The Greasy Pole Column from the March 2014 issue of the Socialist Standard
At what may have been a bad time for him David Cameron made the most of it, perhaps in the hope that the term A Falkirk Experience would go down in history as epitomising the corruption of an election in order to gain power over a victorious puppet. Falkirk is a Scottish town which grew up in the Industrial Revolution, at the junction of two canals, into a major centre of the iron and steel industry. But it has not survived unchanged; where once they made carronades for the Royal Navy and pillar boxes for the post there are now what are called business parks and temples of retail such as Tesco, Asda and the Co-Op. Typical of such places in Scotland, Falkirk has been dominated by the Labour party, leaving any Tories like a threatened species. The MP between 2000 and 2012 was Eric Joyce but he was suspended from the Party after displaying a tendency to treat others with violence during a session in the Strangers' Bar at the Houses of Parliament. He has since then sat as an Independent while the local Labour Party has sorted out another, hopefully less impulsive, candidate.
But this was complicated by ruthless in-fighting driven by some over-active ambitions. The applicant favoured by the trade union Unite was Karie Murphy who, apart from a any other factor, is a friend of the union's General secretary Len McCluskey. It was quickly obvious that this was not to be a dispute among friends, settled by a hand shake. Ed Miliband described it as '...politics of the machine, politics of hatred'. The substance was that, as it was put by a Labour Party report, 'members were pressured into completing direct debit forms' for party membership; it was also alleged that some had been signed up into the party, through being in Unite, but without their knowledge. The matter was settled by the selection of Karen Whitfield to stand at the next election. In all it was a promising gift to Cameron, who made much of the influence of McCluskey on the Labour Party and what this said about the party's subservience nationally to the unions.
Leaving the warring Labour factions in Falkirk and travelling south will bring you to North Yorkshire, where another constituency is looking for a candidate to contest the next general election. Thirsk and Malton is firmly Conservative, with Anne McIntosh winning the seat in 2010 on a majority of 11,281. It was not an uneventful victory for her. She had been previously elected in 1997 for the Vale of York and held the seat until it was abolished in 2006. She then applied to the Conservatives in Thirsk and Malton but her approach was not unanimously welcomed; she was selected as the candidate only after there had been an attempt to deselect her in August 2009. And when she won the seat in 2010 it was quickly apparent that the opposition to her was still strong. At present the reasons for this are confused; she has a reputation as a notably industrious MP but also as one liable to be aggressively divisive. During a surgery when she was MP for the Vale of York she angered a constituent by her refusal to discuss local opposition to a proposed incinerator plant so that he tipped a pint of beer over her (the surgery was being held in a pub). More recently, an opponent in Thirsk has said that she is 'a silly little girl' and Boris Johnson or Nigel Farage would be preferable as a candidate. Another describes her as 'a few peas short of a casserole'…another as 'a menace'. In response she has referred to them as 'a small cabal... or 'a narrow clique'. The contest in which she won the candidature at Thirsk and Malton has been described as 'unpleasant, leading to 'deep divisions'.
All of this is rather surprising in view of McIntosh' steadfast right wing opinions. She is against same sex marriages and fertility rights. In a recent debate in the Commons she questioned the sense of appointing female doctors because they would place 'a huge burden on the health service' by marrying and having children. Among other angry responses to this came from the wife of Andrew Mitchell – he of 'Plebgate' fame – who scorned her comments as 'not just insulting but a display of sexism that is simply not acceptable in this day and age'. (Of course McIntosh may have found some comfort in the applause from Melanie Phillips in the Daily Mail). On wider issues she supported the wars on Iraq and Afghanistan, is in favour of the Trident nuclear submarine, the hated 'bedroom tax', a fully privatised Royal Mail. .
It says something about the turmoil in the Thirsk and Malton Tories that it took them three attempts to deselect her – and even then only after it was discussed at a four-hour meeting. In defiance McIntosh declares that she will stand again at the 2015 election, presumably in the hope that this will expose some of the party's malaise. In all these events a central figure has been Party chairman Peter Halkett Kinsman Steveney, known as 'the galloping major' because, apart from holding that exalted military rank, he is also a retired Jockey Club stewards' secretary. Steveney was heavily criticised in a report by Tory HQ over the 'fundamentally flawed' process of overthrowing McIntosh. While the battle was raging Steveney made no secret that his preference for the seat is one Edward Legard, Old-Etonian, St. Andrews University, Sandhurst ex-Light Cavalry officer, now a barrister and a judge and – in case these are not sufficient qualification, heir to an hereditary baronetcy. After making the usual noises about his immaculate intentions for the constituency and how innocent he is in the current infighting, Legard has avoided committing himself.
In Kilmarnock and Thirsk and Malton we have two constituencies whose political parties assert that they represent vitally different methods of managing the capitalist system. The current disputes reveal that it is only the personalities which vary. Common to them all is the basic function of repressing and exploiting the people who vote for them.