Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Behind the Scenes at the Bedford Open Primary

If I had been paid a fee for chairing last night's mayoral Open Primary in Bedford, I reckon I would have been worth every penny. Why? Because there were so many people registering to attend, the start time had to be delayed from 7.30 until 8.50.

Imagine it. You have a hall full of people who had been told up for 7.30 sharp and they are gagging to get going and support their candidate. And they're getting increasingly impatient. What would you do? Well, there was only one thing for it - get Eric Pickles up on stage. So for the next hour and a bit I interviewed Eric and took questions from the audience. In the end, after more than 400 people had packed into the hall, we eventually got going.

There were four candidates. Each was supposed to be quizzed by me for ten minutes and then by the audience for the same time. When I announced this the audience made their feelings very clear (!) so I got the agreement of the candidates to halve it. During the delay they had been patiently waiting in a rather austere classroom.

The four candidates were deputy mayor Nicky Attenborough, local GP Jason Reddy, farmer and councillor Tom Wootton and Parvez Akhtar, who is on the parliamentary candidates list. They had been shortlisted late last week by the local Conservatives.

I did an interview with the local paper before it all started, which ended with the journalist asking who I thought should win! I gently explained that as the host for the evening it would be rather invidious of me to express a preference!

This was the largest Open Primary the party has ever run and I made sure the audience knew it. I told them they should be proud that their borough had turned out in such number. There were clearly many there who had never been to a political meeting before in their lives. So I tried to make it all as entertaining as possible.

All four candidates performed well. Normally in these cicumstances there is a clear frontrunner and someone who doesn't resonate at all. Not here. I tried to ask them all fairly similar questions with one or two others relating to their CVs. Two candidates equivocated over local education reforms (moving from three tier to two) and said they would wait for the consultation to be over before giving their views. Some in the audience saw it as a responsible position to take, while others clearly expected a potential civic leader to give their personal view. I asked them what they could learn from the experience of other elected mayors and if they would be following the example of the mayor of Doncaster who has cut his salary in half. The answers to that question probably told the audience more about the candidates than any other. The quality of questions from the audience was excellent and tested all the candidates.

There was a lot of humour during the course of the evening. When I was explaining the voting system someon shouted out: "Can we vote for you?" and got a round of applause. I laughed and suggested that they might get the chance if local MP Alastair Burt stood down!

The winner of the contest turned out to be Parvez Akhtar, who won on the first ballot. He had clearly mobilised his support better than the other candidates. One or two people were clearly accusing him of packing the room. My reaction is simple. So what? The other candidates had the same opportunity to get there supporters there. His challenge now is to keep his supporters involved in his campaign.

Let me also say something about the reaction of some local party members. Most of them were delighted with the massive turnout and the way the event was conducted. They recognised it was a landmark night for the party and welcomed the partiipation of the wider community. But there were some who felt the candidate should have been selected by them and them alone. I understand their viewpoint but they must recognise that the party has changed and needs to look outside its comfort zone. Whatever their private thoughts about the Open Primary system they should now get behind the winning candidate and help him win the by-election on 15 October. Now is not the time for any sort of show of disunity or petulent stamping of feet.

I have to say that although I thoroughly enjoyed hosting the event, it was one of the more challenging nights of my life. It was the biggest Open Primary ever run and while in some ways it showed the party at its best, it also showed that the system still has some organisational teething problems. It was good that Eric Pickles unexpectedly showed up, so he could see at first hand the upsides and downsides of holding such a big event.

If you were there and are reading this, share your views in the comments with my readers.

57 comments:

Anonymous said...

I get the feeling Iain, that this isn't the last we'll hear of this.

Be interesting to see what a more dispassionate view of the evening's proceedings will be.

Half The Story said...

Will the open primaries lead to certain groups falling behind ideals other than party lines?

BrianSJ said...

Was this an open primary on Douglas Carswell's criteria?
http://www.talkcarswell.com/show.aspx?id=987
Sounds more like a caucus to me.
Behind the curve again, Iain, do keep up. Things are moving faster than you are. The diet needs work!

stereodog said...

I don't want to be unduly critical given the number of people who turned out but it seems to me that the chap who one would probably have been the one that a selection board would have chosen. Not that there is anything wrong with that but I think that there is a danger that these primaries will become an expensive way of picking the same types of candidate.

Anonymous said...

Er, so an 'open primary' is simply an open meeting where there is a quick beauty contest and then a vote? And the person who has persuaded the largest number of friends, acquaintances and 'tribe' to turn up (doubtless with promises, explicit or implicit, about future favours) wins?

