YOU could hear a few Camden Labour grumbles in the wind last week, all over the Evening Standard’s three page devotion to Sir Keir Starmer. These were the voices of the ABKs (anybody but Keir), who are concerned that the former chief prosecutor’s popularity in the higher echelons of the party will ultimately strip Holborn and St Pancras of a level playing field in the search to find a replacement for Frank Dobson.
The fact of life for them is that no other candidate in this saga will be able to secure such a spread in that paper.
You can’t blame him for it. You can’t expect Sir Keir to say to the ES newsdesk: No, no, no, I couldn’t possibly sit for an extensive interview, because you will not offer the same exposure to my competitors. It’s just not cricket.
But there it was, with the dashing headline: ‘Hot, ready, legal’. It was a piece which had Labour members, still bruised by the Standard’s support for Boris Johnson, joking that the paper had never been so kind to somebody with a Labour rosette. Others thoughts included the view that it paved the way for a backstop position by pushing Sir K into the frame for the London mayoralty himself, should things not pan out as his supporters hope in the south of Camden.
While members who will oppose Sir K in the final selection vote always expected a former chief prosecutor to claim column inches in the press beyond Camden’s borders, the gush factor was being monitored when they got to the final line: “…whether Starmer’s name will be on the ballot paper next May remains to be decided. But what seems certain is that a true champion of the underdog could be heading to Westminster if it is.” You can’t buy such press praise.
Yet if it is to be a battle for warm headlines, at least one of his big rivals for selection has found there is more than one way end up in the paper. Sarah Hayward, the council leader, is jousting to be the best placed ABK candidate ahead of shortlisting and is finding that her role at the Town Hall brings its own level of exposure.
Last week, the council press office sent out pictures to the local papers of her at the Camden In Bloom awards and then one of her handing keys to a tenant who had freed up a large council property by agreeing to downsize. There was also an invitation to photograph her at the release of council-commissioned report on private rent levels. You can file them with ones recently sent to us of Sarah congratulating A-level students on their exam grades.
All of this, it should be made clear, is not a rule break. Press officers were working to promote council initiatives (and successes), and it is not uncommon – whichever area you are in – to find local authority leaders in smiley press photos. It goes with the territory. When the papers came out on Thursday, however, Sarah’s face could be seen on three pages of the Hampstead and Highgate Express, for whom she also wrote an opinion piece on housing.
In the same edition of the H&H, we learned on that Camden Council’s own magazine, which the council increased the frequency of last year, usually carries the same number of pictures of her. “Pictures of Cllr Hayward appear on average three times per issue, often flanked by Labour colleagues,” the Heathman diary page revealed after totting up her exposure over the last ten issues.
On that note, it will be interesting to see if Sarah’s council work, and the press which can flow from it, can outflank the big interviews that Sir K can attract, and how the other candidates in the field – Raj, Thomas Gardiner, Patrick French, Ivana Bartoletti, Angela Pober and so on – will feel about it.