I think Mr Howarth's latest column in His Master's Voice has been written with a sense of yearning: fisk me, oh fisk me. So I will.
Another self-inflicted wound for Labour
By John Howarth July 27, 2009
Lets imagine a Parliamentary by-election in the third term of a Government somewhat unpopular in the opinion polls and beset with problems covering the economy, rising unemployment, daily casualties in a far away war, a flu pandemic of unknowable proportions, a general loss of respect for the political system, a whole series of presentational gaffes and a seeming problem walking in a straight line without tripping up.
You really wouldn’t expect the governing party’s candidate to do very well.
Let’s now imagine that the by-election was in a seat where the incumbent MP, with a reputation for hard work in the constituency and of somewhat independent mind had resigned after a falling out with his party leadership.
Norwich North MP Ian Gibson didn't "fall out with the party leadership", I don't think he ever spoke to any of them if he could help it.
Somewhere like, say, Reading West.
Oh, not Reading East then? What happened there Mr Howarth? Why has Reading East got a Tory MP just like Norwich North has now?
Most of us here in Reading can imagine the backlash from locals
Seen it already in Reading East in 2005 Mr Howarth, you were cracking open the champagne that night I seem to recall.
if, after a falling out with Labour’s powers that be an MP with a reputation like Martin Salter’s,
What kind of reputation would that be then? Crooked expenses claims for four years, said he voted against the Iraq war and abstained, said he supported the Gurkhas and voted against them, said he wanted Crossrail for Reading and didn't vote - there's plenty more
walked away from his seat
his seat? Do parliamentary seats belong to their incumbents then?
leaving a brave but politically suicidal party loyalist to fight the seat in his wake.
so that's what Nasty Naz is then? They call him a lot of different things in Waltham Forest, the kindest of which is "weasel"
This is more or less what has happened in Norwich North. A massive own goal when there was no need for a by-election ever to have happened.
But Ian Gibson resigned. That is an MP's privilege. It was his choice.
While there were some questions raised over the actions Dr Ian Gibson, the previous Norwich North MP, by the Daily Telegraph’s relentless coverage of MP Expenses, Dr Gibson claimed he had done nothing wrong.
"MP Expenses", how quaint. Has his Master's Voice no style guide on the use of upper case? This could almost be a Reading Banner.
Of course lots of MPs had claimed they had done nothing wrong in recent months, however Dr Gibson had defenders among his colleagues including many who were outspoken in their condemnation of other MPs caught up in the expenses scandal.
Nonetheless Dr Gibson was thrown to the lions having received the thumbs down from Labour’s star chamber along with those who had somehow failed to notice they were claiming for mortgages that had been paid off.
He was deselected by the national party. They can do this whenever they like. They have got a taste for it in recent years. I thought if people were deselected they were Bad People who had Lost The Confidence of the Party. Hein?
Dr Gibson was an all too convenient candidate for ritual sacrifice. He might have been a hard working constituency MP but he was also one of the awkward squad. Someone who voted against the whip and spoke out against the Government in an inconvenient way, Ian Gibson was one of the ‘usual suspects’ on Labour’s left wing.
No he wasn't. He was an independent minded Labour MP. I don't remember how he voted on the Iraq war, but I do know he didn't lie about it.
When the chance came for the leadership to dump him they took it. It didn’t seem to matter that whatever Dr Gibson had done it seemed, to the outside observer at least, much less dubious than others who had not even been called before the star chamber.
They might have anticipated Dr Gibson’s reaction and they might have anticipated that of the voters in Norwich North.
They might indeed. In fact they probably did. When deselections happen the favoured outcome is usually the loss of the seat to another party. The national party did all in Norwich North but say "Vote Chloe Smith", including selecting a Tory as the Labour candidate.
After all, they had plenty of warning. The lessons of trying to use organisational means to bar the local choice and impose leadership favoured candidates failed miserably in London with Ken Livingstone and in Wales with Rhodri Morgan.
In Reading East however it was a great success. The required Member was elected in 2005 to sit in the Conservative interest.
Voters don’t like it, but Labour’s leaders seem unwilling to learn a self-evident lesson.
What would that be then John? Don't campaign for the Tories if you want a Labour MP? Don't make me laugh.
The voters were never likely to ‘believe’ the Labour establishment version of events over that of a popular and hard working local maverick MP – what’s extraordinary is that the Labour establishment seemingly thought they might.
The voters never heard the Labour establishment version of events. Just as well really. The Tory victory would have been even bigger if they had.
Under the circumstances, it was rather surprising that Dr Gibson chose not to contest the by-election. In the current climate he might have had the chance of winning.
He might, but he probably would not have, and he would have been held responsible for the Tory victory. And do you know, perhaps despite everything he was loyal to Labour and did not want to stand against a Labour candidate. Your political experience has been in Reading Labour, John, and it has coloured your judgment. Not all Labour politicians are corrupt scumbags.
Beyond that, what does the result in Norwich North tell us? First of all even a result in line with current opinion poll trends would have resulted in the loss of the seat.
The current average from Electoral Calculus, a leading political number crunching website, suggested Labour would lose to the Conservative by around 5% of the vote. In the event the Conservative majority was 40%.
This is meaningless, mathematically and psephologically.
Labour could have expected its vote to fall by just under 13% based on national poll averages. In fact their share of the vote fell by 27%.
The Conservative could have expected a boost of just under 6% based on the polls and achieved 6.29%. This was a ‘must win’ seat for the Conservatives – anything less wiould
spell-check John, spell-check, how many more times?
have cast serious doubt on the ability of David Cameron to take his party to a General Election victory.
The LibDems, were never going to get anywhere in a seat that, like those in Reading, has always been a straight fight between Labour and the Conservatives. The Greens have made considerable headway in local elections in Norwich but mainly in the Norwich South seat.
The ‘non of the above’
spell-check won't help you here John, try getting your work read by someone who is literate
factor affecting the three main parties is still showing in the national polls, but fading somewhat from its high point in the European Elections last month.
All this is deeply worrying stuff for Labour. Gordon Brown stumbles on showing all the political elegance of a wounded elephant in a tutu with a party seemingly incapable of making the right political call.
don't do metaphor John, especially if you are going to mix them so clumsily, it doesn't suit you and you are no good at it. Stick to being the Picnic Correspondent of the Reading Evening Post. (Seriously folks, that is what he is).
The voters were inclined to punish the party disproportionately in Norwich North.
Oooh goody, "disproportionately", our favourite word in Reading Labour circles, usually reserved for Reading Labour's Jew-hating publications and having another outing here.
Most of this damage was self-inflicted and unnecessary. Unless Labour can show signs of better judgement over the coming months the prospect of disproportionate punishment at a General Election remains very real indeed.
Disproportionate punishment again! Hip hip hurray! Love for the word or failure of imagination? You decide.
Note: The boundaries of both the Norwich seats change at the next General Election. The effect is likely to mean a shift toward Labour of around 3% in Norwich North and a move from Labour of around 1% in Norwich South.
This is not a note - which would be a piece of factual information appended to aid understanding - it is an opinion dressed up as information. Don't get fooled again.
Note: Mr Howarth is the proprietor of Public Image Limited, former directors Mr M Salter and Ms Natalie O'Toole (Mrs Salter). A cursory look at Mr Salter's expenses shows that rather large amounts of money were paid by the public purse to Mr Howarth's company, "disproportionate" to the usual fees payable for web hosting and literature design and production. Remember next time you see a Reading Banner - you bought it.