WHEN Labour lost its council seats in Gospel Oak in 2006, the leader of the Conservatives suggested that New Labour had in the wake of the Iraq War become, shall we say, a toxic brand in the area. Piers Wauchope, who later left the party and became a UKIP councillor in Kent, said Labour’s opponents had benefited from the local group’s association with Alastair Campbell and campaign photo shoots with Tony Blair.
In his book, a history of Camden politics, he claimed a picture of Campbell at the launch of the local manifesto was a “gift” to the other parties. Labour went onto lose control of the Town Hall for the first time in nearly 40 years, crucially defeated in wards which are historically strongholds for the party, including Gospel Oak.
“Three weeks before the poll, Tony Blair visited the recently renovated Cromer Street Estate,” wrote Mr Wauchope. “A delighted Chada seized the opportunity and posed for photographs alongside the Prime Minister. This followed on from the Labour election launch where Chada had allowed himself to be photographed with communications strategist Alastair Campbell for the New Journal. The photographs were a gift to the opposition.”
Labour plainly rejected this assessment and see the book as a redrafting of history by a party more used to losing council elections in Camden than winning. This was in clear evidence yesterday when the party, now firmly back in control in Gospel Oak, based their by-election polling day from Campbell’s kitchen. He tweeted a picture of the cookies and laptop, and rolls of red and yellow stickers. Nobody seemed worried that mention of his name would bring back the bad feelings of 2006. Moreover, they all seemed delighted to be associated with Campbell. Their candidate Maeve McCormack went onto win at a stroll.
Then, later in the evening, while the rest of the campaign team toasted Maeve’s win with a shandy or two in O’Neills, Campbell was back on the This Week sofa. There he pulled from his suit jacket pocket, one of Conservative candidate Leila Roy’s election leaflets and went on to tell Michael Portillo and Andrew Neil that it simply failed to mention David Cameron and the Conservatives. The blue rosette had become, he suggested, a… “toxic brand”.
With Portillo’s eyes wincing, Campbell explained: “Where I live, in Gospel Oak, there has been a by-election today. The Conservative candidate, this is her main leaflet today. She’s lost I’m glad to say and Labour has won very comfortably. The word ‘Conservative’ does not appear. She knows that the Conservative brand is so toxic because of what you’re doing to people on benefits that they are trying to go around and saying this is an individual who has nothing to do with the Conservatives, nothing to do with David Cameron because they know the brand is toxic. It’s because they continue to peddle the line that anybody who is on benefits is somehow skiving, shirking.”