Could Brexit Party Michelle Dewberry split the pro-Brexit vote?
PUBLISHED: 07:00 25 November 2019 | UPDATED: 12:54 25 November 2019
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STEVE ANGLESEY on how the Brexit Party's parliamentary candidate and former Apprentice winner Michelle Dewberry is making a grab for her home town.
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Nigel Farage came close to making many Remainers' dreams come true last week, by going to Hull.
That he fell one letter short is a matter of regret, but Farage's visit to the East Yorkshire city did at least give the general election its Spinal Tap moment when he announced on Twitter: "I'm in South Yorkshire to announce Michelle Dewberry as our fantastic candidate in Hull West."
Once it was pointed out that Hull is some 70 miles away from Sheffield and Barnsley, the tweet swiftly vanished. Perhaps this might be a sign that we shouldn't trust Nigel Farage when he starts talking about borders.
The embarrassment did nothing to deter Dewberry, who has built a successful television career as a straight-talking, right-leaning pundit since winning the second series of The Apprentice in 2006. She rarely trades on this, telling the Sun, "there are too many serious issues in this campaign to reduce politics to the fatuous repetition of reality show catchphrases". (Just kidding, she actually told the newspaper: "It would be great to look at Labour - who've had the seat since 1997 - and say, 'You're fired!'")
A panellist on Sky News' The Pledge and a regular on Question Time, where she has twice appeared alongside Farage, Dewberry is one of the Brexiteers' more savvy media performers and most recognisable faces. These, surely will be crucial assets as she bids to get elected for a party which appears to be in complete meltdown, in a seat where she came a poor fourth as an independent just two-and-a-half years ago.
While other Brexit Party candidates struggle for cut-through amid the chaos, the 40-year-old has made national news this week after her profile appeared on Tinder with a manifesto specifying "no smokers, drugs, cheaters, dimwits, nor intense Corbyn supporters please".
Dewberry was also spotted on the dating app in spring 2017, shortly before she polled 1,898 votes in Hull West and Hessle, where Emma Hardy was elected with 18,342 votes. These might be pure coincidences or they might be an incredibly astute means of grabbing some headlines at an opportune time.
If the latter, it is hard to berudge Dewberry for seizing the moment. Her harrowing back story - a violent father, a sister who died at 19, many years struggling with depression - makes her rise impressive, although the content she delivers can be far less so.
Rather than actual solutions, a repeated feature of the prospective MP's frequent TV appearances and social media messages are her declarations of being "fed up" with Remainers, with the EU, with Brexit hold-ups.
She has been "fed up with being told that I've caused 'this mess'", "fed up of Brexit getting the blame for everything", "fed up of these MPs in so-called 'safe seats' thinking they are somehow rock stars", "fed up with game-playing" and "fed up with the 'permanently offended brigade'". No former resident of Hull has used the phrase "fed up" so much since Genesis P-Orridge of Throbbing Gristle on their seminal 1979 recording Five Knuckle Shuffle (opening lyrics: "Even more fed up/ You're gonna get fed up/ You're gonna be fed up/ You're gonna see fed up/ You're gonna get fed up/ Fed up, fed up, fed up").
In January last year Dewberry wrote that she was "so fed up of people who try to silence different views or things they object to by bullying". One wonders if this also applies to people who try to silence different views or things they object to by saying how fed up they are with hearing about them.
Will Dewberry be fed up on the morning of December 13, or will she win against all odds? A recent Hull Daily Mail website poll - albeit one open to multiple voting and lacking any demographic weighting - saw the Brexit Party ahead in the city, with Labour polling even behind the Greens. Other observers, though, expect Dewberry's effectiveness to help split the pro-Brexit vote, letting Hardy return to Westminster.
In which case, Dewberry's involvement with this election may well be as hard to fathom as that of her former employer Lord Sugar, who is backing the Conservatives despite saying last year that both Boris Johnson and Michael Gove should be jailed for lying during the referendum campaign.
