How to lose votes and alienate people: An examination of the causes of Conservative decline in Liverpool since 1945

This is my doctoral thesis – I’m very proud of it, and I’m even prouder to have a contract with Liverpool University Press to expand this project and write a full book!

You can read the thesis on Academia.Edu here, or directly download here.

This thesis is an examination of the causes of Conservative electoral decline in Liverpool, from the end of World War Two to the present day. This is an area of Liverpool’s political history, and of the history of the Conservative Party, which is understudied. This thesis counters the traditional argument that declining sectarianism, or the premiership of Margaret Thatcher, are the root causes of Conservative decline in Liverpool.

This thesis also discounts theories of local party organisational inefficiency, municipal electoral biases, demographic change, and population drain, arguing that generally these changes were too gradual to account for the sudden, dramatic decline of the Liverpool Conservatives in the 1970s. Similarly, many of these factors do not chime temporally with actual changes in Conservative vote share.

Instead, this thesis proposes a tripartite framework, which separates the periods of success (1945- 197), decline (1973-1986), and irrelevance (1987 onwards). Each period can be explained by recourse to different phenomena. Conservative success in Liverpool can be primarily explained by the socialisation effect of Protestantism, boosted in years when the Conservatives were doing well nationally. Conservative decline is mainly a result of a perfect storm of unresponsive local parties, an energetic nascent Liberal Party, dissatisfaction with the Heath government nationally, and an all-out local election in 1973 (when all seats in council were up for election) triggered by local government reform. Finally, Conservative irrelevance is attributable to a change in Scouse local identity which took on an element of anti-Thatcherism/anti-Conservatism, and has persisted to this day.

This work was supported by the QMUL Principal’s Studentship, co-funded by Queen Mary University of London and the Economic and Social Research Council, award number 1523299.

The British Labour Party and leadership election mandate(s) of Jeremy Corbyn: patterns of opinion and opposition within the parliamentary Labour Party

in (2017) Journal of Elections, Public Opinion and Parties. (With T. Heppell and A. Crines)

The link to the final, published version of this article can be found here, but for those who do not have access you can access the pre-publication version here.

This paper offers the first systematic evaluation of opinion within the 2015–2017 parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) towards the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn. We do this by identifying whether individual parliamentarians remained supportive of Corbyn as their party leader or not, and then relating opinion on this to a series of variables that form the basis of a unique data set on the PLP.

By constructing this data set we are able to test, via logistic regression analysis, a series of hypotheses based around (1) demographic variables – i.e. age, gender and trade union membership; (2) political variables – i.e. year of entry, constituency region, marginality, main competition and the endorsement of their constituency Labour Party (CLP) in the leadership election of 2016 and (3) ideological variables – i.e. views on continued European Union [EU] membership, immigration, intervention in Syria and the renewal of Trident.

We find that, when it comes to opposition to Corbyn, there is limited evidence of significant demographic, political or ideological patterns at play. The fear of deselection or the fear of electoral defeat did not motivate Labour parliamentarians to remain loyal to Corbyn, and nor was it the case that the PLP has evolved into clearly defined and cohesive factional blocks

Instead, our research suggests that the PLP concluded that the members had been mis- taken in their choice of leader – Corbyn was too divisive, too unelectable, and his competence was too widely questioned, to make him a credible candidate to be Prime Minister.

The drive to unseat Corbyn was a crisis of leadership as much as it was an ideological conflict – why else would so many of the supposedly loyalist Corbyn faction have voted for his removal?

The UK government and the 0.7% international aid target: Opinion among Conservative parliamentarians

in (2017) British Journal of Politics and International Relation. (With T. Heppell and A. Crines) 

The link to the final, published version of this article can be found here, but for those who do not have access you can access the pre-publication version here.

This is the first article to use a detailed dataset of the 2010 – 2015 Parliamentary Conservative Party (PCP) to identify the drivers of MPs’ positions on legally enshrining a commitment to spend 0.7% of gross national income on foreign aid.

We position every Conservative parliamentarian into three different categories on international aid:

  1. aid critics, who openly opposed and/or voted the 0.7% target
  2. aid sceptics, who abstained in parliamentary divisions on the 0.7 target and
  3. aid advocates, who voted for the 0.7% and spoke out for it.

We then draw on a range of political and ideological variables to determine drivers of support or opposition to aid.

By doing so we identify that Cameron achieved remarkable success in transforming opinion towards aid amongst Conservative parliamentarians, in stark contrast to the difficulties associated with another aspect of social liberal modernisation — same-sex marriage.

