The insider - Paul Routledge on Theresa May's tame gorilla
Theresa May's tame gorilla, tarts' charter and Shaun Woodward's town house still unsold
New Labour's centralisation of power is quickening apace. MPs have been told that they must tell Old Queen Street HQ by 23 December whether they intend to stand at the next election. Party strategists have sussed out the ploy that some backbenchers planned to use: delaying an announcement until the eve of the election to avoid the imposition of an all-women shortlist. The letter to MPs says that any indications after the cut-off date will be treated as "late indications" and will "invite an automatic all-women shortlist". Regions have been given quotas they must achieve. In Yorkshire, party bosses want ten women in winnable seats, in the north-east (where this is known ungallantly as the "tarts' charter"), they are looking for another seven. That number will rise to eight, because Joyce Quin is stepping down to become First Geordie in the new North East Assembly. She hopes.
A footnote to the secret union bosses' meeting in Blackpool on funding for the Labour Party. The idea of a five-year programme of finance is not entirely unconnected with the fact that quinquennial ballots for union affiliation to the party start next March. Every union sailed through the "Tebbit ballots" last time round, but five years of new Labour in government have made some of the prospective votes look pretty shaky. Ergo, the hurry to get the cash committed tout de suite.
The St Stephen's Constitutional Club in Great Queen Street, hard by Westminster, is to undergo a change of identity. The Tory club has fallen on hard times because of the collapse of the long lunch market, and there being so few Conservatives around these days. The building has been bought for an undisclosed sum by the Irish Club, which is selling off its grand premises in Eaton Square. We can look forward to a portrait of James Connolly hanging where Margaret Thatcher currently stares down on diners.
On the same street, I am reliably informed, the elegant town house formerly occupied by turncoat Tory MP Shaun Woodward is still on the market, though the price has been dropped by a million to around £5m.
Tony McWalter, the Labour MP and Open University philosophy don notorious for having embarrassed Tony Blair by asking about his personal philosophy during Prime Minister's Questions, has been landed with Mike Penning as his Tory rival in marginal Hemel Hempstead. This will be an interesting intellectual contest. Penning, an ex-squaddie and former firefighter, is Theresa May's tame (well, almost) gorilla in the press department of Conservative Central Office. He was last seen comforting Iain Duncan Smith before his "quiet man" speech to the Bournemouth conference. IDS prepared for his ordeal with a swift bout of parade ground physical exercises, followed by declaiming his first few lines several times over. Corporal Penning patted him on the back, saying: "It's gonna be fine."
One week on from Mrs May's appeal for more minority candidates, Hammersmith and Fulham Conservative Association met to choose its standard-bearer at the next election. Did they opt for the Asian contender, community consultant Syed Kamall? No. They picked Greg Hands, a single, white, American-born former City trader, who's made so much money that he has retired at the ripe old age of 36.