Double barrelled problems for rich, non dom Tories

These are interesting times. The latest opinion poll in the Independent has the Tory’s lead down to just 3 points.  The likelihood of a hung parliament comes ever nearer. And it is great to see the Tories in such trouble.  David Cameron has had to apologise for unfounded attacks on Ed Balls’ handling of allegations against Muslim institutions. Tory candidates, including Brighton Kemptown’s own Simon Radford-Kirby have been advised to drop their double barrel names because they are trying to avoid coming across as Tory toffs.  He is now common-as-muck Simon Kirby.  Failed candidate in Brighton Pavilion, Scott Seaman-Digby, tried to do likewise by promoting himself as plain Scott Digby.  It didn’t work for him and it won’t work for Radford-Kirby.

As for the successful candidate in Brighton Pavilion, Chuck Vere, there is no suggestion that she is really Charlotte Alexandra de Pfeffel Johnson-Vere, and certainly not related to Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson also known as simple Boris Johnson. No, her problems are more serious.  She is a close associate of Zac Goldsmith.  Today’s Mirror reported that “rising Tory star Zac Goldsmith is avoiding tax by claiming ‘non dom’ status”.  Mr Goldsmith inherited a fortune from his industrialist father Sir James Goldsmith.  There have been calls for David Cameron to sack him. Non-domicile tax status lets people avoid tax on earnings outside the UK.  According to the Lib Dem peer, Lord Oakeshott, “He’s not fit to sit in parliament and must pay the millions he’s dodged to the British taxman.”

Mr Goldsmith has denied he had “dodged” tax and said, “Virtually all my income comes to the UK, where I pay full tax on it.” But he added that he had decided to give up his “non dom” status.  Because of her close association with Zac Goldsmith, Charlotte Vere should make a statement about her attitude to non doms, and she should condemn rich Tories for avoiding tax.

Scott Digby trying (and failing) to convince us he is local to Brighton Pavilion

Scott Digby just doesn’t get it. Clearly he is concerned that he may be (actually, will be) seen as a candidate parachuting into Brighton Pavilion. My post last night Scott Digby: A here today, gone tomorrow politician pointed out how he is exposing himself as so unlocal by commenting so badly on Brighton.

Today he has posted two articles on his blog that compound his insensitivity and shows why, inspite of his clear ability, hard work, and real nice-guy image (for which I can vouch), he is not suited to be the candidate in Brighton Pavilion.

In one post he comments on “how many people make Brighton and Hove their home – a whole city of newcomers it seems”. He has disregarded the majority of residents who were actually born here, but then he is not mixing with them, spending as he does most of his time at Bill’s, in the Lanes, and with the local Conservative Association. “With so many newcomers whether you have been here a year or a month it seems you are in good company”. Dig, Digby, dig.

In a second post he puts his finger on one of the most pressing issues for Brighton and Hove – property prices. “The issue of rising houses prices which despite the recent economic climate have increased nationwide by 1.2% in October (the sixth consecutive rise) are really hitting city workers in Brighton and Hove. With the average wage in the city around £21,000 a year, the average city house price bucks the trend at £268,000 compared to an average national level of £199,303”. This is good but shows a lack of touch with reality when promoting a scheme in the London Borough of Hillingdon where he is a councillor.

One major cause of property prices in Brighton being as high as they are is the number of people moving from London to Brighton. Demand for Brighton properties by those currently owning homes in London, resulting in the higher than average property prices locally, is one reason why so many local people can’t afford to buy here. Mary Mears, Tory leader of the Council understands this.

I wonder how she feels about a Londoner, who optimistically claims to qualify as being local (“the time I have spent in Brighton since 2001 probably qualifies me as equally local, on the ground pretty much 4 days a week at present and before the selection opened I was working down here on events”), moving to Brighton from London with the hope of taking the prize of Member of Parliament for Brighton Pavilion.

