The eyes of ambitious Labour wannabes are focusing on Bootle, on Merseyside, where the long-serving MP, Joe Benton, has hit a spot of bother with his local party. He is over 80 years old. Incredibly, that would make him only the fourth oldest Labour MP in the post 2015 Parliament, but in Bootle they think that it is old enough, and have decided to hold a contest to select their next candidate.
Bootle was the seat Liverpool-born Cherie Blair thought suitable for her first born son, Euan, but Blair junior has yet to give any indication he is interested. Peter Dowd, leader of Sefton Council, has his eye on the prize, but some locals are saying it is time to look outside for someone who might have an impact on the national scene.
A name heard on the grapevine is Darren Murphy, one of a hardly little band of former Downing Street advisers who have stayed undeviatingly loyal to their old boss, Tony Blair. His firm, Centreground Political Communications, has given employment to a battalion of diehard Blairites.
Unlike other uber-Blairites, Murphy has a subversive sense of humour. Once, when Blair was due to address EU leaders, he asked his advisers for suggestions for things to say. Murphy’s was: “If it wasn’t for the British, you lot would all be speaking German.”
Paul Nuttall, the Bootle-born Deputy Leader of UKIP, nibbled away at Labour’s vote when he stood against Joe Benton in 2010 – not that it made much difference. In 1997 Benton hoovered up 83 per cent of the vote, making it the safest seat in the land. Last time he just about managed twice as many votes as all the other candidates combined. It is still a job for life for whoever wins selection.
Burley still in the chase
I had almost forgotten Aiden Burley, the Tory MP who torpedoed his own career by taking part in a Nazi-themed stag party in France, but he is still a feature on the political landscape of his constituency, Cannock Chase. The Tories now make up the third largest group on the local council, behind Ukip, since one of their councillors, Jodie Jones, left the party. She is Burley’s fiancée.
The council’s Tory leader, Peter Snape, says he and the MP have not spoken since 3 February, but Burley told the Express and Star: “This is…both false and defamatory, it is over a month and a half incorrect” – meaning they actually spoke in March. Cllr Snape admits to wishing Burley good luck at his wedding, but says that is not the same as speaking.
Over the hill? Not quite
Baroness Trumpington – famous for giving a fellow Tory the two fingered salute during a televised session in the House of Lords – has been asked by Total Politics whether there are any men in the Lords she fancies. The lady, who once had to ward off the unwelcome sexual advances of David Lloyd George, replied: “I don’t think there’s anybody – isn’t that awful! Well, our leader, but he’s so young. And I can’t even think of what his name is.” His name is Jonathan Hill, or Baron Hill of Oareford. He is 53. She is 91.
Mandelson goes all modest
“Peter is the soul really of plain living – frugality – compared to Tony Blair,” the author Robert Harris said of his old friend Peter Mandelson, in the now notorious Total Politics interview in which he wrote Blair off as a “narcissist”.
Lord Mandelson was once so intent on owning an expensive London home that it set off a scandal that cost him his first Cabinet job; but now I see he is returning to earth. Writing for The Spectator magazine, he reveals: “I am going to rent a modest dwelling in deepest Wiltshire next door to the herdsman and his family.” As my Wiltshire aunt used to say, “Ooh-arr”.