AS night follows day, things always get tetchier as council election polling day nears and there’s something bubbling in Bloomsbury, where the Conservatives are looking to apply some heat on Labour. It’s a ward for which the Tories have long-held ambitions, holding out hope, as the demographics and nature of central London change, that it could one day be solidly blue.
But in the now, with Labour looking to defend three seats, a street fight is developing, sharpened this week by the Conservative use of a ‘vote neighbour, not Labour’ slogan on its door-to-door leaflets. It’s uneven ground for any political party to start demanding candidates live in the ward they are standing in – good luck filling the slates, to them all, if that becomes a rule. But the play on the leaflet is just this, that Councillor Adam Harrison has moved to Highgate and candidate Sabrina Francis lives in Camden Town and been linked with safer seats elsewhere.
Labour don’t read it that way, however, because the ‘vote neighbour’ phrase led to some fractious rows in Gospel Oak in 2006 when the Tories used it in their successful pursuit of the then Labour council leader Raj Chada. Labour-supporting journalist Fiona Millar wrote in the Guardian: “Our three Labour councillors had been swept away by Tories who fought a clever but subliminal racist campaign on the council estates. ‘Vote neighbour, not Labour’ was the slogan – no need to mention that the Labour candidate and council leader was Asian.”
These claims still appear on the Guardian’s website today, despite the fact the Conservatives were furious from the off at the accusation that they were in some way channeling slogans from the 1960s. They countered with a reminder that not all of their candidates in Gospel Oak for that election were white English members, either, and that their pitch was about who was working hardest on the very local issues.
So to Bloomsbury this week. Despite all of the celebrations inside the Camden Labour party about the healthy split of men and women among their councillors in Camden and how its leader is not another one of the white middle-aged men who dominate local government, it has never had a young, black woman elected.
Ms Francis herself was not first choice for the ward, winning the selection after sitting councillor Milena Nuti dropped out. She had served a campaign apprenticeship by standing in Haverstock where she almost actually won, but was passed over in Gospel Oak when Labour was back in the lead and could see the 2013 by-election there as a winning contest.
She would be making a bit of history for Camden Labour, though, by winning here and this is part of the reason Labour members were recounting the past leaflet battle in Gospel Oak again last night. The Tories, in return, insist that this whole line of analysis by Labour is as unfair to take as it was in 2006, and that the campaign in Bloomsbury is about getting people who know the area best elected on Thursday.
Just two days to work it all now.