Crispin Blunt, the Tory MP and former prisons minister, has survived an attempt by worthies in his local party to get rid of him. His opponents in his wealthy Surrey constituency were able to force a ballot which, if it had gone against Mr Blunt, would have prevented him from running again as a Conservative candidate in 2015, but he won. That is not entirely surprising, when he has had public support from David Cameron and most top Tories in the Cabinet.
The executive of the Reigate and Banstead constituency association refused to endorse Blunt as their parliamentary candidate, after he had announced that he is gay. Whether that was cause and effect is fiercely disputed.
Rita Renton, who chairs the Reigate constituency association, has said that it is “absolute rubbish” to suggest that Blunt’s troubles stemmed from his sexuality.
Priscilla Rhodes, another very outspoken local party member, told the Surrey Mirror: “He has got to know the truth – it is nothing to do with him being gay, nothing to do with him being a bad MP in London. Most of the people voted against him because, locally, he doesn’t do what he should.”
Ms Rhodes is so angry that after 50 years as a party activist, 25 of them in Walton-on-the-Hill in Surrey, she has resigned her position as secretary of the local branch. She also had words with Blunt’s wife, Victoria, at a memorial service, wanting to know why she was supporting her husband.
Yesterday, a letter emerged, written by one local party member to another, suggesting that for some of Mr Blunt’s opponents, at least, his sexuality was an issue. Roger Newstead, a Reigate councillor, wrote that “a number of lady members” locally were “very offended” by the manner in which Blunt’s marriage broke down, adding: “There is no doubt in my mind that his very public and totally unnecessary announcement that he was ‘gay’ was the final straw for some.”
So Blunt will be back, but whether he can patch up the rift in his local party is to be doubted.
When Denis menaced
The former Labour MP Denis MacShane, who has pleaded guilty to false accounting, is the most colourful of the politicians destroyed by the expenses scandal. As he awaits sentence, he might give a thought to a gifted but greedy figure from the 1970s, the Home Secretary, Reggie Maudling, who resigned when the police opened an investigation into his crooked business associate, John Poulson.
After his departure, but while he was still a serving MP, his name cropped up during a BBC radio phone-in, when the caller described him as a “crook”.
That was embarrassing enough for the BBC, which is not supposed to broadcast slanderous remarks, even from listeners. What made it worse was that the voice was recognisably that of a member of staff.
The programme had not been getting enough genuine calls, so a BBC journalist rang in posing as a member of the public and made the careless comment, for which he was sacked.
The caller was a 29-year-old Denis MacShane.
Ed’s Scandinavian secret
“The most controversial aspect of the Ed Balls email story is that there’s someone in Ed Miliband’s office called ‘Torsten’,” the Labour MP Tom Harris tweeted, after reading the story of how the Labour leader’s policy wonk copied a Tory MP into a private email describing dealing with Ed Balls as a “nightmare”.
Torsten Henricson-Bell may be young, Scandinavian and publicity shy, but has not turned up out of nowhere. He has worked with Miliband for three years.
Grant Shapps, Tory Party chairman, has told agematters, the magazine of Age UK, how he got into politics. “I called up my local MP and asked for some advice,” he said. “Twenty-three years later I bumped into that MP – now a Lord – and thanked him.”
Shapps went to school in Watford and the town’s MP from 1979 to 1997 was that master of political intrigue, Tristan Garel-Jones, now Baron Garel Jones, the man credited with levering John Major into No 10 after the fall of Margaret Thatcher.