Why did so many traditionally solid Labour seats in the North of England turn Tory in the December 2019 election?
In the North-East and Yorkshire, the Conservatives won 14 constituencies from Labour, while in the North-West, including Manchester, they snatched 12 seats. This was a revolution.
Hope was the reason. Hope of a better life. Hope that, after decades of being short-changed compared with the South, the North would finally get its just deserts in terms of public expenditure. Hope, too, that Brexit would usher in a new era.
The question is: to what degree will draconian new measures unveiled yesterday in the Commons by a pugnacious Boris Johnson —who was in a bulldozing mood, unwilling to engage with constructive critics — destroy hope in the hearts of former Labour supporters?
Swathes of the North, including Liverpool, are set to go under new lockdown rules, but what impact will that have in the hearts of former Labour supporters, asks STEPHEN GLOVER
Might the new restrictions lead to a crumbling of the so-called Red Wall, which the Prime Minister and Dominic Cummings brilliantly built with their appeal to Brexit-voting, patriotic Labour voters who couldn’t stomach the hard-Left dogmas of Jeremy Corbyn?
One myth should be scotched. It is that the Government is picking on the North — almost punishing it. That is obviously not the case. Infection rates happen to be far higher in much of the North than most other parts of the kingdom.
It is surely likely that the most severe restrictions — the so-called ‘very high risk’ Tier Three — will soon be introduced in Covid-19 hotspots in the South, such as Exeter.
London, where infection rates are rising, could be heading for Tier Two, though it still remains in Tier One.
By the way, this three-pronged new system, which is supposed to be so much simpler and more user-friendly, makes my head spin as I try to fathom it.
I can’t believe I’m the only one.
No, there’s no discrimination against the North, no deliberate return to the policies of the Eighties deemed by many to be harsh.
What there is, though, is the application of heavy-handed and sometimes illogical measures that may be seen by plenty of ex-Labour voters, and others, as unfair.
Following Boris Johnson’s announcement yesterday, STEPHEN GLOVER asks, is the Government being disingenuous when it suggests Covid-19 poses the same threat to the nation as it did five months ago?
A strategy devised in Whitehall which takes little account of local conditions has been criticised by Labour city mayors in the North, and Tory MPs with northern seats, in similar terms. They have been largely ignored.
The pleas of former Tory Cabinet minister Esther McVey, the MP for Tatton in Cheshire, to avoid another lockdown have been swept aside.
So has the warning of Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham that ‘the economies of the North will be shattered’ by the new measures.
I appreciate, of course, that some Labour politicians in the North are using ministers’ often muddled approach to make political capital. But, my goodness, isn’t the Government making it easy for them!
Nor can it overlook the fact that members of its own party, such as David Greenhalgh, Conservative leader of Bolton Council, are raising objections which are indistinguishable from those of regional Labour politicians.
Why is the Government so certain its approach is the only one? Why does it disregard well-meant criticism — witness Boris Johnson’s lofty dismissal of Iain Duncan Smith in the Commons yesterday?
The former Tory leader pointed out that the death rate of people suffering from Covid-19 has fallen dramatically. The PM didn’t examine this correct observation, repeating the mantra that there was ‘no choice’ but to pursue these policies.
Judging by what the authorities say, you’d think we were back in the dark days of spring.
Deputy chief medical officer Professor Jonathan Van-Tam and NHS medical director Professor Stephen Powis gave a briefing in Downing Street yesterday, and said that the number of patients in hospital is now higher than when the national lockdown was imposed on March 23.
Panic! But thanks to new treatments, the proportion of patients dying in hospital intensive care units has fallen from around 30 per cent to below 20 per cent since April.
The fall in the death rate as a proportion of all patients admitted to hospital has plummeted from 6 per cent at the peak to around 2 per cent.
Moreover, the Government’s own worst fears of only a month ago haven’t been realised.
On September 21, when there were 4,000 or so infections every day, official gloomsters Sir Patrick Vallance and Professor Chris Whitty warned that case numbers could continue to double every week.
Liverpool mayor Joe Anderson has voiced his fury over lockdown plans in his city, but rumours that the Government is picking on the North should be ignored, says STEPHEN GLOVER
Sir Patrick imagined we might ‘end up’ with 50,000 cases by today. The Department of Health announced that there were 12,872 positive tests on Sunday.
Meanwhile, deaths from Covid-19 are running at about five per cent of their highest April levels.
It’s perfectly true that hospitals in Liverpool — a city consigned to Tier Three — are said to be under pressure.
Three makeshift Nightingale hospitals, created to ease pressure on the NHS, in Manchester, Sunderland and Harrogate are being put on high alert to reopen.
But the Government is being disingenuous (or is it deceiving itself?) in giving the impression that the pandemic poses the same threat to the nation’s health as it did five months ago. The situation is more favourable than we are being told.
That is why it is so depressing to see a slew of restrictions being reintroduced across swathes of the North in a way that is bound to under- mine already weakened businesses in the hospitality sector, and threaten thousands of jobs.
Is there really no alternative, as Boris Johnson and ministers endlessly declare while scorning all contrary arguments?
Or is there a more nuanced approach which doesn’t condemn many workers in already economically damaged communities to yet more suffering?
I strongly suggest the latter — and so do many political leaders in the North, who are much closer to the realities of life than boffins and ministers in Whitehall. So, too, do an increasing number of scientists.
As Nightingale North West, in Manchester, remains on standby for Covid-19 patients, there’s a risk that restrictive measures could cost Boris Johnson the same votes that helped him win December’s General Election
The Prime Minister, despite his usually open mind, has become bizarrely dogmatic. He has cut himself off from all discussion.
What an irony it will be if these new restrictions lead to a loss of support among the very people who helped get him elected.
That really is the measure of his one-track mindedness. So devoted is he to the beliefs in which he has been schooled by a coterie of scientists that he is prepared to risk damaging his party’s future electoral prospects by alienating his new supporters.
We already have a disunited kingdom, with Nicola Sturgeon commanding the field in Scotland as though she were its sole ruler, even though Westminster is still picking up the tab.
Now the Government risks a divided England, with the economically vulnerable North potentially at odds with the more prosperous South.
Even if the new restrictions are extended further throughout England over the coming weeks, as they surely will be, there may be a continuing sense of ‘them’ and ‘us’.
And what will happen if, despite the strong medicine being foisted on the North, the number of new infections doesn’t drop significantly?
How will workers who have lost their jobs and owners of bankrupted businesses respond if the gain in health terms turns out to be negligible?
It was bracing to see so many habitual Labour voters backing Boris. He offered them hope. The misery of it all is that he seems now to be taking it away.