Monday, 30 Nov 2020

Boris Johnson panic as Tory bill tipped as major threat to Red Wall

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Mr Johnson’s first year in office has been anything but easy. It has seen Brexit, a baby and a brush with death from coronavirus. However, some of the challenges still lying ahead for the Prime Minister suggest the job is not going to get any easier.

The Prime Minister is keen to reopen as much of the economy as possible and has held out the prospect of life being back to something approaching normality by Christmas.

But the virus is on track to become more virulent in the winter months, adding to the seasonal pressure faced every year by the NHS.

Moreover, while Mr Johnson may have “got Brexit done” by getting the UK out of the European Union on January 31, the current negotiations on the future relationship with Brussels are proving to be as difficult as the process of leaving.

Because of the complexity of these issues, many are now wondering whether the former Mayor of London will be able to retain his majority at the next general election.

In a recent report for The Times, Labour historian Greg Rosen shed light on another hidden danger.

Mr Rosen argued that the Agricultural Bill the Government is adamant to push forward in order to strike trade deals might “unlock a yellow gate in the Red Wall”.

The bill provides the legal framework for the establishment of a new system of agricultural assistance for farmers and land managers after Brexit.

It is essentially “enabling” legislation, providing fairly broad powers to current and future governments to provide financial assistance and make other policy interventions.

However, since its introduction, the bill has raised a large number of concerns, particularly about food standards and animal welfare.

According to the Labour historian, the Liberal Democrats might benefit from this discontent.

Mr Rosen wrote: “Conservative political strategists have focused on maintaining their majority at the next election by protecting Red Wall seats gained from Labour. Their confidence in this strategy has rested on the conviction that their other political flanks are sufficiently secure: the Conservatives may have lost Putney, Battersea and St Albans, and seats like Wimbledon and Esher are vulnerable, but there is surely a limit to the numbers of metropolitan and commuter seats in south-east England the Conservatives can lose?

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“Other seats, in the Tory shires, have been presumed safe. Labour has never threatened more than a few of them, even under Tony Blair.

“The only threat has ever been the Lib Dems, who during their heyday, in the afterglow of Paddy Ashdown’s leadership, held more than 20 parliamentary seats in south-west England.

“Ashdown having steered his party from a position in the opinion polls even worse than Sir Ed Davey faces now.

“Were they to retake them off the Conservatives, Boris Johnson’s majority would be halved.”

The Conservatives have not seen this as a serious risk.

However, while Lib Dem votes in rural south-west England tombstoned in the 2019 general election, Mr Rosen claimed it would be a mistake to think that makes the seats impregnable redoubts of Conservatism.

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He concluded in his piece for The Times: “If getting Brexit done means London taking back control — and west-country farmers losing out, along with the communities that depend on farming for their livelihoods — the Conservative Party risks owning the political tsunami that may result. Savvy Lib Dem campaigners will have an open political goal. And out of practice as they may be, it is possible they might just not miss.

“Add in marginal Tory seats in south-east ‘Remoania’, for whom fear of Corbyn will not be a reason to vote Conservative next time, and suddenly the Government’s majority looks more precarious, and the Red Wall more scalable for Sir Keir Starmer.

“If so, striking down the amendments to the Agriculture Bill might just have caused the Conservatives more trouble than they could possibly imagine.”

Last week, amendments inserted in the House of Lords were removed as the Agricultural Bill passed through the Commons.

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