Tories out to banish memory of Mensch

Our diarist on the pickle in which Mensch's departure has left the Corby Tories, why jokes fall flat in Westminster, and a novel case of parliamentary expenses

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The Independent Online

Louise Mensch left her fellow Conservatives with a seemingly impossible task when she resigned as an MP to be with her husband in New York – and later, to be an occasional columnist for the Sun. She vacated a seat with a majority of only 1,895 at a time when the Tories are trailing well behind Labour in the polls, making it appear a near certainty that Labour will win.

Yet in Corby people have spotted a notable increase in the Conservative presence recently. Tory MPs are being urged by the party’s vice-chairman, Michael Fabricant, to pay two visits to which ever by-election is nearest to their constituency, which for most of them means Corby. “So far, this has been met with enthusiasm!” he claimed. During Prime Minister’s Questions yesterday, the North West Leicestershire MP, Andrew Bridgen, furiously denounced Labour for campaigning to save a local hospital when the Tories say there is no danger of it being closed. The Tories are also, I hear, routinely disowning Ms Mensch, and claiming that their new candidate, Christine Emmett, is a different type altogether.

“We’re hearing very hostile comments on the doorstep about Louise Mensch,” one senior Tory told me. “People are not blaming the Tories for this by-election. They are however blaming her.” The target now is to try to make it a close contest, even if they cannot win.

Kawczynski swerves  off the tracks

“Mr Kawczynski, I am very worried about your health. You are shouting in a bizarre manner. Calm yourself, man, and get a grip,” the Speaker, John Bercow, warned as yesterday’s PMQs threatened to descend into baying chaos. He was addressing the Shrewsbury MP Daniel Kawczynski, a man whose loyalty to the Government sometimes exceeds his judgment. On the PoliticsHome website you can still read what he had to say in August when Richard Branson was protesting the decision to deny Virgin the West Coast Main Line franchise. “His refusal to accept the decision smacks of sour grapes. We cannot operate major government procurement decisions on the basis of a publicity campaign, or move the goalposts after a decision has been properly reached,” said a calm Mr Kawczynski.

Putting his well-tanned foot in his mouth 

A good rule for politicians is never make jokes that can be misinterpreted as literal statements. Liam Byrne will never be allowed to forget the flippant note he left on his Treasury desk on the day Labour left office, saying “there’s no money left”. Now the Trade minister, Lord Marland, is in in a similar mess. His job requires him to make frequent trips abroad and yesterday, he told the Lords he is off to Mozambique, adding: “I am just trying to keep the sun tan up.” He will regret that.

Does that MP have a money-back guarantee?

The story surrounding the former army officer Eric Joyce’s entry to the Commons in 2000 was not much happier than the circumstances that will bring his parliamentary career to a halt in 2015. When the first elections to the Scottish Parliament were held 13 years ago, West Falkirk’s left-wing MP, Dennis Canavan, wanted to run, and had his local party behind him, but the Labour leadership refused to accept him. He ran as an independent, won, and resigned from the Commons. After that, the hierarchy decided they could not trust the locals to choose a candidate and thrust Joyce upon them. Fast forward to today. Joyce is still an MP, but not a Labour MP, having been expelled after he head-butted a Tory MP. This has greatly annoyed local party members, who have written to Mr Joyce demanding he repay the £3,000 they spent getting him re-elected.