The political news at the moment is filled with stories of SpAds (Special Advisers, basically bag-carriers and assistants to government ministers) being kicked off candidate lists by the Conservatives. Specifically, one of Theresa May’s SpAds has been removed from the candidate list by CCHQ.
It has been interpreted as a Tory civil war, between Theresa May and Downing Street. But I think there’s something a little more sinister emerging here.
I may well get a threatening letter from Tory chairman Grant Shapps for saying this, but could these Special Advisers have been working campaigning for the Conservative Party, whilst their salaries have been paid by you and I, the taxpayers?
So the Conservative party in Rochford & Southend East have selected their council candidates for the local elections in 2015. It’s not especially surprising, Southend Labour will be doing the same shortly. The list, too, is not terribly surprising.
This year, the Conservative Party won a grand total of zero seats in the nine wards up for election across the constituency. This time there are ten wards up for election, which surely gives them an opportunity to not win an extra one. It has become increasingly clear that Conservative fortunes in Southend, particularly in the east, are in full-scale retreat.
What is somewhat surprising is the content of the candidate list.
There was one particular idea which drew a lot of applause from the audience at the Conservative Party Conference in Birmingham this week. It featured in the speeches of both the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister, and is already pretty much assured to be a centre-piece of the Tory manifesto next year.
And, indeed, today their plans have been published pre-emptively by legal blogger Jack of Kent.
Yes, I am talking about the plans to repeal the Human Rights Act. But what the Conservative Party want to do goes far beyond repealing a single piece of legislation. What they want to do is tear down the British legal system, built up over centuries, and to hobble the rights of its citizens. What they want to do terrifies me to my core, something I don’t say lightly.
And it should terrify every single person living in the United Kingdom today.
You have to, on some level, feel for Southend Conservatives. Not only have they been roundly rejected by the Southend electorate, lost control of the council for the first time in fourteen years, but they do keep getting kicked by their national counterparts.
The efforts of James Duddridge to single-handedly alienate every Conservative activist and voter in his half of the borough are laudable, but you can’t fault the work of the national party as a whole who seem intent on taking their local policy positions apart from the top downwards.
From Duddridge’s declaration that the sea wall was clearly a terrible idea — conveniently coming just after Tory councillors had lost their seats over it — to the recent decision by Eric Pickles to ban the use of so-called “spy cars” to enforce parking regulations, you wonder if there will be anything left of the local Conservative platform at all.
In 2010, James Duddgridge MP won re-election to his seat of Rochford and Southend East with 46.9% of the vote, and a majority of 11,050. A House of Commons Library study found this seat to be 458th out of 650 in terms of marginality of seats, and 173rd out of the 306 Conservative held seats.
What a difference four years has made then. Because despite what statistical analyses of election data from 2010 might suggest, Mr Duddridge is in rising trouble.
Over the past few weeks I have done a lot of blogging about Southend local politics, and the various offerings by the various parties (not to mention the definitely-not-a-party Independent
Party Group), their various candidates, and their various offerings to the electorate. In a lot of these cases I have found them wanting.
Most of my scrutiny has, admittedly, been focused on the Independent
Party Group and UKIP. That is not to say that other parties have been shining examples of good practice (indeed, there has been suggestions of some very worrying behaviour from the local Lib Dems), but when it comes to the likes of the Green Party and the National Front, there is a complete lack of visibility.
However, what about the the Conservatives.
As some will remember from my blog a little while back, Denis Garne is the Conservative Party candidate for Victoria ward this year. His history in Southend politics was interesting to say the least, as I discovered.
Now, I am standing for election in West Shoebury (an area of Southend to which I do have links — my fiancée’s entire family living in the ward) but I live in Victoria. So unsurprisingly, last week a blue-and-white glossy leaflet for Mr Garne’s campaign dropped through our letterbox.
It makes for interesting reading. For the most part it is exactly what you would expect from any party political literature at election-time. But given Denis’ political past, there are some…shall we say interesting statements contained.
My good friend Julian Ware-Lane blogged last week that Southend’s Conservatives had selected their leader and deputy for when current leader Nigel Holdcroft steps down at the elections in May.
There aren’t any surprises therein — except that I haven’t seen anything yet on the matter from those few Conservative councillors who actively blog — with current deputy John Lamb to replace Holdcroft, and Southchurch Councillor Anne Holland as the new deputy.
The significance really depends on the state of affairs after May. If the Conservatives cling on to control — they won’t hold their majority, but depending on which way the wind blows the Independents or Lib Dems may prop up a Tory administration — then this will be the new leader and deputy of Southend Borough Council.
Which makes it all the more interesting that, as Julian pointed out, Cllr Holland doesn’t actually live in the Borough of Southend.
It must be tough for George Osborne to decide which of his recent run of bad days has been the worst — but today must rank pretty highly on that list. The announcement by the ONS that the economy has shrunk by an estimated 0.7% shocked and alarmed many, but few more than the Chancellor.
Predictably the shout has gone up for Osborne’s head on a spike. Not just from his adversaries on the left, but also from many of his former cheerleaders on the right. Big names on the Tory side are calling for Cameron to shuffle Osborne out of the Treasury, and replace him with someone else. William Hague is the one I’ve heard most, in the last week or so.
This would, in my opinion, be both a mistake and a misjudging of the problem.
Yes, the economy has nose-dived since he got his hands on it. And yes, his most recent budget was a public relations disaster. But that is a symptom of the real problem, and it’s a problem that Chancellor Hague would have to face up to as well.
Namely, that austerity isn’t working.
Like the Titanic, we were sold this idea as unsinkable, and like the Titanic it’s currently slipping beneath the icy waters of oblivion, with the rich taking all the lifeboats and filling them with tax cuts and obscene bonuses. But whilst Osborne has been the face of this ideology, and the chief axe wielder, he and it are not one and the same. Austerity was the defining policy of the Conservative Party at the last election, and in a desperate gambit to win (which, it might be remembered, he didn’t) Cameron lashed his own and his party’s credibilty to it.
So austerity isn’t working. It has taken the wind out of the economy’s sales, and destroyed the recovery that was in process when the coalition took over. The promised expansion of the private sector hasn’t happened, and we are now enduring the worst double-dip recession since the Second World War.
In order to turn this situation around, the government need to abandon their “cut at all costs” approach, and start taking serious action to stimulate growth, create jobs, and get the economy moving again. But Cameron can’t do that, because it means admitting that he was wrong, and that the entire basis on which he built his economic credibility has bee a fallacy. He won’t do that because he doesn’t have the courage to face the electoral consequences.
So George Osborne is not the problem with economic policy in the UK. He isn’t helping it, and his fingerprints are all over it, but the problem is deeper than one man. And if the Conservative Party forces him out of Number 11 Downing Street, then they’ll feel a bit better for a while. But in three months time, the figures will still be awful, the recovery still won’t have arrived, and the Titanic will still be sinking.