Key moments for today in Scots battleground seats
Scotland will find out today whether Nicola Sturgeon has managed to win a majority, with results from key seats set to be declared.
Yesterday, 48 constituencies were confirmed, with the SNP on track to form the next Scottish Government. The Nationalists made key gains in East Lothian, Ayr and Edinburgh Central – but there could be a price to pay for some when the final regional list result is revealed today.
And while the SNP increased its vote in some areas, tight races were run against both the Conservatives and Labour, with fewer than 1,000 votes between the winner and second place. Below is a list of when you can expect to hear from the remaining constituencies today:
- 1pm Clydesdale, Cumbernauld and Kilsyth, Dundee City East, Dunfermline, East Kilbride, Edinburgh Eastern, Edinburgh Northern and Leith, Edinburgh Pentlands, Falkirk West, Mid Fife and Glenrothes, Galloway and Dumfries West
- 3pm Perthshire South and Kinross-shire, Renfrewshire South
- 5pm Aberdeen South and Kincardine North, Aberdeenshire West, Almond Valley, Angus South, Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley
- 6.30pm Glasgow Cathcart, Glasgow Kelvin, Glasgow Provan, Glasgow Shettleston, Midlothian South Tweeddale and Lauderdale
- Uddingston and Bellshill will also declare today.
Results for the eight regional areas are expected this evening – and will provide the final result of the 2021 Scottish parliament election.
Nicola Sturgeon was today hoping to push ahead with plans for a second Scottish independence referendum as Boris Johnson set himself on course for a dramatic constitutional clash with her in his defence of the Union as the election count resumed in Scotland today.
The tight parliamentary contest looked on track for a record turnout, despite fears that the pandemic and poor weather would dent voter numbers – with the Scottish National Party leader admitting her hopes of a majority were on a ‘knife edge’, but it is ‘almost certain’ the
Ms Sturgeon said ‘when the time is right’ she will offer Scots ‘the choice of a better future’ in a second referendum on independence – but Mr Johnson hit back, insisting he would not back the ‘irresponsible’ move and senior minister George Eustice warned it was the wrong time to be considering another plebiscite.
Achieving the 65 seats needed for an outright victory in Scotland could make it harder for the PM to refuse, but if the SNP falls short of that target it could still achieve a majority for a referendum with the help of the Greens.
With 48 of the 73 constituency results declared in Scotland yesterday, the SNP had 39 seats, Liberal Democrats four, Conservatives three and Labour two.
Some constituencies are still to be counted today, when the crucial regional list results will also be declared. The pandemic meant traditional overnight counts were abandoned after Thursday’s election in Scotland.
Ms Sturgeon, who comfortably defeated Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar to claim Glasgow Southside yesterday, said afterwards: ‘My focus, if we are re-elected as the government, is to get back to work to steer the country through the crisis and into recovery.
‘That remains the case. But once the crisis is over, and if there is a majority in the parliament for an independence referendum, people should have the right to choose our future. Scotland’s future should always be in Scotland’s hands.’
Speaking about the prospect of winning an overall majority, the SNP leader said: ‘It’s certainly not impossible, but nor is it guaranteed.
‘That was always going to be on a knife edge, it comes down to a small number of votes in a small number of seats, so at this midway point it is certainly still there as a possibility, but I have never taken that for granted.
‘It is a long shot, to say the least, in a PR (proportional representation) system, to win a majority – you effectively have to break the system. I would like to do it, but I have never been complacent about that.’
It comes as Labour this morning blamed the pandemic for ‘restricting’ the opportunities’ for its politicians to campaign across Britain after the Conservatives racked up a string of stunning poll victories in the local elections.
Labour will hope for better results today after a bruising Friday. With results in from 84 of 143 English councils, the Tories had a net gain of seven authorities and 173 seats, while Labour had a net loss of four councils and 164 seats.
In London’s mayoral contest, Labour’s Sadiq Khan goes into today with a lead of 24,267 first preference votes over Tory rival Shaun Bailey after the first seven constituencies declared, a closer contest than many had predicted.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon at the count for the Scottish Parliamentary Elections at the Glasgow Emirates Arena yesterday
Prime Minister Boris Johnson at Jacksons Wharf in Hartlepool, County Durham, yesterday following MP Jill Mortimer’s victory
With 48 of the 73 constituency results declared in Scotland yesterday, the SNP had 39 seats, Liberal Democrats four, Conservatives three and Labour two
Votes being counted for the Scottish Parliamentary Elections at the Emirates Arena in Glasgow this morning
Counting continues in the parliamentary contest today, with the main Glasgow counting centre pictured this morning
Labour was thrashed in the Hartlepool by-election, with Jill Mortimer securing a majority of almost 7,000, while Tory Ben Houchen won a second term as mayor of Tees Valley with a whopping 73 per cent share of the vote.
