Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Tories in the North, Labour in the South - Both Are Going West; Columnist

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Tories in the North, Labour in the South - Both Are Going West; Columnist

Article excerpt

Byline: Paul Linford

UNTIL this week, Lord Howell of Guildford's principal claim to fame was as the answer to a pub trivia question, namely the only minister to have been sacked by both Margaret Thatcher and David Cameron.

As David Howell, he was a youthful energy secretary and then transport secretary before being booted out of the Cabinet in the Iron lady's post-election reshuffle in 1983.

Ennobled in 1997, he returned to the government benches in 2010 as a minister of state at the Foreign Office before being reshuffled out by Mr Cameron last autumn.

But of course he won't be remembered here for any of that. Lord Howell will go down in North East folklore as the archetypal Tory toff who didn't even appear to know where the region was.

As an exercise in political foot-in-mouth disease, Lord Howell's comments on the future prospects for the embryonic shale gas industry this week surely take some beating.

"There are large, uninhabited and desolate areas in the North East where there's plenty of room for fracking," he told a House of Lords debate, prompting astonished gasps from those who know it as one of the beautiful and unspoilt regions of the country.

Ignoring the dictum of 'when in a hole, stop digging,' the peer then compounded the gaffe by revealing that he had not meant to refer to the North East at all, but had actually been thinking of Lancashire when he made his comments.

Cue uproar from all those parts of Northern England he had not previously managed.

There has been understandable outrage - and also much fun at Lord Howell's expense. My favourite comment was probably one on Twitter from @Rich_Penny which went: "Lord Howell says the north east is 'empty, desolate and full of gas'. Is this not a better description of Lord Howell?" But there is, of course, a serious political point here, in that Lord Howell's comments have once again focused attention on the Conservative Party's enduring problem with the North of England.

And this in turn could have a major bearing on whether David Cameron will ever emulate Mrs Thatcher in securing a proper Parliamentary majority. …

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