Comment: Stoke-on-Trent Central – The Impact & The Aftermath

The great thing about writing for a site like Pits n Pots is that every so often you get the opportunity to give your 10 penneth to the current hot debate.

So here goes – On the 16th of March I wrote the following:

“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”.

Well, prepared he certainly was. Yesterday he announced that he was to go it alone and as it was Good Friday, a slow news day, he was maxed out on media attention.

He has made the move, thrown his hat in the ring and now there is no way back for him.

I have been covering the whole sorry saga of Stoke Centrals battles with the West Midlands Regional Office and the paid enforcers of the National Executive Committee for many months now.

Yesterday’s announcement was the Champions League Semi-Final of the competition, there have been many preliminary rounds, but we are now close to the Grand Final which will be played out in front of the nation on May 6th.

The Labour Party have to take the ultimate responsibility for this whole fiasco.

Firstly, those in the Regional Office who decided that Gary Elsby, Barry Stockley & Mick Williams were not suitable and deemed ‘hostiles’ and subsequently prevented from standing in the local elections. Were their crimes ever explained?

Why were they treated differently to people like Joy Garner and Joan Bell who walked out of the Labour council group and joined a Conservative coalition, only to walk back into the party without any recrimination what-so-ever. Why treat these people differently? I suggest the party hold an urgent inquiry into this whole sorry debacle and those ultimately responsible for the witch hunt against these individuals should be forced out of the party with the same dignity shown to Elsby, Williams and Stockley.

It has been suggested that Gary Elsby would have been better served by staying in the party and to help bring those twisted officers to book for their actions. No volunteers deserve to be treated the way these three have by paid officers of a political party.

Secondly, if the Special Selection Panel were directed to include and exclude certain names it should be made public and an explanation given.

Who ever was responsible for not putting a woman or any local candidates on the shortlist must be named and shamed. It was a travesty in the least and an act of political incompetence at worse.

The decision not to allow local names on the shortlist was a terrible mistake. It has left some individuals pondering their future within the party. Sarah Hill, Jane Heggie and Merv Smith all made the interview stage and I’m told gave a good account of themselves. Tom Reynolds and Adrian Knapper did not even make the longlist. What a joke, I say ambition must be encouraged not stifled.

To their enormous credit most local candidates have expressed their disappointment but urged everyone to united behind the chosen candidate.

There has got to be an end to imposed candidates and rigged shortlists. The Labour Party need to focus on the fact that they have an election to win, not on the possible leadership battle which may follow.

The one person that can not in any way be blamed for the way the Central Three have been treated or the way the shortlist was compiled is Tristram Hunt.

Some of the comments that have been kicking around the Internet have been laughable.

The suggestion that someone with a name like Tristram or someone as posh as he is can not serve the electorate of Stoke-on-Trent Central adequately is quite frankly, an insult to all those that live in the constituency.

He has the backing of the two men responsible for bringing Mark Fisher MP to the City, Terry Crowe and Barry Stockley.

They did not think that it was an issue that Mark Fisher was educated at Eton or was the son of a Conservative MP. I don’t doubt for a second that they think Tristram’s education, profession or heritage should be an issue either.

I have met Tristram Hunt and found him to be a hugely impressive character. I know he felt that the shortlist should have been more extensive and included local names.

I know also that he is committed to uniting the party and reconciling the differences between the region and the constituency. I know he would have fought to get Gary Elsby back onto the parliamentary list and allowed to stand for council in 2011.

Tristram comes with no baggage attached as far as the past battles of the City Labour Party or the Regional/NEC interference.

He is also untainted by the past scandals such as the MPs expenses and the abuse of parliamentary privileges.

He must be judged on the pledges he made prior to being selected which are:

“¢ Fight to keep schools located in our communities
“¢ Use all my business, political and media skills to bring investment, regeneration, tourism and jobs to Stoke;
“¢ Work tirelessly to improve the profile of Stoke-on-Trent nationally;
“¢ Tackle the BNP head on and remove their vicious stain from our streets;
“¢ Build a vibrant and inclusive local party;
“¢ Liaise with local groups, the police and Council to fight anti-social behaviour;
“¢ Make a family home in the constituency;
“¢ Publish transparent and open expenses.

If Tristram Hunt has the ear of the likes of the Business Secretary Lord Mandelson, I can think of worse allies. If he can use his influence to get our City a better deal, help with regeneration and attracting inward investment, this can only be a good thing can’t it?

He must not be judged on the treatment handed out to Gary Elsby but he could help to make certain that this never happens again to anyone within the Labour Party in Stoke-on-Trent.

I have spoken to lots of people who are sympathetic to Gary Elsby’s plight, some close to him and some not so close.

Whilst these Labour Supporters want those responsible for the treatment metered out to Gary to be forced out or to resign from the party, they will not be voting for Gary.

The people who I have spoken to believe that their party is bigger than any one individual. They believe that people like the excellent Peter Kenyon will carry on fighting their cause and that the media attention caused by this story will ensure changes to the selection processes of the future.

The biggest fear for the normal Labour Supporters I have spoken to is that Gary Elsby may split the Labour vote and let the BNP or the Conservatives in through the back door.

I have been told that Tristram is approachable, accessible and inclusive.He needs to prove it by getting out and meeting as many of the electorate as he can. He needs to show people his qualities. He needs to hold as many public events where members of the public can voice their concerns and ask their questions of him.

I have known Gary Elsby since 1979. We joined the Labour Party at the same time in the early 80’s.

I know that he has been hurt badly by recent events. I do believe he has been treated appallingly badly by the Regional Officers and the NEC paid enforcers. I do believe that they have acted on information supplied to them by local members.

Gary has chosen to chart his own course. He will give it his best shot but I think deep down he would still prefer to see a Tristram Hunt as an MP rather than a Simon Darby.

The question now is how long it will be before those who have encouraged him come out and publicly back the candidate that they voted for with a massive majority at the hustings?

People must realise that this has being on the cards for far longer than just the past few days. No matter who would have been shortlisted Gary was deemed as unsuitable and removed from the parliamentary list. He knew this better than anyone.

Gary’s argument is not with Tristram Hunt but those individuals who have acted like Pontius Pilate in deciding peoples fate.

Meanwhile Tristram Hunt will campaign to prove he is worthy of stepping into his predecessor’s shoes.

Mark Fisher thinks that he is more than worthy.

The confirmed candidates in Stoke-on-Trent Central could fill all the outfield positions on a Football pitch [11], god help us if the subs bench starts getting full too!

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About Tony Walley

I was Abbey Hulton born and bred, now live in Meir Hay.I'm married to Nita, we have 2 kids Tom 19 & Amy 17.I'm the Managing Director of a local aluminium stockist.I'm also a radio presenter and presented sport on radio for a number of years, more recently for Focal Radio.It was on Focal that I got the chance to present a programme of my favourite music genre which is Soul & Smooth Jazz. The programme was really popular and attracted overseas listeners online.Look out for our new venture - Community Radio for the good folk of the 6 Towns!I was the original creator of the blog Pits'n'Pots which gained some credibility when Mike Rawlins joined the site and has now blossomed into this site.I love sport particularly Golf & Tennis. I packed up playing football some years ago when I started picking up lot's of fines for bookings from late tackles!I play golf at Leek Golf Club and Tennis at Draycott Sports Centre.

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