Tuesday, June 23, 2009

EXCLUSIVE: Clegg Approached Martin Bell & EDP Editor to Stand in Norwich North

April Pond - The Third Choice LibDem Candidate

My story about the selection of the LibDem candidate for Norwich North certainly got several LibDem bloggers hot and bothered. All I can say is, brace yourselves for round two.

It seems that April Pond was very much their third choice candidate, for I can reveal that Nick Clegg personally approached Martin Bell to ask him to stand in the seat, and when he refused the blandishments of the LibDem leader, Clegg turned his attentions to Peter Franzen, the veteran editor of the Eastern Daily Press. Franzen also said no, leaving the local party to choose an already selected candidate for the neighbouring seat of Broadland.

It was the Eastern Daily Press which lured Martin Bell out of political retirement to stand in the European elections in 2004, after a series of sleaze rows hit local MEPs. I'm told this time around Bell, although severely tempted, decided he had bigger dragons to slay than Ian Gibson who had already fallen on his sword.

I emailed Peter Franzen about the approach from Clegg earlier this evening and while he wouldn't actually confirm Clegg had asked him to stand, he gave a pretty clear indication.
It is true that Nick Clegg came to the EDP last week to do a "web chat" and that he and I discussed Norwich North and my imminent retirement as editor of the Eastern Daily Press, but I think it would be unfair to the now-adopted prospective parliamentary candidate for the Lib Dems (April Pond) to say any more than that.
So that's a yes, then. Tonight, I put this to Nick Clegg's official spokesman, who gave me this comment...
The only candidates considered were those that went before the formal selection process. April won through and was selected on Sunday. She is an excellent local candidate.

So, no outright denial. Having spoken to other sources, both in Norwich and London, I am 100% confident that Clegg did indeed ask Franzen to stand.

Norfolk Blogger, who himself had been interested in standing, will have further food for thought. He's already echoed some of my own thoughts about the advisability of a candidate in a nearby seat being selected.

In my previous blogpost I wrote that it would be ludicrous for April Pond to return to Broadland after losing the by election, only to be told by various LibDem supporters that there would be nothing wrong with that at all. I am now told that if she loses, she will be sticking with Norwich North and abandoning Broadland for good. She said so at her selection meeting, according to a local source. This may come as a relief to several senior LibDem activists who have abandoned her campaign after growing tired of her refusal to take advice on how to run it. If you were being suspicious, you might possibly think that the LibDems were being very machiavellian and using this by election to shift a failing candidate out of one of their main target seats. While you might think that, I couldn't possibly comment.

There are also further signs that Labour is intending to delay the by election until October, leaving the constituency without an MP for four months. The reason is that they fear that if Labour loses the seat there would be further pressure on Gordon Brown in advance of a Labour conference. Their reticence in selecting a candidate may also be a further sign that they are inclined to avoid a quick poll.

Note: Declaration of interest - I write a fortnightly column for the Eastern Daily Press. Possibly a reason why I have been even more careful than usual to check my sources!

35 comments:

Anonymous said...

WOW !! For the first time in ages a real 'good old fashioned' scoop on the Iain Dale Blog !!

Peace in our time !!

Martin Day said...

Nice work Iain! Well done for exposing the LD Double Standards.

LD can never be trusted as they always seek to do things that damage the political system for party political gain!

I despise them for what they do with nonsense two horse bar graphs!

They blatently lie to the electorate! A rubbish party and rubbish leader!

There party has good intentions but is perverted by folk who think think the LD can lie, cheat and distort there way forward.

James Graham (Quaequam Blog!) said...

Iain, you are aware that Boris Johnson was about David Cameron's bottom choice for London Mayor, aren't you? Have you forgotten the whole Greg Dyke debacle? Or Nick Ferrari?

I despise them for what they do with nonsense two horse bar graphs!

Erm, like this one?

Jeff said...

Nice one Iain. Genuinely fabby scoop.

(Certainly puts my one that the SNP candidate has dropped out of the Glasgow North East by-election in the shade.)

someday said...

Perhaps Bell will stand for Buckingham at the GE (if we have one).

Nick Clegg said...

Labour is finished. Isn't it obvious now that the only choice is between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats?

jon dee said...

Good piece and well done.

Tory Activist said...

nice scoop! also opens up a few joke possibilities about Mr Bell...

:)

Norfolk Blogger said...

Iain, what about Tony Lit in Ealing ?

Iain Dale said...

Norfolk Blogger, not following you. What about him?

Norfolk Blogger said...

Local media star, plucked from obscurity and not even a Tory member just days before being selected as tory candidate in Ealing Southall.

Seems rather simialr doesn't it ?

Norfolk Blogger said...

I have to say I am at a loss as to Martin Day's comments. Typical rabid "I hate lib Dems" rant in response to a story that really does not warrant such a response.

Iain Dale said...

Norfolk Blogger, Still not sure I see your point. I haven't criticised Clegg for the approaches to Bell or Franzen, merely reported them :)

Martin said...

Ah, so the tories are'nt worried about our chances in Norwich at all then I see...

Troughtastic said...

Glad to hear Martin Won't stand as I was hoping he might for for Buckingham or Kirkcaldy instead

Anonymous said...

What's this "senior Lib Dem activists" nonsense, Iain? Any evidence?

