Andy McSmith's Diary: Chuka Umunna and George Osborne made it a good day for trivial political gaffes which don't really matter very much
An increasing number of people are learning the hard lesson that whatever goes up on the internet stays there. The latest is the high-flying Labour MP Chuka Umunna who joined an online club called ASmallWorld when he was 27 years old, and posted a lament about the trouble he was having finding somewhere cool to go out for the evening in London’s West End, when all the venues seemed to be full of “trash and C-list wannabes.”
Seven years later, that message on a private website has been blasted over the pages of The Sun and Daily Mail, and Umunna has issued an apology. He can expect to have that word ‘trash’ hung around his neck for years.
There are different ways of looking at this take. To the Tory blogger Iain Dale, it is the kind of trivia that makes you wonder why anyone would want to be a politician. He thought the same about the story on the front of yesterday’s Daily Mirror, about George Osborne’s driver parking the ministerial limousine in a disabled parking bay while the Chancellor nipped into a McDonald’s.
Others seemingly think that it is an issue of major importance. The Twitter feed for the Conservative Party press office was highly indignant that the BBC was not giving prominence to the Umunna story yesterday.
Another way of looking at them is that they are both stories about people in the public eye taking a pratfall. They are funny in the way that a man walking into a lamppost is funny, but do not matter very much.
The coalition government has an admirable commitment to ‘localism’, even introducing a Localism Act to encourage more decisions to be taken further down the food chain. Crewe used to be the only town in Cheshire, apart from Macclesfield, without a town council, so residents were asked if they wanted one, and voted 10,810 in favour, 1,390 against. The first ever Crewe Town Council election was on Thursday, but this exercised in localism has not pleased Crewe’s Tory MP, Edward Timpson. He calls it “another level of bureaucracy” imposed on residents who are “clearly not enthused.” I am sure his grudging reaction is no way influenced by the fact that all 20 seats on the new council were won by Labour.
Having a one-party council is not brilliant for democracy, though at parish level any harm is mitigated by the fact that there is comparatively little money involved. Crewe Town Council will have an annual budget of around £442,000. By contrast, Knowsley Borough Council, on Merseyside, spends more than £313m a year. All its 63 councillors are Labour, making it the biggest one-party local authority in the UK. There was some hope that a former Lib Dem councillor, Ian Smith, might recapture his old seat in the outlying town of Prescot in a by election this week, but he missed by fewer than 40 votes. Maybe next time.
Labour’s national executive council will draw up a shortlist today of candidates for the South Shields constituency vacated by David Miliband. The leader of South Tyneside council, Iain Malcolm, who was expected to take the seat, will not be on the list, having decided not to run. He is backing a fellow councillor, Mark Walsh, instead. Labour has held South Shields without a break since 1935.
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