Plans for multi-party ‘anti-sleaze’ candidate dead on arrival
It’s the morning after the previous U-turn: Owen Paterson has resigned as an MP and the reverberations of this long 24-hour saga are still being felt in Westminster. The deputies retained a tremendous amount of political pain and no political gain.
But attention is already turning to the fast approaching North Shropshire by-election. The question in Westminster is whether the opposition parties could step down to support an “anti-sleaze” independent candidate against the Tory candidate who hopes to replace Paterson in that secure Tory seat. This would mimic the successful stance of Martin Bell, a former BBC journalist, as an independent candidate against Neil Hamilton, the Tory MP at the center of the so-called money-for-questions deal, in Tatton in the 1997 general election Labor and Liberal Democrats have moved away from Bell in that seat, allowing him to overthrow one of the country’s most secure Conservative majorities.
Discussions took place yesterday between Labor, Liberal Democrats and Greens on the possibility of organizing the same approach in North Shropshire, but the idea died on arrival. The parties told the New statesman they understand the desire of many voters for such a candidate, but they ran into practical details yesterday which make it “very complicated”.
The rules have changed since the Bell campaign in 1997. Legislation was introduced in 2000 that would prevent parties from pooling their resources to support a single candidate: they couldn’t share data, or put their own staff. on the countryside. It’s also worth noting that Bell opposed the ‘shady guy’ in 1997, as one Liberal Democrat puts it, as North Shropshire will see a new Tory candidate run for office. This is even before getting into the complexities of choosing a candidate on which the opposition parties could agree.
Liberal Democrats and Labor confirmed to the New statesman that they will present their own candidates. An anti-sleaze independent candidate could still run in the constituency, but without the opposition parties pulling out, the idea seems unlikely to be very successful. “It was a good idea,” said a person involved in the talks. “But not feasible in practice.” It was nice while it lasted.
[See also: We cannot rely on shame to hold politicians like Owen Paterson and Rob Roberts to account]