CONSTANCE FELICITY KING (25° January 1959 - ), politician.
Born in Sheffield; raised in Laughton-en-le-Morthen, Rotherham; educated at University of York (Philosophy, 1977-80), University of Sheffield (Librarianship, 1980-1). 

Sheffield Central Library
Assistant Librarian (1981-2); Librarian (1982-6); Chief Librarian (1986-1989)

Sheffield City Council
Arts Committee: lay member (1986-1989); council member (1988-1991)
Councillor (Labour), Sheffield Central ward (1988-2001)
Planning Committee: member (1991-1994); chair (1994-2000)

As a consequence of her meteoric library career (which owed much to her impressive interview skills and cool under pressure), King acquired a lay seat on the Sheffield City Council Arts Committee. An impassioned speech to the committee in 1987 helped persuade the city to abandon a costly bid for the 1991 FISU Universiade student games, and to focus instead on maintaining and developing critical city-centre infrastructure. Her performance encouraged her decision to run for council in 1988, and influenced her move to the city's planning committee, which she would go on to chair. During this period she was undoubtedly instrumental in the approval of a wealth of landmark building projects for ACNC, and she co-authored the city's Millennium development plan.

In 2001 she resigned the council, having been elected Labour Member of Parliament for the new Rotherham constituency of West Lindrick (from 2007 simply Lindrick). In 2002 she gave evidence in the ACNC fraud trial.

Parliamentary Career

Already notorious in Westminster circles for being a “conscientious rebel” (as Tony Benn described her) in the governments of Tony Blair, she rose to public attention in 2007 when she put herself forward as a candidate for party leadership against Blair’s chosen successor Gordon Brown, citing the principle that “leadership should be the choice of the party and not something traded under the table in a restaurant” (a reference to the supposed 'Granita Pact' in which Blair and Brown were understood to have agreed the terms of a political succession). She entered her candidacy less than an hour and a half before the deadline, having struggled to gain the required 45 nominations. King consistently played down the ensuing leadership election campaign, describing it as “a formality designed to affirm Gordon’s suitability for the job in the eyes of the public”. However, as the campaign went on it became clear that King’s blend of Old Labour economics and social libertarianism were going down well with a significant core of the party membership, and the fact that King had voted against the Iraq War was another factor in her favour. She ultimately attained 42% of the overall vote, winning the Affiliate college (60%) and Member college (51%) but taking only 15% of the MP and MEP ballot. With such a share of the vote it was inevitable that King would secure a cabinet position in Brown’s government. It is understood that she was offered something approaching a free choice of ministries, but whatever the truth of the matter, she accepted the Department of Trade and Industry. It is also widely believed that Brown would not have called the 2007 election without significant persuasion from King.

Following the economic crisis of 2008, King was an advocate of bank nationalisation, and helped to establish the arm's-length oversight scheme by which banking debt was to be rebalanced. Her suggestion that Brown call another election in early 2009 to judge public support for tougher banking regulation was apparently considered but ultimately rejected. 

King was untarnished by the parliamentary expenses scandals of 2009, but was concerned that the government should improve its image, especially after a severe kicking in the council elections. The 'National Government' reshuffle of June 2009 has the fingerprints of both King and Brown, but King's persuasive abilities were surely a factor in bringing it to fruition. She subsequently developed a strong working relationship with Liberal Democrat Treasury Minister Vince Cable. Later in 2009, King cemented her popularity by renationalising the East Coast rail franchise, and she followed this up in 2010 by blocking an American bid for the confectioner Cadbury's. By this point she was being characterised in the press as 'King Constance', an epithet she increasingly played up to. Her self-belief added to her persuasive powers, and was likely crucial in guiding the economic recovery.

