Some people have the uncanny knack of always being on the wrong side of the argument. Try as they might, they find themselves relentlessly promoting lost causes and shaky enterprises. It must be a frustrating life.
Local MP, Bill Wiggin could just be one of those individuals. He is something of a rebel. But not in a good way, if social justice or enlightened values are worth anything at all.
According to his carefully crafted Wikipedia entry, 'Wiggin has voted against a blanket ban on smoking in pubs and restaurants, the 2004 Hunting Bill, and some sections of the Prevention of Terrorism bills.'
The unfettered right to smoke is a particular hobby-horse of father-of-two Bill. Not only has he has opposed legislation outlawing smoking in cars where children are present, but has also voted against the introduction of plain packaging for tobacco products, a move designed to get rid of the colourful branding that so entices young, impressionable minds.
Bill's St Jude-complex has driven him to tireless advocacy of the repeal of anti-fox-hunting legislation, against the wishes of 84% of the British population. Like all those chasing dogs, he might yet have his day, but it's unlikely.
Nor is it just the stupid electorate that Bill disagrees with. He supports the controversial badger cull, in defiance of almost the entire scientific establishment which argues that the programme is futile, cruel and counter-productive.
With that heady mix of contrarian, browbeaten farmer and freewheeling neo-liberal coursing through his veins, Bill arrives at some surprising policy positions. He wishes, for instance, that the UK government would rescind the ban on neonicotinoid insecticides. As a bee-keeper himself and patron of the Herefordshire bee-keepers association, Bill doesn't have any truck with the scientific advice, believing that chemicals of this sort are not responsible for the serious decline in bee populations. He has also been generally lukewarm on measures to tackle climate change, voting against key proposals aiming to reduce carbon emissions. Like Michael Gove, Mr Wiggin is probably tired of experts.
Being a staunch traditionalist with a strong interest in country matters, he has never approved of same sex marriage legislation and has opposed every one of its provisions, including preventing members of the armed forces abroad being able to marry. It's jolly bad for morale don't you know.
Despite Bill's sincerely-held views, equal marriage was approved by a huge parliamentary majority and by 70% of Britons. Wrong again.
Of course he voted to repeal the Human Rights Act, another wretched piece of legislation got up by foreigners to confound us.
Not that a middling university education did him any long term harm. Bill quickly got work as a Trader in Foreign Exchange Options for UBS, an Associate Director of Kleinwort Benson and a manager in the Foreign Exchange department of Commerzbank. A couple of elections later and he was an MP in one of the safest of Conservative seats followed by a spell as a government whip. You get the idea.
He keeps busy. MP work in London and Herefordshire is juggled with running the farm, and his prized herd of Hereford cattle. On the side he picks up a few thousand as a board member of a firm that advises rich people how to run offshore tax-planning schemes. He has also put to good use his know-how gained from steering through Parliament the Welfare Reform Act by advising a company that delivers privatised welfare benefits. True to his principles, Wiggin voted in favour of the £30 a week benefit cut to disabled people, but has declined to explain his reasoning for this.
In a pickle
Like his dad, Farmer Bill ploughs his own furrow and doesn't care much for courting popularity, unless it's among his county chums in the Countryside Alliance. During the MPs expenses furore, Wiggin shrugged off several serious financial scandals which might have finished any lesser gamesman.
The Telegraph said: 'Mr Wiggin, a contemporary of David Cameron at Eton, received more than £11,000 in parliamentary expenses to cover interest payments after declaring that his Herefordshire property was his “second home”.'
A year later, the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, John Lyon said that “it is more likely than not that Mr Wiggin did claim for expenditure he did not incur, in respect both of telephone services and of service and maintenance.” Humiliatingly, he was ordered to pay back over four thousand pounds and apologise to the House. Then he was sacked from the whip's office.
