You’re not local: Labour vs Tories tear-up in Bloomsbury


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.

3 Comments on You’re not local: Labour vs Tories tear-up in Bloomsbury

  1. One point you haven’t mentioned is the resemblance to the overtly racist Tory slogan used in Smethwick years ago, which doesn’t bear repeating.

    Regardless of the intention here, the connotations of the language coupled with the fact that two of the three Labour candidates are black should be enough for anyone to realise that this has no place in responsible and legitimate political discourse.

  2. “Our three Labour councillors had been swept away by Tories who fought a clever but subliminal racist campaign on the council estates.”

    Surprised to hear of Tory councillors giving time to leaflet social housing. My wife was approached by a Tory leaflet-er in Grafton Mews this week. “Excuse me, are these properties all social housing?” he asked. “Yes” my wife replied. Apparently he decided to skip those properties all together.

  3. Keith Sedgwick // May 21, 2014 at 12:45 am //

    Just for the record, the slogan in Gospel Oak was entirely of my creation. Yes, me, a person of colour whose parents are both immigrants and of African heritage.

    What annoyed me most at the time, and the reason I ever stood in the election, was the feeling that our ward was some sort of colony being presided over by an absent master. I remember watching at a distance, one of the Councillors roll up outside his surgery venue in his executive BMW, peer through his window to see an apparently empty waiting room, and then drive off. He then dared to be annoyed when I called his home to ask for him to return and carry out the surgery.

    Another Councillor would send his member support officer to do estate walk-abouts, rather than condescend to actually come an see what a dive it had been allowed to become by the local DHO.

    As for the third councillor, well she was practically invisible, but always seemed to exude patrician disdain when cornered and challenged about the state of affairs in our ward.

    In front of my home I had an established drugs market, where dealers carried out their trade with impunity, alcoholics scrapped with each other and urinated openly against the park fence, and gangs menacingly loitered, occasionally breaking into open warfare over the prized turf . The Police were ineffective and our Councillors even more so, given this was all taking place on Housing land. What should we have done, just shut up an put up with out lot? I stood and won that year, because if I hadn’t I would still have dealers, alcoholics and gangs in front of my home.

    The Camden Labour party seems to think it has a god-given right to rule in Camden and would rather slander anybody who challenges this right, rather than spare a second thought about the merits of their opponents and the criticism they offer.

    Oh, and another thing for the record, when I served alongside Fiona as a governor of Gospel Oak Primary, she never once raised the subject of the ‘racist’ campaign that had got me elected, to my brown face.

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