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OPINION: MP Paul Bristow ‘plays up the fears of many and offers a distorted picture of life in Peterborough’

MP Paul Bristow is not the sort of chap to go down without a fight, however much mud he throws

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There has rarely been a campaign like it and those outside of Peterborough will be the more grateful as a consequence. For it is in Peterborough that we are witnessing a destructive and well-orchestrated attack on anyone or anything that doesn’t espouse the values and political views of MP Paul Bristow.

Mr Bristow nurses a slim majority of 2,580 over Labour and few – probably even the MP himself – expect him to survive a Conservative blood bath at the General Election.

But Mr Bristow is not the sort of chap to go down without a fight, however much mud he throws and however dirty he is prepared to get.

It is on social media where MP Paul Bristow has chosen, for the main, to fire off a systemic series of rants against Peterborough City Council

It is on social media where MP Paul Bristow has chosen, for the main, to fire off a systemic series of rants against Peterborough City Council

It is not unfair to say he is aided and abetted to a degree by his local paper, the Peterborough Telegraph for in print and online they have not been slow in giving him what he seems to crave most, that of course being the oxygen of publicity.

As former political lobbyist Mr Bristow is no fool and who knows the effect of his most recent outpourings but from a safe distance (I live just outside the city) it seems that no matter how hard he tries the tide has begun to move, if not away from him but most definitely away from the party he represents.

If you ask if I have seen anything quite like it, I would be hard pressed to answer but the campaign in Cambridge against the congestion charge last year was quite robust and at times bordered on the personal and malevolent.

Mr Bristow, still smarting from the ousting of his political chum Wayne Fitzgerald from the leadership of Peterborough City Council, has wasted no time in pointing an accusing finger at the new administration running town hall affairs.

(Of course he has continued to vilify Mayor Dr Nik Johnson, the Labour leader of the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority but that’s for another day).

For the moment it is his ‘relationship’ or more accurately lack of it with new council leader Cllr Mohammed Farooq and his new cabinet that seems to have afforded Mr Bristow sleepless nights. At least if he is emulating Maggie Thatcher that won’t have been too much of a distraction since she is famously said to have slept for only four hours a night.

It is on social media where MP Paul Bristow has chosen, for the main, to fire off a systemic series of rants against Peterborough City Council.

It’s as if he remains in denial that what has occurred since November 1 and the change of leadership altered every single thought, word, and previous actions of the council and that we can now blame Cllr Farooq (remember until last year he was president of the NW Cambridgeshire Conservative Association) and of course Labour, who he likes to append to every bloated ego driven tweet or Facebook post.

My analysis of his recent tweets is disturbing for several reasons but mainly because it plays up the fears of many in our communities and offers a distorted picture of life in Peterborough.

It is on social media where MP Paul Bristow has chosen, for the main, to fire off a systemic series of rants against Peterborough City Council

It is on social media where MP Paul Bristow has chosen, for the main, to fire off a systemic series of rants against Peterborough City Council

And he fails, spectacularly, to avoid a narrative that might imply anyone other than him is waving the flag for and championing Peterborough in a positive light.

His tweets ignore the work of Cllr Farooq, ignore the efforts of city council officers and ignores the constructive work of Mayor Johnson to pursue city driven policies; mostly he shows an unbecoming petulance.

If you want an analogy consider that of fellow Tory ‘grandee’ Ryan Fuller who, until 2022, was no less than executive leader of Huntingdonshire District Council and, together with the likes of Fenland Tory council leader Chris Boden, East Cambs council leader Anna Bailey and, naturally, Cllr Fitzgerald plotted mercilessly against Dr Johnson, mainly because the Labour Mayor had the audacity to win the 2021 election for mayor.

Cllr Fuller lost his seat, lost his role at Hunts council, and, worst of all, stormed out of the count before the final declaration. In one fell swoop his political career disappeared overnight (although of course he remains a county councillor, but you can check that out on CambsNews).