And the Tories gained control of a series of councils, including Northumberland, Nottinghamshire, Dudley, Harlow and Nuneaton and Bedworth – reversing the mid-term slump often suffered by governing parties.
Counting on record turnout: Scots flock to polls despite pandemic and bad weather
Scotland is on track for a record-breaking Holyrood election turnout after millions went to the polls.
Despite the coronavirus pandemic and treacherous weather conditions on Thursday, some key areas boasted a turnout of more than 75 per cent. The flood of voters heading to polling stations came on top of more than a million Scots voting by post – a record high.
At 7pm last night, turnout across the country was at 64.1 per cent, with the highest engagement in Eastwood, Renfrewshire, at 76.4 per cent.
While the ongoing health crisis may have led to fears people would opt not to vote, experts last night said it likely had the opposite impact. It is thought a sense this election would have an enormous impact on the country’s future encouraged many to vote.
But some believe people might just have even been ‘excited and enthused’ at having a reason to leave their home. Last night, Nicola McEwan, co-director of the Centre on Constitutional Change, said: ‘It looks to be highest turnout we’ve had in a Holyrood election.’
She said it was ‘all about the stakes, it’s all about the people thinking it really matters. They see it as an important issue’.
More than 4.2million people registered to vote in the Scottish parliament election. The previous highest turnout was in 1999 when 59 per cent of the electorate voted in the first Holyrood election. The lowest turnout was 49.4 per cent in 2003, which led to a Labour- Liberal Democrat coalition.
Writing in today’s Scottish Daily Mail, pollster Mark Diffley, founder and director of the Diffley Partnership, said the surge in interest included a trip to vote.
He said: ‘There may be a number of reasons for this [high turnout], including record registration for postal votes during the Covid lockdown period, and a recognition among voters of what is at stake at this election in terms of Scotland’s constitutional future.
‘There may also of course be a more straightforward explanation, that the public were simply excited and enthused by the prospect of a trip to the polling station after months of Covid lockdown.’
The highest turnout was in Eastwood at 76 per cent, where Conservative Jackson Carlaw held his seat with nearly 18,000 votes compared to 15,000 for the SNP.
Edinburgh Western also had a huge turnout of 71.46 per cent with 46,901 votes cast, up from 65.4 per cent in 2016. The seat was held by Lib Dem Alex Cole-Hamilton. The turnout for Edinburgh Central was 41,833 (62.69 per cent), up 7,664 from the last election, when turnout was 57.3 per cent. The SNP’s Angus Robertson won.
SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford called the turnout ‘a victory for democracy’. However, voter numbers led to problems – with some in Glasgow temporarily turned away because the ballot box was too full. Nadeem Basharat, 37, and his partner Joanne Basharat, 34, went to Jordanhill Parish Church polling station at 8.30pm but were told they could not cast their vote. Mr Basharat said: ‘We went home and waited and got there for about 9.30pm and managed to get in.’
A spokesman for Glasgow’s returning officer said: ‘The sheer size of the regional paper meant some ballot boxes became full. We were able to deliver replacement boxes.’
It follows claims from one voter who told BBC Radio Scotland he visited the polling station on four occasions, returning home three times because of the queue stretching to 60 or 70 people. The 73-year-old, who would give his name only as Michael, joined the queue at 9.30pm but still had to wait. He said: ‘I voted for the first time in my life after 10 o’clock.’
Returning officer for Edinburgh Andrew Kerr said the nearly 90 per cent turnout in postal votes shows the scale of interest in the election.
With the Conservatives also winning seats across the West Midlands, senior figures were confident that the region’s mayor Andy Street will secure a second term in office when returns there are announced today.
In Scotland, Ms Sturgeon said the SNP would introduce the legislation for a referendum ‘and if Boris Johnson wants to stop that he would have to go to court’.
She told Channel 4: ‘If this was in almost any other democracy in the world it would be an absurd discussion. If people in Scotland vote for a pro-independence majority in the Scottish Parliament, no politician has got the right to stand in the way of that.’
