ConHome Diary: Tories Must Heed the Sadiq Warning & Farage Would Outperform Boris & Gove in Debates

13 May 2016 at 13:11

What a pity Vote Leave are getting their knickers in a twist with ITV over the fact that ITV have asked Nigel Farage to be on the same programme as David Cameron, rather than one of the big beasts of Vote Leave. It’s symptomatic of the splintering of the OUT side of the argument. They accuse ITV of failing to “consult” them. With respect, broadcasters can invite whoever they like, and as long as there is balance it’s fine. It’s not as if Nigel Farage isn’t a good media performer or doesn’t know the arguments. In fact, I’d say he’s a far better performer in debates than either Boris Johnson or Michael Gove would necessarily be.
I took the day off work so I could go to see my beloved West Ham at Upton Park for the last time. It was an extremely emotional night, which I’ve written about at length on my West Ham blog HERE. Driving home I switched on talkSport [ssssh, don’t tell my LBC boss] to listen to a football phone-in and bask in the glory of a tremendous performance in which West Ham beat Man United 3-2. Instead, all the talk was about the hooliganism before the match in which bottles were thrown at the Manchester United bus. I don’t blame talkSport for that at all, but the whole incident took the edge of what was otherwise a perfect night. I hope the full force of the law is used against those responsible. In the end, we can all blame terrible policing, Wayne Rooney for provoking fans with wanker signs or a multitude of other things. But the truth is, this was down to the actions of malicious idiots. I hope they’re identified and that the book is thrown at them. These scenes were beamed around the world and it was a dreadful reminder of how things used to be. In 25 years of having a West Ham season ticket I have never witnessed any act of hooliganism at the ground. I didn’t witness this one as I was already in the ground when it happened, but even so, it has besmirched the good name of the club I support.

Last week’s local elections seem a long time ago now. I have much enjoyed the way Corbynistas have tried to spin the results as rather good for Labour. Their latest bit of spin, which both Ken Baker and Alastair Campbell would have been proud of is to point out that Labour won 47% of the seats contested, compared to 41% by Tony Blair in his first year as Labour leader, and 46% by David Cameron in his first year. Good try, but omits to take account of the fact that the overwhelming majority of these seats were fought in urban areas. Most rural councils didn’t have elections this year. So not quite as good as they liked to portray. Sure, they didn’t lose 150 seats, as Rallings & Thrasher, not CCHQ, had predicted, but they still lost seats, lost being the key word here. No opposition serious about winning a general election should be losing seats in mid-term council elections. And for the government to lose only 46 seats is a minor miracle.

But the party which has most to smile about in these local elections was the Liberal Democrats, who gained 50 or so seats. I have always said that I think the LibDems have a major opportunity in the next three years and this was the start of what could be a serious revival for them. They could again become the repository of the dustbin vote. They need to rebuild their activist base and local government elections are where that starts.

UKIP will be disappointed to only gain 20 seats, but they now have more than 500 councillors, which is a real achievement.
The emphatic nature of Sadiq Khan’s victory is a warning to the Conservative Party in many ways. Turnout in this election was at an all time high and you have to ask yourself why this was, especially when it was expected to be at an all time low. The high turnout led to a 57-43 victory for Said Khan. I do think the nature of the Goldsmith campaign enabled Sadiq Khan’s ground operation to build a siege mentality and it was easier to persuade their supporters to go out and vote. I heard an anecdote from a Labour MP who knocked on the door of a woman of Somali heritage. Not only did she then go and vote, she knocked on the doors of a dozen of her neighbours to do persuade them to do so too.

Knowing Zac Goldsmith as I do, and knowing one or two of his campaign managers as I do, they will be hurting a lot. The narrative is that Sadiq Khan won because of the negative nature of the Goldsmith campaign. That may have been a factor, but it doesn’t explain and 14 point difference. It went far deeper than that. I’m not sure this election was ever winnable for Zac Golsmith. If you actually look at the figures, Boris Johnson outperformed the Conservative vote in 2008 and 2012 by quite a few per centage points. Zac’s per centage was the same as the Tory GLA performance. Similarly in Ken Livingstone’s two victories he also way outperformed the Labour vote. I also think I am right in saying that Zac got more votes than Boris in 2012. It’s little consolation to anyone on the Zac team. But in the end organisation counts, and Sadiq Khan had a brilliant ground operation. It’s how he won the Labour selection and it’s how he won such an emphatic victory. There are lessons to be learned there for London Conservatives.
Ruth Davidson, eh? What a star. A question. Is it possible to run for the leadership of the Conservative Party and not be a Member of Parliament? I seem to remember another Scot did just that, back in 1963… Just a thought.