King held onto her portfolio within the Brown/Clegg coalition that followed the 2012 election, and continued to pursue an effectively leftist agenda with Castle-like determination. As a Rotherham MP and former Sheffield councillor she was tangentially affected by the sex abuse scandals that emerged in the mid 2010s, and was swift to criticise former colleagues. But her own reputation remained largely untarnished. In 2015, Brown announced his intention to stand down from his position as PM, triggering a leadership contest. King put her name forward alongside David Miliband, Ed Miliband and Yvette Cooper, and won the first round of the election with 36% of the overall vote. However, after Ed Miliband and Yvette Cooper were eliminated and alternative votes applied, David Miliband was declared winner with an overall share of 50.02% against King's 49.98% -- as with 2007, King won both the Member college (53%) and Affiliate college (62%), but polled only 35% of MPs and MEPs. King was visibly disappointed to have lost so narrowly (a single MP would have swung things in her favour), but was nonetheless keen to use that narrowness to strengthen her economic brief and maintain her cabinet role overseeing Trade and Industry. King's election pitch had been criticised as too left-wing in comparison to David Miliband's neo-Blairite stance (she had characterised the choice on offer "ideology versus boring"), but she sought to use her strong showing as a means to reign in any Miliband-led drift back to "a dangerous Champagne Socialism" during the formation of the 2016 Manifesto.

Under the terms of the coalition agreement, Nick Clegg assumed Prime Ministerial duties going into the 2016 General Election. Labour gained 192 seats, against the Lib Dems' 189 and the Conservatives' 184: the closest three-way UK General Election result to date. Miliband and Clegg renegotiated the terms of the coalition, with Miliband as Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary, and Clegg in a strengthened second role as First Lord of the Treasury (decoupled from its traditional association with the PM post). This move gave the Liberal Democrats a much greater control of economic management, sidelining King's more radical agenda. Many of King's supporters saw this move as a slight, and were quick to caricature David Miliband as a self-absorbed peacock astrut upon the world stage, handing government to the Lib Dems to keep it unsullied by the left wing of his own party.

King shifted her efforts towards addressing the clamour for greater federal powers across the UK. She advocated the creation of 12 assembly areas to coincide with the European Parliamentary Constituencies ("let's keep it simple, eh?", as she told the House of Commons), and was promoting this model in Birmingham at the time of the London Bomb. Her reactions to the incident, caught on camera, were unquestionably impressive. She later told Lana Botney: "I don't know whether it was just a growing-up-in-the-'80s-watching-Threads sort-of-thing, or what it was, but I just kind of feared the worst: it seemed the most likely fit for what we'd just experienced. It was either that or an asteroid or something, and I thought, well, whatever it is, it's going to pose the same sort of threat." Before any confirmation was received, King had aides and press gathering weather reports, enacting local emergency strategies, contacting experts and planning evacuation options. As the enormity of the crisis became clear, she remained focused on the humanitarian aspect, maintaining an open, candid, and often emotional dialogue with the press.

Following the devastation of the London Bomb, King found herself the most senior member of the coalition, and promptly called an emergency assembly in York for any surviving MPs. Only 47 attended the first such assembly: the so-called Meeting of the 47. The meeting set priorities and enacted emergency powers, establishing King as interim Prime Minister. King appointed a new temporary cabinet built largely of lay experts, while council members from across the country were drafted to the new Parliament to re-establish a representative democracy.

King now faced growing criticism from the more Hawkish element of her new Parliament (and indeed from media and the military) who demanded retaliatory action. Chief of the Defence Staff, General Eugene Medlev, revealed military intelligence suggesting Iranian responsibility, and this increased the pressure on King even further. King remained unconvinced by Medlev's evidence, and stressed the need to concentrate military minds upon the relief effort. Medlev ignored King (operating on the dubious principle that the elected Prime Minister and his nominated 'second' were both dead, thereby permitting the armed services to follow the tactical lead of the 'letter of last resort'), and ordered HMS Vengeance to ready for a nuclear strike against Iran. On 21° May several King-loyalists and cabinet members were arrested by military personnel. King herself was at Lindrick, examining evidence discovered by a team of monitoring journalists at AVW that the bomb was the work of a company of unconventional performance artists called Diwydianfa, and that the 'plot' had even been outlined on an ATV variety show a week earlier. ISA officers then set about smuggling King into a safe-house in Sheffield, as reports came through that troops from the Fulford barracks were blockading the ad hoc parliament at the University of York.

From her safe-house, King broadcast the Diwydianfa evidence, partially undermining Medlev's integrity. She also revealed that Æ had regained control of the Teleforce system and had just used it to neutralise a sea-launched missile attack on Iran such as the one Medlev had been advocating. She demanded the release of all parliamentary and cabinet personnel, and the immediate withdrawal of York troops. But Medlev refused to comply with her demands, and the rest is an unpleasant present.

AVW continues to assert King's rightful authority as UK Prime Minister.

No comments:

Post a Comment