Not really that democratic, is it? I thought all this was supposed to be about involving the wider electorate?

Anonymous said...

Iain

Watching this mornings BBC East there was little doubt that the chosen candidate was more than well represented in the audience.
Agree this is a positive factor to get more not less attendance.

Be interesting to see the local press report on the proceedings

Fenman

Anonymous said...

I was there and what a night, in so many ways. The Ian and Eric show; move over Ant and Dec! Seriously, it was a great night for the local conservatives and while the process was flawed in it's execution (by CCHQ) it showed the local Conservatives to be imaginative and inclusive and should be applauded. We are inevitably going to be slated by the biased local Press but on the whole the process has raised the profile of both the party locally and the chosen candidate in a way that the other parties can only imagine.
I am not entirely convinced of the suitability of the chosen candidate but now that he has been chosen I will work for him and vote for him and I know he will work hard. One of his tasks now is to connect with the rural parts of the borough and bring back on board the members of the associations dissafected by the process, where he can.

Treeblue

Adam Pritchard said...

I was there Iain and you did a great job.

It was clear early on (I had arrived at about 6.50pm) that the hall was going to be full to bursting as a queue had already formed. I thought it was inspiring to see so many people at a Conservative meeting. After years in the party and standing for parliament in 2001, I'm used to events attended by four people in a draughty or over-heated grim room with little inspiration and certainly no sense that we represented the people outside. Last night was so different with hundreds of people of all ages and ethnicities demonstrating that a) Bedford is the most multicultural town in Britain and b) that the Conservative Party has the courage to hand key decisions over to the people. I can’t imagine Labour or the Lib Dems doing that. In Bedford, the Lib Dems huddled together in a smoke-filled room (metaphorically thanks to the ban!) before selecting their council group leader - Buggins Turn and not what the Borough needs.

A great night for democracy, for our party and for Bedford and a great candidate in Parvez - now we have to get him elected.

One last point about the schools question, whether or not you agreed with the two candidates who expressed their opinion, I was saddened that others dodged the issue. Politics is about serving not ruling, but it's also about leading not following. Last night we wanted to see a leader emerge - and we did!

Mark Senior said...

Forgive me intruding into Conservative internal affairs . I thought the objective of open primaries was to give the voters a say in who the candidate will be after listening to and comparing all the candidates and judging them on their merits .
It would appear that the objective is to stack the meeting with as many family , friends and acquaintances as you can who will vote for you however well or badly you perform .
I wonder also how many of these family , friends and acquaintances do not even live and vote in Bedford .

Gary Elsby stoke said...

But you haven't explained how it works or how he won.

The Conservative Party machine telephoned every 'voter' to get them out for Akhtar.

They also begged for a second choice vote if not entirely convinced?

A stitch up of the Conservative member.

Shame on the 'modern' Conservative Party and shame an Dave.

strapworld said...

Sadly, if there is a genuine feeling that the winner 'packed' the audience then that could cause resentment.

IF that resentment is on racial grounds, this could open the door for the BNP to field a candidate.

But Bedford does have a large immigrant population. If last evening's meeting was a genuine reflection of the Bedford population then I cannot see why people complained.

I see that Mike Smithson, who attended, is going to write something about the meeting on 'Political Betting'

But I do think that the Conservatives have struck a nerve by holding these primaries. The numbers attending are great news. It means that people are getting interested and they want change.

Adrian said...

Well done, Iain

Anonymous said...

'The party has changed'?

Erm, on message there arent you Iain. A couple of 'open primary' stunts, dont mean the party has changed.

Working Class Tory said...

One thing: this wasn't an open primary, rather an open caucus - local people invited to come along and decide. A primary would mean everyone in the district was asked to vote, a la Totnes.

Obviously these methods are both more "democratic" than traditional selection methods, but they are not both open primaries.

Anonymous said...

Mike Smithson at political betting is to blog reality on this.

Anonymous said...

Surely this was a caucus rather than an open primary. Not knocking the concept just that we need to get the terminology right

True Belle said...

And if the venue isn't large enough for all the various groups of supporters?

Sounds like like there could be trouble ahead.

http://dopoliticiansknowanything.blogspot.com/

Matthew Dear said...

Why is this phenomenal outpouring of public interest in what are essentially the internal machinations of one among many political parties not national news? Why aren't the BBC sending in Nick Robinson, Jeremy Paxman, John Simpson?

