YOU can’t even pop down to Crouch End to buy some artisan sourdough and an overpriced coffee on a Saturday morning without bumping into Emily Thornberry. And Frank Dobson. And David Lammy, and Jeremy Corbyn, and Diane Abbott – and the writer Owen Jones to boot.
They were all there yesterday morning, outside Hornsey Town Hall, each taking a turn to attack Lynne Featherstone and offer sugary praise for Catherine West, the former Islington Council leader looking to be the next MP in Hornsey and Wood Green.
But what to make of this famous five? You looked at the line-up and if it did nothing else, it illustrated what the Lib Dems are up against in defending this precious seat next month. It’s not that the visit of a former health secretary, a couple of potential mayoral candidates, and so on spell trouble for Lynne Featherstone as individuals on their own, it’s the areas from which they come from and what they can offer to the contest in Haringey.
They are descending on Hornsey and Wood Green from neighbouring constituencies where the vote is pretty much locked up and assured for Labour. Corbyn and his branch colleagues can campaign wherever they want, and he will be returned in Islington North.
The same goes for Abbott’s gang, and there will be help on offer from Frank’s loyal muckers in Holborn and St Pancras, even if campaigners in the south of Camden are also being encouraged to also do shifts in Finchley and Golders Green. In 2010 it was different, Labour were being penned back by the Lib Dems in areas like Islington South but yesterday Thornberry could leave the back gate open. The days of looking over the shoulder for Bridget Fox are gone, and so she strolled over to Crouch End Broadway, carefree, to make it a 5-up.
She actually delivered quite a comical speech in which she shouted ‘where are ya Lynne? where are ya girl, where are ya?’ a lot. It was a little reminiscent of Delia Smith’s famous let’s-be-having-you address at Norwich City, without the hint of sherry. She ended with a warning that Labour had beaten the Lib Dems out of Islington – they don’t have a single councillor at a Town Hall they once ran there – and, adopting the same street tough voice, added ‘my people’ were coming over the borders to ‘beat ya here’ too. Scary, really. When I tweeted a short snippet of her speech, by the way, the hangover of you know what was in the air, with people grating over her use of the word ‘comrades’ in her final sentence. It doesn’t seem to bother her at all. She’s on a mission.
Frank, meanwhile, is proving dutiful to the end, racing off from this event not to watch the horse race but to help give Sir Keir Starmer a plug in a joint interview alongside his successor at Drummond Street curry house for a national newspaper. He’s been seen a lot more than Glenda Jackson in this last official tour before retirement, and has in fact told colleagues that he will not simply be disappearing once the election is won or lost and will be tying up loose ends rather than dumping barrowloads of casework onto the next MP in Holborn and St Pancras. Using familiarly robust language, which has long since stopped shocking anyone but all part of Dobb0-being-Dobbo, he called the Lib Dems ‘crap’ and self-righteous (mainly over student fees) before wandering off into a curious little speech about Usain Bolt, because Usain Bolt had thanked his coaches and trainers after winning gold medals at the London Olympics, and that Labour candidates had to show a similar recognition to the behind-the-scenes help of any success. Be like Bolt.
Then there was Lammy, oh David Lammy; entertaining, for every speech is delivered like he’s standing on an arc of history with a million men and women waiting at the gate. At the Whittington Hospital march, he once railed that if they were to close down the accident and emergency service, the management would find ‘a black man chained to the doors’, before crescendoing with a demand for ‘Arsenal fans to link arms with Tottenham fans across north London to save the hospital’. Here, he was in similar James Brown mode, almost beaten by tears that suddenly welled in his eyes as he recounted Catherine West’s rise to recognition and the struggles and survival of the Labour Party in north London, only to suddenly be back from his emotional haze to power home a shouty demand for victory.
They are, it is clear, ganging-up on Lynne from all sides, urging all hands to the deck for a Labour gain. The flipper is that she too will be able to command Liberal Democrat members from elsewhere to come to her constituency, and the central office-led campaign set pieces will go to her, rather than, say, Maajid Nawaz in Hampstead and Kilburn. This means that Labour’s Tulip Siddiq and to a certain extent Conservative Simon Marcus as well can hog the Hampstead copy and pictures in the New Journal and the Ham and High with a steady flow of well known visitors to the north of Camden, while Maajid comes across as one man band simply making sure the carousel keeps turning. Of course, it’s not just him in the fight there, but that’s the appearance the Lib Dems risk with an Operation Save Lynne. So far, you wouldn’t have thought that Nick Clegg kicked off his 2010 election campaign by cranking up the yellow battle bus in West Hampstead. He was last on patch in January and we had to argue to get a word with him. Similarly, the leader’s wife, Miriam Durantez Gonzalez, an asset to the Lib Dem cause, was a campaigner in NW6 last time, but was ‘doing her bit’ for Lynne when joining the team again this week.
The positive news for Lynne could be seen in nearby Middle Lane or the run up to Muswell Hill, where supporters have defiantly planted large orange diamonds outside their homes. And as much as the Labour opponents bunched around an upturned veg box stump, away from the shoppers and possible hecklers, and mocked her prominence in the coalition government, she is not beaten yet. Her success story is quite extraordinary over four elections in the same constituency: two losses, then two wins. In 1997, she was 25,000 votes behind Labour, and third below the Tories. There are lots of different reasons as to why votes changed hands over the years, but whatever they were, that is a heck of a deficit to turn around, and then gain two terms in Parliament from. If she survives this time, the Labour speakers amassed on Crouch End Broadway yesterday, heavy as a five, will feel the sting. She is clearly the ace of diamonds in their deck of target cards.