29 Jun 2012

Tories in rumpus at who should fight John Prescott

It should be interesting in Goole tonight as Humberside Conservatives meet to choose a candidate to oppose Labour’s John Prescott as police commissioner for the area.

Right now, the Tory shortlist is very short, very short indeed – with just one name on it: Matthew Grove, a local businessman and East Riding councillor for six years.

But expect a late challenge tonight from Walter Sweeney. 

You may recall that Sweeney was a fervently Eurosceptic MP for Vale of Glamorgan between 1992 and 1997 (boasting a majority of just 19, the smallest of that Parliament). 

In 2008, Sweeney resurfaced on Humberside as one of the 25 people who challenged David Davis in the famous and very strange by-election where Davis stood down to refight his seat in order to make a public point on civil liberties. 

Sweeney came 8th of the 26 contenders, and lost his deposit, having got just 248 votes, far fewer than Gemma Garrett of the Miss Great Britain Party (521) or the Mad Cow Girl (412).

Sweeney, who runs a successful B&B in Beverley, resigned from the Tories to fight the 2008 campaign, but later rejoined the party, and says he was subsequently urged by senior Tories on Humberside to put his name forward for police commissioner.

So he did, and was interviewed twice by the Tory high command.  But they rejected him, he says, because of his decision to stand in 2008, and also because of his earlier links with UKIP

Sweeney can’t recall whether he was actually ever a member of UKIP, but he admits that he did urge people to vote for the party in the 2004 Euro election after the then Tory leader Michael Howard suggested UKIP were “nutters”.  But UKIP membership has not been a bar to later advancement in the Conservative Party.

For example, the Tories’ new PCC candidate in Kent, Craig Mackinlay, was once deputy leader of UKIP, and a UKIP candidate in 2004.

Sweeney also claims David Davis has forgiven him for his 2008 campaign, and is happy for him to stand.  Sweeney plans to attend tonight’s meeting armed with a leaflets and copies of his CV. 

He claims he’s much better qualified than Grove to be a police commissioner, since he used to serve on the Home Affairs Select Committee at Westminster, studied criminology at Cambridge and once served as chairman of the police authority in Bedfordshire.  Sweeney intends to urge the meeting in Goole this evening to pass a resolution asking that his name be added to the shortlist.

It does seem odd that the Tories only have one contender for being a candidate in what should be quite a promising and high-profile contest for the party.  On the basis of votes cast at the 2010 general election, the Tories would narrowly win the Humberside PCC post. 

True, this election will be under a transferable voting system, and Labour’s has gained ground since then, but who knows how popular Prescott will be throughout the area and outside Hull, or how much Labour will suffer from low turnout?  It’s surprising more people weren’t interested in being the Conservative candidate.

One can understand, though, why Tory HQ wasn’t very keen about having Sweeney as a candidate.  With John Prescott standing for Labour, the contest for Humberside PCC will get a lot of media attention this autumn – probably more than any other area.   Walter Sweeney is a real maverick figure and clearly a loose cannon.

But weren’t these new PCC posts designed for people with an independent streak?

Up to a point, Lord Copper.

And quite apart from that, wouldn’t Sweeney be quite a fun name for a police commissioner?

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One reader comment

  1. Bobby says:

    Michael, you are a great journalist but some of the grammar and punctuation is a little sloppy.

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