Why? Because it's happening to the Tories. I seem to remember that when a New Labour meeting in Dulwich attracted 300 people on a Tuesday evening in 2005, journalists dropped their pastrami and sun-dried tomato paninis and scramble, salivating, to the nearest Telex machine.

This was the great hummin-buzzin-thing-thang which was going to save Britain! People in thick-rimmed spectacles and cashmere sweaters nodding above warm, bubbly glasses of Chilean Merlot. The metro-sexual-media-luvvie had found a purpose; and scented power. The Thatcherite juggernaut was going to be stopped! The Right might not have been right after all.

I think you could have the entire population of Bloomsbury turn out to a primary/caucus to select a candidate for Holborn and St Pancras and 'the media' wouldn't even turn around - too engrossed would they be in pushing their revisionist assumption that however crap Gordon Brown might be, at least he's a "progressive" - unlike that ghastly bunch of Tories we have in the 1980s and 90s.

We're all "progressive" now. Surely. Aren't we?

Anonymous said...

In reply to anon at 09.41; if parts of the wider electorate don't want to involve themselves then that is their problem. In the time that they had everything was done to communicate the event to the wider Bedford electorate.

Also, It is a huge assumption to say that the selection board would have chosen the candidate eventully selected. I suspect that they would have gone for a saver pair of hands.

Treeblue

Anonymous said...

What sort of democracy is that supposed to be? Is this an idea from Brussels?

Alex Agius. said...

Iain did a fantastic job of chairing the event and keeping the crowd happy as we waited for the huge volume of local voters to be registered and take a seat in the hall. It was wonderful to see so many Bedfordians and people from the surrounding rural villages attend and get involved with choosing our candidate for our party. Unfortunately this unexpected volume support significantly delayed the meeting. It was very good of Eric Pickles (who was not expected to attend) and Iain to entertain the crowd with an informative Q&A while we waited.

All 4 candidates were very different and all answered Iain’s questions well. I went to the meeting knowing 3 of the 4 candidates but undecided who to vote for. In the end I voted for Parvez Akhtar as I thought he gave the most clear and concise answers and was impressed by how well he came across, his directness and that he said he wished to emulate Peter Davies - The Mayor of Doncaster - in cost cutting and efficacies. I was delighted he was able to win on the first vote.

As Iain mentioned this was due in part to the excellent job Parvez did in engaging with his community and mobilizing his supporters - just the quality I want for a Conservative candidate. I am sure Parvez will be an excellent candidate and am please I voted for him.

Open primaries are a fantastic way to select candidates, I am proud of the fact that the Conservative party are leading the way with this as it is a great way to engage the local people and such initiatives can only be good for democracy. I hope that the other political parties will not be afraid to copy this model. I was also very pleased to see that Bedford borough has just hosted the most successful of these meetings to date with the party chairman in attendance.

I briefly introduced myself to Iain at the end of the event but didn't thank him for doing such a good job in what were not the easiest of circumstance as many in the crowd became restless\hungry due to the dely. Thanks for all you did last night and for posting your behind the scenes account of the meeting, very interesting to gain this insight to how the event was run.

Was good to meet you.

redhead said...

isn't the problem with caucusus as opposed to primary that minority groups can override the silent majority.

if there's a tight knit community of vegetable growing gingers in a particular ward, then the nature of that community may enable them to hijack the event and before you know it your tax is being blown on community initiatives like new temples for carrot worship even though gingers make up only 10% of the electorate.

Mark Senior said...

Conservativehome ignoring this story , I wonder why ??

Unsworth said...

@ Mark Senior

"It would appear that the objective is to stack the meeting with as many family , friends and acquaintances as you can who will vote for you however well or badly you perform .
I wonder also how many of these family , friends and acquaintances do not even live and vote in Bedford ."


Any evidence to support this bollox? You see, without such evidence 'it would appear' that you are a moron.

trevorsden said...

Lots of sour grapes from lefties ...

Matthew Dear said...

@ redhead

"isn't the problem with caucusus as opposed to primary that minority groups can override the silent majority."

Defeatist talk! Surely that would provide a kick up the backside to said silent majority to GET INVOLVED NEXT TIME! (A la the USA.) Democratic rights: use them, or lose them.

Bunny Smedley said...

Isn't there a slight problem with this whole setup - that although it might notionally produce election-winning candidates (unless, of course, views on issues and individuals shift between now and the election, which will almost certainly be the case), there's no guarantee it will produce candidates who are, in any profound sense, conservative - and if the candidates aren't conservative, why on earth should local Conservatives campaign or even vote for them? In other words, doesn't this rather undo the whole point of political parties, replacing them with desperate types who just want to jump on some notional Cameroon bandwagon?

