On the evening of 17 June at 7.30pm Oxford Civic Society held a public debate in the Assembly Room of the Town Hall on the effect on Oxfordshire of the planned Expressway and related issues. Cllr. Ian Hudspeth, Conservative leader of Oxfordshire County Council agreed to speak in favour of the Expressway. Danny Dorling opposed him and suggested other solutions. The debate was held in the context of the largest upheaval in British politics to have occurred for many decades. An audio recording is available here:

A debate organised by Oxford Civic Society, chaired by Clive Booth and held in Oxford Town Hall on June 17th 2019.

 

The debate was held as the political shape of the UK was quickly changing. A great deal had happened in the month of May 2019. Given what is currently occurring in British politics and that every English political party other than the Conservatives opposes the ‘expressway’ it is unlikely to ever be built.

On May 2nd 2019 local elections were held in England and Northern Ireland. The Conservatives lost 1,330 councillors that day, taking their national tally to only 3,564. This was a loss of almost a quarter of all their local politicians (24% of all their councillors). However, quite a few of the losses were to candidates who had in the very recent past been Conservative councillors and who were now presenting themselves as if they had suddenly become Independent.

Labour lost 84 of their councillors, or almost 16 times fewer than the Conservatives. If you double and double and double and double and then double again the number of Labour losses, you get to the number of seats the Conservatives saw disappear from their control. Despite the large difference between 1,330 and 84, on May 3rd 2019 the BBC presented this news as “Voters have delivered a stinging rebuke to the two main parties at Westminster in the local elections in England…

 

How the BBC could have chosen to present the May 2019 local election losers

At those same local elections on May 2nd 2019, the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) lost 145 of their far fewer councillors reducing their total number across all of the UK to 31. In other words UKIP lost 82% of all their elected representatives. The BBC did not say much about that. A graph of how the BBC could have presented these three figures is shown above, drawn in typical BBC style with unnecessary three dimensional columns and garish colours.

The local elections and their reporting set the context for the then upcoming European Parliamentary elections that were held on Thursday 23rd May 2019. To understand them requires stepping back in time a few months; and knowing a little of the influence of the University of Oxford alumni on England’s politics.

Calls for Theresa May to resign mounted from within her own party following the disastrous May 2019 local election results which were the worst recorded since 1995. The local election results in 1995 preceded the ending of 18 years of Conservative rule from 1979 to 1997. Upon resigning on March 24th 2019, Mrs May announced that she was leaving “…with enormous and enduring gratitude, to have had the opportunity to serve the country I love”. By ‘country’ she meant the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland – a coalition of three countries and a province that had become increasingly divided both from the English elite and within England itself.

One example of the rise in division was a private company called ‘The Brexit Party Limited’ that was incorporated with Companies House on 23 November 2018. Its existence was formally announced on 20 January 2019 by the former very prominent UKIP economics spokesperson Catherine Blaiklock. Catherine served as the Brexit Party’s initial leader. As an undergraduate, Catherine had studied Geography at Christchurch College Oxford, not long after Theresa May read the same subject at St. Hugh’s College Oxford. We may well be at the end of the ‘Oxford era’, the time when politicians educated at Oxford continued to dominate the agenda during the Brexit fiasco. Brexit was brought about by David Cameron and his Oxford University (and Eton) dominated Cabinet.

Catherine Blaiklock resigned as leader of the Brexit party on March 20th 2019 when it was revealed that she had made a series of tweets that were found by the campaign group Hope not Hate to be offensive. These included retweeting suggestions that a “white genocide” was underway and a tweet ‘…from December 2017, [which] recounted being at a north London tube station, and read: “8 people waiting for lift, 5 Muslim girls, 1 black, 1 other Asian Chinese, 1 white. Immediately outside saw a drug deal take place. Looked like Turkey.” She also retweeted a message by the US radio show host and former state congressman Joe Walsh saying: “Haiti is a shithole and it’s run by blacks.”’ There are more allegations in the original press reports, see: [Peter Walker, Leader of Nigel Farage’s party resigns over anti-Islam messages: Catherine Blaiklock sent racist posts and retweeted those of far-right figures before joining Brexit party, The Guardian, 20 March 2019.

