THE fall of the Liberal Democrats has been more noticeable in Camden, because here, before the national coalition with the Conservatives, they were doing so well electorally. They were the leading party on the council, Keith Moffitt was in charge, and genuine challengers in a three-way fight for the Hampstead and Kilburn parliamentary seat. But at every election since Nick Clegg’s handshake with David Cameron in the rose garden, another chunk of the base they had spent years building up in Camden has been dismantled, leaving just Flick Rea flying the flag at the Town Hall. A highlighting example of what has happened to the party more generally in the last eight years, Camden activists have a right to know what their leadership’s plan for the ‘fightback’ is. As they meet in Bournemouth this week, however, local hypnotherapist Zack Polanski looks the opposite of disconsolate. At the conference’s curtain-raising rally on Saturday evening, he was among clapping singers bursting out Ain’t No Mountain High Enough from the stage; see below.
Zack had stepped in for Jill Fraser at a fair few pre-election hustings in Holborn and St Pancras, and then offered himself up as the sacrificial lamb candidate in the Somers Town by-election. Now, he wants to stand for the party in the London elections. Before the singing, and clapping, he said he had spoken to 2,000 new members about their hopes and fears. “When Nick told the nation our party will come back, we will win again – it will take patience, resilience and grit, we said they are qualities we eat for breakfast,” he told conference.
TWO HOMES MIKE AND THE LIB DEM VERSION OF THE MANSION TAX
COMING back to Bournemouth feels a bit full circle for the Lib Dems in their rise-and-fall story. While in power with the Tories, it was big city venues for their conferences: Birmingham, Liverpool, Glasgow. Now, they are back at the seaside, where we last joined them in 2009, the conference before the coalition deal.
The town is also now home to well-known former Hampstead Conservative Mike Greene, who in comical circumstances tried to infiltrate a live radio show when the Lib Dems last came here. While it became a policy that the Labour Party was bashed with a lot this year, back then it was Nick Clegg who was having to defend the idea of a mansion tax, proposed by the Lib Dems to be charged on homes worth £1 million or more. As the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire took questions from an audience of around 200 at a conference hotel, Mike presented himself as an unemployed man looking for work. The ruse fell apart when Ed Fordham – then a parliamentary candidate for the Lib Dems – unmasked him as actually being a guy with two homes. “One of Mike’s questions was about honesty and he could have said he was a Conservative councillor. He asked about property tax. Sorry to hear about your unemployment problem. My advice would be to sell his second home in Hampstead – but he knows he’s going to hold onto it.”, said Ed, with a Poirot reveal which drew gasps and heckles.
The mansion tax, meanwhile, still appears a political danger in areas like the northern wards of Camden. Labour, locally, will be particularly interested in whether it becomes part of new leader Jeremy Corbyn’s plans for the future.
COUNCIL leader Sarah Hayward’s X-Factor tweets are back... Lib Dem Paul Braithwaite will be delighted.
A PEEK inside Flick Rea’s inbox: