As regular readers will know, if there’s one thing I really can’t abide it’s scurrilous gossip. Also, I don’t have much taste for rural intrigue. So it’s something of a puzzle that I’ve taken to reading the excellent Cornish Zetetics blog.
The reason I bring this to your attention is that the admirable Zetetist has a strange and marvellous story to relate. As you’ll be aware, this week there is a by-election coming up in Oldham. This came about after Labour incumbent Phil Woolas squeaked home last May by 103 votes after a particularly nasty race-baiting campaign. However, it wasn’t the racism angle as such that caused a rarely-convened election court to unseat Woolas and bar him from public office. It was the court ruling that Woolas had made factually untrue statements about his Lib Dem opponent, something that is very illegal under electoral law.
Bear with me here. As I say, these election courts are very rare – the Woolas case was, I think, the first time in 99 years an MP had been thusly unseated – but apparently there could easily have been a second one down in Kernow. The Cornish situation revolves around the Camborne and Redruth constituency, and around two specific individuals.
This comely wench is Julia Goldsworthy, who until May was the Lib Dem incumbent for the seat, and the reason for a generation of spotty teenage boys watching Question Time. In a result even closer than that in Oldham East and Saddleworth, Julia was defeated by a mere 66 votes by this bloke:
This is Tory candidate George Eustice, who is an up-and-coming man and a prominent Friend of Dave. So, what was the issue here?
Last May, the Tories successfully broke the Lib Dem monopoly on parliamentary representation for Cornwall, the two parties taking three seats each and even professional Cornishmen Andrew George and Dan Rogerson seeing their majorities slashed. Mainly this was down to a Tory strategy of ruthlessly mining the second-home vote as a counter to the Lib Dems’ flirtation with Cornish particularism. But there were specific features in Camborne and Redruth.
In contests where the results were unexpectedly close in May, you can actually be quite specific about a lot of the reasons why. In Oxford, Evan Harris was defeated for a number of reasons but mainly because he wasn’t a very assiduous constituency MP, preferring to bask in the adulation of the skeptical hobby community in London. In Ashfield, my old friend Gloria de Piero barely scraped home in what should have been a safe Labour seat, thanks to a hyperactive Lib Dem opponent and popular revulsion at her predecessor Geoff “Buff” Hoon. The closest result of all, Michelle Gildernew’s four-vote victory in the Dreary Steeples, needs little explanation.
So what got young Julia into trouble? Possibly appearing on reality TV shows in skin-tight lycra didn’t help, but compared to the celebrity adventures of Lembit Öpik or George Galloway, she didn’t have too much to be embarrassed about. No, I think what did for Julia was her expenses. Some of these were quite interesting, notably her liking for shopping in Habitat, which may not have gone down well with the plebeian masses of Camborne and Redruth.
However, Zetetist reports that apparently the Eustice camp was putting it about that Julia had flipped her home. This was not the case – whatever about her other expenses, Julia was not a flipper. And it seems she was extremely annoyed by this, which could have made the difference in a contest this close. Word is that, following her narrow defeat, Ms Goldsworthy was incandescent with rage and lawyers were consulted.
So why have we heard nothing about this? I draw to your attention, merely as a matter of interest, that while this little spat was brewing down in Cornwall last May, Messrs Cameron and Clegg were hammering out a coalition agreement in Westminster. It would have been terribly inconvenient for them if, so early on in the coalition, Tories and Lib Dems had been tearing lumps out of each other in Cornwall. And either result would have been problematic for Dave and Nick.
Now, I am absolutely not claiming that there was an unadvertised provision in the coalition agreement for la Goldsworthy to be mollified. Not at all. Dave and Nick are honourable men, and I’m certain they would not resort to crude stroke politics, deploying their powers of patronage to solve a political problem. Nonetheless, it can’t have hurt that, purely by coincidence, Julia got a job at the Treasury as political advisor to Danny Alexander at a salary of £74,000 (some ten grand more than her basic salary as an MP) and subsequently was rather less incandescent with rage than she had been.
Isn’t it great when problems can resolve themselves in so convenient a manner, just by the random working out of coincidence? Isn’t life grandy and dandy?