Spare a thought for the people of Newark. Honest, unassuming members of Middle England, the population of this quiet, peaceful market town have had to endure the loud whirring of the Tory machine waking them up in the morning for weeks now.
The party says it managed to transport 600 activists to the constituency this weekend ahead of Thursday’s by-election. Shopkeepers complain that the influx of Conservative canvassers is actually hurting sales, as customers stay at home to avoid being cornered by a blue-rosetted wannabe MP.
The Tory candidate, a baby-faced 32-year-old by the name of Robert Jenrick, is expected to win this week. Yet the man who has been dubbed ‘Robert Generic’ by his opponents has so far failed to capture the imagination of his electors.
Jenrick says he is “someone who has never worked in politics,” insisting “I am not a career politician”. But the first impressions are that he is just that. At just 26, he was selected to stand in the 2010 general election as the Tory candidate in Newcastle-under-Lyme, going on to reduce the majority in a safe Labour seat. When he was chosen for Newark, Jenrick was also contesting the selection for Croydon South.
Maybe what he meant was, “I am not a successful career politician.” And so he only had to change the name of the constituency on his website and he was ready to go another round.
Jenrick will not say how many nights he and his American wife Michal have spent in their rented accommodation in Newark. He doesn’t like talking about the two £2 million properties they own in London, nor their £1 million country pile. And when asked by the Spectator he certainly didn’t look comfortable talking about Vincent Square Properties Ltd, a mysterious company of which he is listed as a director.
In fact, the only thing he does seem comfortable talking about is the government’s “long term economic plan” and how it is helping “hardworking people”. When he talks to the press it is almost as if there is a Conservative press officer feeding him lines through an earpiece the whole time.
Jenrick is by all accounts a perfectly reasonable chap. He comes across as friendly and is probably an all-round decent bloke. Yet in many ways he is the archetypal career politician; standing in selections across the country in places where he has no local connection, reading out his lines to take and then biting off Tory HQ’s hand when they offer him the chance of a seat. If and when he is elected to parliament it seems unlikely that he would be the sort of politician to do something particularly appalling. But can we not strive for more than that?
The Labour candidate is even worse. Michael Payne may be from Nottinghamshire, but according to his own website he has not had a single job outside of politics. A member of the Labour youth wing at university, then a Labour councillor, then a pen-pusher in Whitehall, Payne has probably wanted to be an MP since he was eight years old. He can call the Tories “out of touch” all he wants, he is hardly normal himself. His car has a personalised number plate for starters, and he has an eminently punchable face.
Even UKIP, the People’s Army, is not free of careerists. Nigel Farage has stood in six Westminster elections and Roger Helmer, the party’s candidate in Newark, isn’t exactly a local boy – although at least he has represented the region in the European parliament for 15 years, having lived there for 30.
Despite Farage and Helmer, UKIP is however the party most likely to stand up to carpetbaggers. In 2015 Farage has vowed to run in Kent, where he was born and has lived for years. He is leading by example as UKIP seeks to implement its new policy of running candidates who are actually from the area in which they are standing. A novel idea that will reap rewards at the ballot box.
Take Suzanne Evans, the party’s Communities spokeswoman who lost her council seat in Merton but will now stand for parliament in Shrewsbury & Atcham, where she grew up. Such a policy can only be a good thing.
In a week’s time, the people of Newark will in all likelihood have bestowed upon themselves a careerist MP who has risen up through his party’s ranks and been parachuted in. In a year’s time, it would be good if parties of all colours could try to make such an outcome the exception and not the rule.