WE knew who would win from the moment the contest was called, but it was interesting that Labour were clearly unprepared to give an inch while defending Peter Brayshaw’s council seat at the St Pancras and Somers Town by-election.
The councillor who died just before Christmas would have been proud, although unsurprised, by the landslide result, which saw Paul Tomlinson claim the spoils on Thursday night with more than 1,400 votes.
Despite the inevitability of it all, the party seemed to put a bit of extra welly into the task. This was to some extent because it coincided with the momentum of parliamentary candidate Sir Keir Starmer’s campaign to hold Frank Dobson’s Holborn and St Pancras parliamentary seat.
Although Lib Dem opponent Jill Fraser was the source of a potential drinking game based on the number of times she used the word ‘local’ when she appeared on the Sunday Politics last week, the Labour knight’s team are keen for her what’s he done for Camden line to spread.
So, rarely a week goes by without one of his greatest fans, and as it happens a handy photographer, former councillor Robert Latham sending Facebook a picture of Sir Keir on the doorstep. As if to make doubly sure that we all understand there are no hard feelings over the selection contest which distracted us in the autumn, these more recently have often included a picture with group leader Sarah Hayward – like the one above, in which they sandwich Cllr Tomlinson with smiles.
The extra push in St Pancras and Somers Town, however, was not just about parading Sir Keir. It was, from a Labour view, a chance to put those pesky Greens in their place, following their loud delight at an increased membership and the ‘Green surge’ story of recent weeks.
In the claim for left-leaning voters, this was a chance to say: Green surge? What Green surge? And so it was: the third place finish for Tina Swasey was almost the first thing the Labour victors talked of; firstly because this was an easy to demonstrate slip, as the Greens had polled second in Somers Town less than a year ago. Then, more symbolically, because Tina had only managed bronze in the ward which her party leader Natalie Bennett calls home.
The Tories were of similar mind, digesting their 30 vote advantage over the Greens on the night as reassurance that they are not being outmuscled in what looks like a race for second place in Holborn and St Pancras, and deliberating on whether this was a humiliation in Natalie Bennett’s backyard or just a mere embarrassment in Natalie Bennett’s backyard. Whatever it was, it was in Natalie Bennett’s backyard.
And it was noted with scheming fox faces by the winners (and the Tories) that Natalie was not in the room when the votes were totted up. Where is she?, they gasped theatrically.
Even former Liberal Democrat council leader Keith Moffitt had made the effort to front up another wound for his party; it was the Lib Dems weakest ward but a by-election score below 100 is a contrast to the days when then these nights ended with the council’s marble staircases decorated with yellow diamonds.
Maybe the otherwise-engaged Natalie should have sent her lookalike impersonator to fill in, available for hire should you ever need a Natalie Bennett lookalike and appearing on the Buzzfeed laughter lists last week. Will Blair can’t say he has one of those.
More practically, she had speeches and newspaper interviews the following day and if she had crashed on air again, she would have faced questions as to why she had been up past midnight in the O’Neill’s bar the night before, picking over a by-election scoreline which everybody could have predicted beforehand.
And that’s where it all ended, four parties – UKIP didn’t bother with this one – mulling over success and defeat in four separate corners of the pub opposite the Town Hall.
In Labour’s corner, a bulge of happy faces, the talk of why Paul Tomlinson had been chosen for this plum assignment had been consigned to the past. There was no scandal in his selection, just some mutterings at the time that despite a commitment to having the most representative ruling group possible, the party had, to quote one grumbler, ‘replaced one older white man with another’. You can’t, as we’ve seen before, expect a safe seat pick in Camden’s Labour Party to go by without someone getting irritated, somewhere along the line.
Councillor Tomlinson, as he can now call himself, however, is not a man of a million enemies. He appears to have a fair mind and talks about wanting to help investigate Camden’s health inequalities. It’s not a bad starting point if his gentle tones can get heard among his 39 new colleagues at the Town Hall.