The story of a council election decided by drawing straws isn’t the most remarkable thing to happen in Northumberland today, not by a long way.
Pegswood. Cramlington. Morpeth. These aren’t the names of places that normally figure much in national political reporting or debate. That’s because they’re in Northumberland, or more accurately, south Northumberland, where Labour has dominated for my entire lifetime until now.
The first half of that life was spent in Northumberland, and I still call the place home even though I’ve lived somewhere else for more than 20 years. I grew up in the glorious rural north of the county, but I went to school in Morpeth; my grandparents were from Pegswood, a pit village not far from Ashington, where I was born.
Even allowing for the passage of time, the effects of (mild) gentrification, the decline in class-based voting and the awfulness of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, I’m still struggling to comprehend the fact that Labour today lost the council ward of Pegswood – to the Conservatives.
This doesn’t happen. I can understand the Labour loss: Ukip used to pick up a fair few votes around here; and there are always independents who can take seats from the main parties. My own village, Rothbury, is held by an apostate Lib Dem, but that’s another story.
But the idea of the Conservatives winning in Pegswood is genuinely hard to comprehend. Tory wins in Cramlington (a newish dormitory town) and Morpeth (more affluent commuter town with some rough edges – I have the scars to prove it) are almost as remarkable: these may not be welded quite as firmly to Labour, but they’re places where I’d expect someone who wanted to desert Labour to go somewhere other than the Tories.
This isn’t quite Glasgow in terms of traditional Tory hating (mind you, Glasgow isn’t Glasgow any more either) but Tories simply aren’t, in my (dated) experience, part of the political universe in this bit of Northumberland. In its own quiet way, the Tory advance in Pegswood is potentially as seismic as what’s going on in Scotland.
What happens next? Could the general election see Labour losing a seat like Wansbeck, which takes in Morpeth and Pegswood? I don’t know, and I’m not even going to guess, because this isn’t a political analysis, or even a commentary. It’s simply an expression of open-mouthed amazement at the times we live in.
I can’t tell you what the results in Northumberland mean. I can just tell you that the recent extraordinary and surprising period of British political history is far from over.