Friday, 1 September 2017

My MP, Laura Pidcock, Has An Awful Lot To Learn, by David Lindsay

Laura Pidcock is my MP. I am almost alone among her constituents in having known her before she was imposed as the Labour candidate for North West Durham immediately before the General Election. As a firm left-winger myself, I have always got on with her, and I wish her well. But she has an awful lot to learn. 

“It never did Dennis Skinner any harm” is all well and good. But Skinner has never held a front bench position in 47 years and counting. Whereas the Constituency Labour Party here in North West Durham is accustomed to Ernest Armstrong, Hilary Armstrong and Pat Glass.

That CLP is now quite left-wing, having nominated Ed Miliband in 2010, Andy Burnham in 2015, and Jeremy Corbyn in 2016. But it had no say in the selection of Pidcock, and it barely campaigned for her. Instead, she bussed in the members of various Hard and Far Left networks, some of whom prided themselves on never having been members of the Labour Party (I left it many years ago, but that is another story). And now, she informs the nation that she could never be friends with a Tory. To her, they are “the enemy”. 

North West Durham is a mostly rural constituency in which the largest town is Consett. Consett has steelworking, rather than primarily mining, roots that in any case ended several years before Pidcock was born. This constituency’s, and not least that town’s, population is still fairly fixed, but it is now vastly more fluid that it was even at the turn of the century, and it is becoming more so all the time. 

While obviously this area is nowhere near back to its pre-Thatcher levels of prosperity, nevertheless it is visibly becoming more affluent, and it always did have quite sizeable pockets, so to speak. Thanks to a Corbyn effect that benefited candidates across the Labour Party, Labour did just about win over 50 per cent of the vote this year. But that had not happened since 2005, and a thumping great majority has not been seen since 2001. 

In the territory of the old Consett Urban District Council, Labour’s performance at local elections has been downright poor since as long ago as 2003. As a result, in its last years, Derwentside District Council remained under Labour Overall Control due to wards in the neighbouring North Durham constituency. That authority was run in practice, and rather well, by a de facto coalition between the mainstream left-wing Labour Leadership in Consett and the countryside, and a body of broadly Tory-inclined Independents.

All of those Independents were in North West Durham. Their Leader kept his deposit when he contested this parliamentary seat in 2005 and 2010. In 2005, he took 9.8 per cent of the vote. He remains a member of what is now the unitary Durham County Council, fewer than half of the members of which for this constituency are members of the Labour Party. 

Derwentside was a Labour council throughout its history, but the greater part of this constituency’s area, although the smaller part of its population, was in neighbouring Wear Valley. Between its last elections in 2007, and its abolition in 2009, that authority was under No Overall Control while being led by the Liberal Democrats. They had enjoyed Overall Control of it from 1991 to 1995.

At the 2010 General Election, the Lib Dems cut the Labour majority in half here. Even in 2015 and 2017, that same candidate, a well-known local figure, retained more than three thousand votes. This year, even a Conservative candidate with an address in Sussex managed 16,516 votes, or 34.5 per cent. It is quite something for a Member of Parliament to define more than one third of her constituents as “the enemy”. 

Of course, all that a parliamentary candidate needs to be is the First Past the Post. But having been imposed rather than selected in the first place, and then having made such a start in office, it is very far from clear that the 29-year-old Laura Pidcock can expect to be even that for the six, seven or eight electoral cycles that she and her social media cheerleaders seem to presuppose.

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