THE joke doing the rounds at Camden Town Hall is that it won’t be long before Theo Blackwell, Tulip Siddiq, maybe Nash Ali and Sarah Hayward too, will be out in Camden High Street dressed in Camden Council bibs and holding clipboards to take down debit card details.
‘You look like a nice person, will you stop and talk to me,’ Theo will shout excitedly as he leaps in front of passers-by with a star jump and a jolly face. ‘We don’t want any of your money, just two minutes of your time. Well, actually we want two minutes of your time and your money. Sign here.’
If the council is going to make charity appeals, the wags have it, it might as well go chugging in the streets. You see, opposition councillors – and a few officers too – are insisting that letters planned for Camden’s residents bankers and lawyers asking for a slice of their bonuses so that council services can be kept afloat is just a gimmick. A distraction.
Yet the Conservatives in particular might want to choose their words carefully here. Surely the idea of a voluntary levy and roping in Hampstead and Primrose Hill’s banking community to sponsor a library, a play group or a school building sounds like it was ripped straight from a user manual for whatever the ‘Big Society’ is.
And if it doesn’t and such philantrophy wasn’t what it was all about from the start, then David Cameron might need to explain ‘The BS’ again for us all in more precise terms. The danger for the Tories on the ground is that by condemning Labour locally for encouraging the rich but so far faceless to come forth in this way and help protect council services, they will unwittingly be bashing Cameron’s headline idea. The Labour spinners have set a trap.
That said, there are questions for the party in power too. In the week when the idea of appealing directly to Camden’s wealthiest, most financially astute residents for voluntary contributions was first suggested, Labour councillors mocked one of them for offering help in another form: his financial advice.
Lord Stanley Fink, a hedge fund supremo who has appeared in The Sunday Times rich list in the past, was described as ‘frankly silly’, even though he had given up his own time this month to meet with the council officials mapping out Camden’s move to new headquarters in King’s Cross and the sale of the annexe building in Euston Road.
Lord Fink’s friendly suggestions about the risk the project entails was effectively thrown back in his face. Councillors might as well held up a sign at the council meeting for the webcast reading: Get Lost.
At the moment, Camden wants the money from the rich but not their expertise. A bit of both would surely be handy.