NATALIE Bennett doesn’t strike many people as someone with an inflated ego, but maybe, as leader of the Green Party nationally, she might have expected to choose a parliamentary constituency without too much hassle. Rather than a coronation into the role of parliamentary candidate in her home ward of Holborn and St Pancras, however, she has instead faced an internal contest.
No doubt, Natalie will see this all as a welcome display of internal party democracy. But the pressure must have been on members to back her. How the Camden branch would’ve been seen by the national party’s organisers had they not picked their own leader for the seat she wanted will remain a never answered what-if.
Challenger Constantine Buhayer, a Gospel Oak campaigner who is standing in next month’s council elections, made an interesting point during his run against the boss. He effectively told the party that Natalie already had exposure and a profile – she’s reached Question Time guest status – and that fighting a constituency which Labour has strolled to victory in for so long would not raise it much further. In contrast, by selecting somebody else, he argued, the alternative choice would be given a bit more oomph, a bit more relevance when the party goes door-to-door. It was a way of making more people immediately recognisable to voters, other than just Natalie and Caroline Lucas (and Sian Berry). While she was away speaking at public meetings across the country, he could’ve been building the network up in Camden, the theory goes.
The argument that came back to that, and it proved persuasive enough among the 80 percent of members who chose Natalie in a two-candidate run-off, is that the Greens don’t actually see Holborn and St Pancras as a lost cause forever and ever. In fact it is talked aboit almost as a development seat with the idea that Greens could capture disaffected Liberal Democrat voters and offer a genuine alternative for left and left-leaning voters. This would be easier against – and here’s part two of the grand theory – if they were contesting it against somebody other than Labour’s Frank Dobson, for whom the aforementioned target group seem to trust as a man who spoke out against many of the aspects of the New Labour regime it distrusted the most.
Natalie, in the press release confirming her selection sent out today, stirs the pot a little here. “With a majority of the 28 per cent Lib Dem vote from 2010 looking for a new home, and Frank Dobson loyalists sizing up a new Labour candidate, we’ve an opportunity to build towards being serious contenders in Holborn and St Pancras,” she says.
It’s not a complete stab in the dark, the idea that Frank might not be her Labour opponent. People who are fond of Frank in the Labour Party have been making those noises, albeit without making it so clear as to whether the MP has given them consent to brief in this way.
Some Labour members hint over coffees that Frank will make an announcement swiftly after the council elections, but others say he has’t gone yet and talking about his apparent departure is distasteful.
What’s clear is that the other parties want to hurry to the day where his name is no longer on the ballot paper.