Thursday 29 April 2010

The plight of De Piero's surrogate...

Before I nip off I want to tip my hat to a brave man.

As I reported in detail yesterday there were all sorts of shenanigans going on after Gloria De Piero refused to go to an Ashfield hustings.

Labour eventually allowed Andrew Clayworth, the Labour PPC standing against Ken Clarke in Rushcliffe, to fill in.

He initially had to deal with a man dressed as a chicken outside the event – an attempt to taunt De Piero for not turning up.

It was never a hustings he was going to “win”, but once inside he had a particularly torrid time.

Clayworth initially began by suggesting De Piero was constantly learning more about Ashfield. In fact, he said, she had been discussing things “with Geoff…”

It was as though he suddenly realised that if he finished the name of the former Ashfield MP, which seems to be unspeakable in the constituency, things would get worse.

As it was the word “Geoff” hung in the air like a bad whiff for a few seconds before the crowd began heckling.

Clayworth was faced with the unenviable task of trying to promote De Piero while explaining why she was absent – a question to which some people would not see any answer as acceptable.

In attempting to explain what De Piero would do as MP he started his answers with “Gloria intends/says/thinks…” – this soon become a recurring theme.

When the chair called him to answer one question, before he could get a word in, a man in the audience shouted “Gloria says…” drawing a fair bit of laughter.

What made things worse was that there were a lot of BNP supporters in the relatively small crowd. Because De Piero had not attended, Labour had not brought any support – so there was a fair bit of hostility about.

Clayworth had no reason to come. Perhaps he hopes it will help persuade his party to give him a more winnable seat than Rushcliffe next time round.

Either way, he took one for the team.

Off to Istanbul we go...

WATCH out! The Turks are coming. All 70million of them – all at once.

At least that’s what the BNP guy who was at the Ashfield hustings last night reckoned – and he must be right because he said he based his political views on “biblical morality”.

It’ll be terrible – we’ll all have to stand side by side and eat baklava off each other’s shoulders because there won’t be enough room to use our hands.

I guess the smart ones among us will just go on holiday to Turkey because there’ll be a whole free country just sitting there waiting for someone to emigrate to.

The thing is, while Edward Holmes said his views were based on biblical morality, some bits seemed to have gotten lost along the way.

That “turn the other cheek” stuff was no where to be seen. He advocated corporal punishment and “death by hanging”.

When one man challenged him cheekily shouting ‘what would Jesus do?’ he gave a perfectly rational answer about the ground opening up and pillars of fire shooting out.

With immigration such a significant issue these days – even more so after bigotgate – the BNP will no doubt think this is their “moment”.

There is a big problem with immigration that needs sorting. There are even bigger problems with deprivation in places like Ashfield that also need sorting – and would bring far more benefit if they were sorted first.

The BNP and Holmes like to paint themselves as the anti-establishment, anti-political party. But they are not. Holmes himself is the former Labour chair of Ashfield District Council.

Last night he was playing up to a friendly right-ish crowd in a way that is typical of scaremongering practiced for bare political gain by the BNP.

(More on Labour at the hustings coming soon...)

Wednesday 28 April 2010

The hustings is on again...kind of.

I was a bit hesitant to blog on this when I heard, given the indecision up to now.

But it seems that Labour WILL put forward a candidate to defend their record at the Ashfield hustings tonight.

After Gloria De Piero refused to face her rivals down at the event Labour made signals that a substitute candidate would be sent.

Andrew Clayworth (below), who is standing for Labour against Ken Clarke in Rushcliffe, had originally said he would go to the Ashfield hustings in De Piero’s place.

Then this morning Labour began saying the party had made no commitment to send anyone – Clayworth noted however that he had been “stood down” by the party.

But the latest news is that the party will now allow Clayworth to go to the event.

De Piero’s refusal to attend says something about her willingness to let the press see her speaking to real people, while the party’s indecision says something about how Labour is dealing with “events” right now.

Clayworth is going to have a job explaining to the crowd why he is there and De Piero ain’t. Live Twitter feed from 7pm.

What will the gaffe mean ?

I just saw Mandy on Sky trying to undo the damage of what has come to be known as ‘bigot-gate’ (see the blog post below).

He was saying the most upsetting thing for Brown was that he had hurt the feelings of another person.

Really? Even more upsetting than the possibility his gaffe has derailed his election campaign? Hmm.

But putting that aside – along with the spin contest that is seeing parties bid to take control of the story – there could be some nasty consequences to this.

Immigration is a huge issue in certain areas of the country which were once Labour strongholds – places I’ve travelled through during this campaign.

In those places – like Stoke, Amber Valley in Derbyshire and Ashfield in Notts – lots of people feel totally detached from the party that once represented them.

Thousands will hold similar fears about immigration as those expressed by Gillian Duffy – some of those have already deserted Labour for the BNP or other parties that talk tough on the issue.

Brown’s comments will work to convince those who hold those fears but have remained loyal to Labour, that the PM does not think immigration is a big problem and that he sees as racist those people who raise it.

All the talk of a "Australian points-based immigration system" will be forgotten. Instead people will remember that Gordon Brown thinks people who are worried about immigration are bigoted.

