Friday, May 15, 2009

Erith and Thamesmead: Facts Are Sacred, Comment is Free

Hugh Muir's Guardian Diary pieces on Erith and Thamesmead had my head in a bit of a whirl yesterday. Some of the points of view seemed to conflict with the information I've been accumulating, whether from the non-comrade at the formal dinner, or the naughty comrade speaking from the Clapham Omnibus:

Saturday's the big day for those following the star-studded bid of Georgia Gould to become the Labour candidate in Erith and Thamesmead. After weeks of bitterness and allegations of rigging, which saw the national party intervene, the members will decide whether they wish to fall behind Georgia, 22, daughter of Blairite pollmeister Lord Gould – or one of the other candidates.

So far so good Hugh. Question to self - will Hugh list the ages of the other contenders a la NCTJ rules?

Postal votes have been collected, and informed speculation says that local party stalwart Teresa Pearce will be the closest rival. Most thought Pearce was a shoo-in until the Gould juggernaut arrived with esteemed passengers Tessa Jowell, Alastair Campbell and Ms Fixit, Baroness McDonagh.

Interesting this. Hugh's informant appears to be somethingly related to Teresa Pearce's campaign. Before Gould's technicolour dream parachute opened in the grey skies above Bexley it was a case of Ellie Reeves or a different local party stalwart, that's Angela Cornforth. Some say 100% more dynamic and hard-working than Pearce. Perhaps Reeves was warned off after her unfortunate listing on both the Labour First and Centre Left Grassroots Alliance slates for the NEC constituency section?

Back to Hugh Muir:

One of the other most talked about candidates has been Kensington and Chelsea councillor Marianne Alapini, whose attempts to secure a seat have taken her to Bristol and Woking, prompting those who mean her no good to dub her Marianne Un-faithful. But she didn't create the selection process. Candidates go where the work is.

Good to see the old Marianne Unfaithful line being picked up by His Hugh-ness. Marianne is so-dubbed because she is already the PPC for Woking, Surrey. It is absolutely verboten to try and trade up. Clearly that weakens ones case in the potentially cuckolded seat. Hugh moves on:

So why did the national party take control in Erith?

Good question. Though I'm not sure we're going to get the answer ...

Was it because of the alleged vote-rigging, or claims that supporters of Ms Gould were unfairly using her family connections? Was there concern that many were drawn to her campaign having been led to believe that their reward would be a new faith school? Not really.

Phew! Thank goodness for that! Not the Gouldilocks ability to get the Olympics 2012 cream either.

The worry concerned the fact that yet again, as happened in Birmingham Ladywood, a minority candidate – the aforementioned Ms Alapini – was being bested by others in the party establishment using their contacts to best advantage. Keith Vaz on the NEC was making an almighty fuss about it. The party feared it would be sued.

This seems extraordinary. Marianne is not local. Marianne has no history in the constituency. Marianne is swimming, or sinking, on her merits. Like Gould she is a "nepotista" however ... claiming in a scarcely credible endorsement from the original Bennite to be "the daughter of Barack Obama". Perhaps that will help? We'll come back to this bizarre idea of a Vaz-backed legal challenge. However ...

Seems to me the rather prosaic explanation for the takeover we have been laying out is correct. That the original Procedures Secretary wasn't well. That he had subbed the work out to a helpful young comrade - let's call him Daniel for that's his name - who happened to be campaign manager for one of the more prominent candidates. Teresa Pearce as it goes. The one Hugh believes - perhaps because someone not unadjacent Daniel told him so? - is the main impediemnt to the usurper Gouldilocks.

Fortunately Hugh Muir won't be drawn on his sources, so Daniel and any other informer will be safe enough should the ordure impact the vent-axia.

Earlier in the week Hugh picked up on the LOL signpost to the LabourHome de-selection story:

Across the mine-filled terrain that is the Labour heartland, something is stirring. They read the papers – all those tales of MPs pulling the Artex down at cost to the taxpayer, fitting kitchens, claiming to fund their personal security. They don't like them. Perhaps the only people for whom they make less than catastrophic reading are Labour activists stuck in that hinterland reserved for those who would like a seat but have been unable to procure one. They see a pleasing amount of churn arising from the trouser-gate debacle; MPs whose transgressions make carrying on impossible, those helping the police with their inquiries.

Indeed some of them do. There's no doubt about it. And the artfully included Artex reference happens to lay a healing hand on former New Labour parachutist and now very established, successful and popular junior Minister Kitty Ussher.

One never likes to gain in regrettable circumstances such as these, but here they are, ready to serve. On websites such as Labourhome, where there has been enthusiasm for the thread "Is ­deselection a possibility?", there is vitriol and naked ambition perhaps in equal measure. Watch out Margaret Moran in Luton South. "Luton South has always gone with the winning party and the last thing we need in a bellwether like that is a liability of a candidate," says one member. "We need to go for full ­deselection of the rotten eggs and it needs to be done publicly. No resignations to save face. It needs to be humiliating for the MP who abused the system," posts another. "Never has there been a better time to be a PPC," suggests a man with an overview. A ­silver lining. Who knew?

Another great question. Who did know? Gaby Hinsliff of the Observer may have had an inkling HERE:

Meanwhile, the bitter contest to select a Labour candidate for the safe Kent seat of Erith and Thamesmead was suspended yesterday after claims that a locked ballot box stored in the London Labour party's headquarters was broken into and ballot papers ripped up, prompting calls for a police investigation.

Calls that we must remember were not to bear fruit. "Mess! Mess!" opined the Met, like some jammy toddler, and "You made your bed, now lie in it" like some exhausted parent.

The constituency has been riven by controversy over the candidacy of Georgia Gould, 22, the daughter of Tony Blair's pollster Philip Gould, whose campaign was backed by several of her father's old colleagues, including Alastair Campbell and ex-Labour general secretary Margaret McDonagh.

And let's not forget ex-Minister and hands on psephologist Stephen Twiggy, or Tessa Jowell, or the mystery star guest at a "Credit Crunch Special" invitation-only rally for Gouldilocks, a week or so back.

In a statement the Labour party black section, which was backing a black London councillor named Marianne Alapini, in effect accused her rivals of McBride-style dirty tricks, adding: "Her supporters, both black and white, men and women, have refused to use discredited methods to campaign which led to a Downing Street spin doctor losing his job and bringing the party into disrepute."

Which is a near perfect reverse smear. My own partner remembers with great fondness one of my own draft leaflets: "We're not going to resort to negative campaigning" we would have said, "Not like the effing miserable bastard Li* D*ms". But you can now ignore the "McBride" reverse smear. For here, so soon, along comes the subtle retraction. It's there but it won't unstick the clever Alapini-LLPBS mud.

It is understood there have been no attacks on the personal lives of the Erith candidates like those which prompted McBride's departure, with allegations mainly concerning the use of postal vote forms. However sources said the comments were a swipe at the use of "the dark arts" by Gould's supporters.

Really? Looks like a smear not a swipe to these trained eyes.

Gould herself said in an email to supporters - promptly leaked - that the ballot box tampering reflected "old style politics" from people opposing change: "It seems so violent. Who would do such a thing? I am very angry about this action - it's offensive and anti-democratic."

Now, that cock and balls was and has to be a contender for the most disingenuous twaddle you may ever hear.

The row has infuriated Labour MPs who say national party staff should not be interfering in a local matter. "Labour can't afford to be see as run by inside cliques involved in nepotism and it's got to stop," said Paul Farrelly, the Labour MP for Newcastle-under-Lyme.

Quite right too. But should LOL proceed with the Whodunnit, and actually name name(s)?

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