The Selby and Ainsty by-election triggered as a result of Nigel Adams’ hissy fit at being refused a peerage, has thrown his local Conservative association into something of a turmoil. Adams’ resignation came on 10 June, a day after Boris Johnson quit his Uxbridge seat following the privileges committee concluding the former PM had ‘recklessly’ misled parliament.
The local association was quickly out of the blocks. Within hours they had announced their candidate was to be Michael Naughton. The speedy response isn’t quite as surprising as it first appears, since Adams had already made clear he wouldn’t contest the seat again and had been telling friends since last July that he was in line for a peerage, making the cardinal error of actually believing a Johnson pledge.
Naughton lasted six days before standing down due to a “family medical emergency”, having the night before declared he was “thrilled to be selected as the Conservative candidate here and I will be out campaigning immediately”.
A “very unusual” selection process
Naughton’s selection meeting was described as “very unusual” by one attendee, in that all three candidates impressed and there was no front runner. Local man and North Yorkshire councillor Andrew Lee, and Zak Khan, both lost out. Sebastian Payne, once a leader writer for the Financial Times and now director of the think tank Onward didn’t even make the short list.
There was apparently some disquiet among members due to the process being conducted according to the new boundaries of the Selby seat, rather than the existing ones and therefore the “wrong members” were involved in Naughton’s selection. In 2024 the constituency will change to include part of Elmet and Rothwell.
Two days after Naughton stepped aside, the party announced that Claire Holmes, a barrister from Gilberdyke, would be the new candidate even though she doesn’t appear to have been among the hopefuls that ‘impressed’ in the original contest. I don’t know if that says more about her or the others. Maybe they weren’t that impressive after all or perhaps would-be Tory MPs are spoilt for choice nowadays, who knows?
None of this would be obvious by the way from visiting the Selby Conservative association website which was last updated on 14 June and concerns itself with a story about planned changes to Selby’s garden waste collection service. They must have been too busy on other matters.
Tory election literature
The Conservative Party appears to have adopted another ‘unusual’ – though not unprecedented – approach to the election literature being sent to local residents in both Selby and Ainsty and in Uxbridge and South Ruislip, Johnson’s old seat. For a start, Holmes’ pamphlet barely mentions the Conservative Party and there is no reference to Nigel Adams at all. I know because I’ve looked and employed others to check, and as far as we can see the word ‘Conservative’ pops up just once inside at the foot of page two. At first glance, you would be forgiven for thinking she is running either as an independent or for the Green Party.
The familiar Tory tree logo is completely absent, along with anything that could remotely be called an achievement after 13 years in power. The same is true of Uxbridge, where the party and the former PM have similarly both been airbrushed out, perhaps wisely given Johnson’s reputation among voters for incompetence, mendacity and corruption.
Selebians learn that Holmes is a ‘Yorkshire’ girl with her parents being “all Yorkshire through and through”.
And a ‘special edition’ of the North Yorkshire Chronicle – a free four page ‘newspaper’ which is presumably intended to give the appearance of being independent but seems to have lifted all of its news directly from Holmes’ election leaflet – reports that her father was a miner and her mother a seamstress. The Chronicle was published by the same person responsible for her pamphlet: Stefan Houghton, a Tory councillor from Eaglescliffe, Co Durham who unsuccessfully fought the Hartlepool seat for the Tories in 2019.
Holmes’ position as a high-flying barrister at Wilberforce Chambers in Hull isn’t mentioned, although buried in the text is an admission that she is a lawyer and runs a community pub, although not at the same time I assume. Ironically, in the leaflet’s section on “our values”, it includes the old line attacking “lefty lawyers”.
Any Conservative candidate in Selby would normally be expected to take the seat comfortably.
Adams won in 2019 with a 20,317 majority. At any time other than the present it would be enough to guarantee five years on the Westminster gravy train. But times are far from normal. Polling by Britain Predicts and reported in the New Statesman puts Labour’s Keir Mather marginally ahead, albeit by just 0.1%.
Selby, a safe Tory seat since 2010, has now become a marginal.
The national picture
Three by-elections are being held on the same day (20 July) and it could be a total wipe out for the Tories.
Uxbridge and South Ruislip is as good as lost, with Labour 20 points ahead. Meanwhile in Somerton and Frome – where the sitting Tory David Warburton resigned after being suspended from the Conservative Party last year while being investigated over accusations of sexual harassment and drug abuse, which he denies – the Lib Dems have a handsome lead of 24 points. Warburton had a majority of 19,213 at the last election.
As if all that wasn’t depressing enough for the Tories, in Mid-Bedfordshire where the electorate are twiddling thumbs waiting for Nadine Dorries to actually carry out her threat to step down, a bloodbath awaits. The Telegraph published the results of a survey by Opinium showing that Labour would overturn the near 25,000 Conservative majority: Tories face biggest by-election defeat in British history in Nadine Dorries’s old seat. The constituency has been Tory for 92 years, but even they seem to have had enough.
Peter Kyle, Labour MP for Hove, has been campaigning already in Mid-Beds and says:
“It is unprecedented, in my experience, to stand on a doorstep and have every resident tell you what’s wrong with the party you’re trying to beat rather than being the person who has to tell them and convince them.”
This morning, the standards and privileges committee ruled that the former Conservative deputy chief whip Chris Pincher, who was accused of groping two men in a London club last year, should face an eight week suspension. He had already announced he would quit as an MP at the next election and may well choose to jump before he’s pushed. The party would then face another by-election in his Tamworth constituency where he had a 19,000 majority four years ago.
Adams is perhaps living proof of Britain’s deep-seated productivity problem. After 13 years in the House of Commons, nobody can remember anything of note that he did, apart from brown nosing Johnson. Very expensive but ultimately producing nothing tangible.
He once claimed that Brexit would allow the UK to ‘leapfrog’ the economies of Germany and Japan into third place behind the USA and China, but is perhaps best remembered for asking Theresa May to campaign for step-free access to Selby railway station immediately after resigning from her government in April 2019. He can’t even be accused of being ambitious for Selby.
It’s not even obvious why Johnson nominated the school caretaker’s son from Goole for a peerage in the first place, since Adams is credited in some quarters with persuading the disgraced prime minister to employ Pincher in the whip’s office, the move which resulted in Johnson’s exit from Downing Street. Pincher and Adams are said to be drinking partners and were part of the ‘toxic cabal‘ around the PM. This is the same Pincher, of course, who is facing the eight-week suspension that could soon trigger the fourth / fifth by-election.
Ironically, the House of Lords appointment committee turned Adams down for the peerage because he hadn’t indicated he intended to resign his seat, which would have meant a by-election, something he and the party wanted to avoid. Now we have a by-election and he doesn’t have a peerage.
One person whose nomination to the Lords was accepted is Charlotte Tranter Owen, the 29-year-old special adviser who appears to have gone to ground. No one can understand what the lady has done to deserve the honour but once again Adams appears to have been involved. Number 10 insiders told Tortoise Media last month that “She was promoted very heavily by Nigel Adams … but there were dozens of people more senior than her”.
Adams’ website (www.selbyandainsty.com) was taken down almost immediately but you can find an archived copy HERE. I can’t find an official resignation statement although this may be understandable in the circumstances. He did post a message in his LinkedIn page, with the responses giving some idea of the regard in which he was held by constituents. It was mostly a torrent of abuse (“Good riddance you shocking grifter”).
Adams Twitter profile now describes him simply as ‘Yorkshireman’. Not Lord Adams of Goole as he once hoped.