Wednesday 18 September 2013

Theresa in trouble - the Tory political establishment continues to falter, in Broken Barnet

Theresa Villiers: pic Mirror

Yes: Theresa in trouble - not me this time, though. Theresa Villiers, the MP for Chipping Barnet, may well be in a spot of hot water, however, according to a story this week by Guido Fawkes:

It seems that fellow Tory MP Anne Main, who represents St Albans, and has been campaigning against a proposed freight depot in her constituency, has felt compelled to write to Cabinet Secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood to ask him to investigate whether Theresa Villiers may have broken the ministerial code regarding conflicts of interest in dealings over this proposal, when in her former post of minister of state for Transport. 

Ms Main alleges that Mrs Villiers had a 'private' and apparently 'undisclosed' lunch with lobbyist Simon Hoare, a friend from university, at which Helioslough's depot proposals were discussed. In an email sent by Mr Hoare to Theresa Villiers in November 2011, Anne has discovered, he suggested: 

' ... anything your department can do to press the case for a speedy and supportive decision would be a real shot in the arm to the rail freight sector.'

The decision by DCLG over this highly controversial proposal, which will have huge impact on residents, bringing a heavy volume of commercial traffic hurtling through this quiet area, surrounded by green belt - and which of course will upset large numbers of Anne Main's Tory voters - has changed, as she explains, from one of refusal to one of being 'minded to grant' the application.

the proposed freight depot, on the site of the former Radlett aerodrome

An interesting story. Mrs Villiers, of course, has reassured her parliamentary colleague that 'nothing was discussed as a result of her lunch', but Anne Main understandably prefers for the matter to be fully investigated, and for the application process to be scrutinised. As she says in her letter to Heywood: 

'The public are rightly sceptical about this sort of lobbying behind the scenes, and it certainly gives a very bad impression, indeed it is something that parliament is attempting to tackle through the lobbying bill.'

Hmm. Shame that the Coalition government has been more interested in stifling the freedom of expression by campaigning groups and trade unions, then, rather than concentrate on the real challenge of lobbying, is it not?

Mrs Villiers is of course now the Northern Ireland Secretary, having propelled her political career up the slippery slope of promotion by doing everything that her two local Tory colleagues, Matthew Offord and Mike Freer, have failed to do, that is to say follow a strategy of application, discretion - and diplomacy. 

Freer has tried very hard to bolster his chance by eagerly supporting the government's most unpopular policies, such as the privatised rape and pillaging of our National Health Service, 

whilst Villiers, although just as loyal, manages to demonstrate her worthiness without the toe curling enthusiasm of the MP for Finchley and Golders Green.

Oh: Matthew Offord. No need, I think, to retell the stories which have brought so much criticism of his three years in parliament. But hell, let's do that anyway, shall we? 

 Matthew Offord: vulnerable

The bonkers opposition to equal marriage, worrying about polygamy and procreation; the threat to use the Human Rights act to force parliament to allow him to bring his faithful canine advisor and agent Max to work; the use of parliamentary privilege to accuse a former Tory constituency activist of 'anti-semitism'; the heckling during speeches at a dinner attended by the senior army chiefs and politicians; the disappearance on a trip to Belize, 'fighting narco-terrorism' during a parliamentary recall in the aftermath of the London riots; the bizarre accidents involving flying mugs and bathrooms ... let's stop there. 

Matthew Offord, of the three MPs in this borough, is the most vulnerable, with a majority of only 100 or so votes, and is predicted to be a Labour win in 2015, returning the hardworking Andrew Dismore to parliament, and well deserved. And Freer is in real trouble now that the brilliant Sarah Sackman has been nominated as Labour's parliamentary candidate in Finchley and Golders Green.

By comparison with the two other local members, Theresa Villiers is a dutiful, quiet, and frankly rather boring constituency MP, bright enough, and awfully good at not saying anything controversial, or getting into the press for the wrong reasons. She was accordingly rewarded for her plodding loyalty and reliability by being made a member of the Shadow Cabinet, within only seven months of being elected to parliament, and after the last election became Transport minister, before her present position. 

Interesting, from an historical perspective, to see a member of the family which produced Lord Clarendon, the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland during the disastrous British government mismanagement of the Famine, sent to preside over the fragile peace of Northern Ireland, and a position of great responsibility, with a heavy toll in terms of commitment from the incumbent. 

Such dedication is not always compatible with sustaining the unswerving support of the local electors, of course, and Mrs Villiers' silence and absence in her constituency during the turmoil of the last three years has done nothing much to improve her standing with the voters of Chipping Barnet, who are largely fed up to the back teeth with the antics of their local Tory councillors and the failure of the Chipping Barnet Conservative Association to discipline the woman beating loudmouth Brian Coleman - until Conservative Central Office stepped in and forced them to act. 

Villiers did not condemn Coleman's assault of a female resident, and equally, and predictably, has said nothing about One Barnet, careful to remain distanced from the entire controversy, despite the impact that the mass privatisation of council services by Capita will have on constituents. This hands off approach will prove harder to sustain as the reality of life in Capitaville begins to dawn on voters in the run up to elections, of course.

The parking policy fiasco, also the legacy of Coleman, has exacerbated the increasingly mutinuous feelings amongst previously natural Tory voters, as indeed has the council's lack of action over the loss of Underhill for Barnet FC politicised the views of many previously apathetic residents. 

