COMMENT: Tory success no different to previous elections

PUBLISHED: 17:00 13 December 2019

Liam Fox retained his North Somerset seat.   Picture: Tom Wright

Liam Fox retained his North Somerset seat. Picture: Tom Wright

Tom Wright

It was, unequivocally, a night of Tory dominance, both at home and right across England and Wales.

For a long time 2019 was looking like it would be the Conservatives' annus horribilis in North Somerset, but at the end it gets the last laugh.

The election counts in both North Somerset and Weston may have been among the last to be declared, but do not mistake that for this being a close run thing. It was clear from pretty much the time for the first ballot box arrived at Hutton Moor Leisure Centre late on Thursday.

But should it be viewed as the all-conquering triumph it may appear?

Conservatives:

In North Somerset and Weston, both Tory candidates polled more than double their nearest rival. Both won more than 30,000 votes. And both increased the size of their majorities.

After taking a hammering in the European elections in the South West and losing control of North Somerset Council back in May, these achievements cannot be ignored.

Back in the spring, Cllr Nigel Ashton, the deposed leader, said the result was a protest vote over Brexit, rather than his administration.

Such a definitive conclusion overlooked somewhat who gained at the Tories' expense - the likes of the Greens, Liberal Democrats and Portishead Independents. Hardly bastions of Brexit.

But a General Election tends to weaken people's resolve to protest or abstain.

The General Election results are clear evidence of the Conservatives' strength of support in North Somerset and Weston.

But that is hardly new. North Somerset has been blue since World War One ended and Weston - bar defeats in 1997 and 2001 - has been Tory since the mid-1920s.

Drill down into the large numbers polled by the Conservatives last night though and maybe they are not as remarkable as first appears.

John Penrose gained 2,001 more votes than in 2017. But given UKIP did not stand this time around, it is fair to assume the bulk of its 1,900+ votes from two years ago went to him, given he was the only candidate on the ballot paper representing a party definitively promising Brexit.

In North Somerset, Liam Fox's majority went up but the number of votes he gained actually fell. By fewer than 1,000 admittedly, but again it shows the party's clear dominance was maybe not as spectacular as first appears.

Labour:

On a chastising night for the party, it is unsurprising that in both Weston and North Somerset its share of the vote decreased.

For Tim Taylor, it is a third defeat and he seems to see 2024 as a time to allow someone else a go.

Losing the best part of 4,000 votes is no doubt not the result he wanted, but nevertheless it probably needs to be put into context. He doubled his vote in 2017 and Labour has never performed brilliantly in Weston. Take the previous election result away and he produced the most votes by a Labour candidate in Weston since 1966.

And the same can be said for Hannah Young in North Somerset.

On a historically bad night for Labour, she achieved more votes than any other Labour candidate since 1979 in North Somerset, 2017 apart.

There are few areas where Labour can boast that sort of a result today.

Liberal Democrats:

The party enjoyed a huge amount of success at May's council and European elections, but the General Election proved a bridge too far.

The dissatisfaction Brexiteers had with the Conservatives in the spring has softened and the proportional representation system used in the European elections means there was not the same level of talk about tactical voting as there was for the General Election.

Ash Cartman said his North Somerset constituency campaign was going well until a week before when tactical voting sites started putting Labour ahead of the Liberal Democrats.

But a showing of 11,000 votes is considerably better than the party has managed since winning more than 20,000 in 2010 when it entered a coalition with the Conservatives.

And Patrick Keating's performance was broadly similar. Almost 7,000 votes is again the party's best showing in Weston since 2010.

But in a district where 52 per cent of people voted to leave the EU, the chances of a electoral success on a manifesto pledging to remain was always unlikely.

Green Party:

Across the country, no party saw its share of the vote grow more proportionally than the Green Party and its UK success was highlighted here.

Suneil Basu in Weston more than doubled the number of votes he accrued two years ago, and Phil Neve across the boundary also picked up 1,000 more than the party got in 2017.

With Bristol Airport's expansion plans being scrutinised and a carbon emergency being declared by North Somerset Council, environment issues are getting greater recognition and it no doubt helped the Green Party with an improved showing.

The future:

With a Conservative majority secured, there appears little chance of another General Election for many years, meaning the next big vote is likely to be the council elections in 2023.

That is a long way off and certainly the Labour Party and Liberal Democrats will have new leaders by then, so making predictions is impossible.

The Conservatives has secured a dominant victory again in Weston and North Somerset, but the council election results this year showed it is not invincible.

The Portishead railway line was once upon a time due to open this month, and yet progress has been painfully slow. Funding for the Banwell Bypass has been secured, at last, but both projects have been promised by the party and not delivered. Yet.

Now is the time to live up to those promises and make sure they do not appear on the next election's promotional leaflets. The public has waited long enough.

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