Keir Starmer will be pleased with the Labour conference. All the delegates behaved themselves, even if it meant biting their lip on forbidden subjects like Brexit and proportional representation. As a result, though one description would be one of a disciplined and well organised party, another would be of a party deliberately avoiding debate and expecting members to toe the line.
All those po-faces. Just imagine what a single whoopee cushion on a shadow minister’s chair would have achieved for free speech.
Pecksniff has remarked before that Keir Starmer appears a man of honesty and integrity. One can’t help wondering though whether he is any good at politics. (He is supposed to have admitted he doesn’t understand it and doesn’t like it, which of course may prove something of a qualification.) But his position on most issues seems to smack of a committee decision, and his delivery is less that of a party leader and more of a committee chairman reporting back on their deliberations. After the egotistical ravings of Johnson and Truss that in some ways comes as a relief. But the occasional remark intended to make him look like a tough guy is unconvincing, and probably unwise.
There are reports of a kiss-and-make up meeting between Keir Starmer and the Labour city mayors. Relations between Westminster and the city administrations have sometimes been strained over the past few months, and much of the blame is aimed at the Starmer advisers. Old Labour hands won’t need reminding that this kind of slagging off from the top seems to have been an almost ever-present component of Labour in government during the Blair and Brown years, when control freakery reached its apogee. Almost certainly something to look forward to for the future.
But then, a YouGov poll gives Labour a 2% bounce during their conference. Rishi Sunak gets his lowest score against Keir Starmer too, down five points in a week, which seems to coincide almost exactly with the launch of the ‘Let Rishi Be Rishi’ campaign. Bit of a problem there… He now trails his rival by 12%, and Labour lead the Tories by 23.
The apparent success of the Labour conference this year is much more important than usual, since there seems a feeling abroad that voters are looking for some evidence of competence and integrity from their politicians, and the TV audience will have had many more uncommitted viewers than usual. (That probably explains the figures.)
There is also of course this week’s by-election in Mid Beds to consider, and a disgruntled electorate outraged by Nadine Dorries – many of whom may be looking to see which way the wind blows in order to use their vote tactically. Labour’s success after a largely lacklustre LibDem conference could set them up for the momentum everybody has been looking for.
Next Thursday, Mid Bedfordshire goes to the polls, to choose a successor as their MP to Nadine Dorries. It has been a bloody campaign, with both Labour and the LibDems determined to do the other down and blanking any suggestion of co-operation. We must therefore hope for successful tactical voting, though both parties stand accused of cutting corners and descending to dirty tricks. Woe betide them if they split the vote and the Tories manage to hang on – which is quite possible. Should that happen, dear reader, it behoves us all to kick their arses from here to Christmas.
Meanwhile, which of the contenders has ‘the big mo’, the momentum to wipe up the tactical votes? Both claim to have it, of course. Both are lying, since they genuinely haven’t a clue. The LibDems’ hopeful, Emma Holland-Lindsay, has quite reasonably published a photo of herself talking to students at Wixams Academy in Bedford. Now, if several hundred eager students thronged the hall in ecstasy at her presence, one might expect the picture to show them. Instead, it shows Ms Holland-Lindsay talking to an interviewer and an awful lot of empty space.
But perhaps it’s just a misleading picture. One tries not to draw conclusions, and Pecksniff wishes Labour, LibDem, Green and also True and Fair candidates well.
In fact a colleague has just visited Mid Bedfordshire to report on the by-election there, and the subject came up at the Muckrakers. The wise men paused in their discussion of the finer points of the minor Elizabethan poets to give the floor to one of their number who, it was understood, had previously accrued the kind of knowledge of Mid Beds that only comes from having once paused to buy a takeaway kebab at some place in Flitwick.
One would not wish to steal my colleague’s thunder, but it seems safe to point out – to those politicos looking for momentum among the punters – that momentum isn’t really something of which the good people of Ampthill or Shefford have much experience. Nor do they seem awfully keen to embrace it. Fascinating, my dears – you must read all about it next week.
Nadine Dorries has of course been an absentee MP for some time, quite how long depending on whether you are counting from her last appearance in the Commons bars or actually being seen in her constituency. (During the intervening period a whole government could have come and gone, and probably did.) But the exciting thing, dear reader – come closer – is that our man has actually located Ms Dorries! The question of her whereabouts has occupied almost the same fascination as Lord Lucan, but EAB can name the very town.
