The loss of a good man

When the perks are so attractive, it's no wonder our public servants are tempted by retirement

A politician's life is nothing if not unpredictable; you plan a day and then the phone rings and some "crisis" or media raucousness has to be dealt with.

So it was the other day when as leader of the Conservative Group on the London Fire Authority I received an urgent phone call from our Commissioner for London (until four years ago the holder of the post was known as the Chief Fire Officer but members of the Fire Authority were not going to allow Livingstone's former transport commissioner Bob Kiley to take precedence) telling me he had accepted the post of Chief Fire Advisor to the government and the minister was going to announce it that afternoon.

Well, Sir Ken Knight is indeed the most professional fire officer of his generation in an occupation desperately lacking any men (and they are all men) who know which knife and fork to use at the Mansion House, but I expressed surprise that he was taking a job of advising a minister (Angela Smith) held in universal contempt in the fire world, not least because the only subject she has taken an interest in is the colour of a suggested new national fire uniform.

Furthermore, the traditional post of Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Fire Services (and with it the honour of laying the wreath at the Cenotaph on Remembrance Sunday) had been abolished following the forced retirement of the last incumbent, the bumbling Sir Graham Meldrum, much, rumour has it, to the personal displeasure of Her Majesty herself, who does not like elected politicians interfering with posts appointed by Royal Warrant.

Sir Ken, who led London's response to the 7 July Bombings, is not daft. He is following an increasingly well worn path in the public sector in that he will officially retire from the Fire Brigade, take his six-figure lump sum payoff from the pension scheme, his not insignificant annual pension (all of which he is perfectly entitled to) and a £160,000 salary (plus bonus, apparently).

The pioneers in this field were Ian Johnstone, chief constable of the British Transport Police, and his deputy, Andy Trotter, who take substantial Met pensions and no doubt well earned salaries.

But for men who obviously do not deserve their salaries we need look no further than the designers of the new Olympic logo.

For £400,000 (that is even more than Sir Ian Blair earns as Met Commissioner), we have something that has been universally derided and even had Ken Livingstone spitting feathers with his office apparently in despair with Seb Coe for allowing another Olympics PR disaster and the opportunity for the likes of me to pop up on endless news outlets and have an "easy hit" (Memo to self: remember to decline the rude and cantankerous Nicky Campbell on Radio Five Live and stick to those nice presenters on BBC Radio Cambridgeshire who are just grateful for any notable guest).

Oh well, perhaps we should ask the Olympic logo designers to organise the new Fire Brigade national uniform!

Brian Coleman was first elected to the London Assembly in June 2000. Widely outspoken he is best known for his groundbreaking policy of removing traffic calming measures
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Is defeat in Stoke the beginning of the end for Paul Nuttall?

The Ukip leader was his party's unity candidate. But after his defeat in Stoke, the old divisions are beginning to show again

In a speech to Ukip’s spring conference in Bolton on February 17, the party’s once and probably future leader Nigel Farage laid down the gauntlet for his successor, Paul Nuttall. Stoke’s by-election was “fundamental” to the future of the party – and Nuttall had to win.
 
One week on, Nuttall has failed that test miserably and thrown the fundamental questions hanging over Ukip’s future into harsh relief. 

For all his bullish talk of supplanting Labour in its industrial heartlands, the Ukip leader only managed to increase the party’s vote share by 2.2 percentage points on 2015. This paltry increase came despite Stoke’s 70 per cent Brexit majority, and a media narrative that was, until the revelations around Nuttall and Hillsborough, talking the party’s chances up.
 
So what now for Nuttall? There is, for the time being, little chance of him resigning – and, in truth, few inside Ukip expected him to win. Nuttall was relying on two well-rehearsed lines as get-out-of-jail free cards very early on in the campaign. 

The first was that the seat was a lowly 72 on Ukip’s target list. The second was that he had been leader of party whose image had been tarnished by infighting both figurative and literal for all of 12 weeks – the real work of his project had yet to begin. 

The chances of that project ever succeeding were modest at the very best. After yesterday’s defeat, it looks even more unlikely. Nuttall had originally stated his intention to run in the likely by-election in Leigh, Greater Manchester, when Andy Burnham wins the Greater Manchester metro mayoralty as is expected in May (Wigan, the borough of which Leigh is part, voted 64 per cent for Brexit).

If he goes ahead and stands – which he may well do – he will have to overturn a Labour majority of over 14,000. That, even before the unedifying row over the veracity of his Hillsborough recollections, was always going to be a big challenge. If he goes for it and loses, his leadership – predicated as it is on his supposed ability to win votes in the north - will be dead in the water. 

Nuttall is not entirely to blame, but he is a big part of Ukip’s problem. I visited Stoke the day before The Guardian published its initial report on Nuttall’s Hillsborough claims, and even then Nuttall’s campaign manager admitted that he was unlikely to convince the “hard core” of Conservative voters to back him. 

There are manifold reasons for this, but chief among them is that Nuttall, despite his newfound love of tweed, is no Nigel Farage. Not only does he lack his name recognition and box office appeal, but the sad truth is that the Tory voters Ukip need to attract are much less likely to vote for a party led by a Scouser whose platform consists of reassuring working-class voters their NHS and benefits are safe.
 
It is Farage and his allies – most notably the party’s main donor Arron Banks – who hold the most power over Nuttall’s future. Banks, who Nuttall publicly disowned as a non-member after he said he was “sick to death” of people “milking” the Hillsborough disaster, said on the eve of the Stoke poll that Ukip had to “remain radical” if it wanted to keep receiving his money. Farage himself has said the party’s campaign ought to have been “clearer” on immigration. 

Senior party figures are already briefing against Nuttall and his team in the Telegraph, whose proprietors are chummy with the beer-swilling Farage-Banks axis. They deride him for his efforts to turn Ukip into “NiceKip” or “Nukip” in order to appeal to more women voters, and for the heavy-handedness of his pitch to Labour voters (“There were times when I wondered whether I’ve got a purple rosette or a red one on”, one told the paper). 

It is Nuttall’s policy advisers - the anti-Farage awkward squad of Suzanne Evans, MEP Patrick O’Flynn (who famously branded Farage "snarling, thin-skinned and aggressive") and former leadership candidate Lisa Duffy – come in for the harshest criticism. Herein lies the leader's almost impossible task. Despite having pitched to members as a unity candidate, the two sides’ visions for Ukip are irreconcilable – one urges him to emulate Trump (who Nuttall says he would not have voted for), and the other urges a more moderate tack. 

Endorsing his leader on Question Time last night, Ukip’s sole MP Douglas Carswell blamed the legacy of the party’s Tea Party-inspired 2015 general election campaign, which saw Farage complain about foreigners with HIV using the NHS in ITV’s leaders debate, for the party’s poor performance in Stoke. Others, such as MEP Bill Etheridge, say precisely the opposite – that Nuttall must be more like Farage. 

Neither side has yet called for Nuttall’s head. He insists he is “not going anywhere”. With his febrile party no stranger to abortive coup and counter-coup, he is unlikely to be the one who has the final say.