That degree in Economics and trading work in the City clearly hadn't worked its magic in helping Bill address his 'chaotically muddled' finances. He hit the news again that year, when it was discovered that another five grand of his parliamentary expenses had found its way into the coffers of the North Herefordshire Conservative Association. Anyway it was all cleared up eventually, the mess put down to lapses of memory and so forth.
This brings us neatly to Bill's erstwhile nemesis Jim Miller, the Leominster town councillor who had exposed him as an alleged fraudster. Bill Wiggin so objected to Mr Miller's intrusions into his private financial affairs that he had the local police pay a home visit, warning him to desist in his 'harassment' of the MP. No charges were brought.
Despite the weighty matters of state upon his shoulders, nobody should accuse Mr Wiggin of not attending to the fine detail of constituency business.
In Jim Miller's 2010 by-election literature for Leominster Town Council, Bill's dodgy expense claims were given an another unpalatable airing. To the astonishment of the local community - and national press - the MP wrote to the Returning Officer, Chris Bull, also CEO of Herefordshire Council, claiming that Mr Miller’s campaign flier made “inaccurate or false” statements and asked whether they might be “in contravention of electoral law”. Three days later Miller was disqualified from the election on a technicality (which later proved to be Herefordshire Council's fault). This handed the town council seat to Benson Ferrari, local chairman of the now reviled Conservative Future youth wing. That decision was subsequently overturned in a landmark High Court ruling and Jim joined Leominster Town Council.
Speaking to the Daily Telegraph, Leominster Mayor Richard Westwood said: 'I was just stunned that Wiggin contacted the returning officer... what in god’s name is an MP doing poking his nose into a little parish election? I can’t understand what he thinks he’s up to.' And so it went on for months and years: Big Bill versus Troublesome Jim.
Eventually Mr Miller dropped out of the political chase, disgusted, disillusioned and depressed while Wiggin went on to win the next election, everything forgotten it seems.
Bill has recently rekindled his interest in parish politics. During a crowded election hustings in 2015, he took the opportunity to upbraid me for harassing 'his friend' the Ledbury town clerk, Mrs Karen Mitchell. 'It is completely unacceptable to bully a civil servant' he said in stentorian tones to the evident surprise of onlookers. When I politely told him he was talking nonsense, he held up his hands and said 'no excuses' before walking away theatrically. It put me in mind of Meryl Streep's bravura bitch in The Devil Wears Prada: 'that's all'.
On election day itself (5 May), he loudly repeated the same accusation to a small group of people outside the polling station at the Ledbury Community Hall. Perturbed by this serious breach of election protocol, I wrote to Wiggin and asked him to explain himself. From whom had he heard that I had bullied the clerk and on what evidence, I asked.
Who said politicians are slippery?
'I am slowly getting used to being talked about, usually without any regard for factual accuracy and I hope the matter is forgotten by everyone quickly', replied Bill emolliently. 'I hope that my [earlier] apology was satisfactory and as for who said what, I would not be able to tell you even if I knew, which happily I don’t.' Tsk. That'll be another memory lapse.
Straight talking is good, even in public if need be. And after the Miller affair, it's reassuring to learn that Bill takes a strong line against harassment. Not so impressive is our MP's grasp of important supporting evidence, nor of remembering who are the sources of his intelligence. Let's just put it down to muddle, shall we?
Despite the confusion and all his other interests, Bill is still finding time to attend to the slow-motion shipwreck unfolding in Ledbury Town Council. According to credible sources, he was seen in conference with Deputy Mayor Elaine Fieldhouse and Cllr Bob Barnes at the town council offices on 7 October 2016. A staff member correctly said that the group could not be disturbed, and that an appointment was needed if anyone needed to talk to Mr Wiggin. A little later Bill popped into the paper shop and in an unguarded moment revealed that he was being briefed about the ongoing crisis in the town council, as well as the staff complaints against Cllrs Harvey and Harrison.
