The inside story of why Tim Walker decided to step down as Liberal Democrat candidate for Canterbury
Political honeymoons are apt to be fleeting, but, generally speaking, they can be expected to last for more than a few seconds beyond the mere announcement of a candidacy. That proved not to be my lot when Canterbury and Coastal Liberal Democrats issued a press release to say they’d selected me as their prospective parliamentary candidate in the general election.
The furore that followed says a great deal about the respect that incumbent Labour MP Rosie Duffield commands locally, but also, of course, the fact it was interpreted as Remainer-on-Remainer action. She emphatically shares my views on Europe and we have no natural quarrel.
Twitter storms are no new experience for me – I once had to brave one whipped up by Stephen Fry and his millions of followers after I ran an item in my column that displeased him – and, generally speaking, they tend to make me want to hold my ground more than ever.
The New Statesman could see, as I did, that a lot of the abuse about my candidacy was in any case being cynically orchestrated by local Momentum activists, who, if they could only be honest, loathed their centrist MP even more than they did me.
Still, the situation locally is a lot more complicated than any of the keyboard warriors could have imagined, and, after a great deal of soul-searching, I have asked that my local party withdraw my nomination papers. It’s necessary at this time and this place to see the bigger picture. That is, after all, what Lib Dems should always be about.
The truth is I was never at daggers drawn with Rosie – on the one television appearance we did together we got along almost embarrassingly well – and one of the many ironies of this situation is that she has a better and longer-established relationship with my party leader Jo Swinson than I as a mere first-time candidate. Indeed, my formal adoption in Canterbury was put on hold for almost two months as Jo tried to lure Rosie to stand under our colours.
There was also a concerted attempt to do some kind of reciprocal deal with Labour in which I would agree to stand down if one of their candidates did elsewhere. Inevitably, Jeremy Corbyn, not
for the first time, couldn’t seem
to accept that we had the stronger hand. In the last major democratic exercise in this country – the EU elections – we not merely beat Labour and the Tories, we won more seats than both combined. We have, of course, a right – if not an obligation – to field candidates wherever we can.
Local Tory voters who have turned away from their party yet could never support Labour so long as Corbyn leads it contacted me to say they wanted a Lib Dem candidate as palatable alternative. Henry Stanton, my opponent from the Green Party, was gracious enough to tell the Kentish Gazette that democracy requires that voters should be given a choice. He said the problem Labour has in Canterbury is entirely of its own making.
But, more ominously, my Tory opponent Anna Firth also welcomed the fact I was entering the contest and I have seldom if ever been spoken about so enthusiastically. This is what weighed most heavily upon me. It weighed heavily upon local party members, too, who also contacted me to express concerns about what might ensue. Of course ultimately it was not going to be my problem: I could get on the train back to London after the count and leave them to it, but I couldn’t also abandon my conscience.
The thought of me standing at the count beside a vanquished Rosie as our common enemy raised her hands in triumph is what had been keeping me awake and eventually settled me upon this course of action. I don’t know if my party might yet choose to field another candidate – that is their right and if they chose to do so I would respect it. But I personally want there to be as many decent, independent-minded people in the Commons after this election as possible. I want no part in depriving even one of them of a seat.
So many decent people from both of our main political parties are giving up that I fear for what kind of place the Commons will be when it returns after the election. I don’t trust Corbyn on Brexit and I never will, but I believe very much that Rosie will do what is right and in the best interests of our country on this most defining issue of our times. I stand down not for her wretched party, but for her. I wish her well and I expect and require her now to keep being true to herself and her principles.