Technically, a Member of Parliament cannot simply resign from Parliament. Instead, they must apply without any sense of irony for an office of profit.
Chris Huhne, after pleading guilty to perverting the course of justice, did not resign as an MP. Under arcane parliamentary law, it is actually illegal for a sitting MP to pack it in and find a proper job. Already in enough trouble with m`learned friends and awaiting sentencing, Huhne is required to seek the sinecure office of Crown Steward and Bailiff of Her Majesty`s Chiltern Hundreds of Stoke, Desborough and Burnham. Unlike the long gone law of coverture, this little legal loophole has not been repealed and so we are today treated to a parliamentary by election in the fair constituency of Eastleigh.
It seems entirely appropriate that one of Eastleigh`s most famous sons is, or rather was, Benny Hill as the by election campaign has had more to do with low comedy than high politics. The list of hopeful candidates reveals that democracy in the UK should never be taken seriously and is something that is open to ridicule. The usual crop of attention seeking personality disorders are on display begging for votes but this time they are joined by a cohort of loonies even more barking than the mainstream parties. Given a choice of 14 candidates, the good people of Eastleigh have a difficult decision to make based not on policy but on who is the least worse. If the voters have a dilemma, consider the anguish of a Monster Raving Wessex regionalist pet that is loved by Elvis and has a penchant for beer, baccy and crumpet. Now that, to use a phrase much favoured by coalition ministers as they stick the knife in, is a tough decision to make.
Discounting the idiots still desperate for 30 seconds on television having failed the audition for daytime reality TV, there are some candidates who imagine that they should be taken seriously. Sadly, the noble causes they embrace are single issue politics and they are unlikely to trouble the returning officer. A Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition sounds like a good idea as does a party that promotes peace and now, of all times, a National Health Action Party deserves attention. Apart from that bloke in Kidderminster a few years back who stood against the closure of a hospital and Martin Bell who replaced the pathetic Neil Hamilton, single issue manifestos seldom work. In Tatton, Martin Bell was replaced by George Osborne. The Christian Party “Proclaiming Christ`s Lordship” have avoided campaigning in the name of resigned Popes and Cardinals and the policy of The English Democrats – “Putting England First (exclamation mark)” would put England first up against the wall. The only Independent standing seems to have an unhealthy obsession with the evils of same sex marriage. It does not need Sigmund Freud to make the connection between homophobia and denial.
It is easy to dismiss the fringe candidates and categorise them as “also ran”, but one bunch of nutters look likely to do rather well. The disturbing Nigel Farage has exhibited his usual purple-faced, eye-bulging charm on the mean streets of Eastleigh bellowing his UKIP nonsense. Astonishingly, he might be in with a shout and must be kicking himself for chickening out and not standing in person. One can only hope that the people of Eastleigh are in possession of common sense.
Given Chris Huhne`s disgrace and the shameful capitulation of the national leadership, the woeful Liberal Democrats put up a bland candidate in the hope that the electorate would consider him too dim to be capable of any wrongdoing and so not bring any further embarrassment. Liberal Democrat strategists, however, forgot the legacy of Benny Hill. When the Conservative candidate proved to be such a colossal liability, historical allegations of an old, fat, ugly man chasing young, scantily-clad women in fast-forward accompanied by Yakety Sax began to surface. The results were hilarious as the hapless candidate when asked could only repeat “it`s under investigation”, Paddy Ashdown was wheeled out to not answer questions on sexual impropriety and a noble Lord threatened sub judice at any mention of the past. It is disappointing that the noble Lord has such a diminished knowledge of the law. Sub judice does not apply to internal investigations by a political party but does apply once criminal proceedings have commenced. With the Plod knocking on the door, the noble Lord might require sound legal advice once the Eastleigh result is declared.
The selection of the Conservative candidate is, perhaps, the most amusing. Having previously stated that the only people to benefit under Tony Blair were “immigrants, gays and foxes”, some of her more recent comments have resulted in her Tory minders keeping her a million miles away from cameras, microphones and even hustings. Not since Osborne disappeared during the 2010 general election campaign has a candidate spent so much time locked in a cupboard with a bag over their head. Her enforced purdah came about due to a series of astonishing public gaffes. When challenged on her stance to disallow women control of their own bodies, the interview was cut short by one of her minders. She also claimed that her son was “very gifted” and so “the right sort of education for him” would be “impossible in the state system”. There is something very disturbing when an ambitious would-be politician exploits children, let alone their own child, for political point scoring. One shudders to think of the reception her “very gifted” child received from his peers at school the following morning. It seems that this halfwit, along with the hopeless Liberal Democrat, are joint favourites to win the by election.
Labour have, at least, selected an actual comedian as a candidate. Well, perhaps not a comedian as such but certainly a satirist. He will come away probably beaten but with an added bonus of a wealth of material that could keep him writing for years. His opponents have scoured his work for some dirt and actually found some. Years ago he wrote in a book expressing disappointment that Margaret Thatcher had not perished in the Brighton bombing. Clearly, the comments that he made make him totally unsuitable for public office. He is unsuitable for public office because he has retracted his words and when challenged offered the “irony” defence. At the time, many of us were more than disappointed that Margaret Thatcher had not perished in the Brighton bombing. With the selection of a satirists or comedian, perhaps Labour are looking to Italy where humorist and blogger Beppe Grillo is holding Italian politics and the future of the European Union to ransom. Whatever next? Roy “Chubby” Brown as Minister for Equalities perhaps?
As Chris Huhne takes the Chiltern Hundreds, an office of profit and waits for prison, his successor will enjoy an increased salary, a protected pension, generous expenses and subsidised food and drink as benefits provided by the state. Huhne, as a convicted felon, is exempt from the evil bedroom tax unlike people with disabilities, bereaved parents or families who happen to have a spare bedroom.
Politicians might find this funny, but the public are not laughing.