Whereas on international aid Cameron secured the backing of 190 (or 61.7%) of the PCP (with opposition at only 24, or 7.8%), he only secured the backing of 127 (or 41.3%) of the PCP on same-sex marriage, as compared to 136 (or 42.9%) who voted against.

This article represents a quantitative challenge to the prevalent qualitative assumption in the academic literature, which claims Cameron’s modernisation project was a failure.

The Conservative Party Leadership Election of 2016: An Analysis of the Voting Motivations of Conservative Parliamentarians

in (2017) Parliamentary Affairs. (With T. Heppell, R. Hayton, and A. Crines)

The link to the final, published version of this article can be found here, and is open access.

This article provides the first systematic examination of the voting motivations of Conservative MPs in the final parliamentary ballot of the Conservative Party leadership election of 2016. We identify the voting behaviour of each Conservative parliamentarian as part of a unique data set that we use to test, through the use of multivariate analysis, a series of hypotheses based around social background variables (i.e. gender and education); political variables (i.e. parliamentary experience, electoral marginality, the electoral threat posed by UKIP and ministerial status); and ideological variables (i.e. attitudes towards same-sex marriage and Brexit).

Our findings demonstrate that ideology did matter in terms of voting – there were two major cleavages in this leadership election: positioning in the EU referendum and social liberalism/conservatism.

May’s support was drawn from those who backed Remain in the referendum, whilst Leadsom and Gove both drew support from Brexiteers; Leadsom from socially conservative members of the PCP, and Gove from the socially liberal wing.

The United Kingdom Referendum on European Union Membership: The Voting of Conservative Parliamentarians

in (2017) Journal of Common Market Studies. (With A. Crines and T. Heppell)

The link to the final, published version of this article can be found here, but for those who do not have access you can access the pre-publication version here.

This article considers the attitudes of members of the parliamentary Conservative Party (PCP) during the European Union membership referendum held in the United Kingdom on 23 June 2016.

First, the article identifies the voting positions – remain or leave – of each Conservative parliamentarian in order to assess the strength of opinion within the PCP and place it within its historical context. Second, the article uses multivariate analysis to test a series of hypotheses about the voting of Conservative parliamentarians.

Through this we will aim to identify whether any associations existed between advocates and opponents of Brexit and social variables such as age, schooling, university, occupation and gender; political variables such as constituency marginality, and whether they were a minister, an ex‐minister or a permanent backbencher; and the ideological variable of morality – such as support for or opposition to same sex marriage.

This article is interesting because we find that there was a wider ideological dimension within the PCP to advocating Brexit – social conservatives were more likely to advocate Brexit than social liberals. This group of hard Eurosceptics and social conservatives formed the base of anti-Cameronite sentiment within the PCP. Our research confirms that this anti-Cameronite socially conservative and Euro-rejectionist grouping had increased from 50 or 16% of the 2010 to 2015 PCP, to 82 or 25% in the 2015-PCP.

This was my first co-authored article, and the first of a very fruitful partnership with Dr Andrew Crines (University of Liverpool) and Dr Tim Heppell (University of Leeds).

The Strange Death of Tory Liverpool: Conservative Electoral Decline in Liverpool, 1945-1996

In modern discourse, Liverpool is a by-word for anti-Tory sentiment, yet the city has not always been so inhospitable for the Conservatives. From the mid-18th century until the 1970s, the Conservatives dominated the city council and often held over half of Liverpool’s parliamentary constituencies. Whilst popular opinion ascribes Conservative decline in Liverpool to Margaret Thatcher, Conservative Prime Minister from 1979 to 1990, it began a decade before Thatcher gained power.

This article argues that Conservative decline in Liverpool was due to the increasing inability of socialisation to create new Conservative voters, coupled with dissatisfaction with the Heath government and a rejection of unresponsive local party machines. The Liberal Party, through their use of pavement politics, were able to exploit these issues. Their 1973 local election victory allowed them to displace the Conservatives as the main opposition to Labour in most of the city, thus beginning the strange death of Tory Liverpool.

Link to full article (open access) here:

I have also spoken about this topic in a keynote lecture and written about it for ConservativeHome (back when I was a fresh-faced PhD student).

‘How to Lose Votes and Alienate People: Conservative Decline in Liverpool’ [VIDEO]

This is the recording of my keynote talk at the Thatcher Network‘s ‘Thatcherism Now’ conference, held at the University of Liverpool in April 2018.

In it, I analyse the post-war history of the Liverpool Conservative Party, and Liverpool’s political history more generally, up to the present day. I also briefly look at strategies the Liverpool Conservatives could adopt in order to become competitive in the city again.