And when will you stop with the mendacious fabrication that Broadland is either a "neighbouring" or worse distant seat? As you well know, unless you're very naive, the post general election seats of Broadland and Norwich North both takes parts of the existing Norwich North. Or will the Tory candidate only be campaigning in the parts of the current Norwich North that are in the new Norwich North for which she was selected?

rob's uncle said...

Thanks for this interesting story. All credit to Nick Clegg for seeking to make the most of the opportunity this by-election offers the party.

I agree that you are making yourself ridiculous by ignoring the boundary revision which will create the Broadland seat. All's fair in the cause of propaganda, I guess!

Iain Dale said...

I don't ignore it at all. Drayton and Taverham move from Norwich North to Broadland. It's a fraction of the constituency. Big deal. The fact is it's irrelevant now, as she is not going to return, as my blogpost makes clear.

Liam said...

Iain - I very rarely disagree with you on matters but this view on April Pond is not quite as scandalous as you are trying to make out.

April Pond is not going to be scuttling back to Broadland - wards within Norwich North will be in Broadland after boundary changes, so now and leading to 2010 she will be campaigning in exactly the same places.

On you exclusive, however, I will certainly congratulate you. Good old fashioned journalism never dies :)

John M Ward said...

Interesting…

The boundary changes that some commenters have mentioned can certainly add complications, as I know from the changes occurring where I am (this place will be in a different constituency with re-drawn boundaries). It doesn't significantly alter what has been reported, though.

As for bar charts, also mentioned in tpreceding comments: there's nothing wrong with them if they are honest.

Does James "Quaequam" Graham have reason to quibble with the figures in the "In Touch" he referenced? Perhaps he might also like to take a look at what the LibDems did with their infamous bar charts in a by-election in my locality last year and justify that, before he tries casting stones in future.

Uncle Bob said...

How on earth can Labour get away from holding the bye election for so long? It should be a month after the MP stands down. The summer recess would be the perfect time for one to be held as there would be no disruption to parliament.

And is Gordon going tr campaign at this by-election too? I'm sure the people will give him a friendly welcome.

Danvers said...

I realise you've got a local interest here, but the trials and tribulations of a Lib Dem selection process in a seat where they'll probably come third? *huge yawn*

mafuta said...

Martin Bell should stand in Buckingham and on election, stand as speaker - simple!

Tweedledum said...

As the late Dame Peggy Ashcroft said "We're all second choice, darling!" - or even, sometimes, third.

Augustus said...

Does anyone know the last possible date for the Norwich North by-election?

Iain do you know?

Could it be as late as May or April next year when the General Election is expected to be?

Anonymous said...

How typical - and cynical - of Labour to delay the by-election. Are they that desperate to save Brown's further humiliation?

Democratic renewal Brown called for - what a fucking sham.

John said...

The best outcome would be for Ian Gibson to get back in at the by-election, whoever the Lib Dems or the Tories put up, just so he can stick it to Gordy McDebt. If Gibbo loses the seat at the general election, so be it..he'll have made his point.

Anonymous said...

Craig Murray, a rampant Scottish nationalist has travelled down to Scotland to stand for position.

As an aside, who is that Labour MP, who is making wanking gestures to Cameron, about 44 seconds in [right hand side, near women in blue]? Its disgusting for daytime TV and not the way we expect our MPs to behave in public -

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ISD-3HnDvWg&feature=channel

Anonymous said...

Sorry. Should say, "travelled down to Norwich"

Anonymous said...

Anyone know what the last possible date for the by election is?

Anonymous said...

The trouble Iain, is that whether or not Clegg asked Bell to have a go, it is still down to the local party membership, and democracy, and April won this fair and square.

Unlike the Tory A-list, or attempts by Labour to fix results, we (the Lib Dems) are still democratic.

So once again, own up - your party is not democratic, Labour is not Democratic.

We are.

Maybe, just maybe, the Tories are a little bit scared...

Besides which, I see little evidence. A Tory loyalist being
100% certain doesn't do it for me.

norfolkandchance said...

The Norwich North CLP is selecting its candidate next weekend and virtually every Labour member in Norfolk who has ever delivered a leaflet has been asked to help in the campaign.

Anonymous said...

Their reticence in selecting a candidate may also be a further sign that they are inclined to avoid a quick poll.
Also, of course, is the possibility that they cannot find anyone willing to put their head on the block

Peter Lloyd said...

Wouldn't an October election put it a scarce few weeks from Conference, when Gordon's supposed to/will face another challenge to his leadership?

Seems a bit silly to me- a Late July/Early August Poll breaks it away from both the present problems and the conference judgement day.

Gerard Charmley said...

From the talk about Norwich North and boundary changes, one would think that Norwich North was being wholly remodelled. This is simply a false impression. Prior to 1997, Drayton and Taverham were part of the Mid-Norfolk seat. They are within the Broadland District Council area, and are independent villages, with a population who have more in common with the villages of Broadland than Norwich.

They were also fairly dependable Conservative wards, and we in Mid Norfolk were not wholly happy to lose them.

Still, I really can't see how someone who has been selected to fight one seat could contest a by-election in another and then go back to the first seat without questions being asked.

On the bar graphs thing, it's great here in Cardiff where I now live. Until the council elections last year, Labour were the second largest party on the council after the Liberals. Accordingly, the graphs, even for the Cardiff North assembly seat, showed total vote for the whole city of Cardiff, and stated 'only the Lib Dems can beat Labour'. After the elections, Labour fell behind the Tories, and now the graphs declare 'only the Lib Dems can beat the Tories'. One has to admire the sheer brass neck of it.