Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Bedford Aftermath

I didn't write about the Bedford mayoral election last week as I was concentrating on Bracknell, so allow me to share a few thoughts now. Much has been written about the Open Primary, most of it derogatory and blaming it for the fact that the LibDems pipped the Conservatives to the post in winning the election. It's a very simplistic viewpoint but one which needs answering.

Since the mayoral election it has been announced that the Bedford Deputy Mayor, and one of the losing participants in the Open Primary, has been expelled from the Party for two years. The reason, I am told, is that she refused to support the winner, Parvez Akhtar, and then proceeded to undermine him throughout the campaign.

That didn't surprise me. Despite consenting to every aspect of the running of the Open Primary, including coming on the stage afterwards to endorse the winner, Nicky Attenborough had a face like a saucer of sour milk. Afterwards she sent a bitter email to Eric Pickles saying that the winning candidate had packed the meeting and that most of the people there either couldn't speak English or were Liberal Democrats or Labour. Utter balls.

Parvez did indeed mobilise support - as the open primary process encourages all candidates to do. All four candidates were local and all four were afforded exactly the same opportunities. The fact is that Mrs Attenborough didn't feel she needed to go through a selection process. She felt it was buggin's turn and that all she needed to do was to turn up to be crowned the winner. Her CV was appallingly presented and her interview was weak. She did not like being questioned and refused to give her view on two key local issues. She also failed to mobilise support. That was why she lost.

It was unforgiveable of her to act is such a petty and petulent way after the election. These two letters from the local paper say it far better than I ever could...

Sir - I was a candidate-neutral participant at the Mayoral selection meeting that Nicky Attenborough claims was hijacked. As far as I am aware, every candidate had equal time to prepare and to mobilise support.

Everyone there had pre-registered and was a Bedford Borough voter – the problem was that there were insufficient people on the door to verify the ID of so many attendees.

The resultant late start limited the candidates’ time to present themselves, but each was afforded the same time to make their impression.

It is a rather foolish and petulant leap to assume that because she was unsuccessful, people couldn’t understand what the candidates were saying.

Each candidate was asked the same series of questions, unfortunately the tenor and tone of her responses did not reflect what the meeting was looking for in a candidate, and my personal view is that she wouldn’t have carried the room even if the doors had been shut at 7.30pm as advertised.

She is to be admired for putting herself forward; but at best her outburst shows her to be politically naive and rather negative, and at worst, divisive and from an era which is thankfully long past.

Either way, these are not endearing qualities in a potential Mayor.

She would have been better advised to hold her counsel and get full square behind Mr Akhtar.

Robin Illingworth
Cornwall Road, Bedford

Sir - Yet another complaint from Nicky Attenborough. Does she really expect the public to vote for a candidate who cannot even organise her own supporters to do something as simple as to attend a meeting and then, as Tory leader, goes on to vilify the organisation of the meeting and its selection procedure.

Worse, she insults a large number of people from the Asian community who did make the effort to attend.

As its previous occupant demonstrated the office of Mayor deserves a better organiser and person than this.

Brian Lawson
Wood End Road,

The fact is that any local resident had a right to attend. Mr Akhtar (who performed best on the night) mobilised his supporters and got his vote out. That's what should happen in a contest. Phillip Lee did that in Bracknell far better than I did, clearly. Do I complain about that? No I do not. What a pity Mrs Attenborough hadn't acted in the same way and got behind Parvez Akhtar. Would it have affected the final result and stopped the LibDems winning? Very possibly. The electorate doesn't vote for disunited parties, and the split in Bedford Tories meant that it was always going to be an uphill struggle.

Mrs Attenborough has now paid the price for her rank disloyalty. What a pity Parvez Akhtar had to suffer the consequences of this woman's self indulgence. And what a pity she, by her actions, has tarnished the idea of Open Primaries.

I congratulate the LibDem candidate David Hodgson on his victory. I hope he does a good job for the people of Bedford.


Mark Senior said...

Mt Akhtar may or may not have been the best candidate on the night but the reality is that being the best candidate was of no importance having stacked the hall with his supporters , he could have been a raving lunatic and he still would have won .
I still find it puzzling why the Conservatives did not automatically readopt Ms Attenborough . She had been considered good enough to be candidate in 2007 and was Deputy and Acting Mayor .

Simon Gardner said...

Anyone familiar with Bedford politics knows it’s pretty poisonous - between all parties.

Nikostratos said...

"had a face like a saucer of sour milk"

Miaow! for Iain's catty remark

Anonymous said...

