The 2017 election was supposed to be a formality. Theresa May would win with an increased majority, leading to a period of strong and stable Government as Britain leaves the EU. Today, with a disjointed and lacklustre campaign behind them, alongside a manifesto aimed more at empowering the Prime Minister than pleasing the voters, the Conservatives may be regretting their naivety.
Over the coming week, activists from all parties will be pounding the pavements of marginal seats trying to eke out the slightest of advantages, so that their candidate can take a coveted place in the mother of Parliaments.
Energy price caps, Heathrow expansion, the Northern Powerhouse, Midlands Engine and even nationalisation could be amongst the issues dealt with in the next Parliament, so the stakes have rarely been higher.
Below we look at who might be the key influencers in Parliament. What key positions might change and which candidates to watch on election night.
Out with the old and in with the new
There are indications that Theresa May could reshuffle her cabinet after the election. Chris Grayling at DfT and Greg Clark at BEIS are not amongst those rumoured to be moving. As Chancellor, Philip Hammond has been a supporter of using infrastructure investment to boost the economy, but his relationship with the Prime Minister is perhaps most generously described as “business-like”. There have been rumours that a post-election May reshuffle could see him moved.
Although a Labour victory is unlikely, it seems likely that Corbyn would seek to keep his current team of loyalists in place, though a coalition agreement might force his hand in this regard.
In Parliament, the Transport Select Committee will likely seek a new Chair, as Louise Ellman has reached her two-term limit, and Iain Wright will likely seek re-election. Though, it is also possible that a bad result for Labour could result in one, or both, committees shifting to Conservative control.
Energy PPCs
In South West London, former energy secretary Sir Ed Davey (Lib Dem) is seeking to retake his old seat, Kingston and Surbiton. Davey made a name for himself in Government as one of the Lib Dem’s leading reformers, implementing a slew energy reforms. This includes the Electricity Market Reform (EMR), alongside introducing the Capacity Market and Contracts for Difference (CfDs). If he is re-elected, he will almost certainly become a leading backbench voice for energy, however he must overcome a 2,834 majority before he can do so and the Lib Dems have not been polling strongly.
Meanwhile Zac Goldsmith (Con) will seek to regain his Richmond Park seat after losing it to the Lib Dems in December 2016. The environmentalist and former Editor of The Ecologist lost the seat in a by-election, after he resigned in protest at the expansion of Heathrow. He needs to overturn a 1,872 majority to win, so he will be hoping that negative memories of his London mayoral campaign and his campaigning for Leave (his constituents voted largely for Remain) will have faded.
Eric Ollerenshaw (Con) is another prospective “retread” (the name given to MPs that have lost and subsequently regained their place in the Commons) that is seeking to get back into the House. He lost out in 2015 to Labour’s Cat Smith, but by just 1,265 votes. As a Lancashire MP, he took a particular interest in onshore oil and gas, calling for a moratorium on fracking and opposing gas storage, as well as onshore and offshore wind. However he has also supported a national tidal strategy to make the most of the region’s natural resources. His activity might be driven by his constituency, but it also reflects his personal interest in the subject.
From Labour’s side, they will be betting on re-taking Copeland at the election. The seat had been held by the party since its creation in 1983, until it was lost to the Conservatives at a recent by-election. Gillian Troughton (Lab) was the candidate then, and she will be hoping for more luck this time. The constituency has always had an industrial and energy focus; with the Sellafield power plant located inside the constituency and with Barrow-in-Furness, where Britain’s next generation nuclear deterrent is being built, just outside the constituency. Troughton described herself as “pro-nuclear – no ifs, no buts”.
Labour’s Alex Sobel (Lab) was a supporter of Ed Miliband’s leadership campaign in 2010, and has a track record of interest in green issues as a councillor, and is Leeds Council’s lead for climate change and climate change projects. He ran for the constituency of Leeds North West at the 2015 general election, then a safe Lib Dem seat, but the expected weakness of their vote makes this constituency a prospect for Labour. He has a 2,907 seat majority to overcome in order to win.
Transport PPCs
Neil O’Brien (Con) has worked as a special adviser to Prime Minister Theresa May on the economy and Industrial Strategy; he was also previously as a special adviser to then Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne. He is a former Director of the centre-right think tank Policy Exchange. His work has been closely linked with the Northern Powerhouse strategy, regional growth, and he’s taken an interest in transport investment. At Policy Exchange he published Northern Lights, which looked at the causes for the Tories’ weakness in the North.
Labour’s Julie Hilling will also be one to watch. A former MP and member of the Transport Select Committee and Chair of the All Party Group for Rail in the North, she lost her seat by 801 votes in 2015. Hilling is running again and would likely return to these campaigns if elected.
Finally an honourable mention goes to a former Labour candidate, who is certain not to be elected, as he is not running. Christian Wolmar ran for selection as London Mayor and subsequently as Labour’s candidate in the Richmond by-election won by the Liberal Democrats. He has campaigned tirelessly on transport and although unelected, seems likely to be an influential voice in the party after the election. He might well find himself back on the ballot paper soon enough.
By Mike Blakeney