The Tory party has announced its candidate for the Middlesbrough by-election: Stockton solicitor and Conservative councillor Ben Houchen.
Although (understandably) the Tory party doesn’t say so on its website announcement, I’m reliably informed that Mr Houchen was the only applicant for a seat that the Tories must regard as a no-hoper, so it wouldn’t really be accurate to say he’s been selected.
There are a couple of interesting aspects to the quotes surrounding his candidacy. On Mr Houchen’s own blog, he quotes Tory MP for Stockton South, James Wharton:
“Ben is a great candidate with strong links to Middlesborough, after years of taking the people of the town for granted he is the right person to give Labour a real run for their money. I look forward to supporting his campaign over the coming weeks.”
Since it’s likely that he’ll amend the page once he hears about his errors, an image of the page is below as proof, and I’ve also saved it on freezepage.com here.
Mr Houchen is apparently a local boy. As such, he ought to be well aware that if there’s one thing people from Middlesbrough hate, it’s seeing that extra ‘o’ in the town’s name. We may add it in ourselves when we shorten the town’s name, as we often do, to ‘the Boro’, but in the full version there’s only one ‘o’, and we get quite snippy when outsiders get it wrong. So for a local candidate to get it wrong is almost unthinkable – and speaks volumes.
Interestingly, the Tory party’s own announcement of the ‘selection’ doesn’t make the same mistake, so it appears to be Mr Houchen’s own error and not one he’s simply copied and pasted across from his party’s site.
There’s also an interesting ‘Freudian slip’ in James Wharton’s quote. In trying to accuse Labour of neglecting the town, Wharton says:
“Ben is a great candidate..after years of taking the people of the town for granted he is the right person“
The phrasing used – though of course it’s unlikely it’s what he consciously meant to say – clearly means that Mr Houchen has neglected the people of the town for years and that this makes him the right person to represent the Tory party.
Perhaps that explains the misspelling.
It doesn’t go far enough, though. The Tories have not just taken Middlesbrough for granted – they’ve tried constantly to undermine and impoverish the town – to punish it for its Labour heritage and take away its resources to allocate them to somewhere that will vote Tory.
Labour may have taken the town for granted as a safe seat for a long time under Stuart Bell, but new candidate Andy McDonald is making very sure he doesn’t make the same mistake. I was door-knocking with him on Saturday in the Thorntree, and he told me that his campaign plan will mean that every house in the town should receive a personal visit from either Andy himself or a representative.
The perception of most people in the town may be that a Labour win is a foregone conclusion (as it well should be, given how the town is shafted by the Tories at every opportunity), but Andy and the Labour party are taking nothing for granted. Andy’s a local man who’s passionate for the town and its people – and who’d never misspell ‘Middlesbrough’! – and he and Labour are doing everything possible to make sure local people are galvanised to get out and vote in numbers way beyond the usual by-election turnout level. He’s definitely not going to be a mere seat-filler in Westminster, and by opening a full-time constituency office in Middlesbrough he’s going to ensure that Labour has the visibility in the town that it should have.
So, if you live locally, put 29 November in your diary and make sure you get out and vote Labour – and if you can’t get out, there’s still time to apply for your postal vote to make sure you don’t miss the chance to have your say.
And better still, get down to Labour’s campaign office at 255 Linthorpe Road, share in the buzz and help with doorknocking, delivering campaign leaflets, making phone-calls or just compiling campaign materials. The town deserves a representative whose heart is in Middlesbrough’s best interests – and who has the right number of ‘o’s!