Hartlepool is not. With proposals in hand for a new private estate of £ 6 million holiday homes next to a Bentley showroom and private race track for classic car collectors, this is not an area short of inward investment.
But for the chocolate box villages, the farm animals, and the rain, this could be almost southern France or Malibu (after all, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex rented a weekend house here).
So why on earth has this part of the country gone against the national trend – and flung so hard to the left? How on earth did this become an unshakable field of work?
I am in picturesque Chipping Norton in the heart of the Cotswolds. In recent years it has become the epicenter of the ‘Chipping Norton Set’, the constellation of political, media and show business celebrities who divide their time between London and their farmhouse styles around here.
In recent years, Chipping Norton has become the star sign of celebrities who divide their time between London and their farmhouse-style homes, including the Beckhams (pictured)
They include celebrities such as TV host Jeremy Clarkson, the Beckhams, Amanda Holden and pop star Alex James, plus former Prime Minister David Cameron, Elisabeth Murdoch (daughter of Rupert) and JCB heir Lord Bamford.
This is also home to Soho Farmhouse, the rural branch of the Soho House club chain (which drew the Sussexes to the area).
But unbelievably, this is the beginning of Labor’s new red wall. The company of the Jarrow protesters and Arthur Scargill is on the run in the former industrial heartland, where not so long ago anything could be elected with a red rosette and a pulse.
Those days are over, as last week’s Tory triumph in Hartlepool’s by-election showed (as well as a 74 percent Tory vote for Ben Houchen, mayor of Tees Valley).
But Labor could still be popping a socialist champagne cork here in Chipping Norton. Because the party in the municipal elections swept the board, the seat of the district council and also the seat for the provincial council elections. It was a voice pattern that was also repeated in neighboring Witney.
This whole part of West Oxfordshire forms the parliamentary constituency of Witney, the former seat of David Cameron and, in previous years, of Tory grandee Douglas Hurd.
So why on earth has this part of the country (pictured) broke the national trend – and rocked it hard to the left? How on earth did this become an unshakable field of work?
Residents of the ‘Chipping Norton Set’ epicenter include celebrities such as Amanda Holden (pictured in Kingham, Costwolds), JCB heir Lord Bamford and pop star Alex James
Ten years ago, the town of Witney had only one Labor councilor. Now the city council is overwhelmingly Labor, the mayor is Labor, six of the nine district councilors are Labor, and last Thursday the leader of the local Labor group, Duncan Enright, also stole a seat from the Tory County Council.
So what’s going on? The answer, aside from the usual local issues, is an important lesson for the Tory High Command: Don’t take your heartland for granted.
After all, Labor did that in Scotland as well as in the north of England, and look what happened.
So the noises I hear here in Chipping Norton and Witney, while little more than a bat squeak in the National Plan of Things, are still a warning to Boris Johnson: it’s all really good ‘leveling’ up north, but don’t I don’t assume Central England will remain loyal if you ignore it.
And the mood of the locals won’t have improved after this week’s Queen’s Speech, in which the government pledged its biggest schedule overhaul in 70 years to build more houses faster. Here in Chipping Norton, the locals tell me that the health center is already full and the roads can’t handle it.
In Witney, people are armed over a plan to build 1,400 new homes in a part of the town that suffered terrible flooding last winter. Some point to a sewage overload that threatens unspeakable things to the local river, the Windrush.
Helen Marshall, director of the Oxfordshire branch of the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England (CPRE), tells me that nearly 16,000 new homes are expected to be built in the next decade – an additional 37 percent.
“And the government has absolutely no plans to build 37 percent more infrastructure,” she says. ‘The vast majority of these new homes will be on greenfield sites.
‘We all accept the need for more houses, but the emphasis should be on’ better ‘and not’ faster ‘. This amount and rate of growth is very difficult to absorb in a fundamentally rural area, and the locals feel that their views have been ignored. ‘
Any indicators of prosperity would mark this part of West Oxfordshire as a Tory citadel. Neighboring Bampton is so smart that they are filming chunks of Downton Abbey there.
In ‘Chippy’ (photo: Middle Row in Chipping Norton) part of the town’s charm is the number of thriving, independent stores rather than the usual identikit chain stores
The part of West Oxfordshire forms the parliamentary constituency of Witney, the former seat of David Cameron (pictured) and, in previous years, of Tory grandee Douglas Hurd
In ‘Chippy’, part of the town’s charm is the number of thriving independent shops rather than the usual identikit chain stores. I see that long-lost relic of another era – a real ironmongery.
The locals want to keep it that way – and if they feel the Tories won’t, they will vote for someone else.
Take a lady I meet at a chic baby boutique called Tickittyboo (you won’t find many in Hartlepool).
“People are tired of the traffic,” she says, pointing out the window at the A44. “Look at all those trucks.”
All this makes this fertile territory for Labor. Last week, Geoff Saul, a local attorney, won here for Labor in both the district and municipal elections.
He’s out of a funeral when I come, but his party vice president, Steve Akers, tells me about the strategy. “It comes down to a good candidate and hard work,” says the former union official.
‘We fought over the issues that people really care about. We started talking to them last January and we kept talking to them. ‘
What strikes me is the number of Labor poster boards I see. During a week on the Hartlepool midterm election trail, I didn’t see one for any party. Here in ‘Chippy’ I find three Labor signs in one street.
No mention was made of Tory wallpaper in the Labor leaflets. Instead, they continued with plans and trucks.
Sue Richards, the local Labor secretary, says’ Chippy ‘has a long tradition of’ being bloody difficult ‘, harking back to a famous mill workers’ strike just before World War I.
However, Labor has drawn votes far beyond the city’s usual catchment area. The boundaries of this county council seat – which was Tory for years – extend to many of the pretty villages and hamlets where the Chipping Norton Set hangs out. So they must also have voted for Labor.
Tory complacency also played a part. A farmer told me he was so angry about the absence of a conservative campaign that he voted for Green.
In Witney, I meet Duncan Enright, a medical publisher who has led the Labor wave in these regions. He points out that this did not happen overnight, but rather through years of hard toil.
Another well-known resident of Chipping Norton is TV host Jeremy Clarkson (pictured on his farm, Diddly Squat, near Chipping Norton)
It is also home to Soho Farmhouse, the rural branch of the Soho House club chain (which lured the Sussexes). Pictured: Elisabeth Murdoch from the ‘Chipping Norton Set’
“ There is a very strong sense of community here and we are part of that, ” says Mr. Enright, arguing that his party is better at listening to local concerns, while the Tories arrogantly expect to be elected (although, interestingly enough , he has a good word for David Cameron’s work with the local Covid Meals-on-Wheels scheme).
But the key to all of this is planning. Witney mayor Joy Aitman points to the Tory plan for 1,400 houses next to a flooding black spot.
“We know we need new houses, but not the way the Tories do,” she says.
Neither the local Tory MP nor the Tory council leader could find time to talk to the Mail. Charles McDowell, president of the local Conservative Association, tells me that his party’s loss of form is because it has to live in the real world.
“It’s very easy to be in the opposition and tell everyone that if they vote for Labor or Liberal, they will have no housing estates and a nice ring road,” he says. “The difference is, we have a good plan and they don’t.”
However, he admits that the Tories need to be careful while “ leveling ” elsewhere. ‘There are voters who say,’ Don’t forget us. ‘Don’t forget central England. ‘
Indeed you cannot.