Diary

ConHome Diary: Is Boris Really Being Hidden Away From the Electorate & Has Labour Bottomed Out?

28 Apr 2017 at 15:03

The very idea that Theresa May will seek to hide Boris Johnson away during the election is preposterous. I yield to no one in my admiration of the election coverage from The Times. It’s the one newspaper I buy every day. However, this week the paper seems to have developed somewhat of a schizophrenia about Boris Johnson. On Wednesday the Red Box’s Matt Chorley reported breathlessly: “The Times reveals today that Theresa May is being urged by senior ministers to keep Johnson out of the spotlight, suggesting that he be kept busy with “lots of important meetings in various foreign capitals” instead. One minister, fearing that his Vote Leave role is a liability, asks witheringly: “What are we going to put on the side of his bus?” A mere day later their political editor Francis Elliott wrote an article headlines “BORIS TO BE TV POSTER BOY”. Boris seems to have some very powerful enemies in the Cabinet, who think nothing of spilling their thoughts to political journalists. It has to be said that we’ve seen less of this during Theresa May’s premiership than under David Cameron, but of course during an election any journalist will jump on any bitchfighting because they have acres of newsprint to fill.
It surely wouldn’t make any sense to keep Boris under lock and key, just because at one point in the campaign he’s bound to drop a bollock. You don’t keep your star player off the pitch.
And let’s just remember who is in charge of the Conservative campaign. One Sir Lynton Keith Crosby. Let us not forget that Lynton was the man behind Boris’s two mayoral election wins. He knows what Boris’s strengths and weaknesses are and is a huge fan of the Foreign Secretary. He will deploy Boris at times when letting Boris be Boris can be a huge advantage to the campaign. Just as it should be.
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Last week I wrote some words in this column which I might have had reason to regret. Here’s a quick reminder: “If I’m honest, this is the first time for many years where I’ve thought I’d like to be a candidate again. Who wouldn’t want to be in Parliament over the next five years? But it was a fleeting thought and I dismissed it almost as soon as I had had it. At the age of 54 my time in politics has been and gone, and why would I give up the best job I have ever had?” At 2pm on Tuesday I saw that Sir Alan Haselhurst had announced he was standing down as MP for Saffron Walden. This is where I grew up and my parents lived all their lives. My Dad died a few months ago and I’ve been thinking about moving back to live on the family farm. For 24 hours my mind was a turmoil. But in the end, it wasn’t to be. I’m normally very decisive about making decisions like this, but I kept swinging from one extreme to the other. But the stars weren’t aligning. The negatives outweighed the positives. It would have been very difficult to force my way onto the shortlist but in addition I kept coming back to what I wrote last week: “Why would I give up the best job I have ever had?” Decision made, and absolutely no regrets. Whoever gets the seat will be very lucky indeed.
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It seems an odd thing to write, but being 20 points ahead in the polls can be a dangerous place to be. There’s only one way to do, and that’s down. In the end there is only so far Labour can go down in the polls and I reckon we’ve reached that point now. Each of the two main parties has a core vote of 24-26% of the electorate. The Conservative campaign reeks of ‘safety first’ and that’s quite understandable, if rather boring for those of us who have to cover the campaign. OK, political campaigns are aimed at voters and not the media, but I do worry that turnout at this election may be very depressed if the campaign goes on as it is. There are going to be no head to head debates and people are already tiring of Conservative sloganizing. On my radio show this week Maria Caulfield, the Lewes MP, trotted out the usual ‘coalition of chaos’ and ‘strong and stable government’ to such an extent that I had to interrupt her and suggest we start a drinking game whenever these phrases are used. It’s boring. It insults the intelligence of the electorate and does a disservice to our democracy.
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I’ve now predicted the results of 107 seats in my Seat by Seat general election prediction series. As I go through the different geographical areas it’s amazing how many Labour seats could be in play. Even Tony Blair’s seat of Sedgfield could fall to the Conservatives if the stars align. If you’d like to follow my predictions as I add to them every day click on this link [ add link http://iaindale.com/posts/2017/04/19/general-election-2017-seat-by-seat-predictions-predictions-so-far ]
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Candidate selections are a complete lottery. You can give the greatest speech of your life, but if your face doesn’t fit, you’re toast. I was told about one recent selection where two of the candidates gave out of their skin performances and yet the candidate who was weak and hapless won on the first ballot. Don’t you just love the unpredictability of Conservative Associations?
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Next week’s local elections are going to be a challenge for Jeremy Corbyn. He’s likely to lose dozens of county council seats in England and have a lot of explaining to do in Scotland, where Labour is polling at 14%. Quite what will happen in Wales in anyone’s guess. I guess it’s he will have to adopt the mantra of Keep Calm & Carry On. I’ll be hosting a special LBC local elections show with Shelagh Fogarty and Gareth Knight, our resident psephologist, from 10pm-1am. If you’re at a County Council count please do tweet me any developments @iaindale.
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If there is indeed a Tory landslide, something which I think is at this stage far from guaranteed, expect Jeremy Corbyn to hark back to 1987 and argue that he should be allowed to stay on as Labour leader just like Neil Kinnock did. He and his allies are desperate to stay in position until the Labour conference, as that is when they will try to push through rules changes for electing a new Labour leader. At the moment, to stand an MP has to get 15% of the parliamentary party to sign their nomination paper. The left want to reduce that to 5%, so whenever Jeremy Corbyn does decide to go, a representative of the hard left would automatically get on the ballot paper, and, given the hard left makeup of Labour’s current membership, would more than likely win. John McDonnell has said he wouldn’t ever run, so could it be Diane Abbott who rushes forward to take over the mantle? Or will it be one of the young turks who Corbyn has promoted to his shadow cabinet? All this just goes to show that even once the election is over, politics is unlikely to get any quieter over the summer months.

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