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Sunday, February 08, 2004
Tony Martin Bell

Yesterday's Daily Mirror piece on Tony Martin offered a surprising depth of insight (for the Mirror) into what the farmer's life has been like since he was released from jail. It also revealed his political ambitions: he is considering standing for parliament.

In recent years independents and others from outside the two- and three-party structure have been rather good at snapping at the heels of the existing political class, and it isn't a wild prediction that Tony Martin would do the same if he stood for election. If I remember correctly, on his release some opinion polls actually showed him with a higher popularity rating than the Prime Minister. A very ordinary rural chap (the Mirror piece certainly debunking the idea that he is a reclusive loner), he has understandably won mass public sympathy for the way he was mistreated.

"The main parties don't seem to realise huge numbers of people are being terrorised - they are living in fear in their own homes.

"I've never wanted to be in the spotlight but a lot of people do seem to see me as some sort of champion - even though it's not a role I have ever sought.

"Everywhere I go, people come up to me and tell me about their own experiences. And every time people are asked what they are most concerned about it is always crime and, in particular, break-ins that they talk about.

"Yet the politicians don't seem to care - they are not doing anything to help.

... "Everyone I meet has a story about how break-ins have affected them or someone close to them. People don't realise the worst thing is not the stuff that is taken. It's the awful effect of your home having been violated.

"Sometimes the victims don't ever recover. Old people live in a state of terror. The strain causes marriages to collapse and people move house because they can't stand being there anymore.

"I find most people are very supportive of me and what I went through. Usually, the people who are hostile are the ones with the least experience of crime."

The Tony Martin Law, which won a poll of Radio 4 listeners on January 1st, certainly shows the depth of public feeling about Tony Martin and the issue on which he plans to stand for parliament. It seems beyond doubt that he will win thousands and thousands of votes almost anywhere. Unfortunately, if he carries out his plan to stand in his home constituency, the Tory marginal of North West Norfolk, it would be astonishing if the Conservative MP for the area managed to hold on.

There is probably little the Tories or any other party can do to stop him in his tracks, so perhaps a tactical retreat in this instance makes the most sense. Without endorsing or helping the Martin campaign in any way, the Conservative Party could offer to stand its candidate aside in a different constituency if Tony Martin agrees not to work to unseat a Tory MP, thereby doing for him what Labour and the Liberal Democrats did for Martin Bell in 1997.

Never before has the divide been so great between the gut feelings of ordinary people, millions of them terrorised in their own homes but too afraid to go out, and those of the chattering classes for whom Tony Martin is the only killer who cannot be understood, an attitude exemplified in the Observer today.

The public shouldn't be allowed to choose how long prison sentences last. Partly, I suppose, because the kind of people who respond to phone-votes in the tabloids and call in to local radio chat shows to discuss these things are, in general, what my more PC friends insist I must call 'ill-educated pikey scaffer scum'.

If the Conservative Party is seen fiercely to resist the public mood on this issue, it can only do us political harm, suggesting that when push comes to shove, speaking up for the ordinary, forgotten people of Britain comes second to sucking up to the liberal elite. But with a little tactical judgement, it could be a Labour or Lib Dem MP who is unseated in 2005 or 2006 as the public flocks to the polling stations to register their feelings over this issue.

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