Ben Chapman’s rise and fall mirrors the rise and fall of Labour

March 1997: John Major is Prime Minister and there’s a Parliamentary by-election in the Conservative-held seat of Wirral South. With a general election expected within weeks, the by-election is a major political event, with widespread media coverage.

New Labour use the campaign to showcase their mix of new and old, in the form of their candidate. He is Ben Chapman, the son of a farm labourer (tick the traditional Labour box) who became a successful senior civil servant, went into business and was a very recent recruit to the party (tick the New Labour box).

Carefully marshaled by minders through the campaign, the Conservatives dub him a “New Labour stooge” whilst Labour presented him as one of the traditional aspirant Conservative-voting middle class. As one senior Labour figure puts it:

We’ve chosen a Tory candidate because this is a Tory seat.
Guardian, 28 February 1997

The by-election campaign itself is seen by journalists as setting the seal for changes in how such contests are run:

This was a byelection in which the photo-op finally became a substitute for argument, the byelection in which reporters with notebooks had to earwig on reporters with microphones in the hope of catching a quote.

There were no regular morning press conferences, no public meetings. Labour banned all questions from its eve of poll rally.
Guardian, 1 March 1997

The result? Ben Chapman’s election. His is a name you may have seen in the news again recently:

Another Labour MP was facing suspension from the Labour party today after it emerged that he colluded with Commons officials to make inflated expense claims. Gordon Brown order an urgent investigation into allegation that Parliamentary staff agreed to £15,000 of “phantom” mortgage payments to backbencher Ben Chapman.
London Lite, 18 May 2009

His misdemeanours may not have caught the biggest headlines, but the course of his Parliamentary career neatly mirrors the rise and fall of the Blair/Brown project: starting with electoral success and descending into a morass of financial sleaze.

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  • A “Troy” candidate, eh?
    Like, er, trojan horse…? 🙂

  • Chris Menzies 23rd May '09 - 9:41pm

    The Wirral South by-election was interesting in that it helped nulab formulate its policy on selective schools. Wirral was/still is selective with four Grammar schools (two in bebington and Two in West Kirby)With it being a major issue in both Wirral South (and Wirral West, Labour needed to reassure aspirant parents and basically introdued a policy that required some high degree of electoral consent to change.

    One of the hidden secrets of the by-election was the complete manipulation of the election excpenses by nulab though the Tories were not that much better, The story is that nulab spent something between a quarter and half a million.

    One final thing, last year the losing Tory candidiate in the Wirral South by-election, Cllr Les Byrom of Sefton MBC joined the Labour Party

  • And of course in the twelve years between, the taxpayer has paid off his entire mortgage during a boom in house prices, meaning he has a nice safe London pad risk-free whilst the rest of the housing market goes into freefall.

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