Para-historian dropped on Stoke

Within hours of me praising Gordon Brown and the Labour Party for facing up to the threat presented by the racist right, the constituency party in the industrial town of Stoke-on-Trent has been bounced by the national leadership into adopting the celebrity TV historian Tristram Hunt as their candidate in the forthcoming parliamentary election.

As reported this evening by Michael Crick on BBC’s Newsnight, it’s not only Labour that does this sort of thing: imposing shortlists of three or more candidates at the very last moment, only one of whom is credible. Whether it be done by Labour, Conservative, Liberal, Monster Raving Loony or whatever, the practice can only be described as gerrymandering. In Stoke, local Labour activists are said to be very unhappy, with some, including the constituency party secretary, threatening to put up an unofficial Labour candidate.

Stoke-on-Trent is, or rather was, a safe Labour seat, with the party’s majority at the last election being nearly 10,000. But the neo-Nazi BNP currently has seven out of 60 city councillors, and is targeting the parliamentary seat in this economically blighted and almost exclusively white working class area. More than a third of council members are independents, and a fair few of them are ex-Labour. It is an unstable political mix, and one ripe for exploitation by the fascists.

So why is Labour’s inner-politburo of Gordon Brown, Harriet Harman and Peter Mandelson risking the Stoke-on-Trent parliamentary seat and decades of Labour political hegemony in the region by parachuting in from London an election candidate of their choosing?

High profile national campaigns against the BNP have their place, but they are no substitute for engaging with people in their communities. Tristram Hunt is undoubtedly a clever and able young chap, but his knowledge of Stoke is book-learned, and it will take him a considerable amount of time to establish a local base, and become accepted and trusted by the community.