Mr Johnson said a referendum would be ‘irresponsible and reckless’ in the ‘current context’ following the pandemic.
Pressed on what he would do if Ms Sturgeon pushed ahead with a referendum without Westminster’s consent, he told the Daily Telegraph: ‘Well, as I say, I think that there’s no case now for such a thing … I don’t think it’s what the times call for at all.’
Today, Scotland’s Deputy First Minister John Swinney told BBC Breakfast: ‘It’s very clear that the Scottish National Party is going to be the largest party at the Scottish Parliament by a very significant margin.
‘We don’t know whether we will have a majority yet, that will become clearer in the course of today I would imagine, and that’s an astonishing achievement for us given the fact that we are now about to embark on our fourth consecutive term in government after 14 years and three terms of leading the people of Scotland.
‘I think we’ve had a tremendous success in the election yesterday, we will see what comes in the course of today but the signals are very good indeed and obviously we will then turn our minds to the arrangements post election.’
Asked whether the SNP will continue arguing they have a mandate for a second independence referendum if they win more than 65 seats, he said it will come down to the make-up of the Scottish Parliament and whether there is a majority of candidates who have been elected on a programme to deliver a referendum on independence.
He said: ‘I think what matters on the question you asked me about a mandate for a referendum is what is the position of those who are elected to the parliament and will there be an overall majority of members elected committed to the hosting of an independence referendum, and I’m very confident that will be the case.’
Scottish Tory finance spokesman Murdo Fraser said the party has been affected by people voting tactically for other pro-union parties but is confident the Scottish Conservatives will hang on to second place in the Scottish Parliament.
He told BBC Good Morning Scotland: ‘The early indications are that we have polled very strongly in terms of the regional vote and I would expect that will mean we will come back very close to where we were in 2016 in terms of the number of seats, maybe slightly down, maybe slightly up.’
Asked whether he is confident the party will hold on to second place he said: ‘Oh yes, I don’t think there’s any doubt of that at all after what I’ve seen so far.
‘Our regional list vote may well even be up on where it was in 2016, and that should translate into seats.’
Meanwhile Mr Eustice said it was the ‘wrong time’ to hold a second independence referendum in Scotland, with chances of an SNP majority in Holyrood on a knife edge.
The Environment Secretary told BBC Breakfast: ‘There was a referendum that took place just a little over five years ago – that was described as a ‘once in a generation’ opportunity to debate these issues and they did.
‘And I think now, as we try and come out of the pandemic and get economic recovery going, it is the wrong time to have yet another divisive referendum and yet another bout of constitutional argument on a matter such as this.’
Put to him that Brexit had a been a ‘fundamental change in British politics’ since the 2014 border poll, Mr Eustice replied: ‘The important thing is that now we have left the European Union – and yes, that was quite a divisive debate, there is no getting away from that.
‘But it does mean that in whole swathes of policy areas, particularly the ones I deal with on the environment, animal welfare, agriculture and fisheries policy, there is now more power going to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland than they have ever had before.
People observe the votes being counted as the process continues for a second day at the Emirates Arena in Glasgow today
Votes are counted for the Scottish Parliamentary Elections at the Emirates Arena in Glasgow this morning
Votes being counted for the Scottish Parliamentary Elections at the Emirates Arena in Glasgow this morning
‘Areas of policy that have been occupied and an EU competence over the last 40, 50 years are now policies that these devolved administrations will be able to exercise judgment on and I think that is going to be really important.’
ANALYSIS: It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing
By STEPHEN DAISLEY FOR THE SCOTTISH DAILY MAIL
As we await the full results of this crucial Holyrood election, we appear to have veered into Donald Rumsfeld territory.
George W Bush’s Secretary of Defence famously outlined the difference between ‘known knowns’ (things we know we know), ‘known unknowns’ (things we know we don’t know) and ‘unknown unknowns’ (the ones we don’t know we don’t know).
The known known is that turnout is up across a number of constituencies. More voters came to the polls than last time in Perthshire North, Dundee West and Clydebank and Milngavie, to name just a few.
If this trend is replicated nationwide, we’ll be looking at a substantially higher turnout than 2016, when just under 56 per cent of the electorate showed up at polling stations.
What we don’t know for certain is if that will benefit any one party in a uniform fashion. From the results yesterday, the SNP did benefit from this surge – but we can’t be sure that will be the case in every region.
