The strange death of the Tory north
Sun 28th Apr 2013
Congratulations to the Conservative Party on having delivered its South Shields leaflets in Jarrow. Everywhere beyond the Mason-Dixon Line that runs from the Bristol Channel to the Wash is now just "the North, and we know absolutely nothing about it" to the Tories, isn't it?
Let us meander the physically short but otherwise longer distance to leafy Lanchester. I am standing down from the Parish Council here after 14 years, seven as Labour, seven as an Independent. Until 1995, the Conservative Party massively dominated the Parish Council from the Dawn of Time, while the place returned two Tories out of three to the old District Council. Think of a smaller version of Hexham, or Altincham, or Harrogate. Think of the North depicted on Last Tango in Halifax.
Yet Lanchester has not elected a Conservative above Parish level since 1991. That party has not had a significant presence on the Parish Council since the elections in 1995. It returned only one, a sound Tory farmer, to the Parish Council in 2009, our term of office being then extended by two years in line with that of the new unitary County Council.
The sole Conservative candidate for this two-member County Ward comes from as far away as Gateshead, which is not even in County Durham, never mind here in the middle of it. One of the two UKIP candidates lives in the Ward, although not in Lanchester as one would expect; the other does not even live here. There is no Lib Dem.
For the Parish, following the withdrawal of a Labour candidate who is standing for the County elsewhere, there are now 15 nominations for 15 seats, and therefore no election. The only Tory is the one who was already on. In Lanchester. A farmer, not someone from the commuting, middle-class, once ardently Thatcherite village, where they always saw Labour as integral to everything that they had gone up in the world in order to escape.
One of the Independents was first elected as Labour and is a millionaire businessman to whom the Conservative Party is clearly of no interest even after his having broken with Labour, while another was at least a Labour voter until the Iraq War. In Lanchester. There is a third Independent. Plus 11 Labour. Eleven. More than two thirds. Elected unopposed. In Lanchester.
The minimum age having been lowered, my record as the youngest ever member has been beaten by a full two years. It had stood since the last century. But a 19-year-old who works in the office of the local Labour MP, who herself lives here and whose husband has also just got back on, has now been elected. Unopposed. In Lanchester. This time last year, he was a schoolboy. Good for him, say I. Remember the name of Philip Richardson. No Paris Brown, he. But this would have been unimaginable in the very recent past.
I cannot believe that Lanchester is an isolated, or even a terribly unusual, example among the many similar communities in the North East, the North West and Yorkshire. Across the rural and the middle-class North, including among people who even throughout the Blair era loathed Labour as they loathed their own former accents or the people whom they had felt obliged to invite to their children's weddings, the Conservative Party has become only the faintest shadow of a shade, while UKIP is not really getting anywhere, either.
In each case, if it cannot take, or even fight, the likes of Lanchester, then it has no constituency in the North. Without which, it simply cannot win a General Election.