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Rats in a Sack: LBC man’s election bid starts well

Our digest of the worst of Westminster looks at Richard Holden, Emily Sheffield, Jacob Young and more

Photo by Vickie Flores/In Pictures via Getty Images

Iain Dale, the LBC presenter, raised a few eyebrows this week when he announced he was leaving the cabbies’ favourite station to run as a Conservative MP in the general election.

The broadcaster is seeking to stand as the Tory candidate in Tunbridge Wells. And if successful, he’s already got his stump speech written.

“I’ve lived in Tunbridge Wells since 1997, slightly against my will in that my partner comes from Tunbridge Wells and can’t really imagine living anywhere else,” he told his fellow For The Many podcast host Jacqui Smith in August 2022.

“I’ve never liked the place, still don’t and would happily live somewhere else.”

Richard Holden, who was left seatless when the general election was called despite being the actual chairman of the Conservative Party, is almost certain to be handed the theoretically safe seat of Fylde with its 16,000 Tory majority. Holden, MP for North West Durham in the last Parliament, has a childhood connection with the Lancashire seat.

The seat became free last month when the incumbent, Mark Menzies was forced to step down amid claims he misused party funds, including that he called an elderly ex-campaign manager at 3.15am to ask for £5,000 as he was locked in a flat with “some bad people”.

Still, Menzies’ loss is Holden’s gain. How fortuitous the allegations found their way to The Times when they did!

Emily Sheffield, the former journalist, joined the Conservatives’ press operations working on “soft media” in January, meaning she may well have been responsible for Rishi Sunak’s triumphant appearance on Loose Women earlier this month in which he informed Janet Street-Porter et al they were safe to book a summer holiday as the election wouldn’t be until autumn.

This week she turned her fire on shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves, questioning her economic credentials. She posted on Twitter/X: “When did you work in the Bank of England? My research says you were only there briefly as a graduate hire…. @RachelReevesMP. Certainly no true dates [sic] your Wikipedia page – all very very vague. Plagiarism again? Buffing a CV?”.

Alas for Sheffield, some journalistic delving – i.e. looking at Reeves’ LinkedIn page – would reveal that she spent six years at the Bank of England in several senior positions in London and Washington, D.C., including in its international economic analysis and structural analysis divisions.

Still, not as impressive as the credentials which got Sheffield the job at CCHQ – er, being David Cameron’s sister-in-law.

With more than three million vegetarians and vegans in the UK, has Boris Johnson just driven them into the hands of Keir Starmer by suggesting they are unfit to be PM?

In a ranting Daily Mail column at the weekend in which, among other things, the former prime minister attacked Starmer’s “bizarre gonadal theories”, compared his Labour Party to the Vietnamese communists and suggested the British Indian Ocean Territories would be under threat were he to enter Number 10, Johnson also took aim at his diet. “He is a woke lefty lawyer from North London – he doesn’t even eat meat, only fish (NB British farmers),” he wrote.

Now this has provoked a response from Richard McIlwain, chief executive of the normally apolitical Vegetarian Society. “Having a prime minister of any political party who chooses not to eat meat would in fact be a great step forward, in particular for a younger voting generation, many of whom are choosing to cut back on meat or go meat-free altogether due, in part, to environmental concerns”, he says. “And you can still back British Farming and be a vegetarian, after all who grows all the cereals, fruit and vegetables we eat?”. Might it be the tofu wot wins it?

Jacob Young, junior levelling-up minister and Conservative MP for Redcar, is enthusiastically trying to get himself reelected. So enthusiastic, in fact, that he’s even seeking the votes of those who don’t live in his constituency.

A number of residents of Nunthorpe, a suburb of neighbouring Middlesbrough we’re journalistically obliged to call leafy, have received campaigning emails from Team Young despite being part of the Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland constituency. One recipient was Jon Rathmell, a former independent councillor on Middlesbrough Council, who posted on Twitter/X: “I don’t live in your constituency, are you trying to poach @SimonClarkeMP‘s constituents? Either way I’m not voting for a @Conservative been [sic] a total disaster.”

A silly error, maybe. Or – given that it is extremely unlikely so many people had signed up to receive emails from a neighbouring MP’s campaign – a breach of GDPR laws?

Much hilarity over the Conservatives’ decision to send Rishi Sunak on a media visit to Belfast’s Titanic Quarter – in a part of the UK where the party typically contests only a fraction of seats – but behind the scenes things were even more chaotic.

Local journalists arrived at the fourth-floor office block in the quarter they had been summoned to only to find no prime minister nor any sign of a press conference. A number of phone calls later and they were directed to a car park half a mile away, where again there was no sign of the absent PM. Eventually, a special advisor joined them and guided them through an industrial complex to the waterfront.

There, Sunak could be seen travelling along the water under the watchful gaze of the UK-wide media, already in place. The local hacks, however, were prevented from filming him disembarking the boat and were frogmarched to the other side of the road by the Tory press team and forced to watch on through a fence.

It was, says James McCarthy of Belfast Live, “like a clown running through a minefield”.

The announcement of the general election couldn’t have been more awkwardly timed for the Liberal Democrats in one way – just two days before Rishi Sunak made his rain-sodden announcement in Downing Street, the party had decided to strip back its conference this year, such was the likelihood of it clashing with the poll.

The conference is now due to be just two-and-a-half days in Brighton in September with it being technically a ‘special conference’ rather than the usual full federal affair, to prevent it getting clogged up with the sort of arcane constitutional debates the party’s members so love.

Still, the decision can still be overturned by the party’s federal council, so there’s still hope for the city’s hoteliers and landlords, as well as the annual Glee Club night with its ‘hilarious’ songs about senior politicians.

Should 16-year-olds be given the vote? It’s one of the more eye-catching of Labour’s electoral pledges, and one which has divided people. Fortunately, Britain’s foremost public intellectual has been thinking deeply about the issues, and explained why she’s against it.

“I remember the day my 16-year-old world ended, when Billy Kinsella didn’t sit next to me on the coach on a school trip to Chester Zoo,” writes Nadine Dorries in her Daily Mail column. “I had packed a wagon wheel in my lunch box to give to him and I’d applied multiple layers of Outdoor Girl mascara to my fluttering eyelashes.

“But he walked straight past me and sat next to Kimberley Pellow. My tears ran faster than the rain outside and I swore to the gaggle of friends who immediately gathered around me offering hankies and hugs that I would never laugh again.

“By Monday, I was madly in love with Eddie Cosgrove who, I soon discovered, was really only interested in whether or not I wore a bra.”

Case closed!

Dorries’ fellow Mail columnist, Richard Littlejohn, is meanwhile suffering from “acute electionitis”.

“What are the next five weeks of repetitive wall-to-wall political showboating supposed to achieve, apart from boring us all to death?” he complains.

Surely it should be easy enough for Littlejohn to avoid? Given that the old bore has for many years filed from his home in Florida, where, presumably, Rishi Sunak’s latest stump speeches are not nudging Trump’s trials off the rolling news coverage.

A spectacular typo in The Times this week in its obituary of Bruce Arnold, the author who passed away earlier this month.

It meant to end: “A proud Briton who never took Irish citizenship, Arnold was appointed OBE in 2003 for services to journalism and Anglo-Irish relations. At his investiture and with typical boldness he asked Elizabeth II: ‘When are you going to come to Ireland ma’am?’ She gave him just a hint of an enigmatic smile as if to say ‘in my own sweet time’. He was overjoyed when she finally did in 2011.”

Alas, an errant e in the very final line meant it appeared in print as “finally died”.

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