We know the nationalist vote is relatively united, despite the Alba split. Plus, the Scottish Greens generally help rather than hurt the SNP, as they predominantly contest the regional lists.
Since Nicola Sturgeon’s party has roughly 40-45 per cent of the electorate baked into its numbers – mostly people who support separation – any uniform national increase in turnout stands a good chance of boosting the SNP’s vote.
In such circumstances, the party would be in a strong position to take not only a majority of Holyrood seats, but to do so in the constituencies alone.
We know there has been tactical voting but we don’t know by how much or who, if anyone, it will benefit. A Tory source told me the problem was a familiar one – Tory voters are willing to vote tactically for Labour or the Lib Dems, but the reverse is not true.
If this is indeed what has happened, it would mean that, after a decade of Ruth Davidson’s endeavours, the Scottish Conservatives are still sufficiently toxic to hamper nationwide tactical voting.
Crudely put, some voters who hate the SNP still hate the Tories more. Speaking of toxic, Alex Salmond’s Alba Party appears to have fallen flat.
Asked to describe how the breakaway faction was faring, an SNP source replied with a word that can’t be printed in a family newspaper.
In the blame game, it’s a toss-up between Salmond’s personal standing in public opinion and the feasibility of his ‘super-majority’ plan, which targeted pro-separation voters dissatisfied with Sturgeon’s progress on Indyref 2.
Either the prevalence of such dissatisfaction has been wildly exaggerated or these voters could not bring themselves to vote for Salmond’s party.
As ever, there are blips that make a smooth narrative difficult to fashion. Yes, the SNP vote has gone up in most seats so far, but not all of them.
The Nationalist vote dropped in seats they nonetheless held, including Clydebank and Milngavie and Na h-Eileanan an Iar. In Banffshire and Buchan Coast, the drop was dramatic – almost 10 per cent.
We know the various reasons why the SNP share might slip in particular areas, but not why it has done so across such a diverse range of seats.
Finally, there are the unknown unknowns, the surprise results that may be coming. Could the Tories capture Perthshire South and Kinross-shire? How will the regional list seats fall?
The SNP has won the election, but just how handsomely? That’s the unknown that will be answered today.
Asked whether the Government would fight any bid for a second Scottish referendum in the courts, Cabinet minister Mr Eustice said: ‘Look, I’m not a lawyer – lawyers will look at these things and I think it is getting ahead of ourselves.
‘We’ll have to see how the results pan out later today. There is a question at the moment over whether the SNP will get a majority or not – we’ll have to wait and see until the results come through.
‘The UK Government’s position is very clear on this. We don’t think there is a case for another referendum, particularly now as we try and chart a way out of the pandemic and get our economy going again.
‘But we will obviously deal with whatever we have to deal with once these elections are settled and once the new Scottish administration decides what it wants to do.’
Mr Eustice also further with his arguments against granting the SNP a second independence referendum in Scotland, calling the idea ‘irresponsible’. The Environment Secretary told Times Radio: ‘We think this is a complete distraction.
‘It would be irresponsible to have another divisive referendum and another bout of constitutional debate at a time when we are charting our way out of this pandemic and when we’ve got to really focus on economic recovery.
‘We think it’s completely the wrong thing to be doing. We had a referendum just a little over five years ago and that settled the issue.’
The SNP is on course to secure a fourth term in power in Scotland but could still be blocked from an outright majority by the Tories.
A dramatic day of results yesterday saw the SNP pick up a series of key seats, including three snatched from pro-Union rivals.
But it won’t be known whether it has done enough to win a majority until the final constituencies and the vital regional list result are declared later today.
The Scottish Conservatives have relentlessly focused on the peach party list ballot – and believe they have increased their regional vote share compared to a record performance in 2016, when the party secured 23 per cent of the votes.
Of the 48 constituencies which had declared by last night, the SNP had won 39 seats, the Liberal Democrats four, the Conservatives three and Labour two seats.
But the outcome of the regional list vote could be critical in deciding whether the SNP wins a majority.
Despite its strong showing in the constituencies, where its victories included two seats previously held by the Conservatives and one taken from Labour, the SNP is expected to make minimal gains on the regional list.
Polling experts also believe the SNP vote has not increased enough in key constituencies to indicate it will win a majority.
The SNP picked up one crucial seat in Edinburgh Central
Former SNP Westminster leader Angus Robertson won the seat that had previously been held by former Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson.
It also snatched Ayr from the Tories and took East Lothian from Labour.
