General Election sketch piece – 2010

Sentinel columnist Martin Tideswell was covering his fifth General Election – his first being as a cub reporter at the King’s Hall in Stoke back in 1992…

“Evening”, said one of half a dozen blokes holding anti-fascist placards standing outside the King’s Hall.

“Owrate youth,” I replied, and he stood down – realising I was far too scruffy to be representing the BNP.

By 10.50pm we hacks were huddled around a TV in the press room as the teacher’s pets of the Houghton and Sunderland South constituency broke the land speed record to declare the first result.

Stoke-on-Trent’s ballot boxes were still being carried in at this point and the counters hadn’t even taken their seats.

“What’s going on?” asked the incredulous city council chief executive, as he watched people sipping coffee and leaning against walls. “Why haven’t we started, yet?”

I just shrugged my shoulders.

Three quarters of an hour later the feeding frenzy began – 220 counters going at the ballot papers like so many battery hens.

As they worked, the footsoldiers of each party hovered around them, grim-faced and taking copious notes in the fashion of over-zealous GCSE exam invigilators.

“What are you doing?” I asked one of them.

“We’re trying to get a sense of how it’s gone,” he answered, rather sheepishly, by way of explanation for his pointless scribbling.

Despite the mind-numbing inevitability of Labour winning all three city seats for the umpteenth time, the party faithful were still rather twitchy.

“We don’t take anything for granted,” said one veteran campaigner.

Certainly Stoke North’s long-serving MP Joan Walley wasn’t.

She had arrived at the count long before the ballot boxes, bless her – welcoming every vote home like a shepherd counting her flock.

The same couldn’t be said of her Labour party colleagues.

Curious, I went on a, er… Tristram Hunt.

“Bit of a poor show from your new bloke,” said a journalist colleague to a Labour party activist at 1.30am. “You’d have thought he’d have been here by now.”

“Actually, he is on his way,” said the man. “I’m Lord Hunt, Tristram’s father.”


He must have been confident of victory because Haringey’s finest didn’t arrive until after 2am – finally justifying the hordes of BBC staff who had descended on Stoke, doubtless using Multimap to find their way to the Potteries.

Now you know what Auntie spends your licence fee on.

Surprise, surprise – there were no surprises here in The Land That Time Forgot.

Which leaves our city very firmly in the red… in more ways than one.

Parachuting in candidates shows little respect for voters

The Honourable Tristram Hunt. There’s a good Potteries name if ever I heard one.

Indeed, the man selected by the Labour Party to contest the Stoke-on-Trent Central seat at the forthcoming election sounds more like a knight of the Round Table than a bloke who could soon be representing the voters of Birches Head and Bentilee.

Just when you thought the stock of politics and politicians in this country couldn’t fall any lower, we are shown yet another example of crass insensitivity.

There have been many cases over the years of the main parties parachuting candidates into so-called ‘safe seats’.

It’s a despicable practice and one which underlines how little the power-brokers in London care for the feelings of the electorate.

In fact, even some of the Labour Party’s own stalwart supporters in its Constituency Labour Party (CLP) are appalled at this ‘pin the tail on the donkey’ approach to the selection of prospective MPs.

So much so that one of them – Gary Elsby – has effectively quit to take a stand against what he sees as a ‘Google candidate’ – i.e. someone whose knowledge of the Potteries is derived entirely from the internet.

Presumably, Lord Mandelson et al are hoping to prove the long-held theory that the Labour Party could pin a red rosette on a monkey in Stoke-on-Trent and it would still get voted in.

They are again assuming the ‘anything-but-Tory, anti-Thatcher, they-closed-the-pits’ brigade will turn out and do the business on polling day – which is ironic seeing as how they don’t seem to give a monkey’s about the views of their own CLP.

Educated at Trinity College, Cambridge, our Tristram – who turns 40 next month – is an eminent historian and the son of Lord Hunt of Chesterton. No, not that Chesterton.

His CV is very impressive. However, I dare say he knows about as much about Stoke-on-Trent as I do about Haringey – where our Prospective Parliamentary Candidate currently resides.

Does that present a problem? I think it does.

Let’s face it, the Potteries has been pretty poorly served by successive governments for the last 40 years.

As we celebrate the centenary of the federation of our Six Towns the city certainly has plenty to be positive about.

But, make no mistake, we are still saddled with the same socio-economic problems that have blighted North Staffordshire for nigh-on half a century.

This is a city with high levels of unemployment, deep pockets of deprivation, and a population burdened with serious health issues and low aspirations.

It stands to reason, therefore, that to effect substantial change in the Potteries one has to understand the nature of the beast.

Tristram Hunt is obviously a very clever man and he may be a thoroughly decent bloke.

But does he know how long we’ve been waiting for a new bus station? Does he have a grasp of how the thousands of jobs which have been lost in traditional industries in recent years continue to affect the local economy? Is he up to speed on the regeneration process being overseen by RENEW North Staffordshire?

No, no and no. It’s not his fault – he just doesn’t know and can’t be expected to understand because, until very recently, he presumably thought Stoke-on-Trent was that place you pass on the way to Alton Towers.

What is even more worrying is that this decision demonstrates that the talent pool in a large working class area like North Staffordshire is so poor that it can’t produce one candidate that Labour is happy to sponsor.

This isn’t an anti-Labour rant. It would make no difference to me which party foisted a ‘foreigner’ on us – it would still be wrong.

In the wake of the MPs’ expenses scandal and umpteen sleazy episodes in recent months, politics and politicians need to be seen to be both clean and in touch with their electorate.

Sadly, parachuting candidates into safe seats is yet another example of the disregard with which the main political parties and career politicians hold voters.

I only hope that this decision will come back to haunt Labour.