Sunday 9 November 2008

SNP warning for Barnet Conservatives

Amidst the excitement and razzmatazz of the U.S. Presidential election, it was easy to overlook the by-election last week in the Scottish constituency of Glenrothes. This was hugely important for Labour following their humiliating and crushing defeats at Crewe & Nantwich and Glasgow East.

It was a seat which the SNP were widely expected to win. Even on polling day, the opinion polls suggested that another shock was on the cards. In the end, Labour held on quite comfortably with a majority of over 6,700.

Mike Smithson writes the popular blog which describes itself as “Britain’s Most Read Political Blog” - but don’t tell Statler & Waldorf or they might spill their Ovaltine! The day after the by-election, Mr Smithson posted an article questioning whether the SNP’s defeat was due to the fact that their candidate, Peter Grant, was also the leader of the local council. Smithson wrote:-

“I also wonder whether it was a good idea for the SNP to have had a local councillor, least of all the leader of the group, as the candidate. This, inevitably, made it easier for Labour to focus on the council’s performance and made their attack on care charges that much more potent.

It’s for this reason that I don’t think it is a good idea for local councillors to be parliamentary candidates in either by elections or general elections in their areas and this applies to all parties.”

Political parties never admit that they chose the wrong candidate, and publicly the SNP will undoubtedly disagree with Smithson’s comments. But privately, will any of the parties now be re-evaluating their candidate lists?

In Barnet, Leader Mike Freer is standing for Finchley & Golders Green whilst Deputy Leader Matthew Offord is standing for Hendon. Both are important seats for the Conservatives, but none more so than Finchley which is the party’s number one target, partly due to its iconic status and partly due to the fact that recent boundary changes mean that it will technically be deemed by the media to be a Conservative seat at the next General Election.

If the Conservatives do not win Finchley & Golders Green, they will have an uphill struggle to win the election.

Conversely, might Labour throw in the towel in Finchley before the election is even called and put all their limited resources elsewhere? They know they will lose some seats, so from a manpower perspective, is it worth the effort trying to hang on to this one?

The role of the LibDems will be crucial. On Barnet council, the LibDems made an electoral pact with Labour which kept the Conservatives out of office for 8 years. If their supporters switch to Labour in 2010, it is quite conceivable that it could keep the Tory candidate out.

I hope, therefore, that the Conservative Party is happy with their choice of PPC. The last thing they need is a candidate whose campaign could be undermined by his management of the council.


Anonymous said...

I heard that Alison Moore was going to stand for Labour. Does the same argument apply?

Anonymous said...

She doesn't run the council. As such she hasn't made any mistakes with taxpayers money. Other than Mike Freer, who no doubt blames her as she didn't tell him how to do his job properly (because it's never his fault), how can it?

Don't Call Me Dave said...

I have no idea if Alison Moore is standing for Labour. If she is, no doubt she will say that she will not suffer the same fate as the SNP because she does not hold a position of executive power in Barnet.

However, the lesson of LibDem Sean Hooker should serve as a warning to all. He lost his council seat in 2006 whilst his LibDem colleagues retained theirs. Why? Could it be because he had twice stood for Parliament in Chipping Barnet and voters thought he was treating them with contempt?

Anonymous said...

With regards to Sean Hooker, it is far more likely that John Hart, who is a well known local figure from his work with the Mill Hill Preservation Society, happened to have a strong local following. The two other LibDems, Casey and Davies have promenant roles as Governors of successful local schools and are well respected as a result.

I think the lesson to be drawn from the situation in Mill Hill is that in a marginal ward, hard work locally pays off. A less for all councillors surely?

Don't Call Me Dave said...


I agree that John Hart is a popular local figure and something of a character too! The council is a far better place for having him as a member. The question I was asking is why did Sean Hooker loose his seat as opposed to Wayne Casey or Jeremy Davies? I believe the answer is because voters knew that Wayne and Jeremy were committed councillors, whereas Sean couldn’t make his mind up what he wanted to be.

Rog T said...

Mike Freer made a very interesting comment to Monroe Palmer at the Council meeting last week. When Palmer asked him why he hadn't asked him any questions when he was having all of the free lunches at the Council Advisors, Freer said triumphantly "You were there as well, you had the free lunch, why didn't you". Thing is Palmer wasn't council leader and he isn't trying to prove his fitness to stand as an MP. He gets less dosh than Freer, has less access to information and is in opposition. How Freer could blame him for the fiasco was truly mind boggling. Freer looked as if he thought he'd check-mated Palmer, but in actual fact he had shown that he viewed Palmer as his intellectual superior. Why else would he expect Palmer to ask a question he'd not thought of?

If he really wanted to show some leadership, he would have said something when the Lib Dems were accused of being like the BNP for raising concerns about Icelandic deposits. Being a leader is about saying difficult things to your own troops, not shouting silly things at your opponents.

Rog T said...


Been giving this some thought. I suspect that your theory is true in the case of useless ineffectual leaders. It gives us the opportunity to see how they get on with a bit of responsibility and power. It shows us how willing they are to take responsibility for their actions and it gives us a chance to assess how effective their decision making skills are. There are many good council leaders who have stepped up to the job of MP quite successfully.

I suspect that unless Freer is planning a long career on the backbenches, raking in the allowances and keeping his head down and his nose clean and putting up his hand when he's told to, Freer will not be one of them, should he ever get the chance.