But all the other 45 seats declared yesterday did not change hands, meaning the make-up of parliament is likely to be very similar to the 2016 term.
The Conservative party focused its campaign on trying to persuade pro-Union voters to back it on the party list ballot in order to deny the SNP a majority.
Early indications suggest it could have increased its vote share in some regions – and Tory strategists hope to improve on the 23 per cent share from 2016.
There were strong signs that pro-Union voters united behind the best-placed rival to the SNP in many key battlegrounds.
The Lib Dems held four of their seats – Orkney, Shetland, North East Fife and Edinburgh West – but narrowly missed out on a key target of Caithness, Sutherland and Ross, where SNP Childcare Minister Maree Todd narrowly held on.
The Tories held two of their Borders strongholds – Dumfriesshire and Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire – and also held off a SNP challenge in former leader Jackson Carlaw’s Eastwood seat. However, losing Ayr was a major blow.
Labour’s big victory was Jackie Baillie retaining Dumbarton, which was one of the last of the 47 constituencies to be declared last night. It also held Edinburgh Southern as Tory voters lent their support to Daniel Johnson.
Mr Robertson, who won the top SNP target of Edinburgh Central, immediately declared that voters believed that ‘Scotland’s future should be in Scotland’s hands’.
Counting continues in the Welsh Senedd elections at the Cardiff City House of Sport in South Wales this morning
People count the votes in the Welsh Senedd elections at the Cardiff City House of Sport this morning
Counting continues in the Welsh Senedd elections at the Cardiff City House of Sport this morning
The former SNP deputy leader said: ‘In this most European of capital cities, people have resoundingly rejected the party of Brexit and Boris Johnson. The public has rejected all of the parties that want to block an independence referendum.’
How Tories could win 36 more Labour seats
The collapse in support for the Brexit Party may allow the Conservatives to snatch dozens more Red Wall seats.
Boris Johnson’s historic by-election victory in Hartlepool came after thousands of Nigel Farage’s old voters switched sides.
At the last election in 2019, Labour managed to cling on to the constituency with 15,464 votes as Leavers were split between the Tories and Brexit Party – which picked up 11,869 and 10,603 votes respectively. But this time support for Mr Farage’s party – now renamed Reform UK – dwindled to just 368 votes, allowing Mr Johnson to clean up with a majority of 6,940.
A Daily Mail analysis has found there are a further 36 Labour seats across the country where the party’s lead over the Tories in 2019 was smaller than the number who voted for the Brexit Party.
Alarm bells will be sounding in Labour HQ about if these are the next bricks in the Red Wall to fall. In Barnsley East in South Yorkshire, Labour’s Stephanie Peacock has a majority of 3,217. However, there were 11,112 Brexit Party voters who could help the Tories snatch the seat at the next election.
Labour former Cabinet minister Yvette Cooper beat the Tories with a wafer-thin majority of 1,276 in Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford in West Yorkshire last time round. But she faces the danger that the 8,032 people who voted for the Brexit Party could switch to the Tories and unseat her.
Five serving shadow Cabinet ministers are among the Labour MPs with seats on the list of 36. Former party leader Ed Miliband has a majority of 2,370 in Doncaster North in South Yorkshire but the Tories will be looking to win over some of the 8,294 Brexit Party voters.
Other frontbenchers at risk are Labour’s defence spokesman John Healey, Shadow Home Secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds, work and pensions spokesman Jonathan Reynolds and shadow chief secretary to the Treasury Bridget Phillipson.
Deputy First Minister John Swinney, who held Perthshire North to become the longest-serving MSP in a single constituency, said it was now ‘beyond any doubt’ that the SNP will form the next government.
He added: ‘That is an absolutely gigantic feat for the Scottish National Party to have achieved, to be on the brink of a fourth continuous term.’
Nicola Sturgeon also held off the challenge of Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar in Glasgow Southside. As results were announced at the Emirates Arena on Friday, Mr Sarwar won 10,279 votes to Miss Sturgeon’s 19,735.
In 2016, the First Minister won a total of 15,287 votes – with the Labour candidate Fariha Thomas winning 5,694 votes.
After the result, Mr Sarwar said: ‘I’m pleased that we doubled the actual number of votes that we got and we increased the share of our vote by 9 per cent.
‘I think you can see the immense progress we have made in the last ten weeks.’
He said Labour was still on a journey to build a ‘credible alternative’ to the SNP.
Former Scottish Conservative leader Miss Davidson insisted her party will still be a strong opposition to the SNP.
