Now that the dust is settling on the news that Stoke-on-Trent Central MP Mark Fisher is to step down on health grounds, names are emerging thick and fast for the vacancy
As previously reported on this site City Labour Party Chair Sarah Hill and Election Organiser Jane Heggie were the first names to be linked.
I can reveal that other names that have been linked with the vacancy include Labour Councillors Tom Reynolds and Adrian Knapper.
Another name to be linked is that of Alison Wedgwood, a Labour Party Member and wife of Tom Wedgwood.
Gary Elsby is desperate to be a candidate after 30 years dedicated loyal service to the Labour Party. His timely removal from the parliamentary list has thrown his candidature into serious doubt. He is committed to standing as an MP in the area he has served for many years. It is rumoured that he has the support of a large section of the membership in the constituency. The sad fact is he may have to step outside of his beloved party to achieve this. I think he is totally prepared to do this.
Alison Wedgwood is rather an unknown quantity. She was in Stoke-on-Trent South for a time and is now a member of Stoke-on-Trent Central. My information would lead me to believe that she is not that active a member and does not attend many meetings.
Adrian Knapper is based in Nantwich which will not be a problem for him as far as being a Labour PPC but there are members who question whether he should be allowed to stand as a City Councillor. I don’t think it makes a difference where he lives as long as he’s able to cope with the workload. Some people in Stoke Central are against him because of his time in the EMB and his support for the policies of the previous Elected Mayor. I think people underestimate Adrian, he is ambitious and committed and his suggestion that the long service of Mark Fisher be recognised by the City is both honourable and credible.
Tom Reynolds is a guy I have had a lot of contact with. He is a councillor for the ward in which I live and we have worked together on issues like anti-social behaviour and schools/BSF. Tom is always accessible. He is compassionate and caring and has strong but progressive Labour values. He is extremely well liked in our ward and I think he would make a very capable and hard working MP. He is a guy who has a strong social conscious and would work tirelessly for his constituency. Whether Labour members in Stoke Central hold the same view is an entirely different matter. He would no doubt, through his association with Rob Flello MP, be viewed as one of ‘those West Midlands’ crowd.
Wouldn’t it be positive if all those who have expressed an interest in standing shared their vision for Stoke-on-Trent Central with us through this site. We would welcome their involvement even if they chose to contribute without allowing people to comment on their submissions.
There are also names from outside of the City being linked to this Labour safe seat
The selection criteria is expected to be announced on Friday and it is rumoured that there will be an eventual shortlist of 80% women and 20% men which could mean that by the time the Special Selection Panel, the NEC and the Regional Office have finished with the cull of names, the rank and file membership could be left with the choice of just 4 females and 1 male candidates.
The Labour Party have to act quickly and decisively on this issue. They have to show some sympathy for the views and opinions of the rank and file members in Stoke Central. Why not try and claw some form of respectability back and allow their ‘preferred’ candidates to go up against those that are wanted by core members and work on the old adage of best man/woman wins.
I admit that I would find the prospect of a hustings where Sarah Hill, Jane Heggie, Tom Reynolds and Adrian Knapper went up against the likes of Gary Elsby on a stage answering the same questions in the same pressurised environment.
I have a lot of time for both Tom Reynolds and Gary Elsby and would love to see them go head to head in a hustings. Both love the Labour Party, but both have perhaps a different starting point. Both their own men, Tom the new kid on the block and Gary who has waited for his chance since the early 80’s when he joined the party around the same time as I did.
How intriguing would it be to see Sarah Hill and Jane Heggie vying for the same votes when they both have a similar outlook on the Labour Party, where it is today and which direction it needs to travel in next.
The danger for Labour though is that they are so focused on themselves and their own ambitions that they are in mortal danger of allowing a runner to come up through the pack on the rails.
Whilst Labour are busy jockeying for position, the Conservatives are mounting a confident campaign. Norsheen Bhatti is no also ran. She has the backing of an assured campaigning team and the reports I am getting is that she is getting a very positive reaction.
Another Independent candidate is about to enter the fray in the guise of the Deputy Leader of the City Council, Brian Ward. He is a thoroughly nice guy and a confident speaker who’s key skill is the ability to interact with the electorate. I think he has a real chance of polling very well. Constituents in Blurton speak very highly of him and that appeal could transfer over to Abbey Hulton, Bucknall and Bentilee which are similar areas of social housing.
Of course the far right vote is heading for a split. Alby Walker who is enormously popular in Abbey Green and has a City wide profile will surely take votes off the BNP PPC Simon Darby. Darby disappointed some of the electorate with his no show at the YMCA organised Youth Hustings last week. He also missed a massive opportunity to engage with the young and first time voters. Just how many entrances are there to the Victoria Hall? If only he had contacted the organisers he could have escaped the few protesters that had gathered to greet him.
The Lib Dems will just plod and have no real chance in my opinion. They will mount a very low key campaign that will lack the flash, bang, wallop, needed to make a real impact.
Paul Breeze who failed to retain the Mayoral system when he campaigned against Mike Barnes and Democracy4Stoke is also standing as an Independent.
Matthew Wright is the Candidate for The Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition.
There will also be a candidate from the National Front who will serve only to fragment the far right vote even further.
Interesting times I’m sure you will agree…..