Sefton Central – not so much a sh*t sandwich as a ‘merde baguette’
THIS billboard defacement is as far as we got to some cut and thrust of political debate in the new Sefton Central constituency, a parliamentary area which hugs the Mersey shore from the prosperous towns of Crosby and Formby and stretching five or six miles inland towards Maghull.
Each of these stolidly middle class enclaves still quaintly cling to their former village status but are essentially commuter towns home to the many public servants, professional white collar workers and the prosperously self employed who have prospered in the New Labour era.
The mortgage boom has seen these towns grow and the middle class demographic has deepened in recent years with average house prices in Crosby and Maghull stretching from the £170k mark through to £220k.
Formby comes in at around £270k – but that is skewed by the millionaires’ row of Freshfield which is home to Steven Gerrard, some other footballers past and present and snooker legend John Parrott.
House prices have more than doubled in the last 10 years as they have become desirable communities for those public servants to raise their children.
It is not hard to see why they are desirable places to live. Strong, cheap public transport links to Liverpool (no more than 30 minutes away) make them commuter-friendly and each is home to a large number of reputable schools and each still has fairly strong church communities – Crosby, especially, is an historically strongly Catholic town with some excellent state faith schools.
But, despite Tory promises to axe many public sector jobs to cut the deficit and Labour’s pledges to boost the economy without touching the public sector, this constituency has seen virtually no electoral campaigning by any of the three main parties – at least down our way, anyway.
Perhaps, due to boundary changes, that may be down to the perception that it’s a shoo in for the Tory candidate Debi Jones, a former BBC local radio and shopping channel personality who has been a councillor for Crosby’s Manor Ward for four years.
The constituency was until 1997 solidly Tory – Thatcherite Sir Malcolm Thornton ruled the roost from 1983 to 1997. It’s true that Baroness Shirley Williams held it briefly for the SDP after a by-election in 1981 but she briefly replaced Tory grandee Graham Page who had held it from 1953.
A spanner was thrown in the Tory years by boundary changes in 1997 which saw the solidly Labour wards of the Waterloo area, essentially part of Crosby, taken out of Joe Benton’s Bootle constituency and rightly thrown into Crosby.
Britain’s one time most expensive MP, Claire Curtis-
Barking Thomas, one of the much vaunted Blair babes was parachuted in from Crewe and took the seat at a canter. She has made little or no mark on the area in her time and succeeded only in: a) boosting the sales of lads’ mags in an ill-conceived campaign to get them stocked on the top shelf and, b) garnering headlines for her vast office expenses.
But now Waterloo has ridiculously gone back in to Bootle (where a voter’s influence was seen to be about 0.0003 in a recent BBC exercise) and Sefton Central was created, with Maghull coming back from the Knowsley North/ Sefton East constituency that George Howarth has held from its creation in 1997.
So, getting back to the defaced billboard, what debate has there been in Sefton Central? That’s an easy question to answer: none whatsoever.
In the four weeks of the campaign I have met only one candidate – the safe encumbent of Coventry North East – defence secretary Bob Ainsworth (above) who was out on the stomp for Labour’s Bill Esterson.
Esterson is another parachuted-in Labour candidate, coming this time from Medway where he was a councillor for 15 years.
My sole experience of him has been some badly designed leaflets through the door which prove only that someone he knows can’t take photographs or use Photoshop’s magic lassoo tool – but more of rubbish election leaflets this week.
The Lib-Dems have Richard Clein, a member of Liverpool’s Clein LD dynasty, a former BBC journalist who now works for leading global PR firm Bell Pottinger. He again hasn’t been near the stoop of GM Towers and has also only posted poor newsletters through the letter box. I have written previously about how one leaflet looked like a An Phoblacht off-cut from the 80s.
In fairness, I haven’t contacted him until today when he dilligently replied to a tweet, but a man of his talents, family experience and undoubted personality should have been out on the stomp much longer, if indeed the Lib Dems thought they really could take the seat. I think the Shinners could show them a thing or two about campaigning when it comes to the kinds of apparently lost causes even
my ma’s favourite saint of lost causes, St Luke Jude might blanch at.
So it all comes down to the bookies’ favourite La Jones, the Tory candidate. Selected in 2005 to run this year, she presumably jumped to the front of the queue thanks to her media background and ability to switch on Christmas lights – despite the fact that there were a number of longer serving councillors who could have done the job too.
We have had a couple leaflets from the Tories, but Dave Cameron has written more often than those closest to home and Debi’s entire pitch seems to be that ‘she is just like us’, but again more on crummy election literature tomorrow.
On the issues, such as they are locally and nationally, there have been no hustings and no public debates on what Crosby is going to get after the election of whatever government. The Tories, in particular have resorted to reprinting scare stories from the right skewed press (see below) in a bid to scare us to vote for them – now that’s mature.
Thanks to slashing of editorial staff by Trinity Mirror, which controls the local newspaper market, media coverage isn’t what it might have been in previous years.
It’s not as if this corner of middle England isn’t going to suffer from any cuts to the economy and particularly the public sector economy. Dave Cameron has already targeted the North West, North East and Northern Ireland as areas of public sector reliance to be addressed. Extrapolating wildly from my anecdotal experience, that’s going to affect the many teachers, school administrators, doctors, nurses, coppers and local government media types I know from my extended social circle.
Labour and the Lib Dems have spent most of their time telling us that we should vote for them because the other can’t win it, again without telling getting into the issues that matter in the constituency. Presumably because GM Towers is in a safe Tory ward, we are not deemed to be worth a visit in these cash strapped and volunteer light times.
However, most importantly, like the rest of North Merseyside we will be electing yet more back bench fodder.Just as Liverpool Walton, Bootle, Knowsley North/ Sefton East etc have got in recent years, we are not going to get an MP who will make a blind bit of difference to the national debate – unless of course it’s on the key issue of getting the prisoners’ favourite, Nuts magazine, banished to the top shelf.
Debi Jones is not going to get a high ranking Tory portfolio as she has neither the ambition nor Tory central office links – she is a strictly a very provincial answer to an anti-Labour question.
Richard Clein has the ambition and personality to make a career out of it – in the manner of Southport’s John Pugh – but he’s still a Lib Dem and Esterson will be back in Medway before you can say Billy Childish.
So, for voters, it all amounts on a local level to a simplistic and democratically self defeating exercise of a) getting rid of the hated Brown, b) hating the vacuity of Cameron’s empty flim flam or c) daring to believe that the untested Clegg could usher in an era of mature three party politics and the most recent opinion polls tend to mitigate against the latter option, now.
The conclusion, therefore, is that in this era of re-branding and electoral marketing the choice in Sefton Central is not so much a shit sandwich but more of a ‘merde baguette’ – same old same old, just a different title. Bon appetit, mes copins!