She said: ‘We are going to get into a post-constitution politics in Scotland at some point and I really hope that we do.
‘When you have the party in government, a fortnight before dissolution before election, passing a Bill for another referendum – and saying it has to be Scotland’s choice and stating that now – and you have got a former First Minister joining the fray to try to make the vote harder and faster towards independence, which voters in Scotland have already rejected, somebody has to stand up for the over two million people that want to stay part of the United Kingdom.
‘If that falls to the Scottish Conservatives then we will do so because we believe that the vote in 2014 should be respected.
‘If Labour and the Lib Dems don’t want to stand up for it that’s up to them but we will.’
She added: ‘We have to get past constitutional politics in Scotland and we have to focus on the recovery.’
On the Scottish Tory campaign led by Douglas Ross, Miss Davidson said: ‘Absolutely everything that Douglas put together as part of his campaign – I wasn’t part of the campaign team and I wasn’t part of the planners – was all about not having a referendum so we can focus on the recovery.’
This morning, Labour’s shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds told breakfast TV that the pandemic had ‘restricted the opportunities’ for the party leader Sir Keir Starmer to ‘set out his vision’ for the country.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer leaves his North London home yesterday following the poor results for Labour in the elections
Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford is elected as Cardiff West MS after counting at the Cardiff House of Sport yesterday
He told Times Radio: ‘Keir has been in a situation over the past year where, in the national interest by the way, he has been providing that constructive opposition to the pandemic. And that was absolutely right.
Now senior MPs claim the Left’s mantle after major success in the polls
Senior Tories called the Conservatives the ‘true workers’ party’ last night after a series of astonishing electoral gains.
Jill Mortimer took Labour’s Hartlepool stronghold – securing only the fifth by-election win by a governing party since the Second World War.
In a second stunning Tory victory in the North East, Ben Houchen secured a second term as Tees Valley mayor. He grabbed 73 per cent of the vote – up from 39.5 per cent four years ago.
The prospects for a hat-trick of successes were rising last night, as the party made gains across the West Midlands, where Andy Street is also bidding for a second term as mayor.
Boris Johnson, who made a whirlwind visit to Hartlepool yesterday, hailed the result as a ‘mandate for delivery’ on his pledge to ‘level up’ opportunity across the country. In a sign of the town’s remarkable political transformation, well-wishers erected a 30ft inflatable of Mr Johnson outside the counting centre.
On his arrival, the Prime Minister gestured at the inflatable and joked: ‘Who’s that fat bloke over there?’ In the biggest round of local elections for decades, the Conservatives defied the odds to make gains in bellwether seats and traditional Labour areas.
Northumberland, Nottinghamshire, Dudley and Nuneaton and Bedworth all fell to the Tories, having previously been under no overall control.
They also gained Harlow in Essex directly from Labour after seven seats changed hands. Harlow MP Robert Halfon said the result was a sign that the Tories had now usurped Labour as the ‘true workers’ party’.
The former Tory minister added: ‘There has been lots of talk about a vaccine bounce, but it is not just stick a needle in someone’s arm and they will vote Tory – it’s much more than that.
‘Labour has become very metropolitan and its whole campaign has just been negative mudslinging. We have been focusing on people’s priorities like the NHS, skills, keeping fuel duty down and recruiting more police. We are the true workers’ party now. And the Boris brand works – he is liked by people in a way that Labour do not understand.’
Fellow Tory MP Neil O’Brien, who was appointed last week as the Prime Minister’s ‘levelling up’ adviser, said there was a chance to ‘use this incredible moment to change the country for the better’.
Mr Houchen, who has become a galvanising figure for Tory support across the North East, said his thumping win in what was once a rock-solid Labour area was down to a record of delivery following ‘years and years of neglect’. He added: ‘Governments of both colours have failed to invest in this region and this Government under Boris Johnson has invested hugely – people are seeing tangible benefits on the ground.’
Simon Clarke, Tory MP for Middlesbrough South, said political allegiances that saw some communities vote Labour for decades were now shifting.
‘People in the North East have stopped voting Labour ‘because my parents did’,’ he said.
‘They are looking at the two parties clear-sightedly, on the basis of what they offer – and they aren’t going to go back for being taken for granted.’ In Hartlepool, Mrs Mortimer gained 15,529 votes – more than half the total cast.