Liz Truss on a visit to Peterborough in 2022: Pictured with then Peterborough City Council leader Wayne Fitzgerald and MP Paul Bristow.
Picture by Terry Harris.

Take as an example of Mr Bristow’s tweets in which he wrote that Peterborough City Council’s “PR machine told us that they are talking with M&S about a presence in the city centre.

“But during my talks with M&S last Friday (he tweeted this on February 19) I was told that no such conversations had taken place? What is going on?”

Andrew Pakes is the Labour candidate for Peterborough and has chosen to refrain, mostly, from engaging in any political ‘spittery’ with Mr Bristow.

But on the subject of M&S he told me this.

“The city council has actually met M&S on two occasions,” he said. “Both the council and current MP have been calling for a food hall or some form of presence, as has Labour and other parties, but the public spat on this is not helpful.

“The council has also been working cross-party and with civic groups on this.”

He added: “Paul Bristow has never invited anyone else to his meetings”.

Mr Pakes also said that “this latest spat between the council and city MP is a mess when we need everyone working together.

“Political leaders need to put away their egos and stop worrying about the forthcoming election and start working together for the good of the city.

Rachel Reeves, Shadow Chancellor joins Andrew Pakes in Peterborough on the campaign trail. New England, Peterborough
Saturday 27 January 2024. Picture by Terry Harris.

“The council is perfectly placed to bring together the civic leadership of the city and has already met M&S on two occasions.”

Mr Pakes added: “It doesn’t bode well for the benefit of the city if senior politicians cannot work together.”

Which in reality is the problem. Mr Bristow, as an MP, has the ability – which he exercises regularly to speak, as he did today on the issue of Werrington playing field – in the House of Commons.

And he can prompt earnest responses from Cabinet ministers, sympathetic to his campaign of the moment and today for example even eliciting a response from prime minister Rishi Sunak.

But in reality no MP has a budget, or legal right or even a requirement to micro manage the budget of Peterborough City Council or that of the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority.

An MP is, of course, able to vent his frustrations towards either or both (in Mr Bristow’s case that is often simultaneously) but ultimately it is meaningless and counterproductive.

Take as another example the Great Northern Hotel, Peterborough, which until recently was used (and it must be said with very little opposition) as a temporary refuge for asylum seekers.

Mr Bristow would have us belief a tsunami of invaders had hit our city but in reality the hotel was used for a purpose, determined by Government, and ended, when appropriate, by Government. His Government.

But the MP still persisted in attacking Labour at every opportunity, mercilessly tweeting, and writing about them allegedly not wanting to bring it into a £48m-£70m station development project (which seemingly he and he alone can take the credit for).

And he coupled it with false claims that Labour somehow wanted the hotel to “remain a hostel”.

Poppycock of course but Mr Bristow has never been one to allow the facts to interrupt his often-daily flow of false tweets.

And then there remain the cringe worthy remarks (happily one sided) when he spots an opportunity to rile Mayor Johnson.

On February 9, the Peterborough Telegraph reported that “millions of pounds worth of development opportunities in Peterborough are to go on show to investors at one of the UK’s largest property conferences”.

What followed was news that the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority would be promoting Cambridgeshire and Peterborough at the 3-day long UK Real Estate Investment & Infrastructure Forum in May, “which is expected to attract 12,000 developers, property experts and political leaders from around the world”.

The following day Mr Bristow tweeted: “Everybody knows that we’ve got a mayor that is focused on Cambridge, so it seems that our council won’t be at this conference.

“We need to be selling Peterborough and our potential. I would expect people to be flying the flag for our city”.

An afternoon of stripping away the rhetoric of Mr Bristow and looking for substance has, I admit, left me exhausted.

Too exhausted in fact to go back and check my notes on his tweet of January 18 when he wrote: “We won’t let the council get away it” since it could have been about any one of a dozen topics he’s mused about recently.

As a political epitaph, however, ‘we won’t let the council get away with it’ is probably as good as it gets.

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