Theresa May resigned the day after the European Parliamentary elections were held and two days before the results were announced. For many weeks the opinion polls had been going very badly for her, and they got worse. The bar graph below shows the average proportion of voters, each month, from May 2015 to May 2019, who said they would support either UKIP or the Brexit Party at a general election. Support for UKIP had fallen away shortly after 2016. A rump of UKIP party activists kept plodding on, but in early 2019 most of its key supporters, such as Nigel Farage, and its financial backers, moved their alliance to Catherine Blaiklock’s new Brexit party and by doing so secured an unprecedented poll rise in April and May 2016 by painting themselves as being ‘new’.

 

Combined support for UKIP and the Brexit party combined, proportion of those polled in all polls each months who said they would vote for them, 2015-2019

When the European election results arrived the Brexit Party gained 5 more seats than the 24 UKIP had won in 2014 at the last European elections, increasing their share of seats by 20%. In contrast, the Liberals (a pro Remain party) increased their seat share by 1,500%! Labour (who were being ambiguous over Brexit) lost 50% of their seats; the Greens gained 4 seats, a rise of 233% on their 2014 performance; the Conservatives lost 15 seats, almost 80% of what they had held; the Scottish National Party gained one seat (a 50% rise in seats for them), Plaid Cymru held their one seat in Wales, a new political party called ‘Change UK’ changed nothing; and, in Northern Ireland, a pro-leave Unionist lost his seat to a pro-remain Alliance candidate. The Alliance party saw their votes in Northern Ireland rise from 44,000 in 2014 to over 170,000 in 2019; a rise of over 400%.

 

 

Table: Seats held by each UK political party in the European Parliament (2014-2019)

                                2019 EU seats       change from 2014       

The Brexit Party / UKIP             29        (+5)

Liberal Democrat                         16        (+15)

Labour                                            10        (-10)

Greens                                              7          (+4)

Conservative                                  4          (-15)

Scottish National Party               3          (+1)

Plaid Cymru                                  1          (-)

Democratic Unionist Party        1          (-)

Sinn Féin                                       1          (-)

Alliance Party                               1          (+1)

Ulster Unionist Party                 0          (-1)

Change UK                                   0          (-)

 

Although it was not reported as such, in the UK, European elections resulted in the largest fall in support for parties to the right of the main European Conservatives (the EPP block) to be found anywhere in Europe. The Conservatives, UKIP and the Unionists had held 45 seats in 2014; in 2019 they secured only 34. That drop of 11 was almost a quarter of their 2014 seats.

Similar trends were happening elsewhere in Europe, just not as strongly as in the UK. Before the June 5th national elections in Denmark, a combination of centre-left, green-left, liberals and radical-left parties appeared set to make the most gains given recent opinion polls. These were the European elections taking place after the Local elections. Similar to how badly the British Conservatives were now performing, the Danish ‘radical right’ (Dansk Folkeparti) were now on track for their worst results in over twenty years, according to polls taken there on or just before June 3rd.

In Germany, the far-right Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) suffered losses in the European Parliamentary elections. The far-right Golden Dawn in Greece had been doing badly for some time; but, most important of all, many European far-right parties, such as the Northern League in Italy (which won 34% of the 2019 EU vote in Italy in May 2019) have now changed their stance on the EU and are no longer pro-EU-exit. In France, the greatest surprise was how well the Greens did. In Spain, it was the success of the socialists which was the greatest shock.

