Colin Drury www.independent.co.uk
Overnight, Mr Pincher – a Conservative first elected here in 2010 – had quit as the government’s deputy chief whip after admitting he got drunk on a night out in London. Further allegations suggest he also groped two male members of parliamentary staff. “I drank far too much,” he wrote in his resignation letter. “I’ve embarrassed myself.”
In the smoking area of the Phoenix pub on Tamworth high street, Dave Markole was happy to admit that he too, like the local MP, had occasionally drunk too much and embarrassed himself. “We’ve all done that, mate,” he said between drags. “Me as much as anyone.
“Have a skinful by all means, but behave,” the 52-year-old truck driver declared.
Such opinions were not uncommon in this Staffordshire market town yesterday morning.
The fact that the incident took place in Piccadilly’s £1,700-a-year Carlton Club added an extra frisson to the whole episode for voters – and drinkers – in Tamworth, a town currently being savaged by the cost of living crisis. Nevertheless, noted Mr Markole philosophically, it was perhaps “a good job it was there [and not in the Phoenix]”.
Politics hadn’t been talked about so much in the place, one bar member said, since… well, since partygate.
What were people saying? “Well, I don’t think he’s won himself any new voters,” she replied.
Outside on the high street itself, retired lecturer Ray Williams was adamant that Mr Pincher – who has also had the party whip removed – should now stand down as the town’s MP.
“He should resign immediately, simple as that,” the 71-year-old said. “The groping might just be an allegation at this point, but someone in his position of seniority should not be putting himself in a position – on a night out – where these kind of things can happen.”
Sleaze, he feared, was becoming “normalised” by a serious of Conservative scandals.
“We have a right to expect better from our politicians and certainly from the party of government,” said Mr Williams, who voted Tory in 2019. “He should resign. Who will respect him after this anyway?”
By Friday afternoon, there was no suggestion Mr Pincher would be handing in his parliamentary notice, with Boris Johnson saying he now considered the matter closed. Which – in purely political terms – might not be altogether unsurprising.
Why? Because, if Mr Pincher did quit as an MP, the resulting by-election could well sound the death knell for the prime minister.
Strictly speaking, Tamworth is something of a bellwether constituency: since its creation in 1997 it has voted for the winning party at every general election. Yet since 2010 the Tories have built up a 19,000 majority here, and the party also holds 25 of the 30 borough council seats.
Were this constituency to become the latest blue patch lost mid-term, Mr Johnson – still scarred by only just scraping through a confidence vote earlier this month – would find himself with even fewer friends. One suspects a trip to Kyiv would be planned for results day.
How, though, did the local Conservatives feel about the thought of such a contest? They were not for talking, it seemed. A message had apparently gone out to senior councillors to keep it buttoned.
Did silence not effectively condone the local MP going out and getting plastered? “No comment,” said Alex Farrell, a cabinet member here.
Would he personally be comfortable voting for a man accused of groping? “That’s a good question,” came the reply. “But I’m afraid I’m about to go on holiday.”
If the local blues wouldn’t answer, Margaret and Stacy Anderson – a mother and daughter sat outside the landmark St Editha’s parish church – certainly would.
“I wouldn’t have voted [for the Conservatives] again anyway because of how they’re dealing with the cost of living,” said Stacy, who did go blue in 2019. “But now this too. They’re playing us for fools – out drinking and getting up to no good while the rest of us scrape by.”
The 43-year-old mother of three had just been to Farmfoods to help her mum Margaret pay for her weekly shop because prices had gone up so much in recent weeks. “Fair enough, they’re giving out a payment later this year,” she said. “But just dishing out money isn’t a proper fix. What happens when that runs out? Where are the ideas to solve this in the long term?”
The trainee ecologist thought about it and answered her own question: “They’re not coming up with them,” she said, “because they’re too busy misbehaving.”