Iain Dale has failed in his attempt to get selected as Tory PPC for Maidstone and the Weald. This safe Tory seat which is very close to where Iain lives in Kent is currently held by Ann Widdecombe and seemed like the perfect fit for Iain. As someone who vociferously campaigned against him when he campaigned in my old patch in North Norfolk in 2005, I am genuinely sorry that Iain was not selected and offer him genuine sympathy and commiserations, but I did think this would happen.
I told people in the Lib Dems and some quite senior Tories in North Norfolk from 2001 onwards that North Norfolk would be a poisoned chalice for any Tory taking it on. Indeed, we believed this to be very much the case when the Conservatives took nearly two and a half years from the 2001 election to select a candidate. Iain, in many ways rather unluckily, was the person who missed out most.
In North Norfolk we Lib Dems knew with a majority of just 483 votes in 2001 that we needed to redouble our efforts and make sure that everything we did in the ten years from 1991 when Norman Lamb was first selected as Lib Dem PPC, was done, and more, in order to win in 2005. It was hard, and none of it was easy, but the relentless drudgery of delivering six or seven leaflets a years to every house in the constituency was vital, along with the constant canvassing and MP's surgeries. But we knew that if we did everything right we would win, and with a massively increased majority.
To the Tories though, on paper, a 483 majority must have looked very tempting to overturn. The problem was though that any Tory who took it on was always going to be tarnished with the brush of being the candidate who turned a 483 deficit in to a bigger one, and that is always going to make life difficult.
In truth Iain ran a very good campaign, not really assisted by a Tory team in North Norfolk who are, to put it nicely, not the most gifted campaigners in the world (or even probably their street). Certainly compared to other seats, the Tory efforts led by Iain in North Norfolk were impressive, its just that Norman Lamb has a fantastic team of campaigners and a wonderful reputation with the electorate. Iain was never going to win. I just feel sorry for Iain that it means that this has damaged his efforts elsewhere as he would be a much better MP than the vast majority sat on the Tory benches.