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By Jim Hancock

By Jim Hancock

Keir bulldozing Tamworth and Mid Beds!

The voters verdict on the party conference season will come in next week's two by elections. Jim looks back on the Liverpool gathering and asks if Sir Keir Starmer has taken a gamble on housing.

The housing shortage should be a major issue at the General Election rather than the Prime Minister’s priorities of smoking and A level reform.

In fact, the lack of affordable homes could be a polling issue next week as voters in Tamworth and Mid Bedfordshire give their verdict on the party conference season.

Both main parties pledged to speed up the planning process, but Sir Keir Starmer’s promise to “bulldoze through the planning laws” to build 1.5m homes in new towns and “the grey belt” in five years, will have NIMBYs rushing out to their back yards.

Will the young people in the two seats up for grabs, desperate to get on the housing ladder, outnumber residents wanting to protect these sections of leafy middle England?

Of course, the election will be about much else, but there is some evidence that voters want action not slogans at the next election. I was at a fringe meeting in Liverpool hosted by opinion researchers More in Common. They have found that people are so disillusioned with politics that they don’t want slogans and visions, but just want politicians to achieve something practical. So, if Starmer’s bulldozer solves the chronic housing crisis, he might gain some credibility with voters.

It certainly seems this was the Labour strategy emerging from Liverpool. Shake up planning and the NHS, whilst the Shadow Chancellor maintains her iron grip on the economy. Rachel Reeves caution on spending may be the explanation for the failure of Shadow Health Secretary Wes Streeting to mention social care reform. Millions of people are affected by issues arising from the ageing population but neither party wants to come to grips with it.

So back to next Thursday’s by elections which are being held in seats with comfortable Tory majorities. 24,000 in the case of Mid Bedfordshire and over 19,000 in Tamworth. Incidentally, the Staffordshire town is where Sir Robert Peel published a manifesto, widely credited as spelling out the values of the modern Conservative Party in 1834.

We have learnt to be wary of the description “comfortable” in relation to Tory majorities. Margins of up to 24,000 have not saved them from the Lib Dems in Chesham, North Shropshire, Tiverton, and Somerton or from Labour in Selby. The causes of the by elections (which are not cheap on the taxpayer) couldn’t be worse for the Tories. The outgoing MPs, Nadine Dorries (Mid Beds) had a strop at not getting a peerage and Chris Pincher (Tamworth) was censured by a Commons committee after drunken sexual assault.

If Labour win both, following their spectacular success in Rutherglen last week, it may indicate the party is capable of overcoming the formidable hurdles that remain in their path to power. Last week in Liverpool one had a sense that the comrades remain aware of successive election disappointments since the party was founded over a hundred years ago.

At a fringe meeting I attended, pollster Sir John Curtis spelt out the maths. A 12% poll lead would only translate into a Labour majority of 2. It is currently around 20% but with an improving economy, a possible tax cut and a potential election campaign where AI will be added to the existing capacity of social media to distort the truth, who can predict that Labour’s lead will remain as clear.

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