Lee Rotherham: In Rotherham, Denis MacShane’s poisoned legacy is bigger than just expenses
Several years ago, I had the immense privilege of being selected as the Conservative general election candidate for Rotherham. The seat, of course, was held at the time by Denis MacShane, notorious for his EU logoed socks if not yet for already running a “think tank” next to his lawnmower.
Dr MacShane (his PhD was in international economics if not accountancy) had a peculiar reaction to my selection. Indeed, it was staggeringly brazen. Of all things, he criticised the association for delays in the selection process, claiming directly to the local press that the absence of a Conservative candidate had left the BNP with a free ride.
It was a calculated remark as poisoned as it was absurd. The election results indeed confirmed the existence of a significant BNP vote in the area. But what canvassing quickly proved, however, was that the greater part of this support came from traditional Labour voters. Why? Because the local Labour party took them for granted. I found estates that hadn’t seen a Labour canvasser in decades. These tended to be predominantly white working class areas.
People explained they felt that Blair’s government nationally simply wasn’t interested in their concerns, in coming up a coherent immigration policy or even explaining what the policy was. Nobody wanted to listen to this locally either. So now as voters they intended to send a message. They weren’t going to vote for me as I personally had closed down all the coal mines, despite being around fourteen at the time. That left using the BNP vote as a post-it message to Labour.
It looks then almost as if the attack on UKIP is an attack by proxy, and an ignorant one at that. The council is acting like the spoilt child who, once caught, kicks the family pet. It is nothing to do with the absurd allegations about UKIP and everything about Labour’s own pangs of guilt.
People deserve better both from their local council and from their representatives. At least this week, the people of Rotherham have an opportunity to break with a dodgy past, in more ways than one.