Scott Digby: A here today, gone tomorrow politician

Why are the Tories bothering with their Brighton Pavilion open primary’ (or what Jason Kitcat argues is, in fact, an ‘open caucus’)  given that Conservative Central HQ operative, Scott Seaman-Digby is so far in front of others that his selection is almost a formality.

Scott has busied himself around the constituency on official Party business well before the announcement of the shortlist. He has become well networked and opportunities have been created for him to meet with community leaders, the police and others. If I was one of the other five, I would be totally pissed off.

To his credit, he has been very busy meeting with councillors, Association members and others, and he has created a comprehensive website in record time, having launched it well before the shortlist was announced.  It was as if he had been tipped off about the shortlisting in advance. He is clearly very talented, and I have no doubt that he would be a diligent and hard-working Member of Parliament.

But for all his preparation and the launch of his website ‘Digby4Pavilion‘, a review of his ‘My Brighton Blog’, launched on 23rd October, reveals how shallow is his knowledge of Brighton and Hove. He refers to meeting with “Michael and Simon, the two selected Brighton candidates”.  I think the Michael being referred to is Mike Weatherley, Tory Parliamentary candidate for Hove & Portslade. Anyone with any local knowledge knows the uneasy relationship between Brighton and Hove, actually, and would never refer to Hove as Brighton.

His repeated, folksy use of life in ‘Pavilion’ is most strange. For example, he says that he met “local Pavilion councillors”. I know of no one who ever, ever uses the term ‘Pavilion’ as if it is a recognisable community or geographical area. Kemptown, yes, but Pavilion, no. And his reference to going to “the coast” and to “the seaside” suggests someone who sees Brighton as a fun day out, a bit of recreation, rather than a complex mix of communities.

Follow his itinery recorded in his blog. He discovers Bill’s in North Road, visits the North Laine, the Lanes, the County Hospital, Brighton College, Preston Manor, Withdean Stadium and Waterhall. He has lunch with Association members at Withdene. At the Open Market he meets a stall owned by the family of Councillor Mary Mears, the Conservative Leader of Brighton and Hove City Council. Yet he is still to meet working class Mary Mears (and here we return to the class divide within the local Tory Party – visits Brighton College, lunches in Withdean, but has yet to make the acquaintence of  Mary Mears).

In an earlier response to this blog he says that “the time I have spent in Brighton since 2001 probably qualifies me as equally local, on the ground pretty much 4 days a week at present”. (What does that say about his commitment to his constituents in Hillingdon?).

Given his itinery to date, he has barely scratched the real Brighton.  Sadly, his commitment does not run deep. In his blog on 27 October he says that “if I am not successful then the site winds down with a thank you to everyone I have met in the process”. He is a ‘here today, gone tomorrow’ kind of politician.


All new Tory Party: only investment bankers, Lloyds brokers, and management consultants need apply

There has been an unprecedented response to yesterday’s blog regarding the Conservative shortlist for Brighton Pavilion. This blog was accused of taking ‘cheap shots’ at the six prospective candidates.  I promise not to take any cheap shots at them in this post.  I’ll leave them to do that themselves, by quoting from their own blogs or those that will have their blessing.

Charlotte Vere is the ‘Chairman-elect’ (sic) of the Conservative Women’s Organisation. On the CWO’s website is a report of the launch of the Richmond Park CWO which was, you will be relieved to hear “a resounding success”.  The report says “With 30 ladies in attendance and after a sumptuous buffet lunch, the group heard from the Association Chairman, Cllr Pamela Fleming, who organised the lunch, then from the Chairman-elect, Charlotte Vere. Lady Annabel Goldsmith has agreed to become President of the CWO Committee”.

Scott Digby has made the most impressive start, having launched his own website  he appears to have the most professional campaign.  Well, why not.  He is a management consultant.  “One of my clients is the Conservative Party where I act as their Commercial Director, managing their procurement processes, suppliers and the commercial side of the conference activity”. He has already engaged with this blog, providing a robbust and amusing response to last night’s blog which commented (took a cheap shot, actually) at him changing his name from Scott Seaman-Digby to plain Scott Digby. He signed his comment “Scott Whatever-you-wish-to-call-him”.