The Lib Dems delibrately made up the Asian infultration - Indeed one particular blogger was behind it and took the picture and peddled the myth.

He thought he was being smart doing that but I suspect Anti-Nazi elements will be on his case in the near future unfortunetly for him.

The Lib Dems have tried to infultrate open primaries to pervert the process. It just shows why the LD should be shunted into the Yellow Taxi come election night as they are just a bunch of liars.

With reguard to the first comment it never ceases to amaze me why he spends so much time on Tory blogs yet the so called Lib Dem voice is as stalinist as Gordon Brown.

Anonymous said...

'Yeah, how dare those darkies turn up to a democratic meeting, eh ?'

Dearie me - and they wonder why people are voting for the BNP ?

James said...

So Iain, you don't think that the front page leader in the local Beds Times and Citizen delivered to every Bedford residency on election day entitled "Mayoral Race: Senior Tories Predict Defeat" (note plural:Tories) contributed nothing to the result?

Alex Agius. said...

As a local Conservative party member I attended the selection meeting that Iain chaired for this and was involved with the Conservative campaign and can say that Iain is spot on with what he has written here.

The 4 candidates at the selection meeting all had the same opportunities as each other and had all agreed to take part in the process. I was genuinely undecided who I would vote for when I went into the meeting but after listening to all 4 candidates I decided to vote for Mr. Akhtar as he was the most impressive on the night. Having talked to a few people who also attended the meeting I believe this was the majority view and I found it interesting that Iain said he also thought this talking to them all up close (although Iain did not have a vote).

During the election campaign the Conservative campaign was indeed damaged by Mrs Attenborough as Iain has described. Mrs Attenborough seemed to wish to undermine Mr. Akhtar and the hard work that local members all put into the campaign. The party board made the only decision it could (to expelle Mrs Attenborough from the Party for two years) in the light of her actions. She has only herself to blame for this but sadly will not see it this way.

Not only was this a selfish act but totally self defeating as by helping to ensure that Bedford Borough now has a Lib Dem mayor Mrs Attenborough has:

Found herself replaced as deputy mayor by a Lib Dem councillor.

Alienated local party members and activists & lost a lot of support in the local party.

Lost her role as leader of the Conservative group.

Been thrown out of the party for 2 years.

Lost the ability to stand as a Conservative candidate at the next set of local elections.

It is just a shame that her actions also had an effect on Mr. Akhtar and his campaign but he is a first class candidate and I have no doubt he will be back.

Anonymous said...

All well and good, but I still don't agree with open primaries. Fine, let's have primaries - where all local Tories are allowed to vote. In fact, this was always part of local Tory selection processes. But why let supporters of other parties vote?

Chris Rose said...

Mark Senior,

You seem to misunderstand the fundamental importance of primaries and caucases: nobody, however illustrious, is adopted automatically; every candidate is chosen by a popular, preferably open, ballot.

It is a big change from past practice, but it gives all electors a far greater stake in the selection process and in the success of the eventual winner.

Nick said...


If you're so keen on giving people a choice of which candidate from a particular party they'd like to support then why not advocate STV where the whole elctorate could choose from a variety of candidates from a variety of parties?

Anonymous said...

All very liberal and modern, but I'm afraid the grass roots that support the Party through thick and thin are wasting away. Perhaps that doesn't matter when the Party is on a roll, but what about the bad times that will surely come?

Frugal Dougal said...

I remember a good friend of mine, with whose views I disagreed heartily, who, while a communist, would bus people to union votes with several crates of beer. What you describe sounds as if it's not in that league at all - ie what you describe sounds like the normal process of asking your supporters to support you.

Anonymous said...

That anyone can influence a decision like this by using rent-a-mob shows that the whole open primaries process is nonsense - the opposite of democracy.

Cardinal Ricehlieu's mole said...

"She felt it was buggin's turn and that all she needed to do was to turn up to be crowned the winner. .....She did not like being questioned and refused to give her view on two key local issues."

Had you added that Mrs Attenborough was seen throwing her Nokia, I would suspect she had her sights on higher office. lol ;-)

Anonymous said...

All well and good, but I can just imagine what would happen in an open primary here in Newham.

The local Labour drones would pack the meeting and ensure that the worst possible candidate is selected.

Sadly, Conservative activism here amounts to about six people.

Dick the Prick said...

As per Adamcollyer - me no comprende why open to anyone or at least why they can vote.

Scary Biscuits said...

