Andy McSmith's Diary: Why the latest Tory HQ blunder is way off target


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Indy Politics

Somebody at Conservative HQ blundered in style by giving out too much information when they uploaded the photographs of hundreds of wannabe Tory MPs. The captions under 112 of the pictures categorised the seats they are fighting as ‘non-targets’ – meaning that the Tories plan to put minimal effort into winning them.

The incriminating information has been taken down, but not before it was spotted and stored by a blogger named Richard Taylor, who posted the full list. Some of the designated ‘non-targets’ are seats the Tories already hold with comfortable majorities, but most are not.

I imagine the Labour Party will be grateful for this glimpse of the Conservative battle order. Going by the 2010 results, Labour’s most marginal Birmingham seat – the 19th most marginal in the UK – is Edgbaston, held by Gisela Stuart with a majority of just 1,274. Yet the Conservatives have been pouring all the money and resources they can spare into Birmingham Northfield, held by Richard Burden with a majority of 2,782. Now Labour organisers have confirmation of what they suspected: that Edgbaston is a ‘non-target’ and Northfield is the battle ground.

Another ‘non-target’ is Plymouth Moor View, which Labour’s Alison Seabeck held last time by only 1,588 votes. Seemingly, the Ukip surge in Plymouth has made the Conservatives give up there. The leak implies they have also given up on Rochester and Strood, where the MP Mark Reckless deserted the Tories and won a by-election for Ukip.

Imagine what it does to the morale of a Conservative candidate struggling to build up support to be publicly written off by party headquarters as a no-hoper.

Kramer’s goes off track

The Lib Dem Transport minister Susan Kramer produced a fine example of politicians’ speak and how it corresponds to the world outside when she answered a question about people who commit suicide by throwing themselves under trains.

“A comprehensive national rail suicide prevention programme is in place,” she proudly announced. “The evaluation has indicated that the programme has been particularly successful in bringing together a wide range of different organisations in planning, promoting and delivering complex activities at both national and local levels.”

Meanwhile, in 2013-14, the most recent year for which figures are available, 279 people killed themselves on the railways: the highest annual total  on record.

Building up to a punchline

Philip Collins, a former Labour adviser who now writes for The Times, told an amusing anecdote in today’s paper about a politician who fluffed a witty line that Collins had written for him.

There is a story about Samuel Johnson – probably apocryphal – that he once saw two women leaning out of windows on either side of a narrow street, arguing furiously. “Those two women will never agree,” he reputedly said, “because they are arguing from different premises.”

Collins wrote: “It struck me as a perfect speech opening. If only I hadn’t given it to a politician for whom it made no sense. He related the set-up perfectly but then concluded with the immortal line: ‘Those two women will never agree – because they’re arguing from different buildings’.”

How loyally he avoided naming the guilty politician. But something stirs in the memory. There was a speech delivered in Salford last June by Collins’s former editor, James Harding. He told the same story, except he named the obtuse politician who ruined the punch line. It was the only politician known to have employed Collins as a speech writer. Tony Blair.