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Comment: MP bares his teeth as election battle starts a year early
The political race in Watford is heating up - although not in the case of the fast-approaching May mayoral elections, as would seem logical, but the General Election contest next year.
A flashpoint came this week when Watford Labour sent out a release announcing it had started a petition urging the Government to step in and modernise Watford General Hospital.
The party has latched onto the stalling redevelopment of the hospital and now framing the situation as a failure by the Conservative MP Richard Harrington and Liberal Democrat elected mayor, Dorothy Thornhill, to effectively lobby the Government to intervene.
This has been an emerging theme with Labour for a number of months, so the move itself was not unsurprising.
What was more noteworthy was the politician fronting this latest manoeuvre was Labour’s parliamentary candidate Matt Turmaine, rather than mayoral candidate, Jagtar Singh Dhindsa.
And even more striking was the strident response it elicited from Watford’s Conservative MP Richard Harrington, who issued a lengthy and scathing rebuttal casting Labour as financial incompetents bent on using the hospital for crass political gain.
This was a noticeable departure from usually collegiate tone the member for Watford has been at pains to strike over the last few years.
During his term, Mr Harrington has played a non-partisan game. He has carefully picked issues that kept him out of the parochial battles that form the ongoing melee of local government.
While Liberal Democrats and Labour have squabbled over benefit overpayments and the bridge over the pond, Mr Harrington has been raising his standard over issues such as the Croxley Rail Link, London Midland’s inadequate train service and creating more apprenticeships for unemployed young people. The MP has also worked in tandem with the Lib Dem mayor on a number of issues, which has given his tenure a bilateral veneer.
However, Mr Harrington knows he is in a tight battle for re-election and Labour is the historic threat to Conservative incumbents in Watford. Now it looks like the MP is starting to show his teeth.
In the end, tobacco got the better of Hertfordshire County Council. It proved just too lucrative. As such, politicians in charge of the authority decided to allow its pension fund managers to continue ploughing millions into tobacco giants such as British American Tobacco.
Although the council did not let its own inability to give-up tobacco prevent it unironically preaching to the county’s smokers as part of No Smoking Day this week.
Teresa Heritage, the council’s Conservative cabinet member for Public Health and Localism, issued a moralising call-to-arms to Hertfordshire’s nicotine addicts saying: "Stopping smoking might be one of the most challenging things you’ll ever do but it is also one of the best - and you don’t have to face the battle alone." Sage advice indeed.
However, Councillor Heritage may also want to try her motivational spiel on cabinet colleague and portfolio holder in charge of investments, Derrick Ashley. If the council could eventually get free of its own unhealthy dependency, she wouldn’t have to add the conspicuous assurance to her anti-smoking literature that "Hertfordshire County Council takes its public health responsibilities seriously".