Who is the Twenty First century Martin Bell?

Could Labour highlight a litany of ‘one rule for them’ Tory disasters by standing aside for an anti-sleaze candidate in the forthcoming North Shropshire By-election? Frank McKenna focusses on another government U-Turn in his latest Downtown blog.

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Other than a brief period, when they promised to save Christmas and then cancelled it, the Conservatives have held a solid, healthy lead in the polls.

To the bafflement of many, particularly the Labour Party leadership, pandemic lockdowns, economic downturns, and numerous U-Turns have failed to chip the Teflon off the serial election winner Boris Johnson.

However, how many more disasters can this government survive? In a week that should be wholly dominated by COP26, the Tories committed the closest thing you will see to political Hari Kari with their farcical carry on over the suspension of one of its own MPs, Owen Patterson.

To cut a long, complex story short, Patterson was found guilty of breaking parliamentary rules by the Commons Standards Committee, set up to rule on these matters. The government then whipped its MPs to overturn the recommendation to suspend Patterson from the House of Commons for thirty days. They carried the vote, but not without significant collateral damage, not least the dismay of those Tory MPs who voted with them despite feeling that it was the wrong thing to do.

Fast forward twenty-four hours, and on the back of an avalanche of negative publicity and damaging headlines, from the Daily Mail to the Daily Mirror, the government did (another) U-Turn, upheld the initial findings of the investigatory Committee, and suspended Patterson. The MP for North Shropshire then resigned.

You could not make this shit up. It is the closest we have seen to pathological incompetence since the embers of the John Major government 1995-97.

And yet, would you bet on the next set of polls shifting in favour of Keir Starmer and his gang?

Labour is struggling to cut through and are still identified with peripheral issues and being more concerned with talking to one another than talking to the country.

One thing that they may consider, and something that might indicate that they have at least retrieved some of their political pragmatism since St Jeremy got stuffed, is encouraging an anti-sleaze, independent candidate to stand in the by-election that Patterson’s resignation has forced.

Not only would there then be a focus on the unholy mess created by ‘Patterson-gate’ – but the opposition parties could revisit the catalogue of the ‘one rule for them’ examples that should have severely damaged Boris Johnson and the Conservatives – but somehow haven’t.

Who is the twenty-first century answer to Martin Bell, the man in the white suit who famously stood against and defeated the disgraced Tatton MP Neil Hamilton in 1997? Maybe we will find out in the North Shropshire poll.

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