010 or those who then voted Tory, may determine who holds the seat from May 2015.

Reconnecting with those tempted by UKIP was a big theme of the launch of the Blue Labour book. Rowenna Davis, Labour’s PPC in Southampton Itchen, spoke of telephoning those that voter ID revealed as moving from Labour to UKIP. There are more than sufficient of such voters in her seat to imperil the puny majority of 192 that Labour defends. Given the speculation of Pickles, I wonder whether any of them raise AWS with Davis.

It is a question that Labour candidates would, I am sure, robustly answer and it is difficult to disagree with Sherriff’s view that it is “pretty shocking” that Cumbria has never had a female MP. Sherriff contests a small enough majority and is running a sufficiently energetic campaign that she may form part of a northern road to Prime Minister Miliband. Ashcroft’s latest polling had another northern seat, High Peak, moving from Conservative to Labour.

Lancaster and Fleetwood, Morecambe and Lunesdale, and Rossendale and Darwen are among a number of other northern seats where decent local campaigning and the unpopularity of the Conservative government may be enough to move them from Conservative to Labour, almost irrespective of how well the Labour leadership perform.

There are not enough of such northern seats to create a Labour majority but there might just be enough to make Labour the largest party. In this circumstance, concessions to the SNP on Trident would be as keenly noted in Barrow and Furness as similar were in Franks’ day, while any sense that a Miliband government privileges metropolitan interests – with their Polish nannies, chorizo sausages and fondness for AWS – would be seized upon by UKIP to seek to continue the advance they’ve made since 2010.

Jonathan Todd is Deputy Editor of Labour Uncut    

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2 Responses to “The northern road to prime minister Miliband”

  1. Ex Labour says:

    You forget many things in your quest for a socialist utopia and just one of which will put the skids under Miliband and labour.

    Polls have shown that EVEL (or whatever variant you wish to call it) is very popular with the English electorate and you can expect the Tories to run hard with the potential Labour alliance with SNP – vote Labour and get Scottish rule. In fact the advertising campaign has already started with Miliband shown in Salmond’s pocket. UKIP will also have a field day with this.

    You can have the PC all women shortlist and lets be honest this is a metro-guardianista driven initiative from the dinner tables of the chattering labour elite – of which Miliband is one.

    Again polls show the public want a vote on the EU. Hell my local Labour MP said they are in favour of a referendum and campaigning for it. Miliband will lose votes to UKIP and Tories if the love in with Europe does not stop.

    I can tell you from speaking to my Labour friends none of the above sit well with them so for the electorate as a whole it will be much worse. The campaigning has not really started yet, so I anticipate that Crosby will have some ammunition stashed away for when the real action starts and issues like EVEL, EU etc will certainly lose Labour votes.

  2. Madasafish says:

    I reiterate my view that a party with Ed Balls as Shadow Chancellor can never win outright..

    Anecdote – true.. but take it with a pinch of salt.

    I walk daily and am routinely harassed by a Jack Russel who walks an OAP.. We laugh about every time we meet. Don’t know him otherwise.

    I met him this morning – he was walking with three other OAPs. Dog harassed me as normal.. everyone laughed.. Owner claimed – as usual – he knew of no reason.

    Jokingly one of his companions replied: “Not true.. you have a picture of him (me) pinned to the dashboard of your car so your dog can bark at him”.

    And one of the others replied: “No, that’s Ed Balls”… And everyone laughed.

    Says it all really. Man is considered an idiot – even although he is actually very clever . (He just lacks any common sense. )

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