Former BBC man to stand in Sutton Coldfield for Liberal Democrats at General Election

The General Election starting gun was fired in London on Wednesday. That led to a klaxon, or more accurately a loud haler being sounded by an ex-BBC reporter, who announced he is standing in Sutton Coldfield.

Investigative journalist, John Sweeney, who reported for BBC’s Newsnight and Panorama, and more recently covered the ‘battle for Kiev’ during the first year of the Russia Ukraine war as a freelancer, has ditched journalism to stand for the Liberal Democrats in Sutton Coldfield.

He says he plans to oust ‘Sir Andrew Mitchell’, knighting his opponent prematurely, who is the Conservative Government’s Deputy Foreign Secretary, and has been Sutton’s MP for more than two decades. Mr Sweeney described Mr Mitchell as an absentee MP accusing him of living at his family home in Nottinghamshire – when not in Parliament or on Foreign Office duties.

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Mr Sweeney announced he was standing with a loud haler in Sutton’s Parade on Friday ‘at high noon’ to bewildered shoppers. He said: “Ladies and gentlemen, it’s high noon. High noon for the Conservative Party.

“And high noon for Sir Andrew ‘thrasher’ Mitchell. I’m the Liberal candidate and my name’s the Sweeney. You’re in trouble and the Sweeney are coming to help you out.

“This town centre is full of empty shops, while the Conservative Government has squandered close to half a billion quid on the fascist state called Rwanda, where one of the opposition politicians, a lady called Diana, gets locked up. The reason? Her father gets murdered. Sir Andrew Mitchell whitewashes this fascist state."

He continued: “And another thing, you want to go for a swim in the river or ponds around here, you might meet some horrible sewage. We want clean rivers.

“We want well-defended skies. I spent a lot of time in Ukraine and we want to help our Ukrainian friends effectively and we are not doing it properly. The reason for that is because too many rich people and too many rich organisations don’t pay their fair share of tax.

“And those are the people who are friends of Sir Andrew Mitchell. People like Chopfinger – look him up folks.

“So if you want open and honest and transparent Government, vote Liberal Democrat.”

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Mr Sweeney said he had not mentioned Labour for a reason citing the city council being ‘foolish’ and ‘not good and looking after other people’s money’. He then joked about the Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, ‘has he not heard of the Great British invention the umbrella?’. A reference to the PM's soaking in ‘Drowning’ Street two days before when the General Election was called to be held on Thursday, July 4. “What’s he doing there standing there getting rained on and rained on?”

Mr Sweeney then referenced this being a democracy – referencing Russia – after spending time in Ukraine and also writing a book on Alexei Navalny, Vladimir Putin’s opponent who died in custody this year. “I don’t think a one party state is a good thing. Sir Andrew ‘Thrasher’ Mitchell has been the MP here for 21 years [It is approaching 23, since 2001). Enough already. Time for a change. Time to vote Liberal Democrat. Time for the Sweeney.”

Speaking to BirminghamLive after his speech, Mr Sweeney said: “I think Sir Andrew Mitchell is an absentee MP. The Labour Party have got no hope of winning here.” It was pointed out to Mr Sweeney that the Liberal Democrats have been in third place in the last two General Elections, losing their deposit in 2017. And finished fourth in 2015, behind the Conservatives, Labour and UKIP.

He referenced his 286,000 followers on X, formerly Twitter. Mr Mitchell has 16,200. He said: “I am a fighter and I am going to fight like a tiger for the good people here.” He was appropriately dressed in orange.

He said the machinery of being a journalist is not powerful enough to change things. He said he was working on a story in 2021 which got pulled. “I felt shocked about my inability to tell the truth about Vladimir Putin. I want to burn down Londongrad.” I want to become an MP to stand up for the lovely town.” He promised to have a pint in every pub in Sutton and ‘move here if he wins’.

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Mr Sweeney advocated a sales tax on Amazon and other online retailers to help high streets. He said he’s ‘sit down with Birmingham City Council over its financial mess. He cited a problem with the NHS and waiting lists.

He also said that Sutton ‘was not a battleground seat for Labour’ and asked ‘who’s the Labour Party guy’. The candidate is yet to be announced but highly likely to be Sutton’s Labour city and town councillor, Rob Pocock. He’s fought (and lost) five of the last six General Elections against Andrew Mitchell. Another challenger will be Mark Hoath, standing for Reform UK in Sutton.

His three priorities were young peoples, citing housing costs, clean rivers and ‘fixing the NHS’. He added ‘we need to tax the rich effectively’ but added “I don’t think tax should go up [for ordinary people]”.

“I think Liberal Democrats have a chance, particularly in Tory facing seats,” he said. To do so he’d need to see an unprecedented swing – with the Liberal’s last candidate Jenny Wilkinson picking up 6,358 votes in 2019 to Mr Mitchell’s 31,604. He’d need to double the votes to get past Mr Pocock’s 12,332 last time.