She said the result – overturning a Labour majority of more than 3,500 at the 2019 general election – was ‘truly historic’. The Tory surge also saw the party pick up a smattering of seats in some of the most solidly Labour areas. In Sheffield, the party won its first seat on the city council since 2008. In nearby north Derbyshire, the Tories won for the first time in Clay Cross.
Elections expert Professor Sir John Curtice said early results showed ‘Leave and working-class areas are moving more strongly to the Conservatives than are Remain and more middle class places’.
‘At a point of national crisis, yes of course you criticise the Government when it was appropriate to do so but it was also appropriate to do things like support the Government on the furlough scheme or supporting the Government on its public health messaging and not, for party political reasons, trying to create confusion around that.
‘What that has also meant is that it’s restricted the opportunities for Keir to set out his vision.’
Mr Thomas-Symonds said he disagreed with former Labour frontbencher Khalid Mahmood MP’s comments about the party being ‘captured’ by the ‘London-based bourgeoisie’, pointing to election successes in Wales.
‘We did that because we had a set of priorities that spoke to the priorities here of the people – we have to now transfer that across into England,’ he added.
Mr Thomas-Symonds said there would be a policy review in a bid to reconnect with voters,and that in places like Hartlepool and its traditional heartlands elsewhere, people ‘do not now see Labour as answering’ their concerns.
He added: ‘That’s now what we have to reflect on and why we have to change. Keir has started that process of change over the past 12 months, he’s led very courageously on things like tackling anti-Semitism in the Labour Party – now it is a question of moving on, having that review of our policies, economically setting out the difference that we will not go back to the insecure economy of the past and reimagine our economy.
‘And also make sure we are changing our party so that our party is connected in communities up and down the country – that is the challenge and we are determined to do it.’
The shadow cabinet member defended Labour’s criticisms of so-called ‘sleaze’ in Government and said the party ‘absolutely have to hold the Conservatives to account’ when it came to alleged ‘cronyism’ when handing out contracts and the Prime Minister’s spending on his Downing Street flat renovations.
Also today, Environment Secretary George Eustice said Brexit and the success of the vaccine rollout had helped the Conservatives to win votes off Labour.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘When it comes to the really big breakthrough in the Hartlepool by-election and the election of Ben Houchen as well (as Tees Valley Mayor), I think really it is a case of parts of this country feel they have elected Labour for a very long time, they feel taken for granted.
‘I think the Brexit decision and the wrangling over that in recent years has focused minds in that they have questioned whether the Labour Party was really in touch with their priorities. And of course the rollout of the vaccine has been successful and I think people feel positive and that they can see a way out of this terrible pandemic we have been enduring.’
Put to him that ‘crises favour incumbents’, Mr Eustice replied: ‘I’m not sure that is the way I would view it.’
Now, Ministers have predicted that Boris Johnson could rule longer than Margaret Thatcher as results showed the Tories could take 36 more Westminster seats from Labour at the next General Election.
They believe there has been a permanent shift in the UK’s political identity and claimed Mr Johnson – who has been the premier since July 2019 – could outlast Margaret Thatcher’s 11 years in Downing Street, The Times reports.
They believe the Tories must establish an advantage by winning the ‘culture wars’ and challenging ‘woke’ views. Meanwhile sources told the Guardian Sir Keir is now considering moving Labour out of London to reconnect with ‘Red Wall’ voters.
Labour conceded the results were a ‘shattering’ blow to Sir Keir, who last night admitted his party had ‘lost the trust of working people’.
The dismal results triggered a fresh wave of Labour infighting, with the Left hitting back at claims by Lord Mandelson that the party was suffering the effects of ‘Long Corbyn’ syndrome.
Khalid Mahmood dealt a fresh blow to Sir Keir last night by announcing he was quitting Labour’s front bench.
The former defence spokesman said the party had been ‘effectively captured’ by a ‘London-based bourgeoisie, with the support of brigades of woke social media warriors’.
Labour sources warned that low turnout and voter ‘complacency’ could even cost Sadiq Khan a second term as London mayor – a contest he had been expected to win by a landslide.
But senior Tories remained on alert for results from the Scottish Parliament elections, with Nicola Sturgeon insisting a majority for the SNP would give her a ‘mandate’ to hold a second independence referendum.
On a victory tour of Hartlepool yesterday, the Prime Minister acknowledged that the success of the vaccine programme had played its part in the results, but said it was now up to ministers to deliver for voters on his pledge to ‘level up’ opportunity.
