For years nothing changed in Hull’s politics. Three Labour MPs and a Labour dominated council chamber was the order of the day. In recent years this has changed. Hull City Council is now under Liberal Democrat control and although currently the city still has three Labour MPs, this may be about to change.
Hull East and Hull West & Hessle will return Labour MPs. Karl Turner – John Prescott’s replacement in Hull East – and current Home Secretary, Alan Johnson, will be MPs after May 6. Hull North, however, is a different prospect. Before I move on though, I think we need some background information.
There are popular MPs from all parties. I’m sure you will have noticed the times when the national swing of opinion says certain MPs will be out on their ear, but many still hang on. This is the local factor that cannot be reflected in national opinion polls. Bob Marshall-Andrews – the Labour MP, pictured left - is a prime example. Although he is standing down at this election, he is popular with his constituents, and thought he was going to join the dole queue after the 2005 general election. Many will remember his remarks on television after his great escape. ‘Call me Lazarus’, he said. Although he only held on with a majority of 213, the local factor is here again, bucking the national trend.
Generally, it takes many years to build-up a strong reputation. Kevin McNamara – MP for Hull North from 1966-2005 – did this and there was never a chance of him losing his seat. There are recently elected MPs who have managed this feat in a very short time though. James Cran was for many years the Conservative MP for Beverley and Holderness and it is fair to say he was far from popular. In 2001, he hung on to his seat with a very slim majority of 781. His successor, Graham Stuart, another Tory, has campaigned hard in his constituency. He latches on to popular, local issues and although there are some who say if there is a bandwagon, he’ll jump on it, he will be re-elected in four weeks with a much larger majority. His constituents know who he is and they like him.
Now back to Hull North. Diana Johnson – pictured right - was elected in the same year as Mr Stuart; 2005. From my perspective, she has done very little for her constituents. She campaigned to keep local post offices open, but when they closed, she voted to close others nationally. There is a lesson here. If you are going to campaign on popular issues, you have to remain consistent. The LibDems have crucified her on this issue, and rightly so. She has not made a mark in the same way neighbouring MP Graham Stuart has and since the last general election Hull City Council ceased to be controlled by her party. Life has changed, but it seems Ms Johnson has not moved with the times.
The LibDem candidate is someone with a name you will never forget; Denis Healy. For him to win this seat, he will need a 13% swing from Labour. On paper, this seems insurmountable. In reality, it isn’t. The LibDems have thrown everything at this seat, including the kitchen sink. We are regularly reminded that Hull North is a two-horse race. I’ve joked with Carl Minns, leader of Hull City Council, that I intend to report him to the RSPCA. Those two horses have been flogged enough over the years, however, this approach is proving successful. You would think Diana Johnson would be fighting back as hard, wouldn’t you? The answer is no. I’ve barely heard from her, although I understand from informed sources she doesn’t have the necessary foot-soldiers to deliver leaflets and her campaign chest is desperately lacking in cash.
Only a fool would predict the outcome of the general election at this stage. I am going to make one prediction though. Hull North will be a Liberal Democrat gain. It will be a small majority – probably between 1000 to 2000 votes – but a majority nonetheless, and herein lies a lesson. If you are elected to what is regarded as a safe seat, work it as if it was a marginal. You never know when the wind of change will blow, and if you are found wanting, the wind will blow you away.