Three weeks after losing control of the council, the party was back on the solid ground of by-election* territory, sparking up the doorstep machine to score a treble in Haverstock. Three council seats were held last night, triggering the celebrations in the Camden Centre – that beautiful hall that not so long ago seemed destined to become council offices.
The squeeze of May 6 no longer in play, Labour did not have the same current which guided them to victory in neighbouring wards earlier in the month. It’s campaign team actually could have benefited from a stronger Tory effort, which in theory might have diluted the Lib Dem vote here – but the Conservatives shuffled to the 250 vote mark with a campaign of low expectations.
Still, Sabrina Francis was only 35 votes away from becoming a Labour councillor. Hipper* than most who stand in council elections, she would have been fresh air on the council. There aren’t many councillors at the Town Hall who can confidently say they are firmly in tune with the interest of Camden’s younger residents, the sort of 18-30 year olds who don’t feel engaged with what happens at Judd Street, people who have no idea who their local councillor is and have no interest in repetitive ideological debates. They just want stuff to work. If elected, she may have helped join some dots
Yet when you talk about work on the ground, you can find little fault in the Lib Dems who will take their seats on the council. Jill Fraser polled highest, as predicted on these pages and everywhere else. Her knowledge of the neighbourhood is unmatched, her popularity always high. Maybe she should have another go at a parliamentary contest.
But don’t underestimate her running mate Matt Sanders, either. He isn’t in the New Journal every week grandstanding about his achievements but it is obvious he has impressed the people he represents. They feel ‘The Colonel’* has worked for them. I thought he would have been interested in a place on the executive during the four years of Lib Dem/Conservative coalition in Camden, but what’s clear is that he has instead concentrated on the issues that affect his constituents.
And it’s proved dividends, making sure he avoided the left-leaning tripwire strung by the national alliance of Lib Dems and Conservatives and claims of two-faced betrayal. A ward that was once a Labour stronghold will be a battleground again in the future, but the Lib Dems are digging their feet in.
* It wasn’t a by-election. It was part of the main set of council elections, delayed because of the death of Syed Hoque.
* Ok. Ok Ok… If we use words like ‘hipper’, the 18-30ers will probably remain disenfranchised from Town Hall affairs.
* Nobody actually uses the nickname ‘Colonel Sanders’ for Matt Sanders..