Gale's Westminster View - June 2008
Edward Timpson, in his maiden speech as the newly-elected Member of Parliament for Crewe and Nantwich, told the House of Commons that he did not feel that it was really necessary to describe, as is the convention, his constituency as most Members on both sides of the House had visited it during the by-election that followed the death of Gwynneth Dunwoody.
It is a fact that parliamentary troops from both the major battalions descended on the hapless folk of Crewe and Nantwich and by polling day there can have been few of us that had not visited, either on foot or by phone, several times. The result, therefore, while not a foregone conclusion, was not a huge surprise. Tamsin Dunwoody was not set to follow in her Mother's Labour footsteps. She and her party fought a dreadful campaign and attempts to brand the personable Edward as a "Tory toff" backfired horribly. People liked Edward because he likeable and they did not like Ms. Dunwoody or the campaign or anything connected with The Big Organ Grinder. The Prime Minister, when asked in the House, if he intended to visit the constituency said, sourly, "no". Young David, by contrast and against some advice, could barely keep away from the place. As a result the Timpson/Cameron team delivered the Conservatives first by-election win for 26 years on a 17.5% swing.
One swallow does not make a flaming June but the end of May opinion poll put The Tories on 47% with Labour on 23% and the Liberals on 18%. Young David has grown into his job, Gordon Brown appears to be growing himself out of his and the Liberal party have, it would seem, once again chosen the wrong leader.
Move swiftly from crisis to crisis and while in Zimbabwe matters are moving from very bad to much worse, at home the Westminster village chatter is of 42 days.
The Legacy got his fingers badly burned while trying to enforce a prolonged period of detention without trial upon parliament. Instead of learning from his predecessor’s mistake the Big Organ Grinder and his hapless Home Secretary, Ms. Smith, have come back to the fray with a proposal to hold terrorist suspects and, presumably, anyone else for up to 42 days without habeas corpus. The result is that the Shadow Home Secretary, The Old Knuckleduster to give him his proper name, has a field day while Labour rebels sharpen the knives that will, later in the month, be plunged into the Prime Ministers back.
Opinion polls and, therefore, The Sun, say that most people support the detention of terrorists. Of course they do! They also like CCTV cameras that prevent anti-social behaviour and Speed cameras that stop fatal accidents from happening and ID cards held by immigrants. Once you suggest, though, that it is they that might be held in prison for six weeks without charge, or photographed thirty times a day, or "done" for travelling at 35 miles an hour in a thirty limit zone or fined for failing to produce an ID card and you get a rather different picture!
The austere Mr. Brown and the Schoolmistress currently occupying the Home Office clearly find the restriction of individual liberties appealing. Others do not. As many have fought and died over centuries to protect the rights enshrined in Magna Carta and Habeas Corpus it seems just a little perverse to hand the terrorists victory on a plate by taking those rights away. Particularly so when there is no evidence to suggest that this measure is yet needed. The best that the government can come up with is that "it might be needed at some time in the future" which is not good enough.
In the midst of this parliamentary mayhem the Class of `83 holds its twenty-fifth anniversary survivors` dinner. Of a vast new Conservative intake in that year there are some 20 of us left of whom several are "re-treads" (those who have lost seats and fought another day) and there are too many, including the formidable Eric Forth, who have died. We remember them all with feeling.
Eric would have enjoyed defending the liberties of the individual alongside David Davis but in the end the mixture of blackmail, cajoling and downright bribery defeats the Old Knuckleduster and allows the Prime Minister to scrape home with the support of the Ulster Unionist vote in the House. Cries of "bought" (my own reprehensibly included) bring Mr. Speaker to his feet for it is improper to suggest that Honourable Members have been paid to vote. Mr. Speaker is of course right and graciously accepts my apology. Both he and I, though, know that the truth will out in time.
The momentum gathers. In Ireland the European "Not-the-constitution" receives a resounding "NO" vote in the only referendum in which the free people of Europe are allowed to have a personal say. Democracy-by-proxy is all well and good for mundane matters but when sovereignty is at stake we need something more and better. We need the referendum that Blair promised and that Brown has weaselled out of. And talking of weasels it is clear that the Federalist Heads of European States will do their damnedest to push this wretched Treaty into force with or without the Irish.
This catches everyone, including his closest friends, on the hop. The Village hacks are in a frenzy because something has happened that they did not predict, know about or explain. Given that this is what Fleet Street editors pay them their fat salaries and vast expenses for (oh yes, it is not only MPs that can face that criticism!) they are not a happy band.
In fact, David told, on the Monday before the vote, only his Chief of Staff and his wife, Doreen, of his intention. On the Tuesday he asked me if I "would be around" on Thursday. On Wednesday night, after the squalid Ulster vote, he told Young David of his intention. Contrary to reports there was no row. DC understood the principle and offered his support. The Old Knuckleduster informed his chums on Thursday morning and the rest of the world from the St. Stephens steps at lunchtime. There will now be a by-election in Haltemprice and Howden which David will, I trust, win resoundingly. The Prime Minister has not dared to field a candidate and the press and many parliamentary colleagues have sought to deride the Old Knuckleduster for his "madness" but out there in the real world people understand that a brave and principled man has taken a bold, brave and principled step. Eric would have been proud of him and so am I.
Economy in meltdown, houses being repossessed, oil prices through the roof and fuel at over £6 per gallon and we are told that we are "in danger of talking ourselves into a recession"! Rats! We are in one now. Anyone who is paying a mortgage or buying food and clothes or filling a car knows that. To take Boy George's description Brown did not mend the roof when he had the money and now the rain is pouring in. To add to the midsummer misery George Bush clogs up London with his `farewell tour` motorcade while other motorists fume, Mugabe rigs another election and more people die in Zimbabwe and Old Man Mandela rails like King Lear while African "leaders" with Tabo Mbeki at the fore still cannot bring themselves to condemn the tyrant.
Horses run at Ascot, rackets are swung and strawberries consumed at Wimbledon and in Henley there is another by-election following the resignation of the Mayor of London as that constituency's MP. (In fact you cannot resign a seat: you take the Chiltern Hundreds or another "office for profit under the Crown" and thus exclude yourself from parliament). It's a Tory-held seat and our win is not exceptional. What makes the deadlines is that the Labour party lost it's deposit and came fifth and that the Liberal party fared poorly, placing a question mark over Mr. Clegg`s future as their Leader. And all of this on the day that the Big Organ Grinder "celebrates" the end of his first year in Downing Street. Politics is a very cruel game. As the Tories gather in Buckinghamshire for our "Away Weekend" we need to remind ourselves that it is still two years to the next general election. Young David has cause for satisfaction but we all need to remember the manner in which Neil Kinnock snatched defeat from the jaws of victory in 1992. We, at least, must learn from political history.