By-election rule no.1: when fighting a strong local candidate, don’t copy the section about the constituency on your website from Wikipedia.
Ed MIliband says he wants more working class people and people with an armed forces background to stand for parliament, so the Eastleigh by-election is the first opportunity for Labour to choose someone from that kind of background. Yet Labour heavyweights seem to be swinging behind John O’Farrell, who is about as much of a Labour luvvie as you can get. O’Farrell first appeared on the West End stage when he was 10 years old, writes novels and does comedy for the BBC. He wrote a book with the title Things Can Only Get Better: Eighteen Miserable Years in the Life of a Labour Supporter, 1979-1997.
The man who reputedly invented the grey John Major spitting image character also wrote the jokes for Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. He seems serious about standing, he has stood unsuccessfully for Labour before in 2001. The Labour glitterati are backing him and he has already started campaigning in the constituency. Polly Toynbee has publicly endorsed his candidature and says she will work for his election. “Up the workers!”
John Denham has emailed all Labour Party members asking them if they would like to be the party’s no-hope candidate in Eastleigh:
“As I’m sure you’ve already heard, following Chris Huhne’s resigation we’ll be fighting a by-election in Eastleigh. There are only three weeks until polling day on 28 February. There’s a lot to do in the meantime but Labour Party members like you have achieved great results in by-elections over the last couple of years – and I know you’ll do it again. But before all that, we need a Labour candidate and I wanted to give you the opportunity to put your name forward. Apply to be Labour’s candidate in Eastleigh by emailing your CV.”
Hopefuls have until Saturday to get their name in. Apparently “If you’ve never been out campaigning before, don’t worry – there’ll be training available.” Looks like they are all but sitting this one out then…
The Special Adviser code states:
“19. Special advisers must not take part in national political activities, which are: holding, in a party political organisation, office which impinges wholly or mainly on party politics in the field of Parliament, the Scottish Parliament, the National Assembly for Wales, the Northern Ireland Assembly or the European Parliament…
20(ii) …if they wish to take part in a General, European or by-election campaign, or to help in a party headquarters or research unit during such a campaign, they must first resign their appointment.”
Despite this, Nick Clegg’s SpAd James McGrory launched the LibDem Eastleigh by-election campaign last night from the Cabinet Office. The Tories reported him to the powers that be and now the Cabinet Office say:
“James has already apologised for sending the email. He has been reminded of the rules.”
He’s sorry, he’s sorry, he’s so so sorry. Who he has apologised to was not mentioned, but an interesting precedent has been set; abuse taxpayer funded position to politic and you are fine as long as you are “reminded of the rules”. Guido imagines that some people over at the Department for Education will note the wrist-slapping with interest.
UPDATE: McGrory apologised to the Cabinet Secretary.
The gloves are off. Not only are the LibDems planning on moving the writ today for the Eastleigh by-election, but they have also fired the first real shots of the campaign. Sadly for them, those shots were firmly into their own feet. By using his taxpayer-funded Cabinet Office email address to launch Nick Clegg’s by-election campaign last night, LibDem SpAd James McGrory has found himself in hot water on the first day of this very short campaign. Needless to say the partisan attack has gone down rather badly with his coalition partners. Backbench Tory MP Andrew Bridgen scores an easy goal this morning:
Dear Mr Heywood,
I am writing to ask you to investigate a breach of the Code of Conduct for Special Advisers by James McGrory.
The Code of Conduct for Special Advisers, last updated on June 2010, states:
‘You must not act in a way that is determined by party political considerations, or use official resources for party political purposes’
But in an email from his Cabinet Office account on Wednesday 6 February, Mr McGrory contacted journalists to brief a speech to be delivered by Nick Clegg on Thursday 7 February.
The email was saturated with party political content, centred around the upcoming Eastleigh by-election. Most troubling of all was a series of source quotes, stating:
“This is Nick firing the starting pistol on the Eastleigh by-election.
“It’s a speech that sets out the distinctive approach of the Liberal Democrats in the Coalition Government when it comes to tax.
“This is going to be a very keenly contested by-election and Nick is eager to remind the voters of Eastleigh, as well as the rest of the country, that the Liberal Democrats are cutting taxes for those on low and middle incomes.”
The email went on to offer up Nick Clegg and Simon Hughes for interviews around the Eastleigh campaign.
Given its political nature, Mr McGrory’s email therefore appears to be a clear breach of the Code of Conduct for Special Advisers.
I also note that the Code of Conduct for Special Advisers states that those who hold the post must resign it if they wish to campaign in a by-election.
