Naturally, Gareth Snell has roared into action. Labour were all over the constituency from the very moment Tristram Hunt declared Trexit and, as I've observed before, the party has a formidable machine and a real weight in the constituency that will be tough for its opponents to crack. That hasn't stopped people from outside the constituency who can't find Stoke without the aid of Google Earth have tried explaining to me that the local party couldn't have selected a less suitable candidate. Au contraire. Gareth has lived locally for 13 years, worked in a series of part-time, insecure jobs while a student, worked in a local MP's office where he dealt with the full gamut of constituent concerns, has sat and currently is a borough councillor, organised low paid workers as an employee of a local Unison branch and, most topically, defeated UKIP in a council by-election this summer in a ward that voted 80/20 to leave the European Union. His politics, while not Corbynist, are by any measure on the left. And during his too brief tenure as leader of Newcastle-under-Lyme Borough Council, he pushed through a no redundancies, no cuts to front line services budget despite government cuts to the local government grant while introducing the living wage (not the fake Tory rebranding of the minimum wage) to its lowest paid workers. It's worth noting that subsequent Labour administrations have carried on in this vein. No cuts, no diminution of service, no redundancies. In the context of Tory austerity, that sounds like a record any Labour member would be proud of.
It seems the objections all centre around Gareth's remain-ism and that he said rude things about Jeremy Corbyn on Twitter. Last thing first, while we all say daft things on social media in the heat of the moment there won't be too many Stokies bringing up Guido's "exposé" on the doorstep. Rather these have been all over his muckraking site and, surprise surprise, the Daily Express to generate social media interest in an attempt to suppress Labour support. This isn't meant to offend their readership, but to ensure the bulk of the new membership have an entirely passive relationship with their party. Why, some would reason, should anyone from Momentum turn out to help in Stoke when the candidate is evidently not a Jeremy supporter? Guido and the Express aren't interested in the truth, but they are interested in using anything to destroy the Labour Party as a going concern. It's sad that this has to be explained to folks who should, by now, know better.
The second point is on remain vs leave. The bookies are offering slightly more favourable odds to UKIP based on the assumption that Stoke Central heavily voted for leave and we have a remainer candidate. And that's where the analysis ends. But as noted previously, the record of all of last year indicates that if Brexit is a new political cleavage, an issue around which electoral fortunes turn, then it is a lopsided one. Leave voters have got their way. We're leaving the EU. Some might moan about the pace of the departure, but it's very much a minority pursuit. For most of them when it comes to politics, it's back to the same old same old. If Brexit was blocked it would then be a different matter. Remain voters, however, are more motivated by this issue. For a variety of reasons, they - rightly - believe Leave conned, lied, and stirred up hate on its way to victory. And so when elections come round they are moved to make a point about it at the ballot box. That explains how the LibDems have come surging back in local council by-elections, won in Richmond, and confounded expectations in Witney. It's how you can have bizarre results where the LibDems take a safe Labour seat in Brexit-supporting Sunderland. Had remain won, I have no doubt the terms would now be reversed. It would be UKIP enjoying another wind as the gust of defeat drives at its sails. And because of the song and dance UKIP are making about remain-supporting Gareth, they might be unwittingly helping Labour's chances.
Yes, I am aware there are other candidates in this election, so let's take a look. Jack Brereton won the Tory nomination to fight Stoke Central in a contest as foregone as any organised by the Zanu-PF. CCHQ are apparently pleading poverty and sinking all their resources into Copeland, but that doesn't mean the Tories won't wage a proper campaign. The Conservative group on the council are an ambitious bunch who fancy taking berths up in the Commons. For all sorts of reasons, a win is impossible but if they can take back second place and are seen to put UKIP back in their box, 2020 could make for an interesting time for them. The LibDems in Stoke are in a difficult place. I will give their man, Dr Zulfiqar Ali some credit. Rain or shine, he's stood and he's stood and he's stood, be it as a no hope parliamentary candidate, or a no hope council candidate. However, with local students not terribly well disposed toward his party for their tuition fee betrayal, and past LibDem support bound up with local "personalities" who've either retired from politics or now sit as City Independents, where can their vote come from? The same can be said for Adam Colclough of the Greens. Formerly of Labour, he absented himself from the party after the 2010 factional farrago left us with Tristram. But where is their support? Some students, yes. Scraps of votes around the slightly more better off parts of the constituency, yes, but enough to win back their deposit?
Moving from the parties to the living dead, this by-election sees the unwelcome return of the BNP. David Furness (who?) was their London mayoral election candidate in 2015, and describes himself as a "practising member of the Church of England". Because nothing advertises Christian values like the membership of a fascist organisation. While another opportunist carpetbagger, Furness's candidacy underlines the weakness of the local BNP. In fact, they have almost no discernible existence. Since we last took a look at Stoke BNP a few years ago, we found them a sad bunch sat in awkward silence over identical McDonald's Happy Meals. I am pleased to report the necrosis has continued apace. Their remaining activists have either dropped out of politics, or followed their local "brains", Mike Coleman, into the Albion First groupuscule/Facebook page. Yet for Stokies who did vote BNP up until 2010, the eclipse and tumultuous disintegration of the party since won't have registered. There will be some who rock up at the polling booth, spot the BNP on the ballot, and place their cross there as opposed to UKIP.
In the independent corner, we have two to choose from. Neither of which are associated with our friends the City Independents, of course. Mohammed Akram is a solicitor who has a history in local Muslim welfare organisations. And Barbara Fielding hails from Blythe Bridge on the city's outskirts. Quite why they're standing and what they hope to achieve is a complete mystery - something I often wonder about when independents contest parliamentary by-elections.
I'll pass over the Monster Raving Loonies (I await the inevitable "gags" in the comments box, below) and Christian People's Alliance, and head straight to Paul Nuttall. We've talked about him before, and he's given me more reasons to speak ill of him again. Consider this. If you are clever, if you claim "to have a PhD", if you are the leader of a political party and the media spotlight is on you, would you commit a violation of electoral law by declaring a house you've never been to in the constituency as your home, and then admit to it on national telly afterwards? He's been caught telling porkies, just like his time wearing the Tranmere Rovers' jersey and "being there" at Hillsborough. Here we have an incredibly brittle man whose national profile is entirely thanks to Nigel Farage. He knows he has no discernible qualities, which is why he has to make them up. And, I have to say, lying so much about his own biography easily lends himself to telling lies about immigration, about the NHS, about Brexit. And there's the small matter of being under investigation for office expenses fraud as well. Nuttall is a spiv, a fake, a lazy arsed mediocrity whose sole concern is to use politics to feather his bed. He doesn't care about Stoke, its problems, its people. The prize is another £75,000/annum and a few more years as Someone Who Matters, and he's quite prepared to wade in the sewer to get it.
And so the choice is pretty obvious. It's between stopping UKIP and their poisonous politics here, in Stoke, and throwing them into a reverse from which they may never recover. Or having them emerge victorious with all the terrible consequences for our politics that entails. It's between a union man who champions working people, and a lying wastrel who can't wait to sponge off the taxes of those selfsame workers. Are you in to stop this shit in its tracks?