Women at war

The Battle for West Leeds – never heard of it? You're going to now and in the process I'll make some folk even more grumpy than I'm supposed to be.

It's a "secret" war being waged by the sisters away from the public gaze and carried out in a covert fashion but the objective is clear – to become the next Honourable Member to represent the good people of the West Leeds constituency.

John Battle MP is quitting this safe Labour seat at the next General Election – I hear he's heading for the lecture circuit "in retirement" – and the People's Party has decreed the next West Leeds Labour standard-bearer has to be a woman. Men need definitely not apply.

Hopefuls

I understand more than a dozen hopefuls have put their names forward but a card-carrying man in the constituency party tells me there appear to be five main contestants.

Heading his "list" is Rachel Reeves, who now lives in Kirkstall, whom he describes as 30ish, attractive and very ambitious.

She was Labour candidate in the safe Tory seat of Bromley and Chislehurst in last year's by-election.

"She moved into the West Leeds constituency last year to specifically seek the nomination," he confided.

She has, I understand, the support of the powerful Unite union which came about as a result of the merger between Amicus (the engineers and electricians) and the Transport and General.

And Rachel is alleged to have "friends in high places". One has to be her sister Ellie who's on Labour's ruling National Executive and a lady who made a name for herself last year as the lawyer representing the Gate Gourmet workers who were on strike at Heathrow.

Jo Coles is another with ambitions who has thrown her hat in to the West Leeds ring. She used to work in the office of Yvette Cooper, the arch Brownite MP who is married to Brown's "vicar on earth", Ed Balls.

Nicola Murphy is also well connected. She's married to Chris Leslie who represented Shipley for Labour until he lost his seat to the Tories at the last General Election.

Alison Lowe is the strongest local candidate, serving as she does as a Leeds Labour councillor, but my man says she is thought by some to have "too many rough edges" and lacks the "necessary finesse" for the role." Have they already forgotten Prescott?

The party insider confirmed what many of us knew – that an early front runner to succeed John Battle was Judith Blake, deputy leader of the Leeds Labour group, but she's believed to have lost ground and is thought by many to have missed her chance of getting to Westminster when she failed to hold on to Leeds North West for Labour in 2005. "Thought to be too long in the tooth", says my party mole.

He's confident the "smart money" is on Rachel Reeves.

Isn't that interesting readers? Next month all will be revealed when the selection meeting takes place.

Dodgy politics

There have been problems of "dodgy gear" being sold at the giant so-called car boot sale in Cross Green in east Leeds since it was established in the early 1990s. When trading standards officers, assisted by police and accompanied by Revenue and Customs personnel raided the operation last Sunday they netted 400,000 of suspect goods. As they swooped some traders did a runner. I wonder why?

But it's disingenuous of Labour Group leader Keith Wakefield to try and turn this in to a political issue. The problems of stolen and counterfeit goods on offer at Cross Green was an issue during Labour's long reign in Leeds but they didn't stamp it out although they had plenty of opportunity.

Courts set new penalty

I expect you, my readers, are a law-abiding lot but just in case you transgress and land in front of magistrates in Skipton and you're found guilty beware – there's more than a fine and court costs, you'll be hit with a victim's surcharge.

This "stealth tax" has been handed out to those convicted since earlier this year, I'm told – but why? Apparently it was included as part of the Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims' Act, 2004 (must have been in the small print).

I've noticed of late that in all court cases reported in the Craven Herald & Pioneer where the defendant was found, or pleaded guilty, this 15 surcharge has been slapped on as part of the penalty.

Victims

The money, I'm told by Craven Herald editor Ian Lockwood, is paid in to a fund aimed at helping to improve services for the victims of crime and is fixed at a flat rate regardless of the size of any fine.

It was the brainchild of Dr John Reid, the Rottweiler Home Secretary in the last Blair government, to "rebalance" the criminal justice system in favour of victims.

Now it's all well and good trying to create a climate where victims win over thugs, muggers, murderers, rapists and the like, but reporters covering court cases reckon it has no rhyme nor reason.

They've noticed the victim charge being applied in cases where there is NO victim but not when there is! Motorists are a particular favourite for a victim surcharge. It was ever thus.

John Thorpe He's grumpy, so you don't have to be