Tuesday, 20 May 2008

The party behind the hereditary principle

It would be insane hyperbole, even by my standards, to claim that Britain is holding its breath for the result of the Crewe and Nantwich by-election on Thursday.

Nevertheless, it is clear that there is nothing quite like a by-election for putting a place on the map and extracting promises from the political class. If we ever want to see the A1 dualled through north Northumberland, our best bet is probably to keep on re-electing Alan Beith until he dies peacefully in his sleep at the age of 98, thereby triggering the first by-election in Berwick-upon-Tweed since the one that brought him into Parliament in 1973.

Cynics will argue that the winning party would immediately renege on its promise, as politicians have done so many times before. But much stranger things than the construction of a few miles of dual carriageway have happened to swing a by-election. Just look at the £150 million Humber Bridge, pledged by Barbara Castle for the sole purpose of winning the Hull North by-election of 1966.

Now, on payment of a mere £2.70 toll, the citizens of Hull can speed across this marvel of engineering to a roundabout in the middle of a field in Lincolnshire. They must have their fingers crossed for another by-election that would secure a promise to connect the thing to a road going somewhere useful. That will no doubt be why Prezza’s Hull West Working Men’s Club does such a roaring trade in meat pies: “Go on, John, have another one! You know you want to!”

Crewe and Nantwich has already made electoral history with the unprecedented £2.7 billion tax bribe dished out last week to help some victims of the 10p tax abolition, and the many more who were deemed to care about them.

It says much for the total uselessness of the party hacks and PR spivs currently representing us in Parliament that it took them a full year to spot the fatal flaw in Gordon Brown’s brilliant last budget, and seek to do something about it.

The late member for Crewe and Nantwich, Gwyneth Dunwoody, stood out from this dismal throng. A combative, independent-minded “awkward old bat”, in her own words, her chairmanship of the transport select committee made its proceedings compelling radio listening. If we could secure the services of another 645 of her kind, not much Government legislation would get passed (which would be a bonus, in my view) and respect for Parliament would soar.

Personally, if I had a vote on Thursday, I’d feel curiously drawn towards former Miss Great Britain Gemma Garrett, 26, of the Beauties for Britain party. I wouldn’t like to say what I might do for her in the privacy of the polling booth; but I certainly wouldn’t hide behind the sofa if she came round canvassing, as I’d feel inclined to do with all her rivals.

Added to which, some standards in Parliament clearly need raising if even the broadsheets cannot print a picture of housing minister Caroline Flint without including the word “phwoar” in their captions.

Whatever happens, nothing can ever take away the joy of seeing the party of equality and opportunity chucking all its resources into trying to turn Crewe and Nantwich into a hereditary fiefdom of the Dunwoody family by securing the return of the late MP’s daughter Tamsin.

Here’s an idea, Gordon. You could save all the trouble, expense and uncertainty of by-elections by making the succession automatic and maybe renaming the Commons. Something like “the House of Lords” would cover it nicely.

And so one of the two vaguely radical reforms enacted in the barren Blair years bites the dust. How long can it be before Gordon Brown appears in Downing Street on horseback, wearing a red coat and blowing a horn, with a pack of hounds milling around him?


Originally published in The Journal, Newcastle upon Tyne.

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