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.

Photo: Getty Images
Show Hide image

Why are boundary changes bad for Labour?

New boundaries, a smaller House of Commons and the shift to individual electoral registration all tilt the electoral battlefield further towards the Conservatives. Why?

The government has confirmed it will push ahead with plans to reduce the House of Commons to 600 seats from 650.  Why is that such bad news for the Labour Party? 

The damage is twofold. The switch to individual electoral registration will hurt Labour more than its rivals. . Constituency boundaries in Britain are drawn on registered electors, not by population - the average seat has around 70,000 voters but a population of 90,000, although there are significant variations within that. On the whole, at present, Labour MPs tend to have seats with fewer voters than their Conservative counterparts. These changes were halted by the Liberal Democrats in the coalition years but are now back on course.

The new, 600-member constituencies will all but eliminate those variations on mainland Britain, although the Isle of Wight, and the Scottish island constituencies will remain special cases. The net effect will be to reduce the number of Labour seats - and to make the remaining seats more marginal. (Of the 50 seats that would have been eradicated had the 2013 review taken place, 35 were held by Labour, including deputy leader Tom Watson's seat of West Bromwich East.)

Why will Labour seats become more marginal? For the most part, as seats expand, they will take on increasing numbers of suburban and rural voters, who tend to vote Conservative. The city of Leicester is a good example: currently the city sends three Labour MPs to Westminster, each with large majorities. Under boundary changes, all three could become more marginal as they take on more wards from the surrounding county. Liz Kendall's Leicester West seat is likely to have a particularly large influx of Tory voters, turning the seat - a Labour stronghold since 1945 - into a marginal. 

The pattern is fairly consistent throughout the United Kingdom - Labour safe seats either vanishing or becoming marginal or even Tory seats. On Merseyside, three seats - Frank Field's Birkenhead, a Labour seat since 1950, and two marginal Labour held seats, Wirral South and Wirral West - will become two: a safe Labour seat, and a safe Conservative seat on the Wirral. Lillian Greenwood, the Shadow Transport Secretary, would see her Nottingham seat take more of the Nottinghamshire countryside, becoming a Conservative-held marginal. 

The traffic - at least in the 2013 review - was not entirely one-way. Jane Ellison, the Tory MP for Battersea, would find herself fighting a seat with a notional Labour majority of just under 3,000, as opposed to her current majority of close to 8,000. 

But the net effect of the boundary review and the shrinking of the size of the House of Commons would be to the advantage of the Conservatives. If the 2015 election had been held using the 2013 boundaries, the Tories would have a majority of 22 – and Labour would have just 216 seats against 232 now.

It may be, however, that Labour dodges a bullet – because while the boundary changes would have given the Conservatives a bigger majority, they would have significantly fewer MPs – down to 311 from 330, a loss of 19 members of Parliament. Although the whips are attempting to steady the nerves of backbenchers about the potential loss of their seats, that the number of Conservative MPs who face involuntary retirement due to boundary changes is bigger than the party’s parliamentary majority may force a U-Turn.

That said, Labour’s relatively weak electoral showing may calm jittery Tory MPs. Two months into Ed Miliband’s leadership, Labour averaged 39 per cent in the polls. They got 31 per cent of the vote in 2015. Two months into Tony Blair’s leadership, Labour were on 53 per cent of the vote. They got 43 per cent of the vote. A month and a half into Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, Labour is on 31 per cent of the vote.  A Blair-style drop of ten points would see the Tories net 388 seats under the new boundaries, with Labour on 131. A smaller Miliband-style drop would give the Conservatives 364, and leave Labour with 153 MPs.  

On Labour’s current trajectory, Tory MPs who lose out due to boundary changes may feel comfortable in their chances of picking up a seat elsewhere. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog. He usually writes about politics.