When I was first writing these words, on June 3rd 2019, there were an unlucky 13 candidates in the race to be the next leader of the Conservative Party. A Conservative government minister, James Brokenshire, who was not standing to be leader, urged ‘no hope candidates’ to pull out saying “…It doesn’t reflect on your talent or ability to influence the direction of our party now and in the future … It’s just the overriding need to get our new leader in place as quickly as possible.” None of the 13 appeared willing, at least initially, to take his advice. The Table here gives the names of the leadership candidates, the subject they studied at University, where they went to University, and for those that went to the University of Oxford, the year in which they matriculated, or went-up (in other words turned up).

 

 Candidate First Degree University (or Oxford college) matriculated
1 James Cleverly Hospitality Management Thames Valley University
2 Michael Gove English Lady Margaret Hall {Oxford } 1985
3 Sam Gyimah PPE Somerville { Oxford } 1995
4 Matt Hancock PPE Exeter {Oxford} 1996
5 Mark Harper PPE Brasenose {Oxford} 1988
6 Jeremy Hunt PPE Magdalen {Oxford} 1985
7 Sajid Javid Economics University of Exeter
8 Boris Johnson Classics Balliol {Oxford} 1983
9 Andrea Leadsom Political Science University of Warwick
10 Esther McVey Law Queen Mary University
11 Kit Malthouse Politics & Economics University of Newcastle upon Tyne
12 Dominic Raab Law  Lady Margaret Hall {Oxford} 1993
13 Rory Stewart PPE Balliol {Oxford} 1992

 

The final two to be presented to the Tory faithful to decide between were candidates 6 and 8, Hunt and Boris, Magdalen and Balliol, PPE and Classics, admitted “once tried cannabis” verses claims did not try cocaine: “I sneezed and so it did not go up my nose“. A full list of all the confessions on drug taking by the various candidates is available in many media outlets but is probably incomplete. Note that more candidates did admit to taking drugs than the number who admitted taking the compound “PPE” while at Oxford.

So, what will happen next? No one knows, but we can follow the polls.

We know that the UKIP / Brexit party vote can easily collapse at any time; but when it does its supporters will tend to revert back to the Tories. The line graph shown next, labelled: “Conservative Lead over Labour in UK opinion polls, May 2015 to September 2018 ” demonstrates how the Conservative lead over Labour rose above 5% for much of 2015, fell below that in spring 2016, but then soared up in the summer and autumn of 2016 to reach an almost 20% point lead in April 2017. Theresa May called a general election, support for her plummeted during May 2017 and June 2017 and she failed to securing a working majority, so was forced to form a very weak alliance with the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP). Since then her showing over Labour never reached a 3% monthly lead ever again.

Conservative lead over Labour in the polls, May 2015 to September 2018 (monthly averaged poll ratings)

 

The most recent continuation of the trend is shown in the next timeline graph below, labelled “Conservative Lead over Labour in UK opinion polls, September 2018 to May 2019”. It highlights the death spiral her party was falling into after the autumn of 2018 when she danced on the stage of the Tory party conference. By May 2019 the Conservatives were 6.3% below Labour in the polls and falling. The recent rise of the Liberal Democrats is likely to be fleeting; they are a party from two centuries ago formed to argue over issues of great important to the aristocracy and industrialists of that time. Brexit only gives the Liberals a short term popularity. In contrast, the Greens are likely to rise in support as the planet warms up further. UKIP and the Brexit Party will crash away again just as the British National Party and the National Front did many decades before them. Labour will become increasingly relevant in an era where most people have only precarious jobs. And the Conservatives? The Conservatives, appear destined to split into two parties. The only question is when.

Conservative lead over Labour in the polls, September 2018 to May 2019 (monthly averaged poll ratings)

References

[i] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-48091592

[ii] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/mar/20/leader-of-pro-brexit-party-catherine-blaiklock-resigns-over-anti-islam-messages

[iii] https://twitter.com/robfordmancs/status/1135249840848420864

[iv] https://twitter.com/EuropeElects/status/1135247616755867654

[v] https://news.sky.com/story/tory-leadership-contest-james-brokenshire-urges-no-hope-candidates-to-pull-out-of-race-11733931

 

For a PDF file of the full article and a link to where it is published on-line please click here.