7% swing not enough in Uxbridge after Reed’s mixed messages

ANDREW FISHER on yesterday’s by-election results, and the key role played by a Croydon politician in Labour’s flawed campaign in an outer London seat

Mis-step: Labour candidate in Uxbridge, Danny Beales (right), was guided by Croydon MP Steve Reed

Yesterday’s three parliamentary by-elections tell us that the Conservatives will lose the next General Election.

But it is the better-than-expected Conservative result in Uxbridge and South Ruislip that is dominating the headlines. That result has important lessons for Croydon, too, not least because a leading figure in Labour’s campaigning in Uxbridge was Croydon North MP Steve Reed.

In the local council elections held in May, the Conservatives suffered catastrophic defeats – losing councils and councillors to Labour, the LibDems and Greens.

National opinion polls today show Labour 15 to 20 points ahead of a Conservative Party which is languishing around just 30per cent public support.

So the results of the by-elections in Selby and Ainsty and in Somerton and Frome – both with massive swings against the Tories – repeat the message: people want the Tories out. Falling living standards, high inflation, NHS waiting lists, sleaze and corruption have all contributed to the British public turning firmly against the Conservatives.

Unimpressed: Irvine Welsh is such a good writer…

But the story was different in Uxbridge and South Ruislip, the constituency formerly held by Boris Johnson, the disgraced ex-Prime Minister.

It was a monumental task for the Tories to deflect voters’ attentions from the scandals of Boris Johnson and the Government’s failure on the NHS, economy, schools, and much else besides.

The Tories decided their only viable strategy was to try to make the by-election a referendum on the London Mayor’s ULEZ expansion to outer London. It is an issue over which the local MP has no say.

ULEZ expansion only affects a minority of motorists, as most vehicles are already compliant, and no one who doesn’t drive. It also benefits everyone by improving London’s toxic air quality.

But, in a spectacular mis-step a couple of weeks before polling day, Labour’s candidate gave the Tory campaign a massive fillip by effectively saying “actually they’ve got a point”, and calling for the expansion of ULEZ to be deferred.

That changed the conversation of the election.

Deceitful: the Tories avoided mentioning that their Uxbridge candidate is from the Conservative Party

Before that, there were competing narratives: Labour saying, “Look at the state of the economy. Do you want to stick with this?” The Tories were asking voters, “Do you want to back Labour’s ULEZ?”

But once both candidates were telling voters that ULEZ is a problem, then naturally they were going to vote for the candidate who they perceive really means what they say.

This is why you don’t legitimise your opponents’ framing of an argument. It changes the debate and knocks you off-track.

Labour canvassers flooded into Uxbridge from across London, particularly from Croydon. But if you’ve already conceded the ground to your opponent, no amount of canvassers can turn the tide.

Labour’s by-election campaign in Uxbridge was run by Steve Reed – a strange choice given his vocal opposition to Low Traffic Neighbourhoods in Croydon did nothing for Labour’s prospects at the last local elections.

Reed was also the driving force behind Labour’s ill-fated campaign in Croydon against having a directly elected Mayor, wasting thousands of pounds in funds.

The result in Uxbridge was still bad for the Conservatives, though. Whereas more than 25,000 voted Tory in Uxbridge in 2019, that nearly halved to 13,900. Labour also lost votes, dropping from the 18,000 achieved by Ali Milani in 2019 to just 13,471.

The overall result was a 7 per cent swing to Labour. On a similar move the Conservatives would lose Chingford and Woodford Green, the seat of the former Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith. But Chris Philp would cling on to his Croydon South seat against Labour challenger Ben Taylor – albeit with a reduced majority.

Day trippers: Labour canvassers poured into Uxbridge, especially Croydon councillors and activists

Some have suggested that the Uxbridge result bodes ill for Sadiq Khan in next year’s mayoral election. If there is a 7per cent swing to Labour in outer London, I suspect Mayor Khan would be overjoyed.

But Labour nationally is ahead in the polls predominantly as the passive receptacle of anti-Tory sentiment.

There is no wave of enthusiasm for Labour, but there is mass disenchantment with the Conservatives.

The Conservative vote collapsed: down from 36,000 to 10,000 in Somerton and Frome; and from 34,000 to 12,000 in Selby and Ainsty. As the leading pollster, John Curtice, said on this morning’s BBC Radio 4 Today programme, “Basically, the Tories are in as deep a hole as the polls suggest.”

The ball is the Conservatives’ court.

Opposition to ULEZ is not going to win them seats outside London, or even in many seats inside London.

