For poison in your sabbath morning porridge, there’s no better source/sauce than the Murdochian Sunday Times [£]. With added brimstone.
What seems to be a straightforward partisan piece, from only the first paragraph and the second sentence, turns into precisely the opposite:
Tory victim of by-election ‘dirty tricks’
The Eastleigh by-election battle turned personal yesterday after Labour and the Liberal Democrats were accused of dirty tricks over the Conservative candidate and her family. Opponents of Maria Hutchings, who is running for the Tories, questioned why her house still had a lit-up Christmas tree in its window long after Christmas.
Which decodes as either ‘absentee’ or ‘nutter’.
Then we get the recital of William Hutchings (age 11) and his ambition to be a cardio-respiratory surgeon, which can only be satiated outside the state system of education. Now back to the Great Christmas Tree riddle:
Supporters of Hutchings pointed out, however, that both the Christmas tree and her comments about education should be seen in the context that she has autistic children with special educational needs.
Conservative campaign HQ said Hutchings kept the tree up until it died for the benefit of one of her children, although neighbours said it was there all-year round.
Immediately from there, into a very odd semi-sequitur:
Diane James, the UKIP candidate, said she felt she had to justify publicly why she did not have children in the face of a Tory campaign focusing on the fact that Hutchings is an accomplished mother of four.
James said: “I couldn’t have children. It’s a big regret of my life, but I can’t do anything about that. I presume the Conservatives are mentioning that their candidate is a mother because they want to focus on family values.
If that seems odd, it is because it is — to the extent of weirdness. Even more so, when Mike Thornton, the front-runner Liberal Democrat (who, like O’Farrell for Labour, is never mentioned by name) features himself as a parent whose daughter went through the local schools to become a medical student. One might feel such a contrast is more relevant than Ms James’s aside.
After a side-track (three paragraphs on the betting odds — LibDems 8-13, Tories 7-4 and Labour on 8-1), we are back to the complex private life of Mrs Hutchings:
Some Tory activists have privately expressed concerns over the selection of Hutchings as their candidate.
In the run-up to the last general election in 2010, in which she was battling to unseat Chris Huhne, the Lib Dem MP whose resignation sparked the by-election, Conservative headquarters was warned that she faced “severe financial problems” and desperately needed more support for her campaign. A confidential file submitted to Tory central office described her as being “at breaking point”.
The party eventually agreed to help Hutchings with mobile phone, petrol and other costs. A source said: “There was a serious worry about Maria last time. She was under a huge amount of strain and the party had to be strong-armed into supporting her.”
The source said Sir George Young, the chief whip, would have been alerted to concerns held on file.
Curiouser and curiouser. Why Sir George? It’s not immediately in his remit; and wouldn’t be unless Mrs Hutchings wins the seat. Why is he dragged in, rather than — say— Greg Shapps, who is currently responsible? Obviously the mobile phone, petrol and other costs are to do with private life: otherwise they would be part of the statutory electoral expenses. And as far a candidate in a highly-marginal seat, up against a star-player from the other side, not being under a huge amount of strain … words fail.
The Sunday Times piece concludes with a paragraph of ritual praise from Eric Pickles (why him?) and another ticking off Mrs Hutchings’ merits as an opponent of gay marriage, her Euroscepticism and that she is “not a Tory toff” but a local mother who has “campaigned tirelessly for special needs children”. Which neatly overlooks that she was parachuted in, from Essex, for the 2010 election, as a ‘Cameron cutie’.
One other mystery persists about this Sunday Times piece. On-line it is counterpointed by two graphics. One is the latest YouGov opinion poll (Labour 43%, Conservatives 32%, Lib Dems 12%, UKIP 9%). The other is a grimacing Nigel Farage with his candidate, both with rosettes and against UKIP posters. In the print edition there is an extra: a singularly unflattering upward-shot portrait of Mrs Hutchings’ treble chins.
You don’t need a semiologist to detect a strong sub-text in all this.