Anonymous said...

Mostly agree with you Iain. But the problem of mobilising support at public meetings is a real one and dismissed too easily by you. It's a bit like the trap Labour got into in the 1970s/1980s believing that participatory democracy is more important than representative democracy. Postal ballots are better. I doubt very much whether the successful candidate will be able to maximise the Tory vote because the basis of his victory was so narrowly defined - ethnicity and one ward in Bedford being the basis of his support. Postal ballots are better.

redhead said...

@Matthew Dear

Fair point, but then we're just not americans are we? Thank god?

Anon 11:42 postal ballots sounds good, bit more British in a reserved and not shouting out in public kind of way, but that has its problems too. As the local spiritual guide of the carrot worshipping community I always advise my flock to pass such documents to me to be filled in according to the Great Carrot Top's teachings.

Mark Senior said...

Unsworth , usual level of personal abuse .
See Mike Smithson's report of the meeting for evidence .
This also reminds me of the early 80's and left wing cliques and militant factions taking over Labour constituency parties .

trevorsden said...

And to all the lefties -- well if this
http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/politics/article6834522.ece
is how you want to select your candidates thats your problem.

"Unions put their candidates in place to push Labour to the left"
"Senior Labour figures estimate that three quarters of the candidates in winnable seats at the forthcoming general election were the choice of one of the major unions when selected."

Well done Cameron and the Conservatives for trusting the people.
Lets here more of it in the election campaign.

Anonymous said...

Down with secret ballots! Don't let women exercise their votes unsupervised.

The stats showed that Hillary Clinton did worse where there were open caucuses than comparable towns where primary votes were cast in secret. OK, there may well have been men as well as women who felt they could not publicly declare that preference. These differences in voting surely need careful consideration. We do have secret ballots for a well-established reason.

John said...

What will you think if UKIP or the Countryside Alliance ensure the right result as well by bringing along all their supporters?.

Anonymous said...

Agree with the comment about participative/representative democracy. I was at last night's meeting and did not feel that ANY candidate has what it takes to be an effective Mayor. The problem with the person selected is that he won the vote in a public meeting because he had so many committed votes on the evening. However, the chances of him unifying the local party are very poor because his victory was secured on such a narrow base of support. The effect therefore of an exercise in voter power is to reduce the Conservatives' chances of winning the election.

Unsworth said...

@ Mark Senior

So why should Smithson's 'report' be any more credible than your mouthings? Perhaps you believe unquestioningly everything he writes, anyway?

More importantly where exactly did he say "It would appear that the objective is to stack the meeting with as many family , friends and acquaintances as you can who will vote for you however well or badly you perform .
I wonder also how many of these family , friends and acquaintances do not even live and vote in Bedford ."


Or do you now speak on his behalf, adding in the bits he's forgotten to write?

You call my comments 'personal abuse'? Well, 'it would appear' that you are a very sensitive little flower - to the point of delusion. Don't get me wrong, in the field of personal abuse I can do a whole lot better than that.

Hawkeye said...

Why not take another step and give conservative members a weighted vote equal to 10 ordinary votes? That way being a member or an activist gives you more say.

If "ordinary" voters do not like it then they can join the party?

Anonymous said...

@ Anon 12.48
"The problem with the person selected is that he won the vote in a public meeting because he had so many committed votes on the evening. However, the chances of him unifying the local party are very poor because his victory was secured on such a narrow base of support."

I don't disagree with much of what you say but the system that was chosen for selection is not the candidates fault, he simply made the most of it. However the Associations need to understand the divisions that have been caused by a process imposed on them but agreed by them and work fast to repair those divisions. In the end though the Conservatives of Bedford Borough (all 3 Assocs) still had a process of selection that did far more to include and interest the electorate of Bedford than any of the other main parties and the benefits of this need to be fully communicated.

Treeblue

Anonymous said...

Looks Like the Asian community has used the system to its advantage. Nothing wrong in that but you may possibly have not selected the best man for the job

Chris Paul said...

Hilarious gibberish on Union endorsements in Labour selections. The big unions tend to endorse who they are told to endorse by the centre ... of the union ... who are told who to endorse by the centre of the party. So we get the comical situation of unions endorsing people with little or no TU activity, even AGAINST more active member(s) of their own unions.

