Tory predicts yellow revolution

Conservative council hopeful Martine Martin predicts that Hull is set for a yellow (Lib Dem) revolut

'This is a one of those years where it is a bad year to be Labour and it is a good year to be anything else but Labour.'

Or so says Councillor John Fareham, one of the only two Conservative Councillors in Hull City Council. Unsurprisingly, I happen to agree with him. But it seems I am not alone.

To give a little background information on the area, Hull is traditionally a Labour stronghold (it is, after all, the home of John Prescott and Alan Johnson, amongst others). Coincidently, it was also dubbed the "worst council in England" by the CPS both in 2004 and 2005, during the twilight years of Labour's council-level rule there. But let's not dwell.

Last year the council was given over to Liberal Democrat control. They had to form a minority administration and, according to Labour Councillor Gary Wareing, came close to holding a vote of no confidence in themselves last October. Yes, you read that right.

It's a curious state of affairs in Hull. The way things stand, there are 59 council seats, with the Liberal Democrats holding 24 and Labour holding 25.

There are also 2 Conservatives and the rest are made up by independents of varying hue. With the Liberal Democrats set to make a number of gains, possibly even to the point of taking overall control, one might think that life is rosy for the yellow team these days.

Not so. Hull City Council does seem to have a problem with keeping its councillors in their own corners, with Liberal Democrats crossing the floor all over the place. 13 have left the group since 2002, including 2 who have made a break for it since the formation of their minority administration.

They have reputedly overspent to the tune of 5 million already. Council tax is well above inflation. All is not well.

Yet everyone in a position to know seems to be in agreement; they could pledge to make Smurf hats a legal requirement in Hull and they would still be set for an excellent year. While Labour are concentrating on ways to soften the blow caused by national government ineptitude and the Conservatives are fighting to take control of East Riding instead, Hull is wide open for a "yellow revolution", as one enthusiastic Liberal Democrat I know put it.

I would have to agree, so long as they can keep their Councillors on their side of the ring in the future.

Martine Martin, 21, is studying politics at Hull and a well known Tory blogger. She is active in Conservative Future and standing for Hull council

How Jim Murphy's mistake cost Labour - and helped make Ruth Davidson

Scottish Labour's former leader's great mistake was to run away from Labour's Scottish referendum, not on it.

The strange revival of Conservative Scotland? Another poll from north of the border, this time from the Times and YouGov, shows the Tories experiencing a revival in Scotland, up to 28 per cent of the vote, enough to net seven extra seats from the SNP.

Adding to the Nationalists’ misery, according to the same poll, they would lose East Dunbartonshire to the Liberal Democrats, reducing their strength in the Commons to a still-formidable 47 seats.

It could be worse than the polls suggest, however. In the elections to the Scottish Parliament last year, parties which backed a No vote in the referendum did better in the first-past-the-post seats than the polls would have suggested – thanks to tactical voting by No voters, who backed whichever party had the best chance of beating the SNP.

The strategic insight of Ruth Davidson, the Conservative leader in Scotland, was to to recast her party as the loudest defender of the Union between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom. She has absorbed large chunks of that vote from the Liberal Democrats and Labour, but, paradoxically, at the Holyrood elections at least, the “Unionist coalition” she assembled helped those parties even though it cost the vote share.

The big thing to watch is not just where the parties of the Union make gains, but where they successfully form strong second-places against whoever the strongest pro-Union party is.

Davidson’s popularity and eye for a good photo opportunity – which came first is an interesting question – mean that the natural benefactor in most places will likely be the Tories.

But it could have been very different. The first politician to hit successfully upon the “last defender of the Union” routine was Ian Murray, the last Labour MP in Scotland, who squeezed both the  Liberal Democrat and Conservative vote in his seat of Edinburgh South.

His then-leader in Scotland, Jim Murphy, had a different idea. He fought the election in 2015 to the SNP’s left, with the slogan of “Whether you’re Yes, or No, the Tories have got to go”.  There were a couple of problems with that approach, as one  former staffer put it: “Firstly, the SNP weren’t going to put the Tories in, and everyone knew it. Secondly, no-one but us wanted to move on [from the referendum]”.

Then again under different leadership, this time under Kezia Dugdale, Scottish Labour once again fought a campaign explicitly to the left of the SNP, promising to increase taxation to blunt cuts devolved from Westminster, and an agnostic position on the referendum. Dugdale said she’d be open to voting to leave the United Kingdom if Britain left the European Union. Senior Scottish Labour figures flirted with the idea that the party might be neutral in a forthcoming election. Once again, the party tried to move on – but no-one else wanted to move on.

How different things might be if instead of running away from their referendum campaign, Jim Murphy had run towards it in 2015. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.

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