6 JULY 1985, Page 8


How Brecon and Radnor might have been won


Having covered, I suppose, about a dozen by-elections in the course of my journalistic career, I decided not to go up to Brecon or Radnor to see for myself what was happening. The hills are said to be wooded, the meadows green and full of sheep, but I doubt whether they are respectively any more wooded or green and full of sheep than my own hills and meadows in Somerset. Sheep, I have al- ways thought, are much over-rated as a source of pleasure in any case. They look much better in paintings by T. S. Cooper or Paul Potter or by almost anyone else than they do in real life. With the artist's help one avoids the nauseating smell and sickening noises. Many years ago the great controversialist Ferdinand Mount told me he could not see any point in trying to get into bed with Elizabeth Taylor — then a lissom actress — as he could perfectly well imagine what it would be like.

Similarly, I feel one can perfectly well discover what has been happening in Bre- con and Radnor — apparently situated in mid-Wales — by reading such intelligent and cheerful writers as Mr Oliver Pritchett, of the Sunday Telegraph, and Mr Alan Watkins, of the Observer. The former attributed many of the Conservative candi- date's difficulties to these same wooded hills and green meadows full of sheep. The Conservative candidate, I should explain, is called Mr Christopher (`Chris') Butler, 34.

The beauty of this area of mid-Wales, with its wooded hills etc etc . . . must surely have been partly responsible for the enormous amount of attention that Brecon and Radnor has [?have] received. Politicians and journal- ists need a bit of fresh air. In a less beautiful place Mr Butler might have been left quietly to hold on to the seat. In these circum- stances, however, I would guess that he will not hang on.

From Mr Watkins's description of this Conservative candidate (Mr Christopher 'Chris' Butler, 34), kindly and well- mannered as it is, I decided that he was unmistakably one of these NewBrits who are proving such a disaster in the modern world: no doubt he is excited by computer technology, by videos, transistor wireless and all the rest; no doubt he reads the Sunday Times and thinks the world of it. In other words (if I read him aright) he is the sort of person who should be stamped into the ground, which should then be fenced up with barbed wire and declared a con- taminated zone.

By the time this article appears, interest

in the Brecon and Radnor by-election, so far as it exists at all, will be at fever-pitch. Very soon indeed we shall know whether our hero Chris has been wrapped in old copies of the Sunday Times and put through a shredder, as we may feel he richly deserves, or whether he will arrive at any minute to join the nauseating ranks of 34-year-old NewBrits and Sunday Times readers already rubbing unattractive bot- toms on the Government backbenches in Westminster. This seems as good a time as any to sketch how the by-election could have been won, despite having a NewBrit as candidate and despite the fact that so many journalists and politicians were drawn to the area by the wooded hills, green sheep etc. In passing, I might add that no blame attaches to the local Consti- tuency Association for having chosen this Andrew Neil clone as their candidate. It is true that NewBrits are found equally dis- gusting by all classes in Britain — even, I suspect, by themselves — and they create nothing but embarrasiment and nausea wherever they go, but I honestly believe that only the most repulsive people in the country are drawn to seek Conservative nomination nowadays and all insist on an abbreviated form of their Christian names. Decent young fogeys simply do not apply. No doubt Chris was the best choice avail- able.

The Conservatives' task, in offering these social and ecological disasters for public scrutiny as Tory candidates, is to convince the voters that other candidates are even worse. This was well understood by the Liberal-Alliance candidate, Mr Richard Livsey, in his election leaflet which contained this passage:

Richard is the only major party candidate with a secure family background, and that's important. Richard knows how important the values and traditions of family life are.

No doubt Richard's advisers felt this was a master-stroke, and in a sense they were right. There can be no issues in this election, for various well-known reasons: the Tories, while pretending to cut taxes and public expenditure, are doing the exact opposite; Labour, if anybody takes it seriously, promises instant national bank- ruptcy and universal unemployment; no- body really cares what the Alliance would do if it could because it can't and won't. To the extent that there are any arguments between these three aspirants to a seat in Parliament, they must be addressed ad hominem rather than ad rem. Chris has no wife (presumably he feels he is not yet ready to be tied down, like Andrew Neil and so many others) and the Labour candidate, 'Doctor' Willey, has an irregu- lar liaison of many years' standing. Moreover this emphasis on 'secure family background' might help undo some of the damage done to the Liberal cause by the Thorpe episode. But it also breeds a certain scepticism, and it is to this that Tory and Labour alike should have addres- sed themselves. Not many marriages are all that tremendously secure nowadays. Is his marriage really as secure as he claims? Few Liberal candidates' wives will stand up to a tremendous amount of scrutiny. Is Mrs Livsey an exception? And what about their children? Since Livsey raised the matter as an election issue, he could scarcely have complained if the other candidates debated it thoroughly.

As Mr Watkins points out, much elec- tioneering is counter-productive, especial- ly the use of loudspeaker vans. But there is nothing in election law to forbid tactical electioneering for a third party, so long as any expenses incurred feature in the Tory return. Those who really wanted the Con- servatives to win despite their unfortunate candidate, might have been well advised to paste their cars with Labour slogans and tour Labour council estates with loud- speakers to hearten voters and stop them drifting to the Alliance, too. I would suggest some variant of the South London — cockney — polytechnic accent to put over Labour's joyous message:

VOUT LIBOUR to end Ricialism in Mid- Wiles. Stop all blood sports and bring land into public ownership. VOUT LIBOUR for a fair deal for efnic and sexual minorities in Mid-Wiles. Separate Council accommoda- tion for Guys and a fair deal for lesbians in the community as a whole. End ricialism in Suvvern Africa and fascism in Chile. VOUT LIBOUR.

Of course, it does not matter in the least who wins Brecon and Radnor. Nothing will change among those wooded hills and green meadows. The journalists and politi- cians will go away, and Parliament will settle back in its grisly preoccupations. But it might have been fun to try.