IT was a big day for Islington Council leader Catherine West yesterday, as she was chosen as the Labour parliamentary candidate for Hornsey and Wood Green. If she had genuinely believed beforehand there would be any other outcome of a branch vote, then her modesty is boundless. This was a banker bet. In the final reckoning, she may well have won by more than 200 votes, maybe more. That’s perfect for her agents to stamp out the message about just how united the party is around her campaign. A machine of sorts has developed around Catherine as Labour map out one of their key missions for the 2015 general election: unseating MP Lynne Featherstone, the Liberal Democrat who provokes extra level irritation among north London Labour members.
Make no mistake, Lynne brings Labour members out in spots more than most Lib Dems do. It may be based on a frustration among the party that the constituency was ever lost in the first place, after hard work previously to wrest it from Tory hands. Twenty years ago it was held by Sir Hugh Rossi. The loss here has been like an untreated wound, salted with each Featherstone press release and blogpost.
To hammer home how serious a threat Catherine, who with exquisite timing ahead of her run for selection recently won the Council Leader Of The Year award, is to Lynne, there were pictures of her surrounded by crowds of happy people distributed yesterday. Don’t worry, the first person to stop applauding wasn’t disciplined.
These were designed to get the bandwagon reaching further. What should be worrying for the Lib Dems is that it’s a campaign capable of drawing in Labour volunteers from beyond the Hornsey and Wood Green boundaries, the activists looking for headline scalps may descend on it.
David Lammy, the MP in the neighbouring seat, declared yesterday afternoon in typically understated manner: The Lib Dem reign is over.
He tweeted the photo above.
In fact, the dosage of Westmania might have been so high that Lynne may have woken today wondering whether she was actually still the MP for Hornsey and Wood Green. As you can see from Lammy’s tweeted excitement, Labour members were talking like the battle had already won. This can have a two way effect, of course. It builds the excitement for campaigners, drawing them in to help. Overegg it too much and you risk the boomerang of looking complacent and conceited to voters who hate being told what they should think.
Hornsey and Wood Green is an interesting contest from a Camden complexion. Will Lib Dems be drawn away from Hampstead and Kilburn to man barricades in Haringey?
It is interesting in Islington too, as people ask whether Catherine will stay on as leader of the council? And from asking that simple question and reporting her indication that she will stay on, you could sense just a little bit of prickliness in Labour ranks at the imagined suggestion that she should be forced from her office under a wave of Lib Dem leaflets.
On Twitter, there was a speedy rush to her defence, even though there were no real spears of attack to repel. Sophie Linden, the Hackney councillor waiting on her own selection contest in Hampstead and Kilburn, chimed in with the understandable argument that parliamentary candidates needed to have full time jobs during long campaigns, otherwise Parliament would be the preserve of the rich. Sure, nobody could reasonably argue otherwise. Nobody had. Thanks, though.
It’s just a fair, pretty simple enquiry for a local reporter to ask what Catherine will do in Isington, as people living in that borough have seen two Labour councillors step down after being selected for parliamentary constituencies (albeit outside of London). They can be forgiven, surely, for wondering whether there will be a change of leader at Islington Town Hall and how the ruling group will set itself up.
It’s the race to speak for Catherine over this mild query as to whether she intends to do both roles – run the council and run for Parliament – which is interesting in itself. Labour seem keen to bullet proof her campaign from the off, more so than in other areas. Some might suggest Catherine’s campaign could be undermined by the long hours often demanded by leading a council. Opponents will suggest that not standing down will represent a half-hearted approach to Hornsey and Wood Green. They’d be raising false hope for themselves if they thought that to be really true.
Luke Akehurst, another Labour tweeter last night, is right to a certain extent. If you don’t live in Islington or care about what happens in the council buildings in Upper Street, it is a bit of a ‘non-issue’, but it’s the irritated and terse response to that non-issue which demonstrates just how much Labour will invest in Hornsey and Wood Green. From day one, we have learned that when Catherine is sidetracked by Islington business, a team of troubleshooters, are already in place.