SARAH Hayward’s joust in the Holborn and St Pancras selection contest has grown more interesting while I’ve been away on holiday. Since she became leader of Camden Council two years ago, she had told me more than a couple of times that she was not thinking of swapping the top job at the Town Hall for a quest to become an MP. In fact, she seemed to be quite irritated when the idea was teased in the New Journal’s diary column. No, no, no, not for me, she insisted. Wind back enough posts on this blog and you’ll find her tweeting: ‘Eh? Who says I want a seat?’ Of course, the answer to that was, a heap of gossipers were saying she wanted a seat – including some who are supporting her today.
It’s one thing saying these things to a stirring journalist, and another to her party colleagues. Those clutching her black-and-white promise – an email to members before her run to lead Camden in which she clearly said she would not be distracted by parliamentary opportunities – insist her tilt has begun on the shaky ground of a broken promise. “Tulip was always pretty brazen when she went for the council leadership against Sarah – she made no real attempt to hide the fact that what she really wanted was to become an MP,” says one councillor, referring to how ex-councillor Tulip Siddiq graduated to become the parliamentary candidate in Hampstead and Kilburn. “It was different with Sarah. She, after all, had been the one to challenge Nash.”
Sarah did the sensible thing and fronted out the ‘promise’ email at the start of her selection campaign – ‘sorry, was a mistake to say it’ – and last week, while I was sunning myself on the Costa Del Solent, her colleagues, the councillors, wrote to the New Journal in reasonably large numbers to support her push. The names of those that signed, most well-known Haywardites, were not a surprise but it was decent enough show of strength.
The instant reaction among doubters came in two parts: one, a gibe about how many of those who put their name to the letter did so because they would actually love Sarah to be the MP, departing Judd Street as she does, so they can have a run at being council leader themselves, and two, what rewards may lie in the future for those who support Sarah now, should she return to the Town Hall office, unsuccessful. Look at the names and pick future cabinets, is the advice from old guard Tulipistas.
Not so far-fetched but also open to sounding over cynical – and let’s again be clear that these are the views of those who oppose Sarah’s campaign.
In her favour, the broken promise email is now out of the way and many of those who received it seem to have no problem with her change of heart. There is also currency in taking the explanation she has given at face value, that when she wrote what she wrote, she meant it and that things change for all of us as life chances come and go.
The rarity of the opportunity was always going to be seductive. Everybody knows that the seat could be locked up for a generation by whoever wins the selection. It was this ‘when the moment comes’ factor, however, which always clouded how we saw Sarah’s insistence that she would not stand when the moment came in Holborn and St Pancras. And so it is that the shiny, big colours campaign website is up and running, and she is very much in the game. Her bid will cause a big splash if she can pip Raj Chada and the newspaper headline magnet Sir Keir Starmer and the others over the next couple of months. Win – and nobody will remember that email in the years, decades to come.