The best thing Yvette can do is stop forcing houses on the South and let the market work, so that people seek cheaper accommodation in places like West Yorkshire
Head oop North and save the golden couple’s marriage
It is a tough time for Ed and Yvette, the nearest thing the Government has to a golden couple. You remember who I mean. He is Ed Balls, the Chancellor’s jut-chinned henchman; she is Yvette Cooper, the elfin housing minister who reduces the Tories opposite to pathetic simpering croons.
They are the kind of dynastic union that Hollywood used to produce – the closest the Yorkshire Parliamentary Labour Party has yet come to Bogart and Bacall. Apart from the ghastly, bossy, high-taxing politics they both espouse, they are as charming and fortunate a pair as you could hope to meet in Westminster. But now their union – this marriage of minds and hearts – has been struck by tragedy.
In a touching gesture, the Labour high command gave them exactly what they wanted: not matching pillow cases, not his ‘n’ hers electric toothbrushes; no, they were given two lovely safe Labour seats, side by side, his in Normanton and hers in Pontefract, and across the land all piously assented. Those whom the Labour fixers had put together, groaned the congregation, let no man put asunder; and no man dared, until the Boundary Commission came along.
These grim mathematicians have worked out that West Yorkshire’s population is declining by comparison with other parts of the country. The place does not need 23 MPs. It can manage quite happily with 22, and Ed Balls has been wiped off the map.
Now you might have thought that this was the kind of well-deserved reverse he would take in his stride. Being a man of supreme confidence, and, indeed, balls, you would have thought that Ed would dust himself down and take himself off to some other part of the country, whence to join his wife in Parliament.
But the funny thing is that Ed is making a terrific fuss, and together with Yvette and two other Labour MPs he is taking the Boundary Commission to court, to preserve Normanton and his right to sit in a seat adjacent to his wife.
Should we wish him well in this hugely romantic gesture? Should we support the two Ballses’ bid to continue their dominion of West Yorkshire? I think not.
In fact this legal action has all the makings of a serious scandal. As is well known, Labour already has far more seats than it deserves.
Partly this is because people not unreasonably flee from seats represented by Labour MPs to seats represented by Tories, so the population of many Labour-held areas is actually going down at a time of strong population growth. The population of Scotland is expected to fall by
10 per cent over the next 35 years; the North-East is expected to lose two per cent, and the same kind of attrition can be seen in the Labour heartlands of Merseyside and Hull.
And yet the allocation of seats has notoriously failed to match the changing demography, so that Labour tends to have loads of small seats (Hackney South and Shoreditch has 57,204 electors, compared with 103,480 for the Tory Isle of Wight), and Tory MPs need about 4,000 more votes to get to Westminster than Labour MPs.
That was why the Boundary Commission sucked its teeth when it came to the Balls family stitch-up in Yorkshire, and decided, in the name of democracy, that one Balls must be dropped. How can Ed, a man of dignity and principle, even think of contesting this essential revision? The answer, I fear, is that he is being encouraged by his mentor, Gordon Brown.
This court case could go on for month after month. In fact, it might go on for so long that – do you know what – they might just find they could not get it through before the next election if, as is quite possible, Gordon decides to call a snap one immediately on taking over.
That would mean the whole Boundary Commission redesign would have to be postponed, and without a boundary review Gordon Brown’s beleaguered Labour government might save as many as 20 gerrymandered seats, and with the polls the way they are, 20 seats could make all the difference.
It is a beautiful little plot, and it is outrageous. Much as we sympathise with Ed and Yvette, we cannot tolerate this kind of jiggery-pokery. So let me suggest an alternative means by which Ed could save his seat. He should turn to his wife – no, not to ask her to give up her seat to a man – but to look at the effects of her policies on the demography of England.
The other day I was using a borrowed car and a demented German satnav took me out of Manchester. We went through Stockport and Stalybridge and at a place called Tintwistle we picked up the A628 and suddenly the road was flying over the moors, the Pennines, and I had a sensation of driving over the vast spine of England, and I thought, stone me, look at all this room.
Look at the light and the space. There were huge great fells and dells, or possibly dales, wuthering into the distance, and tiny underpopulated villages nestling under shoulders of purplish scree, and I thought how amazing it was that there should be such splendid vacancy only minutes from Manchester’s dilapidated suburbs, and how incredible that Yvette Cooper was bullying the South-East to accept an intolerable 34,000 more houses per year for the next 20 years, turning the Home Counties into a great roundabouted megalopolis.
Why, when there is so much room oop North? Why, when whole Victorian terraces are being destroyed in Liverpool and elsewhere? Why is the Government collaborating in this terrible flight from North to South? Is it just that it sees the South as the motor of the economy and wants to maximise tax revenue? It is madness.
The best thing Yvette can do is stop forcing houses on the South and let the market work, so that people seek cheaper accommodation in places like West Yorkshire. She would stop the South-East turning into Mexico City, and she might find that enough people went up North to justify the existence of her husband’s constituency.