Liberal Democrats and Greens enjoy resurgence
The Liberal Democrats and Greens put in a strong performance last night as they picked up a string of Labour and Conservative council seats.
The Lib Dems made gains across the country, including in at least one Brexit stronghold. This will be welcome news to leader Sir Ed Davey after the party’s poor performance in the last general election, when then leader Jo Swinson lost her seat. The smaller parties were forecast to take more seats today.
The Lib Dems deprived the Tories of overall control of Cambridgeshire County Council, winning five seats. In Brexit-voting Sunderland, they took four from Labour, while in Sheffield they and the Greens helped deprive Labour of overall control.
In Stockport, the Lib Dems became the largest party, with a one-seat advantage over Labour. They will probably form a minority administration.
The party also made gains in Hull and were also expecting to take seats in Liverpool from Labour, and in Kent and Lincolnshire from the Tories. Sir Ed said: ‘In great swathes of the country the Lib Dems are the only party who can beat the Conservatives.’
The Green Party made good progress, winning at least 40 new seats.
There were nine councils where Green candidates won seats for the first time, including Stockport, Northumberland, Hastings, County Durham and Derbyshire.
He said Brexit had allowed the Government to deliver the vaccine rollout ‘faster than other European countries’.
Asked about the future, he replied: ‘Number one is continuing the vaccine rollout, making sure that we go from jabs, jabs, jabs, to jobs, jobs, jobs, make sure that we have a strong economic recovery.’
The results came as:
- Blairite former Labour minister Lord Adonis joined calls for Sir Keir to resign, saying he was a ‘transitional figure’ who lacked ‘political skills at the highest level’;
- Dominic Cummings hit out at both Labour and the Conservatives, saying that neither was focused on being a ‘serious government’;
- In a glimmer of hope for Labour, Welsh first minister Mark Drakeford suggested the party could become the first to ever gain an outright majority in the Welsh Assembly;
- Sir Keir was sharpening his axe for a major reshuffle in which both his Shadow Chancellor and Shadow Home Secretary could get the chop;
- In a rare reversal, the Conservatives lost control of Cambridgeshire County Council as the Liberal Democrats gained a handful of seats;
- Miss Sturgeon insisted that an SNP majority remained a ‘very, very long shot’, despite early gains;
- In a blow to the Tories, the SNP gained the Edinburgh Central seat previously held by former Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson;
- Mr Johnson dropped the strongest hint yet that the next easing of Covid restrictions would go ahead on May 17, allowing indoor socialising and stays away from home.
Thursday’s polls were the biggest test of electoral opinion since the 2019 election, with 48million people able to vote in local, regional and devolved elections.
Both main parties admitted being surprised by the scale of the Tory surge, following a campaign in which normal election canvassing was heavily restricted by Covid regulations. Counting was also delayed by health and safety restrictions imposed because of the pandemic.
But, as the results rolled in, it became clear that Mr Johnson had confounded the conventional wisdom that voters use local elections to punish the sitting government.
Mr Johnson said delivering on his pledge to ‘Get Brexit Done’ had been vital in boosting Tory support in Leave-voting areas in the North and Midlands.
He said the results gave him a ‘mandate’ to deliver on the rest of his programme, but studiously avoided any sense of triumphalism.
The scale of the changes in key areas was laid bare in charts produced by Election Maps UK
Mr Johnson said people ‘can see we did get Brexit done… and I think what people want us to do now is to get on with delivering on everything else’.
In an upbeat assessment he said upgraded economic growth forecasts from the Bank of England suggested there was a ‘prospect of a really strong rebound in the second half of the year’.
A lack of Labour wins to celebrate meant that Sir Keir was forced to deliver his response to the election from his office in London.
The Labour leader appeared rattled by the scale of the setback, but insisted the party was not facing an ‘existential crisis’. He promised to do ‘whatever is necessary’ to rebuild voter trust following a ‘bitterly disappointing’ defeat in Hartlepool.
Lord Mandelson, who once held Hartlepool for Labour, said Jeremy Corbyn still cast a ‘long shadow’ over the party.
The architect of New Labour said the pandemic had also played a key role, with voters more interested in vaccines and the release from lockdown than day-to-day policies.
Richard Burgon, a former Labour frontbencher, claimed Mr Corbyn would have won in Hartlepool, and urged Sir Keir to move further to the Left.
‘We are going backwards in areas we need to be winning,’ he added. ‘Labour’s leadership needs to urgently change direction.’
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