Tony Benn used to berate the media for concentrating on political personalities rather than policies. But politics is a heady mix of issues that affect real people and the people we elect to change our lives.
Personalities do matter. Colourful leadership attracts media attention and affects or improves morale amongst party activists. Politics is a turbulent brew of people and policy and unlike business management it is constantly changing. In a political life a politician will constantly face elections where he or she is pitted against colleagues on the climb up the greasy pole.All this has been in evidence over the past week both at Westminster and in our Town Halls.
CABINET NEXT FOR ESTHER?
Esther McVey’s promotion to Employment Minister caught everyone’s attention. The image of the Wirral West MP striding up Downing Street in a beautiful floral silk dress provided the picture the Prime Minister wanted of a northern woman on the up in the Tory Party. Esther ticks so many boxes. Whilst the national media have focused on her television career, we know her best as a Merseyside business woman who has devoted much time to encouraging other women into business. She may well be in the Cabinet before the General Election.
The emphasis on promoting women means it’s tough for talented Tories like Eric Ollerenshaw (Lancaster), David Morris (Morecambe), Andrew Stephenson (Pendle) and Ben Wallace (Preston North).
NEW LABOUR BLOW FOR HS2.
I heard Maria Eagle make a great speech on rail fares at the Brighton conference. She was across her brief but has been moved to shadow Environment,Food and Rural Affairs, an odd choice when you remember her constituency is the urban Garston and Halewood. She continued to speak up for HS2 after Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls had cast doubt on Labour’s support for the project and it looks even more now that the project could be cancelled if the party comes to power.
Luciana Berger(Wavertree) and Alison McGovern (Wirral South) got new jobs but Stephen Twigg lost his Shadow Education post. He’ll now handle constitutional issues. Twigg has been a victim of Labour’s confused position on issues like free schools, which is not all down to him.
TURBULANCE AT THE TOWN HALLS.
It has also been quite a week in local government. Barbara Spicer is quitting as Chief Executive of Salford Council. The elected Salford Mayor Ian Stewart said he hoped “false rumours about personality issues do not taint the good work she has done for Salford.” I doubt that statement will quell suggestions there has been a major falling out between the two.
Two of the region’s most colourful and talented local government Tory figures are in trouble. Before a recent county council meeting Geoff Driver narrowly survived a vote of no confidence in his leadership of the Conservative opposition. They lost power to Labour in May. Driver’s robust style is clearly not to the taste of many in his group but he remains undeterred. At the meeting he attacked the Labour administration for accessing his emails as part of an investigation relating to the suspension of the county’s Chief Executive Phil Halsall. He also supported a motion pointedly praising Mr Halsall’s work in securing Preston’s City Deal. This provoked a debate about the merits of the suspended officer which may have conseqences down the line.
Another Tory in trouble with his group is Mike Jones, the leader of Cheshire West and Chester Council. Cllr Jones has given vigorous leadership to the authority and has a senior position in the Local Government Association nationally.
However I was at a packed Chester Town Hall last week where plans for a student village on the outskirts of the city were thrown out with one vote in favour. Cllr Jones was known to favour the project but took no formal part in proceedings because of his friendship with the developer.
The run up to the vote saw the sacking of the Tory planning chairman and suspension of four Conservative councillors for voting to take the matter to a full council meeting.
Like Geoff Driver, Mike Jones won a vote of confidence in his leadership this week but still has a lot of bridges to build with his group. Meanwhile the problem of student ghettos in inner Chester remains.