Leave Delingpole alone

We complain about boring politicians, and then put them on the front page when they make a joke.

I like Delingpole-bashing as much as the next person. No, wait, I clearly like it far, far, far, far more than the next person. Which is why it hurts me to say: leave Delingpole alone.

Not that one, though. The other one.

Dick Delingpole, James' brother, is a UKIP candidate for Worcestershire County Council. Mindful of the fact that the Conservative party is freaking out about a purple wave – not to mention his own higher-than-average media profile, stemming not only from his sibling but also his Telegraph blog about historical re-enactment – he tweeted a joke yesterday.

That was his first mistake.

He tweeted, "I'd better get rid of this old Facebook photo before the Tories get hold of it", accompanied by the above image, of himself photoshopped three times into the background of a photo of Hitler.

It's never great to have to explain jokes, but let's break this down: the joke is that Delingpole is pretending that, just as some UKIP candidates have skeletons in their wardrobes, he was secretly a member of the Nazi party in 1940. And is also secretly one of three identical triplets. The humour comes from the fact that it is obviously nonsense.

But not obvious enough, apparently. Simon Geraghty, the local Tory candidate, complained, and Delingpole ended up on the front page of the Worcester News, and then in the Guardian, where Nicholas Watt writes:

The party apologised for the Photoshopped image and said that Dick Delingpole, a candidate in Worcester who is the brother of the writer and climate change sceptic James, had a "very deep sense of humour".

Dick Delingpole, a businessman who re-enacts scenes from history in his spare time, decided to doctor the image with Hitler to mock the way in which the Tories have been trawling social media sites to find embarrassing pictures of Ukip candidates. He placed a shot of himself on three men in Nazi uniforms standing next to Hitler.

Now, I don't doubt that the reporters at both those papers will correctly point out that what they were doing was reporting on the "row", rather than condemning Delingpole outright. And it is true that there is a row, with Geraghty telling the Worcester News that:

I find it absolutely sickening and abhorrent. I think the vast majority of British people will find this shocking – it's not funny at all, it's dreadful and I can't believe he's done it.

But pretending that Geraghty's absolutely tone-deaf complaint merits filing Delingpole in the same "nazi row" cabinet as the candidate who claimed World War Two was engineered by Zionists is nonsensical.

Next time someone complains about how dull politicians are in Britain, just remind them that that didn't happen by accident.

Delingpole's Hitler pic.

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

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Who will win the Copeland by-election?

Labour face a tricky task in holding onto the seat. 

Too close to call, neck-and-neck, down to the wire. Pick your cliché for a close-run thing, and that’s what the parties are saying about Copeland.

No governing party has won a seat in a by-election since 1982, and the seat has been Labour-held since 1935, but the circumstances could scarcely be more favourable to the Conservative Party. They are well ahead in the opinion polls and Labour’s electoral coalition is badly split over Brexit.

To add to the discomfort, Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour leader, has a long history of opposing nuclear power, though he has sounded a more supportive note since becoming leader. Sellafield is the main employer there, so regardless of the national picture, that would be an added complication.

Given the competing pressures from the Liberal Democrats on one side and the Conservatives and Ukip on the other, Labour should expect significant erosion in the 42 per cent of the vote they got in 2015. To win, all the Conservatives have to do is tread water. And it's worth noting that so far in this parliament, the results in by-elections have been what you'd expect according to the current state of the parties in the polls - which would mean you'd back Labour to win Stoke but the Tories to win Coepland. 

That Theresa May has visited the seat attests to the closeness. Privately, neither party can be confident of winning. For the Conservatives, that makes it worth putting Theresa May, currently the most popular politician in Britain if the polls are to be believed, into the fray, because what have they got to lose? For the Labour leadership, there is nothing to "win" if they hold a seat in opposition, but there is something to lose if they cannot hold it and Corbyn has visited in the final week. 

What is keeping Labour competitive is the state of the health service in Cumbria. If West Cumberland, the hospital, is closed, then residents will face a two hour drive to the nearest hospital.

The local “success regime” is the cause of significant public opposition. "There are a lot of people who are angry about Jeremy, angry about Trident [the submarines are made nearby]," says one MP, "But they also understand that if they vote Labour they will not be bringing in a government that closes Sellafield but they can send a message about West Cumberland [the hospital that is under threat of closure]."

So Labour have reason to be more cheerful than the bookmakers are concerned. The outcome will come down to what the question that voters are asking when they vote is: if it is nuclear power, the Tories will win. If it is healthcare, Labour will triumph.

In that, May’s visit has probably helped Labour on balance. She could have decisively shifted the contest by making a commitment to keep West Cumberland open and to secure the future of the Moorside nuclear plant. But she did neither, and instead that meant that the local newspaper splashed on her refusal to confirm that the hospital was safe. Which, in a close election, may well be the difference as far as winning and losing are concerned. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.