They need policies to improve people’s lives. People are not taken in by the culture venality of Suella Braverman and other ghouls populating their Government frontbench.

They want the NHS improved, wages boosted, prices controlled.

But the Conservatives seem too dysfunctional and deflated to do anything.

If they stick to their apparent strategy currently – hoping something turns up and desperately pointing at small boats – they will lose and, as they did last night, lose badly.

Andrew Fisher’s recent columns:

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This entry was posted in 2024 General Election, 2024 London elections, Andrew Fisher, Ben Taylor, Chris Philp MP, Croydon North, Croydon South, Steve Reed MP and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to 7% swing not enough in Uxbridge after Reed’s mixed messages

  1. Climate emergency? Air pollution crisis? Steve Weed would rather throw Sadiq Khan under the bus over ULEZ than blame Sir Kid Starver and his weak, vague uninspiring Tory-lite 5 missions (impossible).

    ULEZ will be a non-issue come the London Assembly and Mayor of London elections next May. If it goes ahead as planned in August, then by May 2024, then most Londoners will realise the benefits, and the few moaners will have got cheaper, less-polluting cars and vans or just drive less. If for some reason ULEZ doesn’t go ahead, the Tories will have shot their fox, and Susan Hall will have nothing to campaign for.

    As for the next General Election, ULEZ will not be a national issue, unless Weed and Starver accidentally (on purpose) make it one

  2. Jim Lennon says:

    The author says you don’t legitimise your opponent’s framing of the argument because it changes the debate and knocks you off track.

    Precisely! Please don’t legitimise the Conservatives’ argument that Labour is split between Corbyn-supporting extreme left wingers and Keir Starmer moderates by constantly sniping at members of the Labour Party you clearly detest.

  3. derek thrower says:

    There are more factors at play here than focusing on one salient media issue and though Reed displayed his usual “lack of conviction” politics on the ULEZ scheme it really cannot be seen as the dramatic miscalculation claimed here and was rather a desperate tactical move to offset an issue, which gained traction in the campaign.

    One fact ignored by the commentator here is the usual import of a candidate who may have excellent contacts within London Labour into an area with which they have absolutely no tangible connection. Fisher as all Labourites seem completely blind to such matters and this was clearly a factor that the Tories astutely drew upon in the campaign with their selection and assisted them to hold a seat in which everyone clearly saw them have little chance in winning.

    • That’s a fair point. The fact he was a Camden cllr (despite having a past connection to the area) definitely had an impact too.

      Unfortunately Labour selections are (and this is not a recent phenomenon, though it has got worse in recent years) stitched-up for the favoured candidate of the bureaucracy.

  4. Peter Underwood says:

    Given Steve Reed’s appalling record of losing elections, I would just point out that (based on recent Council results) The Green Party are in second place in the new Streatham and North Croydon constituency where Reed is standing at the next General Election…….

  5. Bob Hewlett says:

    So now Starmer blames ULEZ and wants Khan to reflect. As Andrew as alluded to, it was a tactical error to concede ground on ULEZ instead of taking ULEZ ie pollution, whether it be airborne or land based, as a matter of importance in protecting future generations and combining it with green policies and climate change policies.

    Alongside Starmer’s insipid article in the Observer last weekend, the lack of political backbone is embarrassing.

    It seems very obvious to me that for Starmer, Principles is just another shop on the high street.

  6. Susan Peters says:

    At least Steve Reed is consistent.

    Whenever he interfered, meddled or overruled events in Croydon Local Politics, he has screwed it up for the Labour Party.

    He’s now done it on a National level, denying Labour one it’s most important seats in recent years.

    He’s gaff-prone and consistently misreads the politics – I don’t see him in a Labour cabinet, should Starmer become PM. Perhaps he should focus his attention on becoming a Croydon Labour Councillor – that’s if they let him.

  7. Bob Hewlett says:

    Best analysis of Keir Starmer from a voter in Selby on ITV News…”he changes his policies more than his underpants.”

  8. Bob Hewlett says:

    “Perhaps he should focus his attention on becoming a Croydon Labour Councillor…” Please, Susan, please do not wish that on us. Have we not suffered enough already?

  9. Peter Durrans says:

    Yesterday, both Emily Thornberry (on the World at One) and Margaret Hodge (on Any Questions?) claimed: “Labour has never won in Uxbridge”.

    That’s false. John Ryan won for Labour in the 1966 General Election, when I lived in that constituency.

    So, any suggestion it was “Mission Impossible” for Labour to win is ridiculous.

    Who was in charge of the campaign again?

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