Sir Peter Tapsell "keeping his seat warm for Boris"

The Father of the House would apparently be willing to give up his safe seat to allow Boris to return to the Commons.

The "Boris for Tory leader" mutterings continue in today's Sunday Telegraph, where Patrick Hennessy and Robert Watts report that Sir Peter Tapsell has apparently been overhead by Tory MPs telling David Cameron that he would be prepared to give up his seat to allow Boris Johnson to return to the House of Commons.

Tapsell, who is 83, holds the constituency of Louth and Horncastle in Lincolnshire with a majority of 13,871. He's also the longest continuously-serving MP in Parliament, having been in the Commons non-stop since 1966 as well as having served from 1959 to 1964.

The Sunday Telegraph says:

Last night the MP denied being part of any Boris “camp” and said his Louth and Horncastle constituency in Lincolnshire, where his majority is nearly 14,000, could be too far from London to suit Mr Johnson. However, he said the Mayor would be an “excellent” leader of the Opposition and “perhaps” a good prime minister.

It's probably wise not to give too much credence to Tapsell's remarks - after all, over the past few years there have been a number of rumours about how Boris is going to get back into Parliament - his brother Jo Johnson, Richard Ottaway and Zac Goldsmith have all been said at one time or another to be willing to step aside to allow him an eventual shot at the Tory leadership. Tapsell might be willing to resign, but whether Boris is as keen to take his place is another matter. As George observed earlier this week, he's keen to succeed Cameron, but playing a long, safe game.

It's less clear whether Boris would even want to return to Parliament at this juncture - after all, being Mayor of London is a far more high-profile position from which to audition as a potential leader of your party. Barring accidents, I, for one, would doubt that we'll see him departing from City Hall before his term is up in 2016.

 

Boris Johnson. Photograph: Getty Images

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

Photo: Getty
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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.