The Dissolution Honours

Four former defence ministers and Floella Benjamin are elevated to the House of Lords.

And through the round window, it's Lady Floella Benjamin. The actress and TV presenter, best known for her 14-year stint on the children's programme Playschool, has been honoured in the Dissolution Honours List for her work campaigning on education issues.

Benjamin is the founder of Touching Success, a charity that aims to link children with role models, and was a member of the Liberal Democrats' commission on primary education. She will sit in the House of Lords as a Lib Dem peer.

A few names had leaked out this morning, but the full list is now up on the Downing Street website. There are to be 55 new peers in all.

The list includes some predictable entries -- for instance, John Prescott and Michael Howard. (Incidentally, it is worth asking how his elevation to the Lords might affect Prescott's availability to make an effective party treasurer.)

Other former frontbenchers moving to the Lords include the former defence secretaries John Reid, Des Browne and John Hutton, the former chief secretary to the Treasury Paul Boateng and the former Northern Ireland first minister Ian Paisley.

Quentin Davies, another former minister of defence who crossed the floor from the Tories, will become a Labour peer. The former Metropolitan Police commisioner Sir Ian Blair, who was ousted shortly after Boris Johnson became Mayor of London, becomes a crossbench peer.

There are a few slightly more controversial political appointments, such as Michael Spicer, who until stepping down at the election chaired the 1922 Committee, and Sue Nye, the gatekeeper Gordon Brown blamed for his "Bigotgate" run-in with Gillian Duffy during the campaign in Rochdale. Anna Healy, a former adviser to Harriet Harman and wife of Jon Cruddas, also becomes a Labour peer.

The unions have their customary representation, with Margaret Wheeler of Unison and John Monks of the European TUC making an appearance. Single-issue campaigners, too, are present, with Helen Newlove, a campaigner against drink-related violence, and Deborah Stedman-Scott, chief executive of the employment charity Tomorrow's People, both becoming Tory peers.

But the prizes for the wackiest appointments most defintely go to Benjamin and Shireen Ritchie, grass-roots Tory campaigner and stepmother of Guy Ritchie, who was once interviewed in the Daily Mail about her love life as part of an article on "passionate pensioners".

Caroline Crampton is assistant editor of the New Statesman. She writes a weekly podcast column.

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Who will win in Stoke-on-Trent?

Labour are the favourites, but they could fall victim to a shock in the Midlands constituency.  

The resignation of Tristram Hunt as MP for Stoke-on-Central has triggered a by-election in the safe Labour seat of Stoke on Trent Central. That had Westminster speculating about the possibility of a victory for Ukip, which only intensified once Paul Nuttall, the party’s leader, was installed as the candidate.

If Nuttall’s message that the Labour Party has lost touch with its small-town and post-industrial heartlands is going to pay dividends at the ballot box, there can hardly be a better set of circumstances than this: the sitting MP has quit to take up a well-paid job in London, and although  the overwhelming majority of Labour MPs voted to block Brexit, the well-advertised divisions in that party over the vote should help Ukip.

But Labour started with a solid lead – it is always more useful to talk about percentages, not raw vote totals – of 16 points in 2015, with the two parties of the right effectively tied in second and third place. Just 33 votes separated Ukip in second from the third-placed Conservatives.

There was a possible – but narrow – path to victory for Ukip that involved swallowing up the Conservative vote, while Labour shed votes in three directions: to the Liberal Democrats, to Ukip, and to abstention.

But as I wrote at the start of the contest, Ukip were, in my view, overwritten in their chances of winning the seat. We talk a lot about Labour’s problem appealing to “aspirational” voters in Westminster, but less covered, and equally important, is Ukip’s aspiration problem.

For some people, a vote for Ukip is effectively a declaration that you live in a dump. You can have an interesting debate about whether it was particularly sympathetic of Ken Clarke to brand that party’s voters as “elderly male people who have had disappointing lives”, but that view is not just confined to pro-European Conservatives. A great number of people, in Stoke and elsewhere, who are sympathetic to Ukip’s positions on immigration, international development and the European Union also think that voting Ukip is for losers.

That always made making inroads into the Conservative vote harder than it looks. At the risk of looking very, very foolish in six days time, I found it difficult to imagine why Tory voters in Hanley would take the risk of voting Ukip. As I wrote when Nuttall announced his candidacy, the Conservatives were, in my view, a bigger threat to Labour than Ukip.

Under Theresa May, almost every move the party has made has been designed around making inroads into the Ukip vote and that part of the Labour vote that is sympathetic to Ukip. If the polls are to be believed, she’s succeeding nationally, though even on current polling, the Conservatives wouldn’t have enough to take Stoke on Trent Central.

Now Theresa May has made a visit to the constituency. Well, seeing as the government has a comfortable majority in the House of Commons, it’s not as if the Prime Minister needs to find time to visit the seat, particularly when there is another, easier battle down the road in the shape of the West Midlands mayoral election.

But one thing is certain: the Conservatives wouldn’t be sending May down if they thought that they were going to do worse than they did in 2015.

Parties can be wrong of course. The Conservatives knew that they had found a vulnerable spot in the last election as far as a Labour deal with the SNP was concerned. They thought that vulnerable spot was worth 15 to 20 seats. They gained 27 from the Liberal Democrats and a further eight from Labour.  Labour knew they would underperform public expectations and thought they’d end up with around 260 to 280 seats. They ended up with 232.

Nevertheless, Theresa May wouldn’t be coming down to Stoke if CCHQ thought that four days later, her party was going to finish fourth. And if the Conservatives don’t collapse, anyone betting on Ukip is liable to lose their shirt. 

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