Status anxiety

Toby Young: Why do so many people want me to take on Andy Slaughter?

14 September 2013

9:00 AM

14 September 2013

9:00 AM

I was at a surprise birthday party for a member of the cabinet last week when a Conservative minister spotted me walking past and grabbed my arm.

‘You must do it,’ he said.

‘Do what?’

‘Become the Conservative candidate in Hammersmith. If all you manage to do is defeat Andy Slaughter and then spend the rest of your life on the backbenches you’ll still have achieved far more than most of us in politics. He’s ghastly, that man, -ghastly.’

This has been a common reaction to my disclosure in The Spectator that I’m thinking of embarking on a political career. Slaughter may have a majority of 3,549 but he’s far from universally loved.

‘I once commented that I would rather have my testes replaced with hornets’ nests than vote for Toby Young,’ wrote a commentator beneath last week’s column. ‘But the prospect of Andy Slaughter is even more unappealing.’ The Sunday Times suggested I might want to use that as a campaign slogan.

One of the reasons Slaughter is so disliked — not by everyone in the constituency, but by many — is that he’s so divisive. Like many of his Labour colleagues, his standard political tactic is to pit the haves against the have-nots. For instance, when I was in the process of setting up the West London Free School, he claimed in his constituency newsletter that my group was ‘ousting… a school for severely disabled children in its rush to open’.

That was being economical with the truth, to put it mildly. Yes, we eventually moved into a building that had been occupied by a school for special needs children, but we did that at the request of the school’s headmistress and chair of governors. We’d originally planned to move into another building called the Bryony Centre, but when the special needs school discovered this they asked if we could switch places, leaving us with their old building. We didn’t ‘oust’ them. We moved into their school because they asked us to.

Slaughter has form when it comes to smearing his political opponents, particularly the Conservative group that runs Hammersmith and Fulham borough council. He was leader of the council until 2005, when Labour lost control to the Tories, and it still rankles. In 2008, he claimed the council had no plans to cut council tax after 2010. In fact, council tax was cut by 3.75 per cent this year and will be cut by 3 per cent next year. (It doubled during his nine-year tenure.)

He told the House of Commons in 2011 that the council was planning to close nine Sure Start centres — typical Tories, eh? In reality, the number of Sure Start centres in the borough has increased from 15 to 16. Last year, he told Parliament that more than 1,000 children would have to leave the borough as a result of the ConDem cuts. In fact, only 10 families have moved out of the area as a result of the housing benefit cap.

When asked about the possibility of running against me by the local paper, he said I’d have to answer the same questions any other Conservative candidate would, namely, whether I support ‘the closure of Charing Cross hospital’. Needless to say, the council has no such plans. The man is shameless.

I’ve only met him once and that was in the House of Commons three years ago. He told me that if Labour wins in 2015 it will place free schools and academies under local authority control. I’ve got nothing against Hammersmith and Fulham council, but that would be the end of the freedoms Michael Gove has secured for taxpayer-funded schools. Reason enough to oust Slaughter right there.

I still haven’t made up my mind, and to a great extent it depends on the attitude of my wife and children. It came as a shock to me earlier this week when my five-year-old son Charlie asked me if I was a pupil at the West London Free School. I spend so much time there he thinks I actually go to the school in the same sense that he goes to his primary.

Caroline is ambivalent about my political ambitions. It’s not the time away from home she minds so much as the prospect of being press-ganged into standing outside Shepherd’s Bush Tube station on a weekday morning to hand out election leaflets. That, and the risk that I’ll become even more pompous. ‘I didn’t sign up to be the wife of a Tory MP,’ she says.

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Toby Young is associate editor of The Spectator.

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