Good luck to Michael Page, who is due to be installed in the coming week as the new Tory leader of Tendring District Council, in Essex. It will fall to him to steady the ship after his predecessor, Peter Halliday, stormed out in spectacular style just before Christmas.
As other councillors pleaded with him to shut up, Halliday insisted on delivering a valedictory statement in which he levelled made some spectacular accusations at his fellow Tories and announced: “I can’t work with deceiving, lying individuals.”
While most of his outburst concerned local matters, in passing he let out an accusation which could reverberate in Parliament, if it turns out to be true. He alleged that members of the public in that part of Essex were being invited to functions organised by the Tory party and then “signed up for membership they never asked for.”
The local Tory MP Douglas Carswell – whom ex-councillor Halliday clearly does not like - has taken great pride in his success in achieving a 40 per cent increase in Conservative Party membership in his Clacton constituency, when numbers are falling almost everywhere else. One means of recruitment is to hold open evenings at which members of the public are invited to enjoy a £10 a head meal, and hear a visiting speaker. Many of those who come “have since joined our local team,” he wrote on his blog.
No one has yet stepped forward to say that they have been signed up as a member of the Clacton Conservative Association without their agreement, but it would take only one example for Labour to declaim that Essex Tories are guilty of similar behaviour to that which the Unite union was accused of in Falkirk. There is currently no suggestion of irregularity however. Mr Carswell said: “I am aware of the accusation that was made. I have not had any such complaint from anyone. If it was an issue, you think someone might have got in touch about it. My local Association is growing fast, almost doubling in size over the past two years.”
Amid all the barracking at Prime Ministers’ Questions, David Cameron let slip a significant snippet of information, which passed almost unnoticed because it was not part of the party political bally-hoo. Challenged by the former Lib Dem leader Sir Menzies Campbell about whether the international agreement for the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons was being observed, Mr Cameron replied that “the programme is now slowing and that not all the necessary information is forthcoming” and that he had complained about this in a telephone conversation with President Vladimir Putin earlier in the week. The agreement to destroy chemical weapons is the only good news to come out of Syria in two years, and now even that is floundering. Grim.
“What sort of child were you?” Shami Chakrabati, boss of the civil rights pressure group, Liberty, was asked by Top Santé magazine. She replied: “A precocious brat, I'm afraid. I was very argumentative.” There are people who have been unfairly placed on the wrong side of the law who can be thankful for that.
Since Nigel Farage wants to purge UKIP of Walter Mitty characters, he may not be too upset about the recent resignation that the chairman of the Harrogate and Knaresborough UKIP branch, John Upex, who was also the parliamentary candidate. Harrogate’s Tory MP, Andrew Jones, has a letter signed by Mr Upex in which he advocates the “termination” of children with Down’s Syndrome, suggests that the UK should wrest itself free from the EU “by force of arms if necessary”, and says “if there is to be a blood-letting in this country, there are a lot of people who would be candidates for my supply of piano wire.” Piano wire – for anyone who misses the historical illusion – is what was used to hang the plotters behind an attempt on Hitler’s life in 1944. On his web site, Mr Upex also claims to have “formed a Free British Government (in waiting) to RECOVER our country if necessary.”