As seen on GMTV – the candidate calculated to bring glamour to Labour

She's beautiful and knows politics inside out. So why is Gloria De Piero turning off voters?
Click to follow
Indy Politics

Politics, it is often said, is showbusiness for ugly people. In the case of Gloria De Piero, the former political editor of GMTV, this is not the case.

What has been ugly, however, is the unseemly row that has greeted her efforts to secure the Labour nomination for the rock-solid seat of Ashfield, the constituency due to be vacated by former defence secretary Geoff Hoon at the next election following his failed attempt to overthrow Gordon Brown in January.

This week, in an attempt to further her claims to represent her potential constituents and negate suggestions she has been parachuted in from the capital, Ms De Piero took up residence in Sutton-in-Ashfield, at the heart of the once-mighty Nottinghamshire coalfield, where she is said to be embroiled in a charm offensive, knocking on doors and ringing up members canvassing support.

But unlike the other five women on the all-female candidate list, she has had to spend her time dodging the attentions of photographers and declining repeated requests for media interviews.

While Ms De Piero is far from being the first lobby journalist to cross the divide between interviewer and interviewee, she is almost certainly the most glamorous. For as well as being known for her early morning briefings outside Downing Street on behalf of the influential breakfast television channel, the 37-year-old is famous for making it on to another list – the world's 100 sexiest women compiled by a leading lads' mag.

Her position at number 85 meant she had "beaten" the likes of Kate Moss, Billie Piper and Kylie Minogue and it secured her a devoted, if occasionally unsavoury, following on the internet. To add to the mix she is also reported to have been "fancied" by Tony Blair, and to be the candidate of choice of Gordon Brown who she once compared to the brooding Heathcliff, to the Prime Minister's amusement.

The future for Ms De Piero, already, with some sexism, dubbed a "Brown Sugar" in contrast to "Cameron's Cuties", is in the hands of Labour's National Executive Committee in London, which will draw up its preferred shortlist on Monday. This will be sent for consideration by the 190 party members in Ashfield where this week the former journalist attended two branch meetings where she was said to have acquitted herself with distinction.

In the meantime, having unexpectedly resigned from her GMTV job last month, she is playing by the rules, changing her mobile number and refusing to speak to the press. When she was contacted by The Independent she passed the phone to a friend who referred further inquiries to her partner, another journalist, who stuck resolutely to the party line. For the people of Ashfield, who have turned out down the years to return generations of Labour MPs to Westminster, there have been signs of discontent at the prospect of Ms De Piero's candidature.

One source told the Nottingham Evening Post she was "Geoff Hoon in a dress". The "disgruntled" member said: "She will be another absentee MP. There may be some people star-struck, but I am pretty certain others won't go near her."

The Liberal Democrat candidate at the next general election, Jason Zadrozny, a well-known local councilor, has been watching with a bemused eye. Born and bred in the district, he believes the imposition of someone such as Ms De Piero could further alienate Labour voters who feel let down, not only by the revelations of Mr Hoon's property portfolio, his lavish second home claims during the height of the expenses scandal and his failure to live in his own constituency, but by the entrenched problems they face.

Labour has struggled in local by-elections, with the Tories now in control of the Nottinghamshire County Council and the Liberal Democrats the largest party at a district level. He believes the 10,000 Parliamentary majority is now looking vulnerable.

"I don't think this is going to be much about personalities," he said. "We have the highest indices of deprivation, very low-paid jobs; NHS funding cuts from the Government which has seen our local hospital have £15m sliced from its budget. There is crime and disorder, overcrowded classrooms and the Tory county council is slashing elderly services. These are going to be the issues that count," he said.

The area has seen a catastrophic collapse of its industries over decades. The railways closed, then the pits and finally the textile mills, condemning many to long-term unemployment. In Kirkby, where Mr Hoon has his constituency office, even before the recession nearly half of children were from workless or low-income households.

But Ms De Piero's fans, and she has many, believe she will thrive. A Labour member all her adult life, she became the first person from her poor Italian migrant family growing up in Bradford to go to university where she gained a first-class degree and became president of the student union.

She worked her way up to a political editorship, beginning her career as a researcher for Jonathan Dimbleby before moving to The Politics Show and The Westminster Hour. She also writes for The New Statesman and is extraordinarily well-connected with Labour's top brass, able to land big interviews with Cabinet ministers such as Alan Johnson. Veteran Labour commentator Paul Routledge urged the local party to give her the chance. "She's been a Labour member since she was 18, and knocked on more doors for other people than I've had hot dinners. It's her turn now," he said.

But it will be the voters of Ashfield that will judge her. As darkness fell in the car park of Asda in Sutton yesterday, supermarket porter Kevin Hayes, 63, admitted the potential arrival of such a high-profile candidate would do little to sway them. "It doesn't bother us what she looks like," he said. "A lot of us feel let down by Geoff. I would like someone from here but I don't know who would be good enough. We are staunch Labour here. They used to say if you put a donkey up with a red rosette it would win. She is certainly no donkey."