WAS the e-mail received with fraternal delight among Camden’s politicians? Or with an exasperated sigh? Who knows, but that mischievous Camden Lib Dem Paul Braithwaite must have known what he was doing when he messaged all councillors last week to tell them that their old friend Alexis Rowell was moving back to Kentish Town? Last seen in Camden losing the Highgate by-election in 2011 – having switched by then from the Lib Dems to the Greens – Alexis later moved to Sussex where you could find him news-editing the Transition Free Press. The opponents he left behind might have thought they had seen the last of him.
But then came Braithers’ email last week, including a picture of a pet dog and the subject field: Be afraid……!
Why the word of warning? When Alexis was in full pelt he was, and presumably still is, a juggernaut. This meant when he became the council’s ‘eco-champion’ and in charge of green issues under the Lib Dem and Tory coalition which ran Camden between 2006-2010, he upset more than a few applecarts: the Labour government was failing on climate change and peak oil, the council was not reacting fast enough, the newspapers weren’t taking any of it seriously enough, his bickering rival Theo Blackwell was annoying… the list went on. Even his own party’s leadership, as happy as it was with his ability to turn Belsize ward towards the Lib Dems, was not safe from his challenging demands and if the memoirs of the Camden Lib Dems are ever written down, he might be worth a little chapter of his own.
The opposition, quite rudely, nicknamed him ‘Cllr Nut Roast’ because of his homely sustainable living blog in which he showed how he lived by his own prescription. Others called him the ‘ego-champion’ due to his arrogant style. And that was the riddle with Alexis, everything he said about saving the world was soaked in sense and good intention – his warnings on the peak oil crisis will one day no doubt become a shameful reality – but the issue was of such critical importance and his understanding of it so deep that he could accept no compromise. This meant some felt he left them feeling stupid for worrying about more parochial issues.
Paul’s email did not elaborate further on whether his friend will seek a route back to Camden’s green benches. Breathless but assured, he did, it has to be said, make the Town Hall more interesting to report on, a completely different kind of councillor from those we’d seen before.