Thursday, 28 May 2015

The Melanie Baddeley "Affair"

Meet Melanie Baddeley. She is one of two councillors elected from Stoke-on-Trent's Abbey Hulton ward. She, along with a representative from UKIP, was returned by the local elections that took place three weeks ago. Melanie has been a councillor before, representing Abbey Green (as was) between 2008 and 2011. And today she was due to be made the deputy Lord Mayor. All in all, quite unremarkable really. And so would be the person of Cllr Baddeley if it wasn't for one blemish on her character. For nine years, Stoke-on-Trent's politics were disfigured by the presence of the BNP. Their brief stay in the council chamber between 2002 and 2011 earned the city a reputation for racism and intolerance. According to the council's own internal figures, funding bids lost and investment that never materialised thanks to the bigoted image they promoted amounted to hundreds of millions. At one point, a senior figure at Staffordshire University told me they had seriously considered pulling out and concentrating their campus in Stafford. The council lost staff, local public sector bodies and companies had difficulty recruiting from outside the area, in all it was appalling. All because a small fascist party fed off local disaffection by whipping up racism and scapegoating powerless ethnic and religious minorities for the city's problems. And who was one of the BNP's leading members at that time? None other than Melanie Baddeley.

Since noting that Baddeley's nomination for deputy mayor might not be a good idea, events have moved on. For the Labour Group, Ruth Rosenau argued that it was not appropriate for someone who once stood on the politics of division to represent a diverse city. The local anti-fascist group, NorSCARF said "history as a BNP councillor made it very difficult for her to represent all the people of Stoke-on-Trent". Stoke North MP, Ruth Smeeth also said "appointing a "former" right-wing extremist to the mayoralty will divide our communities and repel business investment in our city." And so this afternoon when the assembled councillors filed in to propose their choices for lord and deputy lo and behold, Baddeley's name had been withdrawn. Amazing what a bit of pressure and the promise of a ceaseless headache can do. Imagine every function scheduled for her: allowances would have to also be made for her constant shadowing by anti-fascist protesters. Not a good look for a city desperately courting inward investors.

Of course, Baddeley thinks this is much ado about nothing. She originally set her nose against the protests by claiming "I left the BNP following the 2011 elections and in the four years since I have continued to work hard in my community. I no longer support the BNP or any of its policies and beliefs." Council Leader Dave Conway also defended the initial decision: "I interviewed every prospective council candidate for the City Independent Group ... She no longer agrees with any BNP policy and has turned her back completely on far right politics." That's alright then. Except it's not alright. Actions have consequences, and some take a long time to be forgotten - Baddeley and Dave might want to ask Jean Bower's proposer about that. Of course, people change their minds and move on. But we're not talking about some naif who rolled up to the BNP and fell into representing them for four years. To earn that dubious distinction, you had to be deemed ideologically sound. You would have to have sat through the tedious "educationals" and Mike Coleman's rants about Muslims. You would have braved numerous anti-fascist protests, perhaps have had friends and family members who cut you dead and, of course, agreed to have had your name put on racist leaflets. And clearly the party must have been impressed by you to have fielded you as a parliamentary candidate in Stoke North in 2010 when, they thought, they were riding high on a national turn to the BNP. Sitting down with a gentleman in possession of a questionable taste in coats and saying "yes Mr Conway sir, no Mr Conway sir, three bags full Mr Conway sir" is hardly a repudiation of past associations and commitment to the very basics of normal politics.

Nevertheless, seeing off Baddeley's nomination is an early victory for the opposition before the new council had even officially sat. It also raises questions about the new council leader's judgement. As we've seen, the City Independents' manifesto makes a virtue out of not having a whip. i.e. Party discipline. Yet when you're sat in a coalition with the Tories and UKIP, and you're going to have some unpalatable choices to make, how can you guarantee your group will vote your way? You can't, unless you get as many of them on the gravy train as possible. As a nice allowance and status is attached to the pompous, forelock tugging nonsense of the mayoralty, by proposing Baddeley he attempted to purchase her loyalty for two years - until those pesky troublemakers (*innocent face*) disrupted the transaction. Yet Dave might not emerge from this a tarnished figure. As he scrabbles around for an excuse, he could point out that he had "listened to concerns" and "changed his mind", and contrast that to the perceived image of his predecessor. Though if he does now, we will know where he turns to for advice on spin.

The Melanie Baddeley affair, however, was completely unnecessary and calls this coalition's fitness to govern into question from the off. You're forced to ask yourself what the dear leader has next in his sights. As toddlers can't vote, are Children's Centres - which the City Indies once made a big song and dance about - going to be for the chop? In the name of cost-cutting, is Dave going to let his little Tory helpers hand more city functions to the increasingly imperious Matthew Ellis, Staffordshire's Police and Crime Commissioner? Is he going to row back on deleting the chief executive post and scrubbing out most of the press department, after hasty manifesto promises could land the council with huge constructive dismissal costs? And will his "immediate reality check" mean the City Independents won't go into the next set of local elections with a manifesto written in crayon? I suppose that one is too much to hope for.


Speedy said...

All fair enough, but didn't you belong to a Leninist party around the same time, and now you're a loyal Labour Party member?

Just because your group swore allegiance to another brand of mass murderers, did that make it really any better?

And no, there is plenty of evidence that Stalin was Lenin's chosen man - the claim that he disfigured Bolshevism is plainly false.

So you're saying people can't change?

Phil said...

Feeble. I've known plenty of Trots, and not one of them has ever expressed any enthusiasm for Stalin's purges - nor, indeed, have their respective parties. You don't get to be a BNP parliamentary candidate without supporting the BNP's actual policies.

asquith said...

I met Mel Baddeley during her BNP days. Even then, she was always in the wrong party, and not at all like the unlamented Albert Walker, Mike Coleman, and friends. I repeat what I said the other day, this is a far from perfect council but then they didn't win election so much as you lost it. There'll be a lot of opposing to do, you'd better get in gear for it.

Speedy said...

Phil, my point is that Stalinism was simply a continuation of Leninism. Stalin was not a mistake - as Solzhenitsyn made clear in the Gulag Archipelago, the mass deportations and murders happened under Lenin, and Montefiore's The Young Stalin paints a very clear picture of Stalin as Lenin's chosen man, at least until the very end. As for Trotsky, he was no angel. It is wishful thinking that he would have "saved" the revolution - he dreamed of continuous war, which is why the others ganged up to do away with him. The USSR under Trostky would have doubtless swallowed up as many millions of lives, only via gunpowder and famine rather than canal building and... famine.

The crimes of the USSR (and China) are somehow more palatable because it did not fall while it did its worst, like Nazism. When the Islamic State has "normalised" to a kind of Saudi Arabia, I suppose we will open diplomatic relations? The common thread here is utopianism - be it the BNP or SWP: organisations that have faith in a kind of paradise "cleansed" of undesirable classes - be they black or bourgeois.

They all, essentially, result in evil.

asquith said...

BTW, has anyone ever seen Dave Conway and David Lloyd George in the same room? I think we should be told!