Hardly reds ruling the roost. Sometimes arguments used like : "We must back the winner!" i.e. self fulfilling twaddle in absence of better arguments.

hopeful supporter said...

If these primaries are going to work they must be run so as to be fair and democratic and so they cannot be hi-jacked. The effort in Bedford last evening was completely and utterly hi-jacked and was NOT fair nor democratic at all. Please cut the spin, we are hoping for an honest and trustworthy government not more untruths and spin.

Pete said...

Eric Pickles 'Man of the People'

or not?

Mike Smithson:

"Iain did a good job in difficult circumstances and very much held the event together. He was watched over by Tory chairman, Eric Pickles, who, it should be noted, blanked me when I tried to introduce myself."

Anonymous said...

The problem with Treeblue's comments on my Anon. of 12.48 is that they smack of defensiveness. He/she is saying - 'we made a mistake last night but now we've got to rally round and support the candidate'. Whereas we should have be on the offensive, I am concerned that the Liberal democrats will be able to effortlessly exploit the inevitable difficulties and tensions that will now arise between and within the local Associations. The successful candidate MUST at a very early stage demonstrate to the villages that he is not a prisoner of the internecine politics of Queens Park and that he has a true feel for their concerns. He must recognise that people in the villages have chosen to live OUTSIDE the town of Bedford for a reason.

Claíomh na Saoirse said...

I think this photograph of proceedings (http://politicalbetting.s3.amazonaws.com/Bedford%20hustings%20q.JPG) shows why this was a poor idea.

Let's not beat around the bush here: if Mr Akhtar was a Christian or a Jew, he would not today be the Conservative candidate.

This is an Islamic takeover of the local party every bit as worrying and dangerous as the Militant takeover of Labour.

Tory Teacher said...

My wife and I ran for a couple of Bedford council seats a couple of years back and organised a debate between all the candidates in our ward. 4000 leaflets advertising the event led to the grand total of TWO non-activists in the audience...

We went along last night and it was so exciting to see the enormous queue when we arrived. Ok, it took ages to get in, but that's a problem of success not failure - surely we'd rather have that than a low turnout..?

We got a few non-Conservative mates to go along as well - and they are ALL now going to vote for the Conservative candidate in this election. See - it isn't perfect but democracy works!

Anonymous said...

Would be fascinated to see the democgraphic breakdown of the people who attended.

Having seen coverage on it on BBC Look East it seemed to me that the demographic didn't exactly match the racial mix that exists across Bedford as a whole.

Sorry, Bedford said...

I also watched the Look East report, from which it certainly appeared that we have run out of non-Asian voters in Bedford.

I understand that the need to attend this caucus and to thereby ensure an Asian Conservative candidate was a feature of Friday prayers in several local mosques.

Got any more bright ideas, Mr Pickles?

Anonymous said...

I asked them what they could learn from the experience of other elected mayors and if they would be following the example of the mayor of Doncaster who has cut his salary in half.

Hmmm

Has Iain Dale has been banned from using the words "English Democrats" on his blog by Conservative HQ !

What if the English Democrats run a Mayor in Bedford ?

Anonymous said...

The recent comments about an 'Islamic takeover of the local party' and an interest in the 'demographic' profile of those attending the public meeting on Tuesday night must be of great concern to the three Conservative Associations.

There is, of course, nothing wrong or right about a person of Islamic faith being a Conservative candidate. It is simply irrelevant. What is of concern, however, is that the candidate had to rely upon the (probable) TOTAL support of this part of the audience to ensure victory on the first ballot.

It demonstrates that he must convince the electorate of the Borough that he has a broader appeal. If he cannot do this in the next four weeks, he will lose and the Liberal Democrats will win. Were that to happen, it will be interesting to see if Iain has the same attachment to the process - or whether he would favour some refinments to ensure that somebody can't win a nomination simply because he/she has been able to secure a significant 'block vote' at a public meeting.

Adam Pritchard said...

In reply to Anonymous at 9:57, it's worth noting that plenty of people at the meeting who are neither Muslim nor from Queen's Park (including me) voted for Parvez. He was the best candidate on the night and represents new thinking in Bedford local politics.

The Lib Dems must be terrified now, they have merely selected the leader of the Lib Dem group - no primary, no vote, no democracy! He's already campaiging about decisions taken on the old County Council, tedious, out of touch and voter repellent. The new thinking, bold ideas and fresh candidate are all coming from the Tories and that's good news!

Anonymous said...

