Greasy Pole: Elections… or Earthquakes
‘Just listen’ blurted the engineering geologist, in language he is more accustomed to use on some massive, remote construction site, ‘I get right pissed off when I hear some jumped-up politician talking about an earthquake when what they mean is that they are scared about losing an election. Because it’s a serious matter – an irresistible force which can kill tens of thousands of people and lay waste to a developed city’. He knew what he was talking about; over just the past ten years there has been a succession of such disasters each bringing about a horrific death toll. There was Kashmir in 2005 when 73,000 died; 1908 Sichuan Province in China 87,000; 2010 in Haiti when it was 210,000; 2011 in Japan with 200,000 plus. But our understanding of the cause is inadequate, other than seismic waves from the energy released through the rupture of geological faults or volcanic bursts or nuclear tests… Over time there has been a mass of work centred on constructing a reliable method of prediction from which an adequate defence might have been designed but without any appreciable success. By any standards it is a vastly serious problem for the human race so there must be some frustration when the likes of David Cameron or Ed Miliband drivel about an earthquake to express their anxiety about whether their party will survive against the onslaught of an equally futile bunch such as Nigel Farage and his UKIP.
This was how it happened during the by-election in June at Newark in Nottinghamshire. Early political tremors had already been felt by the time the parties had announced the names of their candidates and Farage had described UKIP’s success in the recent local and Euro elections as an episode in his much-promised ‘political earthquake’. The by-election came about after the resignation of the Tory MP Patrick Mercer, whose fall from the heights had been remarkably rapid. The son of a future Bishop of Exeter, he went to public school and Sandhurst which prepared him for a career in the Army, garnished by two decorations and the rank of Colonel when he left in 1999 and eventually became an MP. But things began to go seriously wrong. He had to resign from Shadow Minister for Home Security when he referred to ethnic minority soldiers as ‘idle and useless’, accustomed to using their race as a ‘cover’ for unmilitary behaviour. Another example of his lack of discretion was when he recalled thinking, on being introduced to a young female Israeli soldier, that ‘You don’t look like a soldier to me. You look like a bloody Jew’. His chances of surviving all this had almost disappeared when he described David Cameron as ‘despicable’ and an ‘arse’. And finally he was exposed taking bribes from a couple of under-cover reporters for asking questions as an MP. It was inevitable that he should be at first suspended until he chose to resign – which gave UKIP some hope that they were in with a chance of winning the seat.
So the Newark Tories had to select a candidate for one of the safest seats in the country (Mercer’s majority, even as he was under scrutiny, was some way above 16,000) and they would have been determined that whoever they settled on would be as different from Mercer as possible. Eventually emerging from the process was the smooth, prosperous 32 year old Robert Jenrick. But no sooner had he been chosen than a clutch of inconveniently undermining facts about him came to light. He had presented himself as ‘a father, local man, son of a secretary and small businessman and state primary school educated’. But partnering these modest features there is a wife who is a high-flying commercial lawyer operating under a rather more colourful professional name. Between them they bring in some £500,000 a year. Jenrick’ s claim to be a local man does not fit in with their joint ownership of a £2 million flat in Mayfair, a £2.5 million house in Westminster and a £1.1 million manor, originally owned by a slave owner, in Herefordshire. Somewhere in this lot there is a house in Newark which they recently began to rent – in fact just after Jenrick was adopted to fight the by-election. He works at Christies, the super-posh auction house but in this again there is some confusion for at first he described himself as the Managing Director of that firm when in fact he is at most a director – which would be lucrative enough for those others who are struggling to get by on the minimum wage or state benefit. So is Jenrick just another of Cameron’s posh Tory boys? He defends himself with the assurance that owning three expensive homes ‘…doesn’t mean I don’t know about life on the bread-line’, which seems to have been satisfactory to the voters of Newark, who elected him with a majority reduced enough to cause just a few bumps and trembles but not the earthquake Farage was hoping for.
The UKIP candidate (‘this brazen dandy’ according to one observer) was Roger Helmer, who defected from the Tory Party in 2012 and has made himself notable with opinions, on a range of current issues, which could be moderately described as capricious. The Tories were anxious enough about UKIP to flood the constituency with big names; Cameron was there four times. It was to persuade – or frighten – the voters into supporting them because whatever the earthquakes may do capitalism cares for us.