Iain Dale's EXCLUSIVE Norwich North story: less than meets the eye

by Stephen Tall on June 24, 2009

Tory blogger Iain Dale got very over-excited last night with his EXCLUSIVE article, Clegg Approached Martin Bell & EDP Editor to Stand in Norwich North. Sorry to say it, Iain, but I’m a little underwhelmed. Here’s why…

First of all, Iain has hardly covered himself in glory in his coverage to date of the Lib Dem by-election campaign in Norwich North. He made a bit of a prat of himself last week, when accusing the party’s candidate April Pond of “whoring” herself around Norfolk, as she was already selected for the new parliamentary seat of Broadland. (And yes, that’s right, the man who so fiercely objected to Michael White’s use of the term “hissy fit” as sexist really did accuse a female candidate of “whoring” herself around. Irony meet Iain, Iain meet Irony.) Sadly Iain preferred not to mention that a fair chunk of Broadland falls within Norwich North, a point which rather torpedoed his argument. Even in yesterday’s post he wrongly referred to the two constituencies as “neighbouring”. In fact they’re overlapping.

Secondly, let’s acknowledge the bit of Iain’s article which counts as a ‘scoop’: that Nick Clegg has approached a couple of personalities – former BBC journalist and former ‘sleaze-busting’ MP Martin Bell, and ‘veteran editor’ of the Eastern Daily Press Peter Franzen – to consider standing as the Lib Dem candidate in the by-election. To which my 100% genuine reaction (assuming Iain’s story is right) is: well done, Nick. I’m delighted our leader is willing to approach folk from beyond the traditional political career-ladder and ask them to join and stand for the Lib Dems. After all, it worked pretty well for the Liberal party and Clement Freud in the 1973 Isle of Ely by-election.

But, thirdly, (and here’s the point Iain, as a Tory, seems to have some difficulties comprehending) even if Nick had persuaded either Martin Bell or Peter Franzen to stand for the Lib Dems they would still have had to have (i) been approved as a party candidate, and (ii) been selected as the candidate by the local Lib Dem party. Y’see Iain, unlike other top-down parties the Lib Dem leader can’t just foist a candidate on an unwilling local party – so we can’t do, nor would we want to do, what David Cameron did to the Ealing Southall Tories in 2006, and parachute in a candidate who turned out to be a liability. To suggest, therefore, that April Pond is ‘The Third Choice LibDem Candidate’ is just plain wrong.

So, overall, well done, Iain, for finding out for us that Nick Clegg is busy casting the candidate net far and wide in pursuit of the best possible potential Lib Dem MPs. I’m pleased to hear that’s happening. Now if you could just remember in the future that Broadland constituency and Norwich North are overlapping – and apologise for using the rather unpleasant term “whoring” of April Pond – then that really will be something worth branding EXCLUSIVE.