Deirdre Alden gives up dream to be MP after Edgbaston election defeat
The Conservative councillor who was hotly-tipped to win a Birmingham seat in the General Election has announced she is giving up her fight to become an MP.
Deirdre Alden was regarded as a shoo-in to oust Labour’s Gisela Stuart in the Edgbaston constituency.
Instead it was one of the biggest surprises of the election night when the Labour MP managed to hold on with a 1,300 majority leaving her Tory rival bewildered and licking her wounds.
Now Coun Alden has announced she will not be contesting the seat again. She said she was not prepared to “put her life on hold” for 11-and-a-half years.
There was a lot riding on her fate on May 6. If she had managed to snatch the seat she would have been the first Edgbaston Tory MP since 1997 and it would have heralded a move back into Birmingham for the Conservatives who only have one MP in the city.
Coun Alden admits to being “very disappointed” not to have got in and says she is mystified as to why she failed – a state of mind she is still in three weeks later.
“I still don’t understand why we lost and don’t think I ever will,” she said. “But when I look across the country I see the Conservatives did badly in the cities and also in the seats where the sitting MP decided to stay and fight rather than where they threw in the towel, which is what Sylvia Heal did in neighbouring Halesowen and Rowley Regis.
"It’s even more surprising in Birmingham where we did so well in the local elections.
“I’ve never understood why people are happy to have one party running the Government and another in their local council.”
At least her family can sympathise with her unhappiness. Her husband John Alden is a councillor in Harborne and stood unsuccessfully as an MP in the 1970s.
Their son Robert joined his mother on the campaign trail, fighting the Erdington seat both as a Parliamentary candidate and councillor. Although he failed to become an MP, he retained his council seat with a 1,500 majority.
“It’s a shame I didn’t get in because now Edgbaston has got an MP in opposition, whereas if I was elected they would have someone who was part of the new Government,” Coun Alden said.
As to where it all went wrong, Coun Alden is at a loss to explain that. She shakes her head and looks bewildered.
“I really genuinely don’t know,” she said. “Gisela fought a very focused tight campaign, targeting people she knew might support her via phone canvassing whereas we preferred face-to-face knocking on doors.
“Gisela also distanced herself from the Labour government, saying she was independent, even though her voting record in the House of Commons suggests otherwise.”
Coun Alden is also angry at the “smear campaign” Labour ran, claiming all of the Tories’ Edgbaston war chest came from the party’s controversial millionaire donor Lord Ashcroft.
“That’s rubbish – we did have some money from Central Office 12 months ago but had nothing since then and all our funds came from local supporters,” she said.
As to the future, Coun Alden is sanguine and has decided to concentrate all her energies in her Edgbaston ward and also her new role as chairman of the newly-created Health and Adults Overview and Scrutiny Committee.
But she is adamant she will not be standing again.
“I’ve been fighting the seat for six-and-a-half years and have stood in two General Elections and I don’t want to do it again,” she said. “It’s been a lot of time and effort working towards it and I’ve had enough.
“There won’t be another election for five years and I don’t want my life put on hold until 2015.
“I genuinely enjoy my work on the council and want to concentrate on that now.”
She is also looking forward to more time “doing what normal people do” and spending time with her husband and her sons Robert and Thomas and her two grandchildren.
“After the election John and I went away for a short break and last weekend it was the first time we had completely to ourselves,” she said. “We went to a garden centre, car boot sale and sat in the garden – the normal things normal people do at weekends – and we said, ‘isn’t this nice?’.
“Normally our weekends have been spent canvassing or in Harborne High Street handing out leaflets or at functions, so it was lovely to do nothing.”
And she is happy that even though she wasn’t at the State Opening of Parliament on Tuesday as a new MP, at least a Tory Prime Minister was.
“I think the coalition will work – after all it has in Birmingham and people only gave us a couple of months when it started,” she said.