TO many onlookers, there will be astonishment that Anne McIntosh – Yorkshire’s only female Tory MP – has been de-selected following a poisonous power struggle with her Thirsk and Malton constituency party. She is one of this region’s most experienced Parliamentarians and, as a select committee chairwoman, plays a crucial role in shaping the debate on the environment and flooding – one of the issues most relevant to her rural seat.
However her local party clearly thought otherwise after an increasingly acrimonious relationship culminated in yesterday’s de-selection vote. It followed at least 18 months of claims, counter-claims and outright hostility as the positions of Miss McIntosh’s opponents and supporters became even more entrenched. And there was little prospect of a peaceful resolution last night, with the MP – now a lame duck – saying defiantly that she will “not be thrown aside by a small group” of trouble-makers and that it is up to each and every one of her constituents to determine her fate.
It remains to be seen whether Miss McIntosh will be able to put her record to the test as a Conservative candidate – or perhaps as an Independent. Either way, this week’s explosive revelations in the Yorkshire Post do not reflect well on the Conservative Party – locally or nationally. Frankly, it should not have allowed this stand-off to become so toxic and culminate with Major Peter Steveney, the Thirsk and Malton chairman, being highly critical of Central Office’s role in this dispute before accusing his MP of “a consistent pattern of non-co-operation, non-communication, bad manners and divisive behaviour” in a letter obtained by this newspaper.
Not only was there a destructive divide between Miss McIntosh and her local party, but a damaging disconnect between officers of the local association and Central Office with Major Steveney describing the suggestion that he, and others, did not understand the role of an MP as “being extraordinarily arrogant and condescending”.
The fact that Major Steveney’s term of office ends next month does offer a chance for the Conservatives to start afresh with a new constituency chairman, but it remains to be seen whether the party in Thirsk and Malton can unite behind one candidate with the ability to put constituency concerns – particularly the issue of flood defences – before internal party squabbles that belong in the playground. Because Miss McIntosh has chosen not to accept this result, the two most pertinent questions remained unanswered last night: just how do the Tories appease those members whose loyalty was to Anne McIntosh, and how do the Conservatives become more appealing to female candidates, and voters, after the party allowed such a senior MP to be ousted in such a vindictive manner?
Number of betting shops criticised
IF town halls are so concerned about the proliferation of betting shops, why were these establishments granted permission in the first place?
In essence, this is the crux of the disagreement between Ministers and the Local Government Association which is worried about the social and economic impact of clusters of bookmakers on run-down communities.
This should not be a matter for the Government when it has more pressing priorities – like the future of high streets. It should be up to local councillors to determine the best approach for their area.
Yet this is not about punters betting on Wetherby’s 2.45pm today – weather permitting. Horse racing now accounts for a diminishing proportion of the turnover of bookmakers who make most of their money out of football – and fixed odds betting terminals approved by the last Labour government. Perhaps Labour MP Karl Turner – John Prescott’s successor in Hull East – should address his concerns to his own front bench rather than the Government.
Two other points need to be made. Many will sympathise with Shipley MP Philip Davies when he says a betting shop is preferable to a boarded up unit. And they will agree with Sports Minister Helen Grant when she told the Commons that “gambling is still a legal activity enjoyed very safely by many around the country”. She’s right. Why should the irresponsibility of a reckless minority spoil the enjoyment of responsible gamblers?
An intoxicating whiff of hypocrisy
HOW ironic that Eric Pickles should be accused of dragging his feet over the fate of a controversial wind farm in the East Riding when it was the Communities and Local Government Secretary who was threatening to strip councils of their powers if they did not handle planning applications more promptly.
His desire for punctiliousness does not appear to extend to his own desk. He was passed jurisdiction on the application for six turbines, each 110 metres high, in March last year. A decision was promised in October. Then a deadline of January 7 was set. With the silence deafening, the whiff of hypocrisy threatens to become intoxicating.
Mr Pickles cannot blame matters on the rough and tumble of politics – his normal excuse. After all, East Riding Council is Tory-controlled.