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Saturday 5 February 2011

Fat Eric – The Way Out

So the “Bradford Revolution” had ended: just 20 months after taking charge at City Hall, Eric Pickles saw the Tories lose five seats to Labour, beginning a decade in power for them. But what of the future? Pickles initially dismissed suggestions that he would be running for Parliament, but events showed otherwise.

Just two months after that local election defeat for his party, Fat Eric fetched up at a selection meeting in the then safe Tory seat of Halesowen and Stourbridge, which is a long way from Bradford. There were two other hopefuls on the ballot, one of whom, former MP Warren Hawksley, was selected. Hawksley lost his seat – not helped by boundary changes – in the Blair landslide of 1997.

Pickles had kept his trip to the West Midlands quiet: this, together with his public denial of Parliamentary ambition, did not go down well. But it didn’t stop him trying again, and the following month he tried to get nominated for the North Yorkshire seat of Scarborough. This time he failed to even get on the short list, but once more he was fortunate not to be selected: John Sykes won in 1992 but – once again not helped by boundary changes – lost in 1997.

By now it was clear that Fat Eric was not long for Bradford, but the council’s Tory group did not move against him. In any case, they didn’t have long to wait, as at the third attempt, Pickles was selected for rock-solid safe Brentwood and Ongar: Robert McCrindle, the retiring MP, had enjoyed a majority of almost 19,000 in 1987. This time, Pickles had a better chance of success: his was the only name put forward.

So, in April 1991, Fat Eric ceased to be leader of the Tory group on Bradford council. His twelve year stint as a councillor ended the following month: he therefore did not have to face the electorate again. As Pickles made his journey south to the land of upmarket city commuters, others were left to pick up the pieces of his bruising reign.

Eric Pickles is a figure of paradox: here is a career politician who has done little outside public service, and who has done very nicely out of that service, overseeing cost cutting that will put tens of thousands of public servants out of work, in an echo of his brief leadership of Bradford council. Other questions remain – on who precipitated the Honeyford affair, some aspects of the “Bradford Revolution”, and Pickles’ animus towards the Audit Commission.

Zelo Street will continue the attempts to shed light on those matters, and anything else that will better inform a wider knowledge of the present Communities Secretary.

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