I’d be interested in your views, and you can email me here.



West Lancashire Spring Triathlon review

West Lancashire Spring Triathlon, April 8th 2018 @ Edge Hill University. Organised by EpicEvents.

Event Review


The arrival and registration was a doddle – despite talk in the event booklet that registration could take up to an hour, it barely took a minute. I could have had another 20 minutes in bed. Not cool, but better safe than sorry I guess.

Setting up in transition was fine, but the ground was already really muddy by 7.30am, and the fact we had to go around the outside of an astroturf field (instead of walking over it) seemed somewhat cruel.

The pre-race briefing was fine, and then it was time to start the swim.


The swim section was in a pool – 16 lengths in a lane shared with about 4 other people, based on finish time. There were six lanes, and someone would start every 30 seconds (so three-minute gaps between starts in each lane). Each lane had its own marshall.

There really isn’t much to say here – it was simple, and it worked. Top marks all round puppies for all. Also, a shout out to the marshal for my lane, who shared sympathetic stories about being hungover for races.

The run to T1 was a bit long, but I just pretended I was in Baywatch and gave the people of Ormskirk what they never knew they wanted.


So, onto the bike section. An 18.5km ride, with three laps. There is quite a climb on the three laps (as you can see here), but the course was well signposted and there weren’t too many cars on the road. You would have to work very hard to get lost. The roads were fairly well maintained too, with very few potholes. You can tell it’s not Liverpool City Council…

T2, this time, was a bit simpler but it still seemed like they could make the distance a bit shorter. Oh well.


The run was… interesting. It was essentially a jaunt around the campus and then across a field. The campus section wasn’t great – there were loads of little turns and it was hard to get a good pace going, but I guess it’s better than having us on the road.

There was a water station at 2.5km, the only one on the course. I don’t really think you needed much more than that (unless they could set up a fully licensed bar).


Great. All were really friendly and supportive. There’s clearly a good team here. Unlike some of the mini-Nazis at Liverpool Tri, who made Goebbels look like Mother Theresa… Although I am volunteering as a marshall for the Clitheroe triathlon soon, and have to get up at about 4:30 to get there on time, so we’ll see just how chirpy I am.


I enjoyed the event, but I found the atmosphere to be a bit sparse compared to other races. That’s probably because people were starting from about 7.15am all the way to about midday. It did mean that once you were on the bike or run legs, you could be pretty much alone. You might like that. I do – I dislike people at the best of times but 15km into a bike ride, having someone speed past you and shout an encouraging ‘well done’ is enough to test anyone’s commitment to human rights.

Overall, I enjoyed the event very much. It was well run, and bloody cheap! £39, with a decent medal and t-shirt.

My Performance

tl;dr? Not great.

So, after the disappointment of the Oulton Park Duathlon being cancelled, I was ready for this. It was just a shame that it came on the tail end of two conferences where I showed a very liberal disregard for the concepts of units of alcohol, responsible drinking, or self-control.

So, after about 6 hours of very crap sleep, I woke up with a bit of a sore throat. I briefly toyed with the idea that that constituted a decent excuse to not do it, but even I wasn’t convinced.

In terms of targets, I a) wanted to finish, and b) get times broadly comparable to my Liverpool Triathalon performance in 2016.


Target time: 8:44

Actual time: 8:53

Yeah, I’ll take that. I was worried about my swim time, so I put my estimated finishing time down as 10 minutes. This meant I was occasionally slowed down by other people in the lane who were actually aiming for 10 minutes. Oh well, my bad. It’s encouraging though, since I’ve only been in a pool once this year. Onwards and upwards!


Target time: 42:07

Actual time: 57:13

FFS DAVID. I don’t know what happened here. I felt like I was going as hard as I do in the gym when I’m usually hitting about 30kmph. Here, I was on about 19kmph. I did find it hard though, so perhaps I need to do some actual cycling rather than use machines.

I’d like to think this is a combination of three things:

  1. Being crap on the bike
  2. Not being well/having a poor night’s sleep
  3. My back tyre being flat.

However, my target time was based on the Liverpool Triathlon time, and then my bike give up the ghost the day before, and I had to use MamaJ’s friend’s bike with ribbons and a basket… and I still did better on that.

So, more training needed.


Target time: 20:40

Actual time: 22:23

Yep, this was expected – in fact, better than expected. In the last two parkruns I hit 22:17 and 22:13. Back in 2016, when I did the Liverpool Triathlon, I was hitting 19:09. I need to start putting in more time here, rather than doing a couple of km via brick sessions in the gym.

Perhaps this (relative success) suggests I wasn’t going all out in the bike section.