In reply to Adam, of course some people who are not Asian or who do not live in Queens Park supported Praveen. That's not the point. It was his necessary reliance on a 'block vote' that's the problem. When we could have had an opportunity to be on the offensive against the Liberal Democrats, the public meeting will put us on the defensive and make it harder to unify the party. This is especially sad because the Liberal candidate is so useless.

Bedford(Town)Resident said...

I can't question the suitablilty of the chosen candidate, as I was not at the meeting, but I would question the way it organised. I first beacme aware of the date and time from the Beds on Sunday 13/9/09. I did not get a copy through my door and was shown the article on the Monday lunchtime (the day of the meeting). Following the instructions contained in the article I tried ringing and got no answer and then emailed the organisers at 2pm to register so I could attend. A couple of hours later I received an reply appologising that the deadline for registering was midday (which had not been publisised in the paper) and therefore I could not go. Why then were hundreds of unexpected people, presumably unregistered prior to arrival, allowed in? This clearly made the process (more) open to abuse if one set of supporters can be organised to arrive en masse and let in when potential supporters of other candidates who followed the registration process were excluded. This did not let the public have a fair and representative say in the selection process as promised and showed flagrant disregard for the principles of democracy. Therefore, as a floating voter, my mind has been made up that the Conservatives will not be getting my vote as they clearly can't deliver even basic pledges.

Adam Pritchard said...

"the Liberal candidate is so useless."

Well, Anonymous, that's definitely something I can agree with. I couldn't have put it better myself!

Anonymous said...

I was at the meeting on Monday, and Iain did a great job chairing it.

There certainly seemed to me to be plenty of people at the meeting who did not come from Parvez's core support who voted for him. He was simply the best candidate on the night.

Whatever the feelings about the process of selecting a candidate, once that process is over Conservatives have to unite behind our candidate - if we don't, the only winners will be people who do not share the sort of Conservative views that Parvez obviously does.

Tory said...

I attended Mondays primary and to say it wasn't fair is ridiculous. Democracy is about rallying support from where support can be rallied from and beyond. Isn't that how every party does it?

As far as I'm aware the candidates had less than 48 hours to gather up support from as many people as they could. Can you honestly say that each candidate would not have gone to their 'block' vote and requested their support?

I've been a labour voter for years but inclusion in mondays primary opened my eyes to a newly emerging tory party. Parvez in my eyes was clearly the best candidate.

I don't think the childish ramblings of a few disgruntled party 'elitists', whom seem to be clearly stuck in the past, can deter him from victory.

Tory said...

Ps. It has to be said that Iain did a fantastic job on the night. I was one of the earlier voters to arrive and he certainly kept me keenly entertained!

Furthermore, I don't tend to follow blogs but I seem to be regularly glued to this website!

To echo what one of the audience shouted 'Can we vote for you Iain?'...Keep up the good blogging!

Bedford Floater said...

This morning's local press.

http://www.bedsonsunday.com/bedsonsunday-news/DisplayArticle.asp?ID=450409

Oh dear.

Geoffrey Woollard said...

Despite what you have said on today's BBC TV's local news, I have some sympathy for Cllr. Mrs Nicky Attenborough in Bedford, where the Conservatives lost the recent mayoral election.

Mrs Attenborough, who herself wanted to be Mayor and is leader of the Conservative group on Bedford Borough Council, is reported to have complained about the eventual selection as the Conservative candidate of Mr Parvez Akhtar, who went on to be defeated in the election by the Liberal Democrat, in that she is said to have described the Conservative candidate selection meeting - an open meeting, where non-Conservatives had a vote - as a disgrace. She is also reported as having said, 'It was very obvious that the meeting had been hijacked ... I could see the Liberal Democrats on the front row, Labour on the back row and a sea of faces who couldn't even understand what the candidates were saying.'

The film footage shown today by the BBC clearly illustrated a sea of foreign faces at the meeting. I, too, wonder if they were all Conservative faces. I also wonder whether all of the major parties have taken the supposed need for inclusiveness and diversity a bit far. I further wonder if the time will come when one of the major parties chooses, say, a traveller candidate, in the interests of 'inclusiveness and diversity.' Of course, I only wonder, for saying such things out loud is asking for trouble.

The BBC now says, 'The leader of the Conservative group [Mrs Attenborough] on Bedford Borough Council has been suspended from the party for two years.'

A cousin of mine, Dr. George Witt (1804 - 1869), was Mayor of Bedford in 1834. I guess that there weren't many foreign faces in Bedford then.