Diary: In the Lib Dem heartlands, the disaffected defect


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The Independent Online

After losing 330 council seats at this month's elections, the Liberal Democrats can scarcely afford to lose any more – but at least five have gone in three days, in parts of the country where they would hope to do well.

Chesterfield, in Derbyshire, is a seat they would hope to retake in good times, having narrowly lost it to Labour in 2010. But yesterday, David Stone, a Liberal Democrat councillor for 30 years and former mayor of Chesterfield, and Paul Stone, the current deputy mayor, quit the party to sit as independents.

And Andy Hodgson, deputy leader of the Liberal Democrat group on Solihull council, where the Liberal Democrat MP Lorely Burt held on with a majority of 175, defected to the Green Party, along with his son Tim, who was a Liberal Democrat councillor until 2011.

Mr Hodgson said: "I did not become a Liberal Democrat to see tuition fees trebled, further privatisation of the NHS and the green agenda neglected."

On Monday Chris Pascoe, a Cornwall county councillor from Truro and Falmouth – which the Liberal Democrats lost by 435 votes in the general election – resigned to sit as an independent, forecasting that more defections would follow because, as he put it, "Nick Clegg has become the lap dog of the Conservatives."

Sympathy for a momentary lapse

Joey Barton, the bad boy of premier league football, has a defender in the House of Commons, an MP who blogged: "It's nauseating. Not Barton's skirmish: professional football is a rough old game, but... from an angry response to provocation, a momentary loss of temper in a highly-charged situation, Barton's lapse has morphed into a piece of contemporary action art portraying the fall of man. What the f*** are people talking about?"

The author of this thoughtful piece is the Falkirk MP Eric Joyce, who had his own "momentary loss of temper in a highly-charged situation" in one of Parliament's subsidised water holes.

French follow Thatcher

"Every Prime Minister needs a Willie," Margaret Thatcher once said, in a tribute to her deputy Willie Whitelaw. It turns out that France's President François Hollande has one in his new Prime Minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault, whose surname as spoken – ie with the "l" and "t" silent – is colloquial Arabic for the male sex organ. Some Arabic newspapers have issued instructions to staff on ways around this problem. The Dubai-based Al-Bayan copped out by announcing "Hollande inaugurates his mandate by appointing Jean-Marc as Prime Minister".

Tory grande dame will be missed

Beryl Goldsmith, who has died, was born too early. Had she been 20 years younger, she would have been a formidable Conservative MP, but in her day, the obstacles in the way of an unmarried woman with a Jewish surname were too great even for her to overcome. Instead, Parliament gained one of its longest serving and most feared secretaries.

Her loss will be felt particularly by the letters page of The Daily Telegraph, which she supplied for years with short, angry missives. In one, she had a dig at Lady Ritchie, Madonna's well-liked stepmother-in-law, who died a month ago.

"What's wrong with Tory women these days?" Beryl demanded. "They increasingly sound like the old leftie harridans of the Labour Party. The lady chairman of Kensington and Chelsea bleats that the leadership candidates are not speaking a language that chimes with women.

"I want the language of the Conservative Party to mean unyielding support of my country's interests... Belt up ladies and get on with the job."