It might not be another Falkirk selection row in the making, but trouble may be in the air for Labour again tonight if Miriam O’Reilly is not selected as the party’s prospective parliamentary candidate for Nuneaton in the Midlands.
The former Countryfile presenter has become the standard-bearer for older women in the workplace, having stood up to the BBC and emerged victorious in her age-discrimination tribunal. Now she is one step away from succeeding in her quest to take her campaigns to the heart of Britain’s democracy.
The only person standing in her way of a run at the Warwickshire seat is the fresh-faced, 22-year-old local female councillor Victoria Fowler. Party insiders hope this outcome is not contested in the courts as the former TV star dumped by BBC bosses from the rural affairs show finds out today whether she has won her latest struggle.
Ms O’Reilly has had to defend herself against allegations of being “parachuted” in as a result of her close links with Harriet Harman, the deputy Labour leader.
Although the big name on the ballot, local sources say the fight is too close to call as Ms Fowler, born and raised in the constituency, has a groundswell of support through an assortment of community work.
Nuneaton is a top target for Labour at the next election and whoever wins will be looking to topple the Conservative incumbent Marcus Jones and his majority of 2,069 in 2015. Ms O’Reilly, 56, said recently during a visit to Nuneaton: “A couple of people have said to me, ‘Are you being parachuted in?’ But I’m not; I love the county and I love the people. You know where you stand with the people of Nuneaton. You can engage people and talk about their lives. They are very warm people. I want to be on their side. I’m moving back to the area, whether I’m selected or not.”
Ms Fowler, a recent University of Warwick politics graduate, has an impressive CV for someone who has only had a short career. A former pupil of King Edward VI College in Nuneaton, the same school Marcus Jones attended as did the director Ken Loach, she is a governor for Croft Junior School in Stockingford and was a columnist for the local newspaper.
But Ms O’Reilly, a former BBC Midlands journalist, also knows a thing or two about campaigns. She was the first person to win an age discrimination case against the BBC after her 2011 victory, claiming that dozens of older female presenters at the broadcaster had their careers saved as a result.
Born: Ireland, raised in Ealing, London
Occupation: Broadcaster and presenter
Campaigning experience: Landmark age discrimination victory against the BBC, co-founder Women's Equality Network, deputy chair of Labour's Commission of Older Women.
Slogan: "Nuneaton needs an MP who will stand up and fight for investment."
Victoria 'Vicky' Fowler
Born and raised: Nuneaton
Campaigning experience: Several local projects, including Save Our Youth Service, Protect Services at the George Eliot Hospital, DUMP IT - a joint campaign with the Nuneaton Tribune to prevent a hazardous waste plant from being built.
Slogan: "Your only local candidate. Nuneaton has always been my home."
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