The constituency of North West Durham once again returned a Labour MP last night, electing 29-year-old Laura Pidcock.
Nationally, it was a positive night for Labour as they boosted their number of seats. Though the Conservatives remain the largest party, they will fall short of an overall majority and the UK will have a hung parliament.
Ms Pidcock has previously been a local Labour councillor and has worked as a manager in the charity sector and as a mental health support worker.
Ms Pidcock held North West Durham for Labour despite worries of a Tory surge. Pidcock got 25,308 votes, securing a majority of 8,792 over the Conservative’s Sally-Ann Hart, who came second with 16,516 votes.
This represents a decreased Labour majority from that held by former Labour MP Pat Glass, who chose to stand down when the election was called. In 2015, Ms Glass held North West Durham with a majority of 10,056. But Ms Pidcock got a greater total number of votes than her predecessor.
The Liberal Democrats trailed in third last night, with local candidate Owen Temple getting 3,398 votes. UKIP were fourth with 2,150, down dramatically from their 7,265 2015 total, and – with 530 votes – the Greens came in last.
After the results were declared, Laura Pidcock said, “We won this seat because we fought with really hard work, hope and determination. I just want to say to people out there who are suffering, really suffering, under Conservative rule that the tide is turning.”
“It’s absolutely unbelievable to win with more votes than we got last time. We were told the Labour Party was going to be wiped out and the Conservatives were going to make gains in the region, but that has not happened.”
Ms Pidcock also revealed that her father had been suffering from a rib injury, but had hidden it from her so he could continue campaigning.
Ms Pidcock said, “He’s actually cracked a rib and didn’t tell me till the polls had closed tonight. He’s a dogged campaigner!”
The last team has just finished. Thank you to every single person who has given everything that they possibly could to this campaign. pic.twitter.com/loJQKMVC3R
— Laura Pidcock (@PidcockNWDurham) June 8, 2017
There had been predictions of a Tory surge in North West Durham, with the Conservative vote being boosted by ex-UKIP supporters attracted by Theresa May’s tough talk on Brexit.
Not so long ago, the idea of North West Durham returning anyone other than a Labour MP could have seemed laughable. But with Brexit and Jeremy Corbyn’s low popularity ratings, the Tories felt they had a chance in and around Consett.
There were other factors to give them optimism – some voters are too young to remember the anger caused by the closure of the town’s steelworks and nearby mines under the government of Margaret Thatcher.
Also, the town has moved on in recent decades from being reliant on heavy industry to being a service-based economy and a commuter town for Newcastle, leading some to believe the town’s political make-up could be changing as well.
On the campaign trail, North West Durham’s Conservative candidate, Sally-Anne Hart, had said, “There is a Brexit point to it all, but also there is a swelling resentment against Labour and taking people for granted up here.”
“Coming up here, I was quite shocked at how little Conservative activity there was. I think that’s because of generations of strong Labour support.”
“It’s an old steelworks town, an old mining constituency. Labour still push the closure of the mines by Margaret Thatcher, but that was 30 years ago. We’ve got to make sure the job opportunities are modern.”
“Brexit is on the cards, definitely, and it’s something people talk about. People up here will vote for Theresa May to take us out of the EU; she’s the only one who can do it.”
“But they talk to me more about feelings of being taken for granted, being forgotten about by Labour.”
Laura Pidcock had acknowledged a Labour win was not a foregone conclusion. While campaigning, she said, “We’re not being complacent here. We know that it’s tight. We know that it’s ours to lose, but we’re out there all day every day.”
Perhaps even the Labour leader himself shared these fears. Mr Corbyn’s battle bus called in on North West Durham, where he visited Derwentside College and spoke to staff and students.
Rather than being taken for granted by Labour, Laura Pidcock said Consett had been “taken for granted by Conservative governments.”
“We’ve lived and breathed the scars of deindustrialisation. We’ve been taken for granted by people who don’t care about our children living in poverty, about school closures, about the severe underfunding of the NHS.”
Pidcock said that many people in Consett hadn’t forgiven the Tories for the 1980s “and they shouldn’t. It was all-out war on our people, what Thatcher did to those healthy mines and steelworks.”
“People are still feeling the effects of that Tory era.”
Laura Pidcock also stressed that Labour’s fortunes began to look up after the release of the party’s manifesto.
“From the week of the publication of both manifestos, things really changed on the doors. It’s a fully costed manifesto of hope versus an uncosted manifesto of misery.”
The Conservatives felt they had a chance of taking North West Durham and similar Brexit-supporting but traditionally Labour seats in the north east when the general election was called. As the campaign went on, however, the polls tightened.
Nationally, at the start of the campaign, Labour were trailing the Conservatives by as much as 25%. Though the polls varied widely, they soon started to show that Labour was making up the gap. The closest poll showed Labour just 1% behind the Tories while others had them up to 12 points behind.
An ambitious Labour manifesto and a stronger than expected performance by Jeremy Corbyn seem to have contributed to narrowing the gap. The Tories appear to have lost support thanks to their rather vague and uncosted manifesto and unpopular policies like the dementia tax.
Many felt Theresa May – in a surprisingly lacklustre campaign – came across as wooden and robotic. The prime minister faced criticism for ducking debates with the other party leaders and hiding behind soundbites rather than giving direct answers to questions from journalists and members of the public.
At the time of writing, Labour have 260 seats (up 31), the Tories have 312 (down 13), the Liberal Democrats 12 (up 4) and the SNP 35 (down 19). Labour have gained 40.2% of the vote and the Conservatives 42.36.
And the Tory’s hopes of gaining seats in the north east have almost all proved unfounded. Tory target seats like Hartlepool, Sedgefield and Darlington all stayed Labour, with only Middlesbrough South and Cleveland East going blue.
At the end of the day, a Labour stronghold like North West Durham with a 10,000 majority proved to be a step too far for the Tories. So – as predicted by Consett Magazine – the people of North West Durham now have Laura Pidcock as their new Labour MP.
(Featured image courtesy of Tiocfaidh ar la 1916, from Flickr Creative Commons)