“if they wish to take part in a General, European or by-election campaign, or to help in a party headquarters or research unit during such a campaign, they must first resign their appointment. If they wish their appointment to carry on during a campaign, they may continue to give assistance to their Minister as before, but they must be careful not to take any active part in the campaign. They should not, for example, take part in public meetings or accompany their Minister to party political engagements which are related to the Election campaign”
Upon the conclusion of your investigation, I would therefore be grateful if you could update me as to whether it would be appropriate for Mr McGrory to resign his position.
Andrew Bridgen MP
Activate Sherlock Heywood…
Guido has seen exchanges between the Government whips office and Tory MPs that would imply they are not expecting the Eastleigh writ to be moved for many months. Michael Fabricant, who seems to be in charge of the by-election again, reminds colleagues that the LibDems have three months to fire the starting gun. His background notes on the seat confirms that the Tory candidate will be Maria Hutchings, though he is rather gloomy about her prospects “although many constituents in Eastleigh will understandably feel that they have been let down badly by their Lib-Dem MP, this will not be a shoe-in [sic] for us.” Somewhat of an understatement…
Word reaches Guido that former lobbyist turned Clegg Downing Street spinner Olly Grender is being discussed as the LibDem nomination for the Eastleigh by-election. She’s got competition though from Dr Tim Leunig, formerly the chief economist at the liberal wonk-shop CentreForum, and now at the DfE, who is also said to be eyeing up the seat. Interestingly Olly was very quick to graciously mop up when yesterday’s news came through:
News of Grender’s quest for power has been greeted with exultant joy by Tories. One source says “she upset a lot of people when she was in Downing Street.” Apparently SpAds are “dusting down their dossiers” on her. The prospect of revenge is already tasting sweet.
UPDATE: Olly denies she is interested:
Then again, we’ve had a lot of fun with Olly’s denials before…
Not quite the Croydon Spring Lee Jasper promised as Labour held all three seats in last night’s by-election, but the main talking point is UKIP coming second in both Middlesbrough and Rotherham. Joyce Thacker isn’t the only reason voters are flocking to Farage’s party. The LibDems were decimated, losing their deposit in Croydon North and Rotherham, in fact coming eighth there. When the Monster Raving Loony Party beat David Owen’s SDP he folded up the party…
Outside of the Leveson bubble there are some actual, real, political events also going on today. Perhaps most interestingly the by-election in Rotherham. Labour’s nerves are reaching a crescendo, and not just due to the prospect of the Homeland candidate splitting the left-wing vote. This morning Peter Watt warns that the party are losing votes to UKIP by the bucket full:
“UKIP will take votes from Labour as well as the Tories in Rotherham today…the assumption that UKIP is just a threat to the Tories is dangerous and the fact that the Rotherham foster-carers were former Labour voters is not really a surprise. The quicker we wake up to the fact that most voters are not like people who attend Labour party meetings the better. Some of them even read the Daily Mail.”
While Harry Wallop notes in the Telegraph:
“Today, Rotherham goes to the polls in a parliamentary by-election. That all the talk is about Ukip rather than Labour, which has provided the town’s MP since 1933, is a remarkable turn of events…Despite the momentum, Ukip is still small, with a mere 19,000 members – the equivalent of just a few tables of pub drinkers in each constituency. But these sums appear to hold little truck in Rotherham, where the lack of jobs and prospects are the main concerns.”
UKIP’s price in Rotherham has come in to 8/1. Guido reckons that Labour are still going to take their ‘safe seat’, but numbers are going to be very, very interesting…
What Will Happen if Scots Leave? | David Aaronovitch
Why Are Radicals Like Carswell Leaving Tories? | BBC
Danczuk: Rotherham Abuse Imported From Pakistan | Telegraph
Ashya King Case Shows How Authorities Get it Wrong | ConHome
The Carswell Show | Jon Craig
Cops Seized Journalist’s Phone to Out Whistleblower | Press Gazette
Chuka’s £2,500 Tax Avoidance Donation | Times
Another BBC Stitch Up? | David Keighley
Divided, Pessimistic Tories Expect Defeat | Alex Wickham
Labour Suspends Rotherham Council Members | Sky
PM Used Terror Crisis to Deflect From Carswell | Rachel Sylvester
George Osborne rejects the Ice Bucket Challenge from Ed Balls:
“I’d rather pay the money to charity and pour cold water on his policies.”
Owen Jones says:
We also need Zil lanes.