I didn't write about the Bedford mayoral election last week as I was concentrating on Bracknell, so allow me to share a few thoughts now. Much has been written about the Open Primary, most of it derogatory and blaming it for the fact that the LibDems pipped the Conservatives to the post in winning the election. It's a very simplistic viewpoint but one which needs answering.
Since the mayoral election it has been announced that the Bedford Deputy Mayor, and one of the losing participants in the Open Primary, has been expelled from the Party for two years. The reason, I am told, is that she refused to support the winner, Parvez Akhtar, and then proceeded to undermine him throughout the campaign.
That didn't surprise me. Despite consenting to every aspect of the running of the Open Primary, including coming on the stage afterwards to endorse the winner, Nicky Attenborough had a face like a saucer of sour milk. Afterwards she sent a bitter email to Eric Pickles saying that the winning candidate had packed the meeting and that most of the people there either couldn't speak English or were Liberal Democrats or Labour. Utter balls.
Parvez did indeed mobilise support - as the open primary process encourages all candidates to do. All four candidates were local and all four were afforded exactly the same opportunities. The fact is that Mrs Attenborough didn't feel she needed to go through a selection process. She felt it was buggin's turn and that all she needed to do was to turn up to be crowned the winner. Her CV was appallingly presented and her interview was weak. She did not like being questioned and refused to give her view on two key local issues. She also failed to mobilise support. That was why she lost.
It was unforgiveable of her to act is such a petty and petulent way after the election. These two letters from the local paper say it far better than I ever could...
Sir - I was a candidate-neutral participant at the Mayoral selection meeting that Nicky Attenborough claims was hijacked. As far as I am aware, every candidate had equal time to prepare and to mobilise support.
Everyone there had pre-registered and was a Bedford Borough voter – the problem was that there were insufficient people on the door to verify the ID of so many attendees.
The resultant late start limited the candidates’ time to present themselves, but each was afforded the same time to make their impression.
It is a rather foolish and petulant leap to assume that because she was unsuccessful, people couldn’t understand what the candidates were saying.
Each candidate was asked the same series of questions, unfortunately the tenor and tone of her responses did not reflect what the meeting was looking for in a candidate, and my personal view is that she wouldn’t have carried the room even if the doors had been shut at 7.30pm as advertised.
She is to be admired for putting herself forward; but at best her outburst shows her to be politically naive and rather negative, and at worst, divisive and from an era which is thankfully long past.
Either way, these are not endearing qualities in a potential Mayor.
She would have been better advised to hold her counsel and get full square behind Mr Akhtar.
Cornwall Road, Bedford
Sir - Yet another complaint from Nicky Attenborough. Does she really expect the public to vote for a candidate who cannot even organise her own supporters to do something as simple as to attend a meeting and then, as Tory leader, goes on to vilify the organisation of the meeting and its selection procedure.
Worse, she insults a large number of people from the Asian community who did make the effort to attend.
As its previous occupant demonstrated the office of Mayor deserves a better organiser and person than this.
Wood End Road,
The fact is that any local resident had a right to attend. Mr Akhtar (who performed best on the night) mobilised his supporters and got his vote out. That's what should happen in a contest. Phillip Lee did that in Bracknell far better than I did, clearly. Do I complain about that? No I do not. What a pity Mrs Attenborough hadn't acted in the same way and got behind Parvez Akhtar. Would it have affected the final result and stopped the LibDems winning? Very possibly. The electorate doesn't vote for disunited parties, and the split in Bedford Tories meant that it was always going to be an uphill struggle.
Mrs Attenborough has now paid the price for her rank disloyalty. What a pity Parvez Akhtar had to suffer the consequences of this woman's self indulgence. And what a pity she, by her actions, has tarnished the idea of Open Primaries.
I congratulate the LibDem candidate David Hodgson on his victory. I hope he does a good job for the people of Bedford.
UPDATE: Further to my previous post about Bedford, I just got this email....
I was at the 2001 parliamentary seat selection for Bedford - she [Nicky Attenborough] made sure that the final members meeting was held in Kempston, where she was the local councillor. She duly packed the room with local supporters of hers.... and strangely enough, won.
Strange how these things happen.
Perhaps Parvez Akhtar learned about political organisation from Mrs Attenborough's own example. It would be cruel to say what goes around, comes around. But it would be accurate.