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A lesson for all new MPs

15 May 2010

5:20 PM

15 May 2010

5:20 PM

Ed Miliband has given a surprisingly good speech this morning: free from all the junk
language that his older brother has a weakness for. But he raises an interesting question:

Why did Gisela Stuart win in Birmingham Edgbaston?

Why did Karen Buck win Westminster North?

Why did Andy Slaughter win in Hammersmith?

Might it have been because all three of these politicians were, at one point, thorns in the flesh of their government? That they all at times campaigned, on principle, against the Labour
government? As I said in The Times yesterday, the German-born Ms Stuart was a committed foe of
the EU Constitution – who denounced it, and the Lisbon Treaty, as loudly as she could. She shared platforms with Conservatives fighting it, she supported calls for a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty
which she said would create a "democratic deficit". Ms
Buck withdraw her son from one of Labour’s flagship City Academies saying the standards there were too low and that her son had lost an "entire year" of education. Andy Slaughter has defied the government on
Heathrow expansion. (That, and the local Tory-run council was accused of taking away secured tenancy on council houses, provoking a massive backlash which conspired to keep Shaun Bailey out of the
House of Commons – for me, one of the most disappointing results of the evening)

There was no uniform swing on election night. The British electorate rendered redundant the BBC swingometers. It was a victory for principled politics. Being a rebel, rejecting the party machine,
seemed to protect you. Graham Brady, the only Tory to resign over a Cameron policy, almost doubled his majority and may well be elected to the chairmanship of the 1922 Committee (ie, chair of the
Tory backbenchers) next week.

All this will serve to make life difficult for the whips in this coalition. Ms Stuart has herself issued advice to new MPs – many of whom will be very interested to learn the art of defending a
seat with a small majority:

"Beware when a whip comes up to you and with a big smile, makes a friendly and helpful suggestion. Just ask yourself: why me and why now. If you can be bullied, you will be bullied. If
you can be bought, you will be bought. If you stick to your guns, then they will respect you. But don’t expect too many favours."

So why did Gisela Stuart win that night? Because she fought for what she believed in. The lesson will not be lost on the 232 new MPs who were elected last week.

UPDATE: I have corrected the line about H&F council and their tenancy: this was a Labour accusation. But some of those involved in Shaun Bailey’s campaign certainly feel
that the council’s intervention on this issue was unhelpful, and open to the misrepresentation Labour put on it. Their council’s response is here.

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