All in all, local issues, combined with the rising revolt against Coalition government policies on such issues as the NHS, bedroom tax and, well, just about everything, and it is not difficult to see that at the next General Election, as well as Offord and Freer, Theresa Villiers is going to have to work very hard at being returned to office. 

The Tory vote in all three constituencies at the last election was not spectacularly high, and factoring in the movement of Libdem support to Labour leaves the strong possibility that all three MPs are now vulnerable to defeat. 

This might have seemed, may still seem, unthinkable to some, but then ... once upon a time in Broken Barnet, who would have believed this could happen?

Former AM Brian Coleman kisses his political career goodbye at the election count in Ally Pally, while MP Mike Freer looks on, stunned ...


According to the local Times paper, which has now followed this story, a spokesman for Theresa Villiers stated this afternoon:

Any rail minister will have matters relating to rail freight raised with them from time to time.

The conversation with Simon Hoare was published to Parliament in an answer to a parliamentary question.

Nothing from that conversation was passed on to ministerial colleagues. The meeting therefore had no impact on consideration of the Radlett planning application.

These matters were all thoroughly ventilated in a series of correspondence with Mrs Main well over a year ago.” 

Mrs Angry likes a thorough ventilation, don't you, readers? Can't sleep in a stuffy bedroom. Can't sleep at all, most nights, in fact, but that's another story.

But, erm: is disclosing attendance at a lunch with a lobbyist according to the rules on ministerial declarations the same thing as providing this information, latterly, in an answer to a parliamentary question?


Don't Call Me Dave said...

Mrs Angry

A noble attempt to talk up Labour’s chances. If only the Barnet Labour Party shared your enthusiasm to convert floating voters, they might actually succeed in winning something. But, sadly for you, they are mostly lazy and useless.

Mathew Offord is indeed the most vulnerable of the three MPs, with his wafer thin majority, but Andrew Dismore lost last time for a reason. Actually, several reasons; his prodigious expenses claims being amongst them - and his intemperate nature should anyone dare to comment on them. He won the GLA seat last year, not because he was wonderful, but because there was a big protest vote against Brian Coleman. Whoever stood against Coleman was likely to win. For all his eccentricities, Mathew Offord has not done anything terrible as an MP. Some might argue that he really hasn’t done anything at all, but in electoral terms that means he won’t have upset too many people either. Labour’s lead in the polls is slipping, the economy is slowly improving and the ‘Kinnock’ effect means that Offord could well hold this seat.

In Finchley and Golders Green, Mike Freer has been making all the right noises. There may be some who are opposed to his views on gay marriage, but they are likely to be statically insignificant in voting terms. Labour ran a dreadful campaign last time and the new candidate has her work cut out. Freer’s attempts to ingratiate himself with Cameron are embarrassing at times, but voters won’t care about that. Indeed, most of them won’t even know what he has been doing at Westminster (mobile phone survey anyone?). He might not be the most charismatic MP in the House, but he hasn’t done anything significant to incur the wrath of the electorate and should therefore retain his seat quite comfortably.

Theresa Villiers is in a little difficulty at the moment, but it will all have blown over and been forgotten by the time of the next election. Villiers is a loyal Cameronian, so Anne Main should be the one more worried about her long term political career prospects. Mrs Villiers has indeed distanced herself from the loony antics of Barnet Council and Brian Coleman – and for good reason. Mud sticks. She won 48% of the vote at the last election with a majority of nearly 12,000. There is more chance of the Pope’s wife giving birth to triplets than there is of her losing her seat.

DCMD predicts that the Conservatives will hold at least two of the three Barnet seats in 2015, but probably all three.

Mrs Angry said...

DCMD: I see you have fallen off the blogging wagon again, good and proper. Let's see: Andrew Dismore's expenses? Hardly prodigious, and he was a prodigious representative: conscientious and hard working. Intemperate? Coleman is intemperate, not Dismore.

Offord has not done anything terrible? Look at his record:a pretty embarrassing press all the way through. He is not known for speedy and full responses to correspondence, or being easily available at surgeries. His questions in parliament cover a baffling range of issues, from worrying about polar bears to prayers before council meetings. And his stance on equal marriage was offensive to many constituents.

Freer has been making very little noise at all locally, although he is better at responding to constituents individually. Unfortunately he may lose votes now that he has come out so publicly, and spoken passionately for equal marriage. His questions in parliament are indeed very interesting, for all the wrong reasons. It is a shame that elected representatives are not obliged to concentrate on issues of rather more immediate concern to their constituents.

As for Villiers: yes, she will hope that any fuss re this business will blow over, but it is no longer enough to sit back and expect people to vote passively for her just because she is a Tory candidate in Chipping Barnet. Changes in the demographics, as well as local and national issues will damage the Tory vote: and then we have the Libdem factor. She had around 24,000 votes last time, but the Libdems had 10,000. No one but a gibbering fool will trust them this time, and most of that will go in protest to Labour, who had 13,000 votes. Interesting, isn't it?

baarnett said...

Didn't DCMD have a wager with someone, saying Richard Cornelius would not take the Conservatives into the 2014 election as Leader?

Who took up the bet?

Don't Call Me Dave said...

Nobody took up the wager. Too late now. My money is safe!

Mrs Angry said...

Not a single Barnet blogger has ever been known to honour a bet: liars and cheats, all of us. Especially me.