Clarence Mitchell, the newly selected Conservative candidate for Brighton Pavilion, said that when Margaret Thatcher represented his local constituency, she was “effective and caring”.
Mr Mitchell, 52, was a young reporter at the Hendon and Finchley Times in the early 1980s, having trained at the former Westminster Press Training Centre in Hastings.
Mrs Thatcher was both Prime Minister and the Conservative MP for Finchley.
Mr Mitchell said in an interview with the Brighton and Hove Independent: “I found her an excellent constituency MP, a class act, and, on a personal level, supremely impressive.
“She was effective and caring. And I use that word carefully.”
After starting his journalism career in local newspapers, Mr Mitchell joined the BBC where he worked for 20 years. He served as a political reporter, royal correspondent and presenter.
He has since worked as a civil servant, running the government’s Media Monitoring Unit. And for the past six years he has acted as the spokesman for the family of missing Madeleine McCann who disappeared during a holiday in Portugal.
He has acted as an adviser to the Conservative Party and is currently a managing director of Burson-Marsteller UK, the public affairs business.
As a young reporter he recalled meeting Mrs Thatcher at the annual Finchley Carnival at a time when Britain’s miners were on strike.
She handed the young Mr Mitchell a scoop in the shape of a formal statement which represented her first substantive intervention in the miners’ strike.
She showed Mr Mitchell that she had written it herself by giving him a glimpse of the original manuscript which she kept in her handbag.
In her statement she promised to do “everything necessary to keep the country working” – a comment later taken to mean that she would, if necessary, use troops to break the strike.
Mr Mitchell accepts that he faces a challenge trying to improve on the Tories’ third place in Brighton Pavilion at the 2010 general election.
Caroline Lucas won the seat to become Britain’s first Green MP and Labour came second. The Conservatives were 4,000 votes behind the Greens.
Dr Lucas is standing again – the next election is expected to take place in 2015 – and Labour has picked an impressive candidate in Purna Sen.
Mr Mitchell said: “Brighton is unique – unique for its inclusivity, its tolerance, its radicalism and its cultural vibrancy.
“It’s also unique for the wrong reasons: a failed Green experiment that continues to let the city down badly.
“That’s why Brighton Pavilion now needs a unique Conservative candidate – one who may not have a typical Tory CV but who does have decades of real-world experience gained across the media, government and the private sector.
“The Greens’ failure to deliver locally has been self-evident on so many levels: recycling rates down, carbon emissions up, a refusal to freeze council tax while remaining hopelessly split internally, and all with the recent spectacle of their own MP opposing them on the picket line as rubbish piled high on the streets.
“Labour, though, are also failing to offer any credible alternative, finding themselves forced to agree with government spending plans as the economy starts to recover, realising they, too, are now losing the economic argument daily.”
He describes jobs for young people and providing affordable homes as policy priorities. He plans to make his own home in the constituency when the lease on his London flat expires.
And he is confident that he can win the three-way seat. It was held by a succession of Tories over nearly 50 years before falling to Labour in 1997 and then the Greens three years ago.
He said: “Voting Conservative offers the only credible way out of the mess that both parties have presented us with: the Greens locally, and the continuing aftermath of 13 years of Labour overspending and borrowing, nationally.”
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