Mary Weale is joint MD of Lloyd’s Insurance Brokers, and clearly a candidate in search of a constituency having been included on the Hammersmith shortlist. In 2004 she was beaten by Sir Malcolm Rifkind, the former foreign secretary, when trying to become candidate in in Kensington. After that selection meeting one of the younger members of the association, Paula-Ann Hawkins said she was impressed by the youthful Ms Weale. “The average age in there was about 70. You could say Mary has youth on her side and she is so good she has time to get another seat. You could say that he [Sir Malcolm] had age on his side tonight,” Ms Hawkins said.

Last night I reported that Anna Firth has been described as “a leading campaigner” for better early years education. However, she started off her career in the City where she worked as investment banker for two years before changing to become a Barrister. She was called to the Bar in 1991 and specialised in medical negligence law (although it is unclear whether she represented victims or insurance companies).

Douglas Chirnside, as reported last night, is a TV producer. Does anyone know what else he has produced other than “Sex and Shopping”? (That is a cheap shot, BPB).

Finally, there is local Tory Boy, Andrew Wealls. Well not that local., having moved to Hove in the last couple of years from London. “Andrew Wealls worked in the investment management industry for almost 20 years, most recently at Barclays Global Investors where he gained experience in portfolio management, client relationship development and business planning and management”.

Investment bankers, an insurance broker, a barrister, a management consultant, and a lady who does scrumptuous lunches (while not forgetting Sex and Shopping) – this is David Cameron’s new Conservative Party, opening up the selection process to all comers. Thank goodness it doesn’t look like the old Tory Party that was made up of investment bankers, Lloyds brokers, and management consultants.  Nice one, David!

Brighton Pavilion shortlist reveals Tory class divide and prejudice

The Conservative Party has announced a shortlist of six candidates for the General Election campaign in Brighton Pavilion.  And in so doing it has revealed what a class-divided Party it is.

First there is Scott Digby (or is it Scott Seaman-Digby?), the national Tory commercial director.  Why would he possibly have wanted to drop the Seaman from his surname.  It hasn’t held him back when becoming Leader of the Conservative Group on the London Borough of Hillingdon.  Then we have fellow London Tory councillor, insurance broker Mary Weale, who represents the good folk in the London Borough of Kensington and Chelsea.

No 3 is Charlotte Vere, a former finance director, now chief executive of Big White Wall, a charity for those with mental health problems.  She is joined by Anna Firth, who has been described as “a leading campaigner” for better early years education, and by Douglas Chirnside, a TV producer.  There was a TV producer called Douglas Chirnside (a common name amongst TV producers, I am sure) whose finest work was a series called “Sex and Shopping”.

Finally, there is someone from Brighton (you remember Brighton?  This election is for a Brighton seat!). Andrew Wealls was the Tory candidate who was beaten by Alex Phillips in Goldsmid in a by-election in July. I know Andrew and like him.  He is a decent, hard-working chap.  If selected he could put in good effort, but is hardly going to set the campaign on fire, especially against Nancy Platts and Caroline Lucas.

More interesting is the absence of Mary Mears and Maria Caulfield, two very strong female candidates, well-known and well-respected.  Either could out-flank Nancy and Caroline, not least on the Council estates in Brighton Pavilion.  Their omission from the shortlist is evidence of the deep class division that runs through the local Conservative Party. This division exists on the City Council where Mary Mears (Open Market) defeated Geoffrey Theobald (Brighton College) for the post of Tory Leader and, consequently, Leader of the Council.

From my point of view, the omission of Mary and Maria is great news as their selection would have almost guaranteed a Tory gain. The Conservative Association, led by the hapless Carol Ramsden, has handed Nancy and Caroline a head start, first by selecting Dr David Bull who then stood down, and now possibly Scott Seaman-Digby-Weale-Vere-Chirnside-Firth IV of the Royal London Borough of Uppity Class, as its candidate.

It may yet be a straight fight between Nancy and Caroline.  Bring it on.