It’s a bit of a political week in Beeston, with two elections on Thursday which have just got a bit interesting, so I best do my job and try to find a narrative to run through them before banging some satirical device on the end to make you all think I’m some sort of local Swiftian genius cos you may not read Private Eye enough to realise I nick all my schtick wholesale from them, then cram some NG9 stewings into their genius pastry crust before presenting it to you as a golden hued satirical pie.
I digress. Despite a weird outbreak of peace in the council chamber at the last full session, more on which later this week, hostilities were happily resumed again as the parties once again prostrated their furry bellies before you, all hopeful for a tummy-stroking vote in two up-coming by-elections.
We’ll examine the County first, arguably the more important of the two races. This by-election was triggered by the sad death of Tom Pettengell, late County Councillor for Toton and Chilwell, who passed away on New Years Eve. Ostensibly it appears to be a fairly safe seat for the Tories, who took it with a comfortable majority at the last County elections. However, a few factors may make it more exciting.
The last election was in mid 2009, when the Tories were in their pomp in the polls. Tom was a popular politician, and although I never met him myself, tributes from all ends of the political spectrum overwhelmingly suggest that his record, coupled with his charisma, accounted for a good chunk of votes. Will the fact that the Conservatives are suffering a dip in the polls due to the NHS debacle , coupled with a lack-lustre challenger, 2011 Borough election loser John Doddy, have a significant effect?
Then throw in another significant factor. Labour aren’t running a candidate, due to a rather embarrassing catastrophe in selecting someone suitable. It’s a complex tale, available for the price of a pint in the back bar of The Crown most nights, but in short their anointed had to swiftly stand down after being judged ‘unfit’ by the parties NEC. Wounds were licked, resources being to the Borough election; tacit support thrown behind he Lib Dem challenger, Borough Councillor David Watts. Watts already commands a degree of local profile that can only add to his campaign, and is a pugilistic bruiser when it comes to campaigning on the stump. Expect the unexpected with this one.
However, as the last few days of campaigning draw to a close, any hope of a Lab-Lib love seems to have taken a hit after Watts wrote a piece in his newsletter claiming that as well as the County election being a two-horse race, as such was the Borough election.
This is a rather bold claim, and swiftly rebuked by erstwhile MP Nick Palmer. Tory Craig Cox’s departure from the seat does create an interesting, if not necessarily knife-edge battle, and this one is at best a three-way scrap, but statistically more likely a straight Lab/Con tussle.
Expect a turn-out that is paradoxically low, yet motivated. Floating voters will avoid the ballot boxes as a third year of decisions may have led to electoral fatigue (a concept so bizarre to a politics obsessive like myself, it’sbeing akin to Samuel Johnson’s take on those jaded by London’s attractions). Thus, a lot goes a long way.
The Lib Dems know this so have put forward a very strong, proven candidate in Barbara Carr, former Borough councillor who stood down before the 2011 election. With effective campaigning, coupled with the gem of familiarity, there does remain a grain of a chance, yet little more. Post-party conference, the Lib Dems seem to be in disarray, attempting to stay in power at one end while staying electable at the other. Local Lib Dems have all told me they oppose the non-publication of th NHS Risk Register, and, while I have not heard anything official, assume by this it’s fair to imagine they oppose the NHS bill that Clegg is roping himself to like Captain Ahab to the mast.
Labour have put forward Jane Marshall, spouse of Borough Councillor Greg Marshall. This husband and wife duo proved to be passionate, articulate campaigners at the 2011 elections, with Greg grabbing Beeston West and Jane nearly pulling off a Portillo-esque shocker against local Tory stalwart Richard Jackson. An effusive campaigner, whose less-centrist politics seem to be on-message with the current climate may an interesting result come Friday.
Palmer’s annoyance with Watts is understandable, as it doesn’t take a seasoned psephologist to work out a Lib Dem victory in the Generals was hugely unlikely. However, there’s not a politician alive who enters an election on a ‘I’m gonna lose’ ticket. Even John Major in ’97.
It’s maddening to think that the Lib Dems partner Labour on a Borough level, and not on a pragmatic level of supporting the party with most seats. There is a cordiality in the chamber, yet it’s tense. While the national media scrutinise the strained lower-leg tendons that threaten to tear between the Con-Lib coalition, I’ll do my best to provide a watchful eye over the shin-splints developing in our own local partnership.
(Cont. on page 94)