Swapping bylines for ballots

By Dominic Ponsford and Alyson Fixter

Journalists standing in the general election ranged from the Surrey
Herald’s Terry Pattinson, of the Senior Citizens Party, to The People’s
Garry Bushell, representing the English Democrats. But Michael Gove
from The Times is one of the few working journalists to succeed in
getting elected at the first attempt.

Gove, who was the paper’s assistant editor before he took the safe
seat of Surrey Heath with an increased majo rity of 10,845 for the
Conservative Party, is expected to continue working on it as a
columnist.

Describing his election experience as “a bit like a
mid-life crisis”, he said: “Some people, when they approach 40, get a
leather jacket and a girlfriend but I decided to give something back.”

He added that he saw politics as a way to put into action the things he has been arguing for as a columnist.

When
asked how he found being on the other side of the media and politics
fence, he said: “Almost all the journalists I have come across have
been straight and professional.

“You will have complaints when
you think that journalism doesn’t neccessarily reflect the way you see
the world – but I think we’ve got a fantastic press in this country.”

Yvonne
Ridley described journalism as a cake-walk compared to politics after
standing for the anti-war Respect party in Leicester South.

The
former Sunday Express and al- Jazeera journalist was one of the few
journalists standing in the general election to retain their deposit,
polling 2,720 votes (6.4 per cent). But her result was well down on the
3,724 she polled fighting the same seat at a by-election last July.

She
said: “I’ve been in journalism for 30 years but I feel like I’ve just
been through 10 rounds with Mike Tyson. I have never had such a
sustained attack on my character.

“The Liberal Democrats were so
busy attacking me and my campaign that they lost the seat, which
resulted in Leicester becoming the only seat in the country to become a
Labour gain.

“I was really looking forward to coming back to work today.”

Ridley is currently political editor of the central London-based Islam Channel.

Sunday
People TV columnist Garry Bushell said he was pleased to poll 1,216
votes for the English Democrats – a party which stood on the issue of
more democratic representation for England in parliament.

For
Bushell it was the latest stage in a political journey which has seen
him canvassing for the Socialist Workers Party in the Seventies and
asked to stand as a candidate for the Labour Party in the Eighties.

He
said: “The only people who haven’t got a direct parliamentary voice are
the English – the UK Parliament is dominated by the Scots.

“There’s about five million Scots who have got 50 MPs and there’s 10 million Londoners who have only got 32 MPs.

“I
was very pleased with the result, having been able to do less than a
day’s campaigning. It means the message had some resonance for
Greenwich and Woolwich, which is where I’m from, and we beat the UK
Independence Party, which is good.”

Freelance journalist and
author Julia Stephenson stood for the Green Party in Kensington and
Chelsea, getting 1,342 votes – which at 4.3 per cent was just short of
the five per cent needed to get the deposit back. Stephenson writes for
national newspapers, in particular the Daily Mail.

Motorcycle
News editor Marc Potter achieved 167 votes when he stood as a candidate
for the MCN Party (the first magazine ever registered as a political
party) in Peterborough.

Standing on a platform of allowing bikes to use bus lanes and
encouraging the use of more motorbikes as a solution to congestion,
Potter caused mayhem in the count room by bringing in a lycra-clad “MCN
Babe”, who was banned by police for being “too much of a distraction”.

“We
didn’t expect to challenge for parliament,” said Potter, “but our aim
was to raise awareness of the issues facing Britain’s riders – poor
roads, bad drivers and speed cameras – and force these issues up the
political agenda.”

Potter at least had the consolation of
outdoing fellow Emap Automotive journalist Dan Anslow, of the Max Power
Party, who achieved just 106 votes in Southend West.

The journalist who ran against Tony Blair

‘I DIDN’T GET A FAIR CRACK OF THE WHIP

Surrey Herald journalist Terry Pattinson, who stood as the Senior
Citizens Party candidate for Sedgefield, County Durham, has accused the
local media of ignoring his campaign.

Pattinson gained just 97 votes, coming 11th out of 15 candidates in the Prime Minister’s constituency.

He
told Press Gazette: “My paper, the Surrey Herald, gives everybody a
fair crack of the whip by giving candidates a say the week before the
election, with photograph, interview etc – basic traditional
journalism. The national and regional press are, sadly, part of the
electoral process which discriminates against minority parties.”

But Malcolm Warne, editor of the Darlington and Stockton Times, said: “Half the world stood in Sedgefield.

There were a lot of strong stories with Tony Blair standing and the Tory candidate having to withdraw.

We made two or three references to Terry’s participation in the campaign which I believe is a fair treatment.”

Northern
Echo editor Peter Barron said it ran stories when Pattinson announced
his candidacy and during the campaign. But he said papers can’t cover
fringe parties in as much depth as the major parties.

David
Jordan, chief advisor, politics, at the BBC, said: “We decide who we
cover on the basis of whether they are one of the main candidates,
whether their candidacy is likely to be competitive or whether their
result is likely to have a significant impact on the outcome. Terry
didn’t come into any of these categories.”

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