Thursday, March 18, 2010

The non-local candidate

In november 1995, the Conservative MP for Stratford-on-Avon, Alan Howarth, announced that he was defecting to the Labour party.

The Conservative association quickly moved to select a new candidate to replace him, a short-list of six was selected which included John Maples and Maureen Hicks, the local candidate, who although she had previously been MP for Wolverhampton East was local and had been a district councillor in Straford for 5 years from 1979 to 1984.

On the night of the selection John Maples, an outsider from London (although a party insider and previous MP who had lost his seat in ’92) was selected as the MP and went on to be the consituency MP for the next 13 years.

Fast forward 15 years from then and we see the Conservative Association again selecting a replacement candidate for what has been a safe conservative seat for decades if not nearly a century. John Maples had announced his retirement so close to a general election that by-election rules were in force meaning that a short-list of six candidates would be given to the association to choose from.

At the selection 4 female outsiders and one male outsider, a Londoner who also happened to be an Iraqi Kurd whose family claimed asylum in the UK over 30 years ago, were up for selection. They stood alongside a local candidate,  Phillip Seccombe, a long terms resident of the Constituency, local estate agent and chairman of the Conservative Association, a total shoe-in as far as the residents of Stratford were concerned.

On the night though the association overwhelmingly choose the outsider, Nadhim Zahawi, co-found of international polling organisaiton YouGov and a man who began his opening remarks with the line “With a name like Zahawi I can hardly claim that my ancestors have lived in Stratford for generations”

Both in December of 1995 and February of 2010 the Association choose the outsider, the candidate that had no local links but that they felt would be best placed to represent them.

How did the residents of the consituency, the strongly Conservative voting population of Stratford take this?

In 2010 the Stratford Herald’s letter pages have been full of correspondents bemoaning the fact that Nadhim Zahawi is not a local candidate, in the 4 weeks since his selection the letters page has contained little but letters about him, mainly suggesting that his non-local status excludes him from representing the electorate. In total there have been 13 letters questioning his suitability as MP as well as the promise that a local “independent conservative” will run against him given enough support.

A bit of time spent sat at Stratford Library’s microfiche machine looking through back issues of the Herald shows that the situation was very different in 1995. Following John Maples selection there were just 2 letters questioning his suitability due to his non-local status, other letters were either in support of him or on a different subject altogether.

So what has changed so much in Stratford in the last 13 years that to be non-local is such a crime. John Maples, despite his role as Deputy Oarty Chairman, has been seen as an excellent constituency MP so it can’t be that residents feel they have been burned by their past choices.

Is it instead that Stratford’s issues are so unique and complicated that an outsider will never be able to understand them, perhaps but it's issues of transport, planning issues despite housing shortages, and empty shops are hardly unique.

Or has non-local become a code-word for something else? Has Nadhim Zahawi’s selection revealed a darker underbelly to the pretty market town of Shakespeare’s birth?

Related Content

No comments:

Post a Comment