DALE Iain KriegTomorrow morning, I’m moderating Tonbridge & Malling’s Open Primary, where local people will select a candidate to follow Sir John Stanley. My last experience of an open primary was competing in one in Bracknell in 2009, and a few weeks before that chairing the Bedford Mayoral Open Primary. The latter turned out to be rather more exciting that it should have been, with almost a riot on the night and allegations of skulduggery against several of the candidates. I won’t forget that evening in a hurry. In Bracknell, there were seven finalists, and it became a bit like the X Factor as one after another of us were voted out. I lasted until the last three before local GP Philip Lee emerged as the winner. I was gutted as I knew I had been in with a good chance, and it probably signalled the end of my candidate ambitions. I did do one more selection, in East Surrey, but made an absolute stinker of a speech and came last in a final of six. Nowadays candidates don’t even have to make a speech, which seems a bit odd to me as making speeches is in fact a major part of an MP’s job. Apparently it’s to help women succeed as men are supposedly more capable of rabble rousing. Tell that to Priti Patel, who won Witham by making a memorable speech which was, I am told, of the rabble rousing variety! There will be at least 500 constituents there, a figure which on its own justifies the format. Last night, I read through the application forms of the final four candidates. None of them are career politicians and each has a record of achievement outside politics. One of them will have their life changed forever tomorrow. Good luck to all four.


Ed Balls was, and is right. Sharon Shoesmith – she of Haringey council and Baby P – deserved to lose her job. She certainly doesn’t deserve to trouser £600,000 for unfair dismissal. If she had had any ounce of self-worth or honour she would have resigned her position as Head of Childrens’ Services as the buck stopped with her. She presided over a chaotic department, which was totally incapable of carrying out the job it was there to do. I am perfectly prepared to accept that it is never possible totally to protect every child who is at risk but, in the case of Baby Peter, Haringey Social Services visited him on more than 60 occasions. The system failed a little boy and proved to be not fit for purpose. And so did Ms Shoesmith.  One would presume she would never work in child protection ever again, and yet that is exactly what she says she hopes to do. It would be a brave council which would take her on. And a very stupid one.


So Nick Clegg wouldn’t form a coalition with Labour if it doesn’t back HS2. Well, that’s killed two birds with one stone then. I simply cannot understand why so many Conservatives are so keen on HS2. I’m all in favour of visionary transport projects, but this is not one of them. It is far too expensive and doesn’t give enough bang for the taxpayer buck. Even the economic studies produced by the government which were meant to inspire us all to rally to the project’s support haven’t really done the job they were intended to do. But in the end Labour needs to sh*t or get off the pot, to coin a phrase. Their current line is offering lukewarm support for the project (designed to keep Andrew Adonis from having a flounce) but saying they will withdraw that support if the cost rises to more than £50 million. It appears that Ed Miliband has told Ed Balls he will be the one to determine whether a future Labour government ends up supporting HS2. What an abdication of political leadership from the Labour leader. Does he not have a view on one of the most important infrastructure projects of our time?


So Gordon Brown says in a speech in Qatar that he is “an ex-politician”. Join the club. However, I am sure that will come as a bit of a teensy-weeny surprise to his 70,000  constituents in Kirkcaldy. He is still their MP, yet only appears in Parliament when there’s a ‘z’ in the month. Perhaps he will soon join Jack Straw and announce he won’t contest the next election.


As soon as I have finished writing this diary I am off to see Tony Benn, to interview  him about his latest volume of diaries, ‘A Blaze of Autumn Sunshine’. It’s a very melancholy book and details how he struggles to come to terms with old age and contemplates his death. I’ve read every single volume of his diaries – I think there are eight in all – and enjoyed them all. The political diary is a brilliant genre of literature and provides a really raw account of contemporary history. You don’t have to be famous to write a gripping diary, as Chris Mullin has recently proved. There are a couple of Conservative MPs who I know have been keeping diaries and I hope one day they will publish them.


The Met Office has been receiving many congratulations for predicting the storm which hit the south and east of England on Sunday and Monday, and in many ways rightly do. Unlike 1987, we all had about five days notice that it was coming and were able to take precautions. Or at least some of us did. Four people lost their lives, although for many of us it was a rather tepid affair compared to the Great Storm of 1987. I woke up to a little light breeze on Monday morning, although by all accounts it had been a bit blowy during the night.

The rail companies came under great criticism for cancelling all their services for Monday well in advance. I was as angry as the next person, as it meant I had to drive into London to do my radio show, even though it appeared there was nothing wrong with the railway line. In the east, services were cancelled in most areas for the whole day. In retrospect, I have more sympathy with the rail companies than I did at the time. It took Network rail most of the morning and some of the afternoon to clear away fallen trees, and the fact that Monday’s services were cancelled meant that most trains were in the right place to start the Tuesday rush hour.

You do learn a lot about people’s commitment to their jobs on days like Monday. Some people will get to work come hell or high water, even if they don’t arrive until four o’clock, whereas others just use it as a good excuse to have what is now known as a ‘duvet’ day. I heard a chap on the radio describe how it had taken him several hours to get as far as Waterloo, but he was giving up and going home. He then explained that his office was in Vauxhall. The interviewer gently reminded him it would take 20 minutes to walk from Waterloo to Vauxhall. ‘Nah, mate, I’ve done enough today’, was his rejoinder. Having spent two hours in one traffic jam after another, I nearly hit the steering wheel.

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