Mum's the word
The curious aspect of this is that everybody involved was subsequently reluctant to confirm that that they had met each other. In a town council meeting, Elaine Fieldhouse denied that she had even spoken to Wiggin beyond saying good morning, and quickly passed the heated frying pan to Mayor Debbie Baker. Equally flustered, Debbie at first said she hadn't met him, and then correcting herself said that she had. 'It was a private matter' apparently.
Also tight lipped was Bill Wiggin when asked later what his business was in the Council offices. 'It was a constituency surgery and therefore confidential' he snapped. This is odd. The MP is usually so keen to advertise his wares, but there appears to be no record in his communications activity of this surgery ever having been publicised. No names of constituents are recorded in the Ledbury Town Council visitors book. Perhaps it was a one-off, specially arranged 'surgery' with selected Ledbury town councillors.
What could be so sensitive that local politicians engage in clandestine meetings, and then flatly deny having talked to each other beyond saying hello?
I don't like conspiracy theories. I prefer to accept the most obvious solution to a conundrum, Ockham's Razor: put simply, 'when you have two competing theories that make exactly the same predictions, the simpler one is the better.'
Let's think... Bill Wiggin is advising Ledbury Town Council bosses how to deal with Miller-esque harassment from Harvey and Hadley. Perhaps the police should be contacted. Wait. They already have.
At a county conference where cyber-bullying was being examined, a posse of Ledbury town councillors (including Crowe, Fieldhouse, Baker, Eager and Francis) angrily confronted Herefordshire's head of police, Superintendant Sue Thomas, and demanded to know why she had not acted on their complaints about the harassment that was taking place in Ledbury Town Council. It was an embarrassing scene witnessed by scores of local government councillors and officers. Thus having derailed the seminar, Ledbury's contingent stomped out of the conference. Their behaviour was not appreciated.
Once again, Bill Wiggin finds himself on the wrong side of the political tracks. As Ledbury Town Council flounders under the weight of its own incompetence, venality and political corruption, in strides 'bungalo' Bill, his Commons nick-name (nothing upstairs, boom-boom).
Like the albatross, his appearance at such moments is always a bad sign. It signals impending public outrage, press denunciation and the sure manifestation of an indefensible ethical position. Perhaps I do after all appreciate the Mayor's and her Deputy's caginess about disclosing their chat with him.
A last hoorah?
So to the future. Bill Wiggin's spell as an MP could be drawing to a close. Once again, fate has dealt him a tricky parliamentary hand. The political granite of North Herefordshire has turned to slippery red clay. In the bonfire of the constituencies in which the size of the Commons will be reduced by fifty seats, Bill will be dispossessed. Meanwhile his neighbouring parliamentary colleague in Malvern, Harriett Baldwin, a bright star in the Conservative firmament, looks set to eclipse him and inherit most of the North Herefordshire patch.
Enoch Powell said that 'all political lives, unless they are cut off in midstream at a happy juncture, end in failure.' In this instance, perhaps the impending boundary reorganisation will be a mercy to Bill: no more kicking against the traces and feeling righteously out of step with mainstream opinion, no more silly form filling, and having to go along with hare-brained political correctness and human rights.
In the final reckoning, Bill Wiggin, MP will be remembered as a true staunch conservative, someone who stands by tradition and against the passing whims of fashion. For him, social cohesion is founded on the unshakeable foundations of authority, order and convention. Everybody has their place. England is the finest country in the world. The market knows best. Business should be allowed to get on with business. Less red tape.
That is fake news by the way. I don't really know what he stands for, except what I can surmise from his voting record in Parliament and his comments in the media. Even by modern Tory standards, Wiggin junior, like Wiggin senior, looks like a trenchant right-winger. The family resemblance is striking.
The main thing is that Bill appears to cleave to the status quo. And why wouldn't he? With his privileged background, good connections, manly bearing and all round decency, life has been good to Bill, no real complaints at all - apart, that is from a few pesky financial rules and irritating individuals who ask too many questions.
When he goes, there will be many, particularly those who hanker after a simpler, gentler way of life, who will mourn his passing. Good luck Bill, and farewell!