The first swim

DEAR Mr P. G. Thompson,

Your attendance is requested at the Prince of Wales Baths re-opening this Autumn. There will be no champagne (the money all went on the refurb – and there’s a recession on) but old friends will be there. I do hope you can make it. Please RVSP.


Cllr Tulip Siddiq, The Cabinet member for Culture, Camden Council, Judd Street

I DON’T know who is sorting out the invites for when the Prince of Wales Baths in Kentish Town re-opens later this year, but why not turn the fiction above into reality? Why shouldn’t Philip Thompson, one of the most prominent swimming campaigners back in 2006, be there? Give him the first dip in the Grafton Pool, I say.

As revealed in the New Journal today, PT could easily make it. He isn’t living in the United States anymore. He’s back in London, although apparently no longer a member of any political party.

His oft-repeated story, that haunted the Lib Dem recent election campaign in NW5, is that he was one of the party’s councillors at the Town Hall when back in 2008 he suddenly enrolled at  the University of Arizona, thousands of miles away from his Kentish Town constituency ward. The Lib Dem leadership were open and honest: they had no idea he planned to move continents until getting a call from the Camden New Journal.

And it became national news. For a moment, it seemed Thompson wanted to study over there while representing Kentish Town over here.  He didn’t, he stepped down and the Lib Dems faced down the embarrassment by winning the resulting by-election.

And that’s how people have remembered him. That guy who zipped off to America. Just that.

Forgotten is that earnest pools campaigner who helped agitate for a clear future for the broken baths.  Yet without the persistent voices at the back end of 2005 and the start of 2006, those beautiful Victorian pools in Prince of Wales Road might be a block of fancy homes by now. The council of the day certainly saw  no way, financially, of soothing the building’s many historic problems.

Thompson’s motivation might have been rooted in electoral ambition as the Lib Dems stalked the Labour councillors in that neck of the borough and he was by no means the only one who put hours and weeks into a campaign. You could call him a master opportunist. But what he did do, did change the course of this little bit of parochial but important politics, a fact inevitably lost in the rubble of cowboy councillor headlines.

So, come on Tulip, whack him through an invite.

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