Could a Brexiteer TV star win in Hull?

Could a Brexiteer TV star win in Hull?

The constituency of Hull West and Hessle is Eurosceptic – 63% voted leave at the EU referendum and in February a poll suggested 20% of Remain voters in Hull would now back Leave. But it is also fiercely Labour and almost 50% backed former Cabinet Minister and chair of Labour’s ‘In For Britain’ campaign Alan Johnson in 2015. This time the well-loved former postman has retired and there’s a new and unknown Labour candidate. Now four candidates who support EU withdrawal are vying to take the seat: UKIP’s Gary Shores, the Tories’ Christine Mackay, Will Taylor of the Libertarian Party and a celebrity Independent.

UKIP came second at the last general election and at first glance might look like having the most realistic chance of bringing down the mighty 9,333 Labour majority, but given their dire poll ratings it is the Tories who are now the best-placed party to challenge Labour. There is, however, another factor in the mix which could shake things up: meet Michelle Dewberry, winner of BBC’s The Apprentice in 2006, TV personality and a Brexit-backing Independent.

Labour’s unwillingness to back euroscepticism has led Independent challenger, Sky news pundit and former reality TV star Dewberry to run in her home seat, keen to be a Brexit candidate who will stand up for the people of Hull. She aims to reach out to the “politically homeless” people of Hull who like Labour, hate Corbyn, don’t like the Tories but back Brexit. She even has Lord Sugar’s endorsement.

So could this Independent firebrand “Hull girl” both trounce the Tories and take a scalp from Labour? I met up with her to hear her policies first hand.

A former Labour voter, Dewberry bemoans professional politicians who “talk a lot of BS” but won’t deliver anything. She refuses to say whether she wants Britain to leave the Common Fisheries Policy because “everyone would like me to say when we Brexit we’re going to bring all the fishing jobs back” but personally she’s not sure if there’s any infrastructure and fishing boats left. Although her campaign literature says she’d vote with the Conservatives on Brexit issues, it was unclear if she knew leaving the CFP was Conservative policy.

Earlier in the day I’d spoken with Gary Shores, the UKIP candidate who says Michelle is “on a massive ego trip”. He also attacked the rising national debt and the need to curb immigration. Dewberry began to talk on the same lines as Shores and at one point described Nigel Farage as “one of the most successful politicians of all time”. When I asked her what distinguished her from her fellow eurosceptic she didn’t offer any policy differences –  after some thought she said UKIP has served its purpose and seemed to be in a mess. She attacked Labour candidate Emma Hardy for laziness – after she was absent from numerous election hustings – and said she didn’t like the Tories, but Dewberry offered little in concrete policy. “My policy on Brexit is to Brexit,” she said confidently.

After a few minutes I realised she was impossible to pin down on even broad policy ideas. I asked her if she would describe herself as a socialist: “I don’t describe myself as an anything other than a Hull girl who wants the best for this city.” I asked if she’d vote Labour if they backed Brexit. “What on earth gave you that impression?” But you don’t like the Conservatives? “They don’t do what’s in the interests of working people”. On policy she was clear that Independent candidates are best: “You can pick and choose the best bits from all of the different parties”.

It’s hard to judge how popular the Apprentice star is in her home town and if there’s any realistic chance of splitting the Labour vote. Martin Baxter from Electoral Calculus predicted Hull would remain Labour in April, long before the Tories’ social care wobble. It would require a remarkably well-run, intelligent and targeted message for the Independent to make headway. Despite landing a top job with Britain’s best known entrepreneurs, these qualities weren’t apparent.

My final question was the clincher, carefully prepared by journalists to catch those on the Leave side out during the referendum. Which single EU law would she would like to repeal after Brexit? It was the question that caught out many a Brexiteer and she pondered this for a moment, racking her brains on how to dodge the question. Suddenly she had the answer without having to name an obscure EU directive.  “All of them!” she confidently said. “If I get my Brexit, why would we have any EU laws in Britain?”