Friday 9 June 2017

'They got their kippers back...': the GE2017 Eltham result

The Eltham constituency has been held by Labour's Clive Efford, with an increased majority of 6,296, on a 72% turnout.

The 2015 General Election results show the remarkable extent of the 2017 outcome:

Despite the numbers once it was known there would be no UKIP candidate, despite misgivings about an unconventional Labour leader and despite the area having a EU leave majority, the incumbent MP since 1997 nevertheless managed to win over Eltham's voters.

The local campaigns

The 'snap election' having been announced on 18 April, the Conservatives seemed bright-eyed and bushy tailed announcing Matt Hartley, a locally well-engaged Councillor for Eltham South, as their candidate. After the 2015 election, Hartley had replaced Cllr Spencer Drury (also the previous PCC) as Leader of the Conservative opposition on Greenwich Council. The numbers looked good. May was just setting out on her 'strong and stable' shtick. The polls favoured the Tories by a wide margin. Jeremy Corbyn was being trashed by the press, and few insiders, and Labour seemed the less polished and seasoned performers.

However, Efford's team were straight out of the block the morning after the election announcement, leafleting and talking to voters at Eltham Station. Some commented on the 'Labour machine' but the pic and leaflet above is from the week before the election announcement showing the incumbent MP's engagement with local issues. As it went on, the campaign was marked by upbeat numbers of volunteers turning out, many for the first time, including from neighbouring safer constituencies.

The local Conservatives frequently got in their big guns - Chris Grayling, Priti Patel, Boris Johnson - and seemed buoyed. The strapline 'Standing with Theresa May' featured heavily on local leaflets by the pro-Brexit candidate.

The tide turns

With the 'Maybot' theme ringing increasingly more true in the face of May's refusal to debate, the scripted repetitive answers and the various u-turns especially on social care, it was also the polls which slowly began to look 'weak and wobbly'. The focus and momentum of campaigning altered with each of the terrorist attacks, moving away from Brexit and on to security.

Locally, a hustings event took place in Eltham on 1 June without the Conservative candidate or a representative, leaving only the Labour and Liberal Democrat candidates, and the audience, to disagree amongst themselves with Tory policies and proposals without actually hearing from him. It all added to the growing impression, led from the top, that Tories were not willing to show up and debate.  At this meeting and elsewhere, Efford's messages on opposition to education funding cuts, local train service cuts and sale of NHS assets were striking home.

In his acceptance speech during the small hours - opening with, "Well, rumours of my demise were greatly exaggerated" - (well, surely he's allowed that...), he gave a coherent speech about why he thought the results went the way they did. Commenting on his view that the government had taken people for granted, "there is only one set of people who run this country and that is the British electorate." Acknowledging that he had had differences with his party leader, he said that the Labour Party had put forward a truly radical manifesto and set of policies and that people respected the decency that had been put at the heart of British politics.

Efford went on to say that respect was due to the Greens who had stood aside in this constituency and that he would honour that decision. On Brexit he was committed to ensuring that Parliament was sovereign and had a proper say in the final outcome. You can watch the results come in, and the speech here:

I'd ended my post on 30 May with Harold Wilson's oft-quoted observation that a week was a long time in politics. And so it has come to pass.

The national 'hung parliament' result has led, as of today, to May intending to form a government to lead the UK "at a critical time" working with "friends in the DUP." So, as numerous others have pointed out:

2015 election: don't give control to Scotland
2016 ref:         don't give control to Brussels
2017 election: control

Who would have guessed the ending of the 'third act' in our bizarre play?

(Thanks to for the 'kippers' line :) )

Tuesday 6 June 2017

Eltham hustings - General Election 2017

In the keenly-contested marginal Eltham constituency, you would think that the sole hustings would pack a crowd and that all the candidates would treat it as a prime opportunity to address potential voters and listen to their concerns.  Yet the key surprise take-away from the event last Thursday, 1 June, was the absence of Matt Hartley, the Conservative candidate seeking to oust Labour’s incumbent Clive Efford.
Despite the good intentions of the organisers,Keep Our NHS Public, and their organisation on the night, of the potential 63k electorate, a small-to-medium-sized group assembled in the Progress Community Hall, Admiral Seymour Rd, in Eltham's historic Progress Estate. As we sweltered in the small hall on that sunny, balmy evening (hard to believe 5 days later with rain and 40mph wind currently lashing outside) I learnt that flyers had been distributed wide and far but there appeared to be little general knowledge of the event. I was emailed a flyer by 'an informant' (ok, my mum-in law) on the Progress Estate before I shared it on Twitter.
The Labour candidate, Clive Efford (above, right), and the Liberal Democrat PCC David Hall-Matthews (above, centre), took their seats. Calling the assembly to order, the Chair (above, left) made the surprise announcement at the outset that the Tory PPC was unable to make the meeting due to a prior business meeting and that no response had been received to an invitation to send a representative. There were a few gasps, some further questioning about the absence and a couple of people (that I saw) got up and left. The absence was all the more significant because it chimed with observations over the previous few days about PM Theresa May’s reluctance to free debate. It was announced that the previous Green candidate, Ann Garrett, who had stood aside, would take the ‘empty chair’ for the evening.

And then we were off. After opening statements from each of the two candidates, there were pre-written and moderated questions from the audience with free debate and follow-ups. Too long to write up properly now I’m afraid, here’s a snapshot of the topics which came up:
funding of the NHS; halting privatisation; mothballing of parts of the new Eltham Community Hospital;  sale of NHS assets under the Naylor Report; housing problems; alternatives to the first-past-the-post voting system; whether coalition govts work/are good; South Eastern Trains proposals and the current consultation; Schools and how they fared in Greenwich under the govt funding formula; all seemed opposed to proliferation of grammar schools at expense of others; ending of free school lunches; the rise and fall of the ‘Dementia’ tax; more resources to tracking tax evasion; need for improved social and elderly care; involving Parliament into the Brexit process; air quality.
There was a lot of agreement on the panel, and amongst the audience, with some differences of emphasis or method. The older age demographic of the audience led to detailed discussion about social and elderly care in particular and some nervous laughter at the grim suggestion that euthanasia be legalised to give people an alternative to the ‘dementia tax’….

Being the incumbent, Clive Efford spoke articulately about local issues and often passionately about how he would tackle the issues of concern. David Hall-Matthews seemed a fair and decent-minded opponent, though losing his way a little when it got too local ie. at one point referring to Eltham as ‘Remainers’ in the EU ref…  It all made for a pretty lop-sided debate. It often felt as though we were just talking amongst ourselves rather than questioning alternative choices.

 Since then Eltham has had a ‘battle of the blondes’ – the Tories had Boris high-fiving all comers in the high-street the day before while Labour did their rounds the next day with comedian Eddie Izzard.

Nationally this extraordinary general election took yet another unexpected and tragic turn – another horrific attack, this time in the London Bridge/Borough Market area on the evening of Saturday 3 June. I think we’ve all been through the whole of range of emotions since then – shock, disbelief, reflection and resolve - but now election has cranked up again in earnest. Until Thursday/Friday morning then.