GIVEN how long we’ve been banging on about it, it seems strange that Labour’s parliamentary selection contest in Holborn and St Pancras was only officially started by the party yesterday. Officials mapped out the schedule which will lead to a vote of constituency members on Saturday December 13. Only then will we know who has been chosen to follow in Frank Dobson’s footsteps. Those who have been watching and waiting must now show their hand and have until November 10 to join a race in which we have so far concentrated on a list of six potential candidates. It goes without saying that the seat is prized, safe Labour and inner London, and organisers are expecting the long-list to swell over the coming days.
But how did those who have already declared an interest respond to the doors of the contest finally opening?
SIR KEIR STARMER: Still seen as the man the leadership would like to see win – which could be a blessing or a curse right now – the former chief prosecutor got things started by releasing a leaflet which claimed more than 100 endorsers in his favour. We already knew that the likes of Doreen Lawrence, Fiona Millar and Ken Livingstone would be on there. But there’s David Miliband’s name in the ‘smallprint’ endorsers. His mug is not featured as a ‘pullquote’ on the leaflet, yet what he is says in his endorsement is interesting. Miliband (D) says Sir Keir is needed to help ‘rebuild the government’ but also to ‘build Labour’, a comment which was read by some members when it featured in today’s New Journal as intimating that he did not think his brother had yet to construct a battle-ready party for the challenges ahead. Anyhoo, Sir Keir’s rivals were a little taken aback by the ‘100 endorsers’ start. The response is that it simply proves that his team were working the ground before everybody else and, as one unimpressed member suggested, ‘surely before Frank had even announced he was going’.
RAJ CHADA: The former council leader’s backers say their man’s approach has been shrewd, talking to members directly rather than chasing high-profile endorsements from people who do not even have a vote in the constituency. There are many who like what he says, but the question mark has been whether he can bring his ideas to life. He is not a showy man, and it could be argued that he struggles to sell himself in a mist of self-depreciating jokes. To address this, and it’s a sensible tactic, he has released a personal campaign video to start the campaign. Here he gets to tell his story, where’s he coming from. There are some awkward hand movements and irritating background music. The chat with the street sweeper is a little cliched. But, you know, it’s not a bad effort given how turgid these kind of films usually are. Has he learned to market himself just at the right time?
SARAH HAYWARD: The wind was slightly taken out of Sarah’s day one endorsements, as Lord Chris Smith and Luciana Berger were probably not a match for Sir Keir’s booming list. But the good news for Sarah in that respect is that members seem to have had enough of the ‘arms race’ for endorsements and want more of a debate now. Just in time, her fight against a porn channel’s sex tour landed on the front page of the Ham and High, a free stage to stand up for women and to explain the council’s equalities and domestic violence work. It should be said that there remains a low key debate as to whether Camden Council’s approach to Rebecca More’s sex-with-competition-winners antics did little more than give the performer a heap of publicity that she would not have otherwise got, especially when it was not actually certain as to whether the tour was certain to reach the borough. Either way, the strong defence approach from Sarah looked bolder and braver, when you saw where taking a forthright position on an issue like this can get you personally: by the end of today Sarah had been trolled on Twitter with some mean photoshopping and tweets about her appearance. Councillors who back her are convinced she is getting though to members on these kind of stories.
PATRICK FRENCH: The swell for the UCLH consultant is around Highgate ward, which is handy for him given, combined with the neighbouring Kentish Town ward, it is said to make up around a third of the membership. One of his campaigners had been asked in passing a month ago why Patrick hadn’t been to a neighbour’s door yet, to which the answer was the contest had not officially begun. It was explained that others hadn’t been waiting as politely for the starting gun. So here’s a guy who will benefit from full access to the members list, as his challenge gathers a bit of steam, and a campaign website kicks in online. More national debates about the NHS would be timely for Patrick, where he can play as the frontline voice of experience. Note too that Highgate councillor Oliver Lewis is endorsing – his ward colleague Sally Gimson wants Sarah to win.
ANGELA POBER: One of the side-stories that come with this unpredictable contest is how NW6 voters who have just kicked out the Lib Dems feel about their new councillor declaring an interest in the south of the borough. If she was to win, Angela would presumably have to leave the West Hampstead council seat she’s just won, after just a year. Now, she is not tipped as one of the main favourites but once you’ve declared an interest, it doesn’t really matter whether you win or not in terms of the message you risk sending to those you are representing. Local blog West Hampstead Life has called her ‘The Lesser Spotted Pober’. Angela, however, is a confident councillor who obviously feels ready for big things – she applied for a cabinet post days after getting elected to the Town Hall earlier this year. And after not making the shortlist with her selection move in Hampstead and Kilburn last year, she clearly has a thick enough skin to come back in this bruising game. Her challenge will be to get talked about more – in a good way – and a get a chair at the hustings. There was a sense of that in a tweet this week in which she said: “Selection process to find Frank’s replacement was kicked off last night and fairness to all candidates was the key message from the Chair.”
THOMAS GARDINER: DAY one passed without a flashy website or a tweeted application, but the advantage Thomas Gardiner has is that he has a position which sets him apart from the others from the get-go, for he is seen as the markedly ‘left’ candidate. That’s where he has been on the council debates and has more than once challenged the leadership. He has not been parading endorsements in recent weeks, but Katherine Bligh, the chair of the Kilburn branch, did write to the CNJ backing him. One of the things to think about is how leftyness is judged within the Holborn and St Pancras constituency. Dobson is hugely popular, and is seen as a sound left-winger, certainly in his later parliamentary years. But when members were asked to vote for the overall leader of the Labour Party, more people in the branch supported the Blairite David Miliband, than the apparently union-seducing Ed Miliband. It’s complicated, huh?
IVANA BARTOLETTI: IT sounds a little odd to think that there could ever be a ‘women’s vote’ here, when all of the candidates want to be judged on their merits. But I’ve heard it said at least a dozen times over the last month that the successful candidate here should be a woman, that after 35 years of a man in the role, Labour should have posted its all-women’s shortlist here rather than in Hampstead and Kilburn. And yet not everybody who talks in these terms are automatically signed up to Sarah’s campaign. Ivana, despite not meeting Frank’s only criteria for his successor that they should be a Camden resident, has been talked about in this sense. Of course, not exclusively in that way, people like her bright energy in NHS campaigns, but it hangs in the air. She is another asking for a level playing field to challenge those considered the favourites. More hustings would work for that.
NORA MULREADY: One of the new faces for the declaration list that have come forward today, now the contest is open. She already claims David Lammy, the wannabe mayoral candidate who spoke to Holborn and St Pancras members on Tuesday night, as endorser. And, shows what I know too, Nora is also supported by Haringey Council leader Claire Kober, who I thought would have some council boss solidarity with Sarah’s campaign.