Whatever happens, Dewberry is pledging to "do everything possible to fight a fair and respectful campaign" in the election, advising "all my supporters and campaigners to operate on the same level… when they go low, we must go high."
Recently she tweeted this advice from American therapist Vienna Pharaon: "You don't rise by bringing down others. You rise by healing… Anytime you speak badly about another person it reveals something that is unhealed within you."
Does this entirely chime with her tweet about the former House of Commons speaker on October 21? Dewberry wrote then: "Bercow is busying himself doing Tony Benn impressions. Talk about playing to the cameras... Many politicians really do now think they are celebrities of some sort and are believing their own hype. It's embarrassing."
Would Bercow say similar about celebrities thinking they are politicians? Or would he go high?
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BREXITEERS OF THE WEEK
1. GEORGE GALLOWAY
Perhaps the most baffling candidacy of this general election sees the nation's leading cat impersonator running in West Bromwich East against fellow keen Brexiteers Nicola Richards, a Conservative, and the Brexit Party's Christian Lucas.
Galloway, a personal friend of Jeremy Corbyn, had decided to stand against the constituency's incumbent MP Tom Watson because of his perceived disloyalty towards the Labour leader. He remains a candidate despite Watson's decision not to stand, meaning he will now face Ibrahim Dogus, the Labour candidate and another personal friend of Jeremy Corbyn's.
George told a local meeting: "I'm not from West Brom. Neither is Slaven Bilić. But he's taking you up to the Premier League at the end of the season. You should look at me like that." Fitting, as his entire strategy makes about as much sense as the Baggies' famous chant of "Boing boing, Boing boing, Boing boing"!
2. MR CLACTON-BREXITPARTY
Double disappointment for 52-year-old Andrew Morgan in the safe Tory seat of Clacton, where he had been due to stand for the Brexit Party until Nigel Farage's great capitulation. Told the party would not challenge sitting Conservative MPs, Morgan then decided to run as an independent and changed his name by deed poll to Andrew Morgan Clacton-Brexitparty in an attempt to ensure that the word 'Brexit' stayed on the ballot. But Morgan will now run under his original moniker after being told that his new one did not comply with election rules. He said: "It was a bit of a waste of time, but I've made a point."
What that point might actually be eludes us, but alas the only double-barrelled name on Clacton's ballot papers will be that of Just-John Sexton, who is standing for the Monster Raving Loony Party.
3. PATRICIA MOUNTAIN
This month's leader of UKIP is a Brighton businesswoman who believes the housing crisis could be solved by building homes on stilts over supermarket and industrial car parks.
Mountain, who succeeds Dick Braine on an interim basis, came up with the "flying freehold" scheme during her unsuccessful run for the city's council in 2015.
She described the plan as an "innovative solution to the housing crisis", no doubt having canvassed the tens of thousands of prospective homeowners who have always dreamed of living above a supermarket or factory car park.
At UKIP's south east conference in July, Mountain told delegates to "be as brave as Gerard Batten". Let's hope she is as brave and successful as the former leader, who lost 145 councillors and all three EU parliament seats (including his own) in last May's local and European elections.
4. ED PUNCHARD
The Brexit Party's candidate in Tynemouth might be a little rusty when local issues come up during hustings - he lives some 9,000 miles away in Freemantle, Australia.
Punchard, who survived the 1988 Piper Alpha oil rig disaster which killed 167 of his colleagues, emigrated soon afterwards and now runs a documentary-making business which has produced shows including Outback Truckers, Shipwreck Psycho and Dino Stampede.
He admits to only having "passed through" Tynemouth before the election campaign but is renting a home near the sea wall and told the Sydney Morning Herald: "I've got my nose pressed to the double glazing right now looking at the crashing waves, it's a different kind of beauty but it reaches into my soul."
Punchard said of his own candidacy, "It does seem unusual, doesn't it? I mean, 'what the'?" Too right, cobber!
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