I did struggle with the campus section – you’re looking for your next turn rather than focusing on pacing. Plus, the last time I was running across a new campus sweaty and tired at 10am was after a particularly heavy night out at – oh, sorry, this is a family blog.


EpicEvents must love data as much as I, because they throw the stuff at you. Here are some screenshots from the results site.

Screen Shot 2018-04-08 at 14.30.04.png

Screen Shot 2018-04-08 at 14.29.46.pngScreen Shot 2018-04-08 at 14.29.51.pngWell, I did survive it, and under sub-optimal health/life-choice conditions, but I can’t say I’m not disappointed with the bike leg. Hopefully it represents some low hanging fruit for future improvements, considering I came 410th out of 432 people. I feel like Liz Truss is directly attacking me when she says

Image result for liz truss disgrace gif

The swim and run sections I’m fairly happy with – my swim was a bit faster than average, as was the run.

The moral of this story is: don’t spend two weeks being a greedy shit and drinking all the wine in the UK and then expect to do well on a triathlon.

Here’s a picture of me pretending to be happy afterwards:DSC_0012.JPG

Dulwich parkrun review

A quick one this week. Dulwich parkrun is 3 laps (!!!!) of Dulwich Park. This wasn’t as bad as it could have been since the route was pretty flat and you could build up some speed.

There seemed to be a lot of people there (243 in the end) and quite a nice community feel. Some people were absolutely smashing the time – I crossed in 19:02 and came 26th, when in other races that would have got me in the top ten. Oh well!

My run went well, but because I was slow to the start line I spent the first half mile overtaking people. My GPS told me I’d done the first half mile in about 5″20/mile, which I was hoping was right (it did feel fast). Anyway, I got my head down and tried to stay sub-6min/mile. That seemed fairly easy, and as I kept up with people trying to overtake me.Photo 29-11-2015, 22 41 09

My Nike+ app told me the course was 3.18 miles and that I’d done it in 5’59 min/miles, so I was hopeful of an official sub-19 5k. Sadly, this wasn’t the case when I got the result. 19:02, so close. Still, moving in the right direction considering that’s my 3rd fastest parkrun ever.

Next year I think I’ll aim for a sub-18:50 as my main target, and try to get as many sub-19s as possible – that should help me hit my target of a sub-3h15 marathon (with an eye on sub-3h05 in the long run… no pun intended)

Main points:

  • Laps: 3
  • PB Potential: High.
  • First-time friendly: Yes
  • Downside: Crowded start, no facilities on site.

Mile End parkrun review

So, Mile End parkrun is my ‘home’ parkrun in London. Since it was just me running this week I thought I would give it a go and see if those hills really were as bad as I remembered them.

There’s a nice community feel at Mile End – they have pacer events, baking competitions, a coffee van at the start, and a few socials throughout the year. They do more than most, and it’s a very nice group.

The only downside is the course. It is two laps up Mile End park, and each lap contains two hills, a small and a fairly big hill (since part of the park is actually above the A11). Since the route is pretty much out and back per lap you run over each hill twice a lap, so four times over all. The paths are fairly wide (although with work being done on Regent’s Canal the towpath part of the route was a bit restricted), although sometimes busy, and you get to run past the Queen Mary campus where I work (and where I should probably spend more time…)

Anyway! My run went well. I wasn’t confident of a good time so I didn’t push myself too early, and saved some energy for the first big hill.  I had a guy overtake me early on who I decided to hang on to. After about .75 miles I found myself thinking ‘I could go faster’ but decided to hold on and conserve energy. Then my app announced the one mile split – I was hitting 6’06/mile, which was a lot slower than the first half mile split, so I decided to overtake him. To be honest, I think that was a good decision, because the pressure of having him behind me kept me going and took my mind off the course.

I got to the halfway point at about 9’30, so I frantically did some mental maths and thought that a sub-19’20 was probably reasonable goal. Hitting the big hill again, I didn’t feel the course take it out of me that much but my splits were getting slower – 6’21 for the second mile. At this point I just decided to hold on and push through. 2015-11-14 - Mile End

I crossed the finish line in 10th position, with a time of 19’19 – just about hit my target. Although it’s not as good as my course PB of 19’04, I think the fact that I wasn’t on top form (hungover the day before, could have done with more sleep, didn’t push at the start etc…) so didn’t try as hard is a good enough excuse. I am wondering if I had have committed early on I might have come within sub-19’10… oh well, plenty of time to give it another go!

I decided to run home too, trying to get my weekly mileage up for marathon training despite aiming for just 3 runs a week (is this madness? I guess I’ll find out in April…)