Susan Press

Our heartlands remain Labour

Susan Press

WHEN THERESA MAY CHOSE THE FORMER MILL TOWN OF HALIFAX in West Yorkshire to launch her 2017 manifesto the signal could not have been clearer - the Tories hoped to pick up thousands of votes in traditional Labour heartlands where communities had voted Brexit.

At a time when all the pundits were predicting a Conservative landslide, she was greeted by a sizeable number of demonstrators and activists protesting about zero-hours contracts. It was a sign of things to come and a decision - like many in the Conservative campaign - which came back to haunt her as the north decisively rejected the Tories' pitch for traditional Labour territory where people had voted Leave.

Halifax, with the smallest Labour majority in a Brexit area and number one target seat for the Tories, returned Labour's Holly Lynch with a 5,000 majority - in 2015 it was just over 400. In Chester, where Labour's Chris Matheson beat his Conservative opponent by fewer than 100 votes in 2015, the result was even more spectacular. He turned a knife-edge 93-vote majority into a 9,176 landslide.

Other Tory target seats included Wirral West, where Margaret Greenwood won comfortably with the Labour vote up 9%, Barrow in Furness and Lancaster and Fleetwood, where Cat Smith was tipped to lose her seat with only a swing of less than 2% required. She won 55.1% of the vote. The assumption had been that UKIP votes would simply go to the Tories. So in the north east, the Conservatives targeted Darlington, Middlesborough South and Hartlepool. Only Middlesborough was a Tory gain as the UKIP vote split between the two main parties. UKIP's vote share was down to 2% compared with 12% in 2015 - more than £30,000 in lost deposits.

When the first results were declared in the north east, Tory hopes of stealing seats were clearly dead in the water. In Houghton and Sunderland South Labour had an increased majority. In Washington and Sunderland West, where in 2015 UKIP came second with almost 20% of the vote, it was down 12%. In Hartlepool, a UKIP and Conservative target seat, Labour won with 52% of the vote, up 17 percentage points on 2015. Tories also failed to take key targets in the north west like Bolton North East and Wrexham. And safe Conservative seats like mine in Calder Valley have gone from a Tory majority of 4,500 to a majority of just over 600. 

is Chair of Calder Valley CLP (writing in a personal capacity)