One of the successes of the 1997 General Election was when Labour captured Birmingham Edgbaston from the Tories, despite the attempts by The Blue Team to smear the successful candidate Gisela Stuart, because she was born in Germany. This was Neville Chamberlain’s old seat, and had returned a Conservative MP since 1898.
This was not the best look for a Labour MP
Ms Stuart’s majority, though, was never a secure one, and in 2010 she was expected to lose the seat. She held on by fighting a fiercely independent campaign, and here the myth began to take shape. Other 1997 Labour gains may have been rolled back, but this one was secure, a testament to the personal qualities of its MP. Labour also held Birmingham Edgbaston in 2015. So when Ms Stuart decided to call it a day, and not contest the seat this year, the view formed that the Tories would take it back. They did not.
Instead, Preet Gill more than doubled Gisela Stuart’s 2,700 majority to over 6,900 votes, making the seat look almost a safe one. It seems that most of the UKIP vote - the Kippers did not turn up in June - had gone to Labour. Ms Gill probably also picked up votes from former Green Party supporters. Now, pundits began to stop and think - perhaps Ms Stuart had not been quite the miracle worker that had been portrayed.
Moreover, Ms Stuart had appeared to drift rightwards recently, to the extent that she was comfortable not only chairing Vote Leave, but also appearing with the likes of Michael “Oiky” Gove, the Murdoch hired hand, and of course London’s formerly very occasional Mayor Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson. That this rightwards drift was not a figment of the imagination has now been confirmed with Ms Stuart’s latest column.
That is because she has now fetched up on Conservative Home. Not that I want to go full Neil Kinnock or anything, but here we have a former Labour MP - a former Labour MP - scuttling over to one of the Tories’ propaganda organs, handing out columns.
And what is in that column only causes the myth to unravel further. “The EU is now having to deal with Brexit - the biggest shakeup to the institution in its 60-year history - but simply lacks the institutional ability to innovate and react to this unique challenge” tells Ms Stuart. But Brexit really isn’t the EU’s biggest ever shake-up, it’s managing it quite well so far, and its abilities remain untaxed. Unlike the UK and its capitulation last week.
After claiming that “Regulatory alignment” means “Single Market membership in all but name”, which may be right, she then asserts that having “no representatives in the EU who can help shape … legislation for the benefit of its own businesses or economy … is what the UK is currently facing if we choose to accept regulatory alignment”. But we have just signed up for it. There is no if, no but. The EU really does have that “institutional ability” that Ms Stuart claims mistakenly that it does not. It is in control, and we aren’t.
That is where her journey has taken us. It’s no good pleading “This is not what people voted for last June. They wanted to see a real change in how this country is run”. The only question on the referendum ballot paper was whether the voter chose to Remain, or Leave. Those who followed Gisela Stuart, believing the myth, were sadly misled.
But good to know that she has now confirmed her crossing of the floor. Sad, really.