Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Joy in Witney

Conservative Party members in Witney are exceedingly pleased with the Northern Ireland minister. Yes, you read that right. It is not everyday that a Labour minister gives such pleasure to Conservative Party members. And they are not alone in their jubilation. I will explain.

In 1997, a young man called Shaun Woodward stood as the Conservative Party Parliamentary candidate for Witney. Witney is a true-blue Tory seat, and Woodward seemed to fit the mould. Married to a wealthy heiress, he had that 'ideal son-in-law' look about him so beloved of traditional Tories.

Mr Woodward won his seat, but the Conservative Party did not do as well on the national stage. They suffered a devastating defeat, and the Labour Party went on to form the Government.

Mr Woodward was not happy to find himself on the losing end of things. He announced that he was switching parties, and joined the Labour Party. We now hear that he was promised a ministerial job by Tony Blair. As one would expect, the Conservative Party was livid, more so as he refused to do the decent thing and step down as the MP for Witney. He held on in that seat until the General Elections of 2001. A man of principle would have stepped down and triggered a bye-election.

Come 2001, and Tony Blair found a new seat for Shaun Woodward. He was imposed on the safe Labour seat of St Helen's. This traditional Old Labour constitutency found it hard to accept a multimillionaire ex-Tory as their Parliamentary candidate, much less one who employed a butler! I remember one of the tabloids hired a butler to follow Mr Woodward as he went canvassing around the constituency. He was not amused at the stunt, but it provided much hilarity for others. Labour held on to the seat, and in 2005, about four years later, Tony Blair finally kept his promise and made Shaun Woodward a minister in charge of Northern Ireland affairs.

Meanwhile, back in Witney, the Conservative Party got on with the task of choosing a new Parliamentary candidate. They felt betrayed, and who could fail to empathise? No one wants a turncoat MP, and they must have wondered what they had done to deserve that. Anyway, they chose a new candidate. He was a personable young man with a record of serving the Party. His name was David Cameron.

Forward to 2005. That young man was today elected leader of Her Majesty's Opposition. He beat his rival, David Davis, in a ballot of the party's members. The results were announced amid great fanfare, and there is an upbeat mood about the party. The future seems brighter for the Conservatives, and the contrast with the tired politics of the Labour Party could not be more stark.

The Witney Conservatives gathered in their constituency office to watch the announcement of the leadership results. They had some champagne, and offered a toast to their former MP, Shaun Woodward, for had it not been for his betrayal, we may never have got Cameron.
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