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Camden News - by SIMON WROE
Published: 10 July 2008
The Battle of Bournemouth

... or how parking chief’s trip to the seaside got rained off

HE is the man who could be king. Well, a king of sorts. King of Bournemouth. Or Bournemouth West, to be precise.
If everything had gone according to plan – and it looked like it was – Conservative councillor Mike Greene might have been popping open a bottle of bubbly on the seafront tonight (Thursday) and dreaming of what his future office in the Houses of Parliament might look like.
With the Tories in Bournemouth looking for somebody to replace retiring MP Sir John Butterfill, Cllr Greene had been heavily tipped to win a selection race in the town where he grew up and where his wife Nicola lives and is already a local politician.
He is one of Camden’s best-known councillors and his relaxed style helped him win more votes than anybody else at the last local elections, but it has been the worst kept secret at the Town Hall over the past year that Cllr Greene has hankered after becoming Sir John’s successor.
In recent months, he has travelled between London and Bournemouth acting as Camden’s environment chief by day and a would-be MP by night.
Yet the first steps towards his potential coronation as the Conservative Party’s parliamentary candidate in the sandy-beached constituency – a role which history tells us almost certainly leads to a seat in the Commons if the rosette you are wearing is blue – have all of a sudden become mired in confusion.
In the eyes of the meanest observers, the attempts by local activists to find Sir John’s replacement have descended into a right old seaside farce, more akin to an end-of-the-pier show than a political process.
Cllr Greene was this evening due to take to the stage at the Queen’s Hotel to fight out an “open primary”, the American-style system local Conservatives have used across the country to choose candidates. It is supposed to give anybody eligible to vote a say in who should be on the ballot form.
Cllr Greene had survived a whittling process which saw a field of 150 hopefuls cut down to just two, and looked to be winning the hearts and minds of Bournemouth’s voters over rival Rebecca Harris, a former researcher for Conservative MP Tim Yeo.
While Cllr Greene has only applied for one seat and campaigned along the lines that he is not a careerist and just has Bournemouth in his heart, Ms Harris put herself up for several potential vacancies. It was this scatter-gun strategy that has led to the selection process in Bournemouth unravelling.
Just days before the primary, Ms Harris found somewhere else – Castle Point in Essex (according to her new local paper she is already looking to move there from London) – leaving Cllr Greene without an opponent.
Enter Caroline Dinenage, whose name is hardly mentioned on the south coast without reference to her father, Fred, the news reader who also helped front How 2, a science-is-fun children’s TV programme.
She has been elevated from the shortlist to take on Cllr Greene, but it wasn’t until Tuesday morning, with his speech no doubt already written, that organisers ruled it wouldn’t be a fair contest. In their minds, Ms Dinenage had not had time to canvass support in the run-in.
Rather than delay the primary, the party is to start again from scratch in a new process beginning in September.
Like snakes and ladders, it means the man from Camden is back at square one.
“I’m disappointed but philosophical,” said Cllr Greene on Tuesday. “I’m right back into my Camden Council work today though.”
It’s not unusual for Camden’s councillors to apply for constituencies while in office but this effort was significant. Win the primary and you virtually have the keys to the Commons.
Cllr Greene would not say this week whether he would go through the whole process again, though friends expect he will.
But would he have stood down from the helm of the environment department – covering the sensitive issue of parking – if he had been chosen to fight an election battle?
“I don’t base decisions on ifs,” Cllr Greene said. “We were going to see what happened before any decisions like that.”

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