LAST time around, because the local elections and the general election were on the same day and it was all getting a bit twitchy in Hampstead and Kilburn, we were spoilt as local reporters. You couldn’t turn a corner without bumping into George Osborne or Gordon Brown, all happy to give snatched interviews in return for a page lead for their candidate. Ahead of next month’s elections, however, that feast has turned into scraps. Nobody from the government or the opposition front benches has so far been down, itself a message that the central offices of all the main parties pretty much know how Camden will be carved up, politically, on May 22.
Still, Labour in Camden are good eggs when it comes to putting on a manifesto launches and at least brought in Dame Tessa Jowell onto the field of play last night for a gee-up, someone with both a connection to the borough and a profile talked about as being big enough to push a run for the London mayoralty.
Of course, the obvious question was why, given Camden Labour’s standout opposition for the HS2 rail project, an entrenched feature of the Sarah Hayward leadership, had they invited somebody who had voted for the scheme on Monday. If you listen below – and forgive my estuary accent – Tessa had to be reminded that further defiance against HS2 is promised in the “terrific” manifesto.
But the members, understandably confident about what lies ahead later this month, did not seem to mind that most of them disagreed with Tessa over this monumental infrastructure project. The fact they keep returning to is that no Lib Dem MP had joined with Frank Dobson and the rest of the Labour and Tory rebels to vote against HS2 in the House of Commons this week, despite the vocal local Lib Dem opposition. Three separate faces reminded me of this over the mini sausage rolls, insistent that I should not forget it any cost. In fact, I was rather glad no branding tools were readily available at the Castlehaven community centre yesterday evening or I might be wearing it on my forehead this morning.
Anyhow, whatever the members and candidates think of Tessa deep down, he hopes of being Mayor and her views on HS2, it all seemed to be forgiven when she presented the winning card in the game of local speech-making: a teasing joke about ‘Big’ Phil Turner, the former council leader.
He’s a sort of wise old uncle of the group these days and he smiled as she reminded the room of her time as a Camden councillor working along him – a period long before my time but an era just as riven, if not more so, by group disagreements.
“You were a bit of lefty then,” she said, to a room full of ear-shattering guffaws.