Opinion by Michael Fabricant MP.
NOTHING LIKE A BY-ELECTION TO FOCUS THE MIND
I am on the by-election trail!!
A few months ago, the Opposition Chief Whip jokingly suggested to me that ?Lichfield is near the north-east ? now that Tony Blair has resigned as an MP go and help up in the Sedgefield by election?. After giving him a geography lesson, I decided I would go for a few days. I had fought South Shields before fighting Lichfield so I knew and liked the north east. (It was just that, politically, the north east didn?t like me).
It was an interesting campaign. Unlike a General Election where the attention of the press is diluted among 650 or so seats, a by-election concentrates the mind and the media. Big wigs come up from the respective parties, the poor candidate is minded by heavies from their Party HQs, and TV cameramen poke their lenses everywhere. And it is also an opportunity to do some sight seeing. To see parts of Britain and experience B&Bs and hotels you might not otherwise do.
The Sedgefield by election was held on the 19th July 2007. It was not a huge success for the Conservative Party. We sank from a poor second place in this safe Labour seat to an even poorer third place. This was partly due to few funds being available – the by-election was being fought concurrently with Ealing Southall where we had sunk our resources – and the relative popularity, back then, of our new Prime Minister Gordon Brown.
But I played my part. And became a victim of my own success (or failure in the case of Sedgefield). Following the sad death of Gwyneth Dunwoody, I was asked to head up to Crewe and Nantwich ? the opposite number to another West Midlands MP, Steve McCabe who was there for the Labour Party. This by-election was particularly poignant for me: Gwyneth Dunwoody had been very kind to me on a number of occasions over the years and I had been her sponsor when she stood for Speaker of the House of Commons.
Labour waged a vicious campaign. Our candidate, now the MP, is a solicitor specialising in family law and complex custody cases. His mother and father have acted as foster parents for over 200 deprived children and he was their surrogate brother. But his ?crime? was that he was born into the Timpson family which runs a chain of shoe repair and key cutting shops. They dubbed Edward Timpson ?The Tory Toff from Tarporley? – Tarporley being the nearby village where he lives. And the Labour literature was quite unbelievable. One leaflet read: ?Do you want a Tory con man or a Dunwoody? Don?t fall for Tory Boy Timpson?s dirty tricks, he is conning you, he will say anything to fool you. He expects you to believe him when really he?s using you. He thinks the people of Crewe and Nantwich are stupid???.. And so it went on.
Fortunately, the people of Crewe and Nantwich were neither stupid nor ridden with class conscious angst and Edward Timpson was elected to Parliament as the first Conservative to represent Crewe since the second world war. Labour made the big mistake of underestimating the electorate.
And now I am writing this article from a very different by-election: Henley. With Boris Johnson now Mayor of London, he has said he will not do two jobs at once and this has triggered the by-election. Although Henley is normally regarded as being a ?safe Conservative seat?, no-one is complacent. Crewe and Nantwich demonstrated how volatile electors can be at a by-election. We are campaigning hard!
David Davis? decision to resign from Parliament, then stand in his own by-election triggers yet another campaign. But I think I will miss that one. I have an eco-town, post office closures, the state of the west coast rail line, and other issues to fight in Parliament!