Election results across the north of England appeared rooted in contradictory political positions
Was there anything more ‘Boris Johnson’ than Boris Johnson hot-footing it from a gold-plated, star-studded, media mogul-hosted, Christmas party in a Mayfair luxury mansion, to holding his election victory rally in Tony Blair’s old constituency of Sedgefield and proclaiming he was a ‘servant of the people’?
Sedgefield, the former mining community at the very heart of the New Labour project and now turned blue, is symbolic of Johnson’s electoral triumph over not only what many see as Corbyn’s old-style Labour but also of the new.
From the floor of the local cricket club and amid a heavy police presence, this was Johnson’s two-fingered gesture to his critics. He may have thanked the people of the north for lending him their vote, but he also then borrowed Blair’s very words when he told his seven newly elected MPs: “We are not the masters. We are the servants, and our job is to serve the people of this country.”
No matter how they spin it, the Scottish Conservatives had a very bad election
The Red Wall of the north of England where Labour had dominated for generations had fallen and post-industrial communities, like the old mining one of Blyth Valley, an area that had been decimated by the Tories when Thatcher cut through the industrial heartlands like a dervish, closing the mines and shutting down traditional industries, throwing thousands on the scrap-heap of the long-term unemployed and their families into economic penury, were, ironically, the first results on a shocking election night to hint at the Tory tsunami to come.
Great swathes of the north of England had, unbelievably, voted for the first time for the Conservatives, turning their backs on decades of Labour rule. Sedgefield itself had not had a Tory MP for more than 80 years – Blair held it for 25 – and others, like Bishop Auckland, Workington and Redcar, had never voted Tory until last Thursday.
And even as a picture emerged of a sharply divided country, with the Tories decimated in Scotland, swamped by the SNP landslide that gave the SNP 47 of the 59 seats available, Johnson shamelessly told reporters in Sedgefield that the country was now united under one Conservative Government, adding: “We are changing the country for the better, taking the whole country forward.”
As it happens, I was brought up in the north-east of England. Born in Newcastle and raised in Newton Aycliffe, just a 15-minute drive from Sedgefield. A new town built in in the 1950s as the place for Lord Beveridge to realise his vision of a ‘welfare state’ where poverty, unemployment and squalor would be no more.
Beveridge, the architect of the welfare state, had a master plan to create a classless society where managers and workers would live side by side in high quality council houses and Newton Aycliffe was the first of the new towns to embody his dream of a place where everyone would be regarded as equal.
Scotland does feel like a very different country to the one that has just voted Johnson in
Conversely, my parents were among the first to build their own house in Newton Aycliffe as the grit of personal endeavor found its compromise within the socialist utopia that had been first planned.
And in some ways, that sentiment was reflected in this election as people of the north broke with their Labour-voting habits of a lifetime to vote Tory. They may have even done so with a heavy-heart but they had been forgotten, ignored and taken for granted. And they wanted to be heard.
Election results across the north of England appeared to be rooted in apparently contradictory political positions about how people voted and what they believed in, but that was just a nod at the contrary political times we now find ourselves living in across these isles.
With a right-wing, hard Brexit, Tory led England and Wales bought by a simple message about ending the dither and delay about Brexit and an EU-loving Scotland that all but rejected the Tories’ message of ‘tell Nicola Sturgeon you said ‘no’, and you meant it’, we are a divided nation.
And no matter how they spin it, the Scottish Conservatives had a very bad election. They lost more than half of their 13 MPs elected in 2017 and their single-issue message was rejected by a vast majority of the Scottish electorate who gave the SNP – on loan or not – half the available vote.
It’s not that long ago that Ruth Davidson was being lauded as a potential prime minister, but her support was ephemeral. Her legacy lies in tatters and her winning formula about standing up for the Union, spent. With just hours to go before voting, Davidson claimed that Scots described Nicola Sturgeon as “that effing woman”. Perhaps today she is wondering if they said that more in admiration than derision.
As part of the Union, Scotland faces five more years of Tory rule, an exit from the European Union, which will cost our economy dear, and a constitutional crisis in which Scotland – and not forgetting Northern Ireland – becomes the battleground in what is now a very disunited United Kingdom.
With his huge majority, Johnson is untouchable. What is not in dispute is his power. He needs no one, not least the voters in Scotland who so resolutely rejected him and his half-baked, overtures at empathy.
Scotland does feel like a very different country to the one that has just voted Johnson in. And in the early hours of, appropriately, Friday the 13th, as the picture began to clear, I tweeted a message to the people of England, despairing at what their country might become: “Come live in Scotland, we have plenty of room and we are really very nice.”
And on this alone, I found myself trending.