PS: Hunt delivers kick in the teeth to Simon Jupp PPS

Amongst the mini budget reversals announced in the emergence statement, Jeremy Hunt cut the previously announced freeze on alcohol duty.

We all know that Simon Jupp’s great cause is helping the hospitality sector. So he must be disappointed that his recent acceptance of an “insider” job as a parliamentary private secretary to Simon Clarke, an uber Truss loyalist, (S of S Levelling up, housing and communities) has had so little impact or recognition. 

Worse, he will have to support and argue the merits of this change next time he goes to the pub.

Cheers – Owl

Government set to make it easier to stand in English council elections

For the May 2021 local elections in England, the government temporarily changed the law so that council candidates only had to get two, rather than ten, nomination signatures to stand. This was in line with what’s already the norm in Scotland, but was only a temporary measure to reduce the need for signature gathering during a COVID-19 crunch.

Could the Tories be finding it difficult to muster 10 signatures for a candidate? With current poll ratings that seems quite possible for the pariah party. – Owl

Mark Pack

The rules then reverted to normal, but now the government has consulted the Electoral Commission on draft legislation that would permanently reduce the number of subscribers required on a nomination paper for principal area elections in England from ten to two.

Under this plan, the change would come into effect for elections and by-elections on or after 4 May 2023, i.e. including the normal May 2023 local elections.

As well as being good for democracy in general, this would also be beneficial for the Liberal Democrats, given the importance of upping our candidate numbers.

As I’ve written on that topic before:

There are … huge benefits [to the party] in standing even in wards that we are not likely to win for a very long time yet (if ever).

One set of benefits comes from the opportunity to practice, train and learn. Winning elections isn’t easy and some of the skills required are very hard to pick up outside politics.

So we should be using every opportunity to add to our experience, try out things and get better.

Even if we don’t do very much, or any, campaigning, there is still the chance for a new election agent to practice getting the paperwork right. Or to take a new person out on their very first canvassing session. Steps such as those are if anything easier in a ‘no hope’ by-election as the pressure is much less and so you can concentrate on the learning.

Those benefits are specific to by-elections on their own. There are other benefits too, which apply even if you’ve got other elections on the same day – and to non-target wards in the usual run of elections…

One of the biggest challenges the Liberal Democrats face is to build up a large group of loyal supporters who persistently support us. Our core support is much smaller than that of our main rivals – and we suffer for it. It makes us more vulnerable to bad times. It means we have further to go and harder to work to get to the winning post than rival parties with larger core votes.

Yet the one sure way to ensure people don’t become persistent supporters is to insist that they should not be allowed to vote for us thanks to not putting up a candidate. No Liberal Democrat on the ballot paper means us saying to voters: ‘we refuse to let you be loyal supporters of us’.

Standing also helps the party identify better where its support currently is, and isn’t. Having a full slate of candidates across the board helps spot areas that can be promising to target and try to win in the future.

Although the legal change isn’t yet 100% confirmed, it’s very likely. So if you have local elections next May, now is a great time to be planning how to either stand a full slate or, if we’ve not managed that before, our best-ever tally of candidates.

Remember too that if we don’t make good use of this opportunity, others may do so – and so may use it to sideline the Lib Dems in the eyes of local voters unless we match or beat their candidate numbers.

Ex-Devon MP caught up in expenses row is made a Lord

Lest we forget!

A good resume of the life a well connected Tory leads.

But what did Hugo Swire ever do for East Devon?  – Owl

Edward Oldfield 

A former East Devon Conservative MP Hugo Swire who was caught up in the parliamentary expenses row has been given a place in the House of Lords in the list of political peerages recommended by Boris Johnson. Sir Hugo, 62, represented the East Devon constituency from 2001 to 2019, when he stepped down at the General Election and was replaced by Tory Simon Jupp.

The Eton-educated former Grenadier Guard, who worked as a financial consultant and director of the auction house Sotheby’s, was a close ally of Tory leader David Cameron. In his bachelor days he dated the model Jerry Hall, who later married Rolling Stone Mick Jagger.

His wife Sasha is the daughter of Sir John Nott, the Conservative Defence Secretary during the Falklands War. She was Sir Hugo’s parliamentary assistant for 18 years, and caused a stir in 2020 with the publication of her memoir Diary of an MP’s Wife. It gave an insight into life at the top of Tory party, with less than flattering descriptions of senior politicians including Mr Cameron as ‘drunken Dave’, Boris Johnson as ‘calculating’ and Theresa May as a ‘glumbucket’.

Sir Hugo featured in leaked footage from a Conservative Party fundraising auction in 2015 when he joked about people on benefits and buying luxury cars on MPs’ expense. In 2009, after controversy over MPs’ expenses hit the headlines, Sir Hugo revealed he had voluntarily paid back £395 he claimed for a leather Mulberry laptop bag, which he said he used every day. He said after reviewing his expenses, he decided it could be considered ‘extravagant’.

He also came under media scrutiny in 2010 for claiming £23,000 a year to rent his family home in his East Devon constituency, while living in a London property owned by his wife, according to the Mail Online . His claim was said to have been cut to £10,000, the equivalent of a one-bedroom flat, but he appealed arguing that the decision was unfair on MPs needing to rent a home in their constituencies. Details emerged after he was told to repay £788 claimed in expenses for a gardener at his constituency home. Sir Hugo said he had been unaware that there was a guideline price.