The report is due for publication here at EAB in the coming few days.
Incidentally, Nadine Dorries’ story of her adoption as a Conservative candidate differs somewhat from the account in The Times at the time. It’s not for the first instance of her account of her life being perhaps slightly more, shall we say, romanticised than the actual events.
Ms Dorries claims that she was on a long list of 17 potential candidates, of whom only five were women. She wrote: “I, a council estate Scouser, was selected as the Conservative candidate to represent a southern rural constituency,” and went on to claim it was “on the basis of my performance and merit above all other candidates”.
However, The Times wrote of her selection at the time that: “Senior party figures had made clear to local dignitaries that they would like the seat to go to a woman and presented the constituency with a shortlist of seven women and five men to underline the point”. So David Cameron was desperately looking to change the image of his party to include more women and also fewer of those who have sets of asparagus forks in the sideboard, and Mid Beds Tories were told in no uncertain way what to do. A blonde nurse turns up and it’s all over.
The boundary commission has been redrawing constituencies and has come up with an entirely new one on the Norfolk–Suffolk border, called Waveney Valley. On Monday, the East Anglian Daily Times introduced the New Tory prospective candidate, Richard Rout. Mr Rout had thrown his hat into the ring for the vacant job in West Suffolk, but was beaten by what passes for star quality in the Tory party these days – former Theresa May fixer and now dry-as-dust right wing columnist Nick Timothy.
Mr Rout is an experienced member of Suffolk County Council, and his usual stamping ground is the west of the county, so there is no doubt that West Suffolk would have been a better fit. It might also have been a safer seat to win, since Mr Hancock has a majority of 23,000, though who knows how much that may have been eroded by his media, Covid and extra-marital antics.
Tories in Suffolk will be watching next week’s by election result in Mid Beds with interest. Nadine Dorries’ 2019 result gave her a 24,000 majority.
Now, Waveney Valley is the number one target seat for the Greens. Their leader Adrian Ramsay is the candidate. Having won Mid Suffolk Council last year, the party are in with at least a shout, probably more.
However, the East Anglian story about Richard Rout (above) went on complacently to assure readers that “most election experts see Waveney Valley as one of the safer Conservative seats in the country”. Hmmm.
There was discussion in the EAB newsroom about this, and how the copy lacked the usual assured touch of its distinguished author. Opinion was that it was taken half-heartedly and inadvisedly straight from a Tory press release, with a bit of garnish, and it looks as though that was the view of the Greens too. Because only two days later, the paper ran rather a non-story about the chances this time of the Greens there, saying the seat “could turn out to be one of the most crucial contests in the next general election”.
It was not clear how “one of the safer seats in the country” can also be “one of the most crucial contests in the next general election”. But Pecksniff will explain.
Let us look at the timing. The Tory story is published on Monday. By lunchtime the journalist is taking furious calls from the Greens’ fixer, accusing them of Tory bias and demanding right of reply. Reluctantly the hack goes to his editor. The editor grudgingly eventually accedes. The new story is written on Tuesday and the happy smiling face of Adrian Ramsay turns up in a story all about the Greens in the Wednesday edition.
And speaking of changed constituency boundaries, sadly Central Suffolk and North Ipswich is still there, unchanged and pretending that deepest rural Suffolk to the north has much in common with the traditional council estates of Ipswich to the south, where they have never even seen a tractor. It is quite impossible for such a heterogeneous group of people to be properly represented by a single MP.
There are more revelations this week concerning Nigel Gardner, the prospective Conservative parliamentary candidate for Harpenden and Berkhamsted. Mr Gardner has stood as a candidate both for the European elections and as a Westminster candidate. He was recently chosen as the man to fight the new seat by the Tory party, but it’s unclear how much was known of his background – both his Labour links and some very high profile clients his public affairs company had in Russia.
This week it transpires that his company, GPlus, was allegedly employed to distribute Russian propaganda during the country’s 2008 war with neighbours Georgia. Mr Gardner set up GPlus in 2000, but sold his stake in the company in 2006. However, he continued to work with them.
The Herts Advertiser reports that, at the time, the public relations trade magazine PR Week reported that GPlus was “promoting Russia’s side in the dispute with Georgia”.
All this may seem a long time ago, but these are sensitive times and contacts made then in Russia are quite likely still to be live. (No jokes, please.) All this may not still be relevant, but one might have imagined that Conservative Party members on the selection committee had a right at least to know about them, and make their own judgement.
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