Damn and blast. I was quite keen on becoming the Conservative candidate for Hammersmith, but the timing isn’t going to work. My hope was that the local association would delay advertising for a candidate until next year, at which point I would have thrown my hat into the ring. Unfortunately, they’re keen to get someone in place straightaway and I have too much on my plate at present.
That sounds like an excuse, but it isn’t. If the Conservative candidate in Hammersmith is to have any hope of overturning Andrew Slaughter’s 3,500 majority, he or she must devote themselves body and soul to the fight. Slaughter has no life outside politics — no wife, no children, no career to speak of — so he will be able to spend every minute of the day on the campaign. He is ruthless, tireless and implacable. It will be like going up against the cyborg in Terminator 2.
I quite fancy playing the John Connor role in this drama — he’s the saviour of mankind, in case you’ve forgotten — but I just can’t do it at the moment. As the chairman of a charitable trust that has set up two free schools and will shortly be opening a third, I already have a full-time voluntary job. The trust is currently advertising for a CEO and once he or she has been appointed I might have a bit more time on my hands, but that process will take time and, if we don’t get a strong field of applicants, I may have to apply for the job myself. There are 420 pupils in both schools at present, with a further 210 arriving next year, and my first responsibility must be to them.
It is deeply frustrating because I think Slaughter is beatable. One of the ways in which he was able to defeat Shaun Bailey, the Conservative candidate in 2010, was by convincing council house tenants that they’d lose their homes and have to relocate to different parts of the country if a Tory government was elected. Bailey increased the Conservative vote among middle-income earners, but Slaughter more than offset those gains by persuading everyone on low incomes to vote Labour. Having terrified them with his scare stories, he then got hundreds of Labour activists to create virtual human chains leading from the council estates to the polling booths.
This time round, he may not be able to rely on that same army of activists. In 2010, Hammersmith was identified by CCHQ as a target seat — one of the seats the Tories would have to win to secure an overall majority — and that meant Labour poured resources into defending it. In 2015, it won’t be a target so Slaughter won’t be able to bus in those useful idiots. More importantly, he won’t be able to frighten the poor and the vulnerable so easily.
According to the latest data, a total of 546 homes in the constituency have been affected by the housing benefit cut. Three hundred and forty-four managed to negotiate a reduced rent, meaning they didn’t have to move, and of those who did relocate a further 134 moved to new homes within the constituency and 16 to neighbouring boroughs. Sixteen families came off benefits altogether and 26 cases are still unresolved. That means that of the 546 families affected, only ten have moved to other areas. Not exactly ‘ethnic cleansing’, is it?
In addition, most polls indicate that the swing from the Conservatives to Labour since 2010 is smaller in London than anywhere else. That’s partly because the swing from Labour to the Tories was smaller in 2010 than elsewhere so there’s less far for the pendulum to swing back. But it’s also a reflection of the fact that London has remained largely unaffected by the economic downturn. As London continues to thrive, it’s possible that there’ll actually be a small swing towards the Conservatives in 2015. Combine that with a slow but steady process of gentrification that’s discernible in the constituency and Slaughter begins to look vulnerable.
Anyway, as you can tell, I’ve convinced myself that I could have unseated S. Laughter, as the local Tories call him. On Desert Island Discs this week, Ed Miliband said he had no regrets about knifing his brother because, in his experience, what you regret most in life are the opportunities you don’t take rather than the ones you do. I know I’ll regret not seeking selection in Hammersmith, but it can’t be helped. I wish whoever is selected the best of luck and I will do whatever I can to support them
Toby Young is associate editor of The Spectator.