In 2013, the Sunday Mirror reported he had claimed £3,198.61 for oil and gas in the year to March – the eighth-highest amount for any MP. In response, his office told a local newspaper in a statement that he had followed Parliamentary rules and was working to reduce his expenses claims. He earlier justified employing his wife as an assistant, telling an East Devon newspaper in 2009 she was a “highly qualified journalist” who ran his website and produced his press releases, and “has an extraordinary knowledge of the constituency”.

Sir Hugo Swire, pictured with his wife Sasha, represented East Devon from 2001 to 2019 (Image: Express & Echo/Gareth Willians)

A close ally of Conservative prime minister David Cameron, in 2010 he was appointed as Minister of State for Northern Ireland in the newly-elected Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government. He was then given the job as Minister of State for Europe and the Americas in 2012. He resigned in July 2016 alongside other ministers close to Mr Cameron, after the prime minister quit following the Brexit referendum. He was knighted in the prime minister’s resignation honours list.

Sir Hugo tweeted on Friday, when the list of life peerages was published: “Honoured and delighted to be going to the House of Lords”.

Mid Devon ‘losing thousands’ for communities in lost deals with developers

Mid Devon has been accused of losing thousands of pounds of money from its agreements with developers. At a Cullompton Town Council meeting on Thursday, September 29, the Cullompton Community Association (CCA) requested funds from S106 agreement funds, which developers provide when they build in the town. The CCA requested money to renew the play equipment at the CCA Fields.

Lewis Clarke

Councillor Matthew Dale said: “I think we should support this because the equipment down there is getting old and it does get well used after school by children with their parents. I think we ought to look at developer contributions from future projects towards it.”

Councillor Gordon Guest added: “There are various S106 pots. Mid Devon has always been very slow in administering these concerning Cullompton. I can think of at least two occasions where several thousand pounds had to be returned from the S106 box to the developer because Mid Devon had been too slow in spending them in the time provided. My response to this request would be to approve anything that gets hold of S106 money for any project. We should be taking it as quickly as we can. Even if we say yes, it might take Mid Devon a long time to process. Their track record is abysmal in relation to Cullompton Town Council, so I strongly suggest we support this request.”

Councillor Mike Thompson said: “We’ve got several play areas in town. Over the last ten years, this town council has put considerable money into costly play equipment. Most of the play areas we’ve leased or taken on from Mid Devon are costing us a small fortune. I’ve nothing against the CCA and what it represents, but as they’re a charity, have they done sufficient lobbying to raise money for various sources so they can replace this equipment themselves? It is not a town council play area.”

However, Councillor James Buczkowski added: “There are a number of S106 pots held by Mid Devon that are available for the community. Some of them are allocated. There is also an unallocated part, and this is for the purchase of new equipment. The request from the CCA was that the council supports the CCA charity accessing the unallocated pot of money that’s already been taken from developers and is sat at Mid Devon doing nothing and has been for some years. It’s not the town council’s money that will be paid, and it won’t affect our precept or budget.”

East Devon by-election: Candidate list confirmed for November 10 poll

The candidates for a by-election to be held next month in East Devon have been announced. Voters in the Newton Poppleford and Harpford ward will go to the polls on Thursday, November 10 – in what could be a real test of the Conservatives’ popularity.

The best memorial for Val is for the people of Newton Pop to vote for who will best represent the interests of their community – should be a “no brainer”. – Owl

Daniel ClarkContent Editor & Politics Reporter

The by-election has been called following the death of former councillor Val Ranger. The Independent councillor died in August after a battle with cancer.

Three candidates have been nominated to stand in the election as her replacement. The Conservatives, the Labour Party, and an Independent will stand.

The candidates are:

Chris Burhop (Independent)

Paul Carter (Conservatives)

Caleb Early (Labour)

Tories facing wipeout as Labour takes 36-point lead in new poll

The Conservatives are facing a near-wipeout in a general election as Liz Truss’s government continues to implode, a new poll suggests.

Based on these latest polls the Scottish National Party would form His Majesty’s Most Loyal Opposition not the Tories!

How bad can this get for the Tories? Hang in there Liz, spin out the drama! – Owl

Jon Stone

The survey released on Monday afternoon is the worst yet for the Tories, with Labour now a vast 36 points ahead of the governing party – the highest lead ever recorded by any pollster for any party.

If replicated at a general election the results would likely see the Scottish National Party become the official opposition at Westminster with the Tories reduced to a small rump of MPs.

The release of the Redfield & Wilton survey comes after Ms Truss tried to firefight the reaction to her tax-cutting budget by firing her chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng and U-turning on a whole slate of policies.

The exact number of seats the Tories would be left with would depend on where votes were cast – but on a uniform national swing they could be left with just one MP, according to the Electoral Calculus website.

Other predictions based on the data suggest they would be left with around 20 seats, still fewer than the Scottish National Party and Liberal Democrats would be expected to win.

Labour would win 56 per cent of the vote, up three on the previous survey, and the Tories just 20 per cent, down 4 per cent on last week. The Lib Dems would win 11 per cent, the Green 5 per cent and SNP 4 per cent.

The results follow another similar survey by Deltapoll, which earlier today showed the Conservative 32 points behind Labour, also losing ground on previous polls.

There is some variations between different pollsters, but virtually are now showing vast Labour leads of at least 20 points, with many over 30 per cent.

Ms Truss skipped a parliamentary scrutiny session on Monday with Labour leader Keir Starmer and instead send out Commons leader Penny Mordaunt to answer questions about the government’s record.