Yes it was a private conversation. But I never understood how that was a defence – voters understand that people say what they really think in private.

I’ll be tweeting from a hustings in Ashfield tonight and I’ve no doubt this is going to feature.

The gaffe that could finish Brown...

The empty chair in Ashfield

Labour seemed to be in confusion today after the candidate who was going to speak on behalf of Gloria De Piero at an Ashfield hustings also pulled out of the event.

Andrew Clayworth, the PPC standing against Ken Clarke in Rushcliffe, had agreed to stand in for De Piero at the hustings after the Ashfield candidate turned her back on the event.

She had claimed it was more beneficial to spend time knocking on doors, rather than debating things out with rivals at the hustings.

I suppose she felt she had more to lose by turning up than by not.

Yesterday Clayworth said he would attend to defend Labour’s record in De Piero’s absence.

That suggested to me that at least some people in the party thought De Peiro was making the wrong move by avoiding the event.

But this morning things rapidly changed. Labour officially began denying they had ever promised a replacement would come.

Meanwhile Clayworth said the issue had been taken “out of his hands” and that he had been “stood down”.

I interviewed De Piero a few weeks back and found her to be an interesting person with something to say, ready for the election battle.

It’s disappointing she’s not prepared to take on the fight – particularly in a seat where so many people have so many things to say about the way they have been governed.

As it stands at the hustings tonight – from which I’ll run a live twitter feed – Labour will be represented by an empty chair.

Tuesday 27 April 2010

A surrogate De Piero

Tomorrow night I’m going to a hustings in Ashfield where Geoff Hoon’s replacement, Gloria De Piero, is defending a Labour majority.

But while the other party’s candidates have agreed to turn up De Piero has refused. It’s at least the second hustings she has turned her back on.

She obviously feels she has more to lose than the other candidates and more to lose by turning up, than by not.

But rather than negating the event, it has led to it becoming even more interesting.

The Labour party itself seems to want someone to turn up and defend the Government’s record.

They are putting up another person to go to the hustings after hearing of De Piero’s refusal.

As I understand it the Labour PPC who is standing against Ken Clarke in Rushcliffe will travel north for the night and argue on De Piero’s, and Labour’s, behalf.

The other parties are bound to use the whole farce as an attack weapon, making for riveting viewing.

I’ll be doing a live twitter feed from 7pm – look forward to seeing you then.

Last throw of the dice for Notts MP...

I was in Broxtowe today – number 42 on the Tory target list – where Nick Palmer MP is fighting for his political life

He has a majority of about 2,000 but knows that last time round he took the seat because he won backing from Lib Dem voters.

If he can’t keep those Lib Dem voters in 2010, he freely admits he will lose his seat.

It meant that when I followed him as he canvassed he was knocking on doors, not of Labour supporters, but of Lib Dem voters.

The MP told one Lib Dem woman that if Labour did not exist he would have been a Lib Dem himself.

Acutely aware that he might lose because people don’t like Labour, as opposed to not liking him, he has also had two sets of campaign posters printed.

There are red ones for Labour supporters to display, and green ones for other people who want to show they are voting for him without overtly displaying support for his party.

The bid to nick Lib Dem support in the face of “the surge” is made all the more interesting because the Lib Dems themselves are doing little to shore up their vote on his patch.

That’s because most of their funding is being sucked up by the bid to beat Gloria De Piero in nearby Ashfield.

If the Lib Dems win that seat – and they are considered Labour’s main rivals there – it would be a major coup.

In Broxtowe meanwhile increasing Lib Dem support would more than likely hand a win to the Tories.

The issues that will turn the election...

“Will you shut up,” shouted someone from across the school hall last night.

I’ve a feeling there were several other people in the room at last night’s hustings who wanted to say the same to the woman, who’d been ranting about car parking charges.

“Ok, ok – I’ve had my say,” said the woman. Then she started ranting again.

The target of her abuse was the Tory candidate for Gedling Bruce Laughton, who is challenging Schools Minister Vernon Coaker for the seat.

It was a tough deal for Laughton. The Labour support had turned out and he was heckled from early on. But he didn’t help himself.

Gedling needed strong leadership, he said before adding, “like, take for example, myself.”

Wit, targeted aggression and accomplished argument are the way to face down a tough crowd. Laughton substituted all three for bovine stubbornness.

That’s not to say he didn’t raise some potentially good debating weapons, the fact that Coaker was Police Minister and Notts Police are in turmoil.

Or the fact that Coaker is now Schools Minister and some local schools are in trouble.

But he didn’t articulate them like he needed to, and made factual mistakes – including chiding the Labour County Council, when it’s actually Tory controlled.

When the crowd laughed at him after that one I’m pretty sure I heard him think “damn”.

It left it open for Coaker to talk passionately to a friendly crowd and win the night.

Gedling is one of those seats that will decide the election, the Tories need it if they are going to take a majority.

But it won't be economic policy that wins the day.

What was apparent last night is that it will be won on things like council car parking charges, the local school and a planned Tesco supermarket - these are the issues that will decide the fate of the nation.