Ronald Reagan once said, show me a good loser and I will show you a loser. Losing candidates have a right to be petulant and huffy. It's healthy. The key point is whether that prevents the party from winning elections.

Iain and Alex both make the mistake of blaming one person, the Deputy Mayor. If it had been a problem with her alone, then there would have been no problem. However, the evidence clearly suggests that many people agreed with her, both in the party and with local voters, hence the Conservative defeat.

Whatever, the theoretical benefits of open primaries, you cannot say they are a success if they do not deliver victory.

Unlike Blair before he was PM, Dave has been responsible for a huge decline in party membership. At many times it seems as though CCHQ is at war with the membership, who they regard as a bunch of weirdos. They have forgotten that these people are actually no weirder than most voters, that they are truely representative, warts and all (at least more so than most of the Cameroons), and that the party leadership exists to serve the membership, not the other way around.

In the election for Speaker, Dave clung to the old tradition that this role shouldn't be politicised. However, you can't throw out half an ancient bargain and expect the other party to keep to the remaining half. The Speaker is traditionally uncontested because he has been appointed by cross-party agreement. Therefore it would be illogical and dishonorable (not merely against tradition) to oppose him at election time. If, however, a Speaker isn't selected by cross-party consent, it is entirely reasonable to oppose him.

It is likewise with candidate selection. By helping the party you earn the right, by your labour, to a greater say in candidate selection. After all, he is supposed to be representing you as you knocks on doors or stuffs envelopes for him. If the local party is ignored, we should not be surprised if they ignore us and hand victory to our opponents.

I support open primaries, but CCHQ needs to find a way of keeping local activists on board and making them part of the project rather than treating them as the enemy within. As with the selection of Adam Afriyie in Windsor, local activists can be surprising compliant if they're managed well. Simply briefing against them in the newspapers won't do. As Reagan also said, "Never speak ill of another Conservative."

It doesn't add up... said...

Are you saying the reason you lost in Bracknell is because others managed to pack the meeting better than you did, rather than winning on merit? Sour grapes!

Mr. Akhtar was obviously the best candidate at Bedford, and Ms Attenborough failed to pack the meeting adequately herself this time (having already been an unsuccessful mayoral candidate, I believe). However, packing meetings is thoroughly anti-democratic, whoever does it: moreover, it says that the candidate doesn't see themselves as representing their wider constituency.

I'm with Carswell on this: if you are going to let the electorate decide, give them all an equal chance of helping to make the decision, rather than letting it depend on who has access to more buses and taxis.

Alex R said...

As a Bedford resident (and local Conservative activist) I just want to say I was appalled by Nicky's actions and words. She did not single handedly lose it for Parvez, but she must take a lion's share of the blame. The comment about Buggin's turn was spot on. The arrogance of the woman was astounding. It just shows that when it comes to politics, certain individuals will always see their own position (and views) as more of a priority than backing their party or doing the right thing. All of this is going to hurt Bedford tories - and that's the last thing we need 9 months before an election in a marginal seat. I hope Richard Fuller remains unscathed from this nonsense going on around him, and that Bedford tories can agree that the greater good here is to focus on winning the Parliamentary seat.

Quietzapple said...

Tories lost, unsurprisingly, and suspended an effective local Tory leader.

Jolly Good Show!

I've lived in Bedford, nice place, no surprise your "Open" Primary came unstuck. I bet Tory Central Office will not permit such contests next year for PPCs in similar seats where tory voters are likely to be outnumbered in selections.

Who will be making those decisons, then Iain?

Anonymous said...

The day after the open Primary I predicted that the Liberals would win. This was because the manner of Parvez's victory had the effect of sowing disunity - in my opinion, he was not the best person to maximise the Conservative vote.

I supported NA on the night believing her to be the candidate most likely to win for the Conservatives. I now find myself in the weird position of supporting her memebership suspension because her attack on Parvez's selection carried clear, unpleasant racist undertones.

Having spectacularly shot themselves in the foot with their unbelievable political naivety, the local Conservatives should now lose all interest in the blogs and concentrate on connecting with the electorate.

The Mayoral results demonstrate that the Liberals are likely to be the driving force in Bedford local governement. Their local success means that the parliamentary constituency has the potential to become a 3 way marginal over the medium term. However, there are loads of examples of Liberals running the Council but not winning the parliamentary seat.

Based on national voting trends, the Conservatives should win the parliamentary seat at the General Election next year - unless, of course, there is an independent Conservative standing. Therefore, stop the blogging and go out and canvas!