I’ve been asked by Labour whether I’d like to be considered as our candidate for Broxtowe. I need to decide by this weekend, so I thought I’d consult you. 10% of the homes in Broxtowe get my emails, so it’s a good sample.
As most of you know, I was Broxtowe’s MP from 1997 to 2010, when Anna Soubry won by a tiny majority. We had a consistently better result for Labour than nationally – in 1992 and 2010, the national result was very similar, but in Broxtowe the Conservatives won by 16% in 1992 and just 0.7% in 2010. In 2015, I stood again, and this time the Tory majority was bigger:
Anna Soubry (Con) 45.2%
Nick Palmer (Lab) 37.2%
Frank Dunne (UKIP) 10.6%
Stan Heptinstall (LibDem) 4.0%
David Kirwan (Green) 2.9%
It’s common that MPs do best when they first stand for re-election (the so-called “incumbency bonus“, which wears off over time). Whoever is Labour’s candidate will need to avoid the slippage in national polls, gain floating voters and win over as many as possible of those who voted for LibDems and Greens last time: if there ever was a seat where it was clear that Labour is the only credible challenger to the Conservatives, it’s Broxtowe.
I’ve spent the last few years working for an animal welfare organisation in London. It’s been a lot of fun and rewarding for the animals (I visited 25 countries to lobby Governments and MPs in three years, effecting policy change from the EU, China and Korea to Brazil), but since November I’ve been back in Nottingham, working as a freelance translator, lecturer and political consultant. I’m currently living just outside Broxtowe, a few minutes from Nuthall Island.
There are two aspects to consider: the national scene and the local campaign.
- The national scene
If the polls are correct, the Tories are heading for a gargantuan victory, which would enable them to put through anything they wanted – ostensibly for Brexit, but in reality in every other policy area too. That’s unhealthy for democracy, for Britain and even for the Conservatives. They would get a blank cheque for whatever Brexit deal May chooses to recommend, plus any number of other policies that are getting minimal attention because of the media focus on Brexit:
The NHS and social care: waiting lists are soaring, social care options are shrinking, and the Government seems unwilling to tackle either
Education: the obsession with grammar schools is obscuring neglect of other schools across the country. The problem isn’t the 15% of pupils who get into a great school. It’s the 85% who don’t, and find government cuts piling up.
Environment: the haze of fine words has dissolved into a willingness to let developers roll over local opinion. (Remember the promise to stop Field Farm?)
Specifically on Brexit, it is clearly right that any Government should attempt to reach a good deal based on the referendum result. But equally we should not enter negotiations on the basis of “We don’t care how bad the deal is, we’ll take it anyway” – quite apart from anything else, it’s a rubbish negotiating strategy. We need to give Parliament a genuine say in two years’ time of whether to accept the deal or not. A huge Tory majority will not offer genuine challenge.
- The local scene
To be fair to Anna Soubry, she is often critical of the Government, and I think she is genuinely liberal on social issues such as gay marriage. But she is making the same mistake that I made in my early years in Parliament: when push comes to shove, loyalty kicks in and she virtually always votes with the Government or abstains.
I came to see that it’s an approach which ultimately does nobody any favours: not Britain, not the party, and certainly not Broxtowe. What Parliament needs is strong, independent-minded MPs on both sides of the House who consult constituents and then are willing to vote for what they believe is best for Britain.
The question is whether I should put my name forward (clearly there will be other strong candidates too). Let’s identify some downsides. I’m 67. I’ve lost twice. I’ve been largely out of Broxtowe politics for the last two years.
And some upsides. We need a credible candidate who can appeal across traditional party lines: it’s something I’ve always done. We need someone who’s hard-working, experienced, not unreasonably partisan but willing to be frank when Government policy goes wrong. I think I tick most of those boxes.
Would you like me to stand? And would you support me if I did?