TO Manchester for the final leg of the New Journal autumn conference tour and we are up north with the Conservatives. I didn’t go to Doncaster to see UKIP as the party is still struggling to get a hold in north London politics and we wait with bated breath – don’t we? – to see if Magnus Nielsen will run yet again in next year’s London Assembly elections. Nor will I intrude on the Scottish nationalists next week, who are yet to win a seat at Camden Town Hall. [Insert what about Kilburn councillor Douglas Beattie? joke here].
On arrival in Manchester, we found our old friend Lord Andrew Adonis had given up the Labour whip to sit on the crossbenches, allowing him to work on an infrastructure committee with Chancellor George Osborne; a goody-goody gumdrops move for the supporters of the High Speed Two rail link, a project which counts Lord Adonis as a chief cheerleader.
There are a few things about Lord Adonis which I know grind the gears even among some Labour supporters back in NW1, and if he was to ever stop for a New Journal interview I’d be happy to publish his response. First, he has fronted up two hugely controversial projects, the rollout of academy schools which left education no longer entirely accountable to elected local authorities and proved divisive in lefty north London circles, and HS2, which is a scheme which threatens to smash an indiscriminate path through our bit of city. I know our bit sounds a bit NIMBYish, but the reality is that Camden does get a raw deal. As far as I’ve seen, Lord Adonis has never really talked about how the lives of residents and business owners will be affected, and all the while sits in the House of Lords with almost grim irony as the ‘Baron of Camden Town’. It is because of his thirst for HS2 which has made people question that choice of title.
And that’s another point which leads to teeth-rattling: here is a man who has had such an important role in the direction of government policy, first with New Labour and now it seems potentially with the Conservatives, without ever putting himself up for election to the public vote. Of course, governments and leaderships of all kinds have unelected advisers, but there always appeared to be a rather roughshod haste to elevate him to the front benches. There wasn’t even the inconvenience of a parachute landing into a safe parliamentary constituency. He was, as it goes, a campaigner in Jeremy Corbyn’s Islington North zone, but was airlifted out of parochial politics just as he was standing for the St George’s ward on Islington Council. These may seem like small points when there are giant railways to build and powerhouses to power, but back in Camden, the Baron’s own territory, there is a growing number of residents who would love a chance to buttonhole him.
YUP, JONNY IS STILL SLEEPING IN HIS CAR
THIS is the fourth year of this story, but Conservative councillor Jonny Bucknell says sleeping in his car during his time at conference instead of paying top dollar for city centre hotels has become a point of principle. Getting ready to pose in the back of his motor in a Manchester car park for The Sun newspaper, however, JB is still not happy. “They’ve put the prices,” he said. “You used to be able to park for £3 a night in the Boddington’s brewery car park – now it’s £12. It’s extortionate.” During conference, Jonny peels away from his colleagues come the midnight hour and nests down in his car. When he wakes, he showers at a nearby leisure centre. His point about the cost of conference being potentially prohibitive is fair, but you do worry for him sometimes.
THE MIKE GREENE MOMENT
A BLAST from the past, we ran into Mike Greene, the former Hampstead councillor, in the conference hotel corridors. He might have been in Manchester as an MP had he not been – to put it bluntly – royally mugged off in a selection contest in Bournemouth where he now lives and serves as a councillor. The full details are HERE if you want to step in a time machine back to 2008. He still has links to Hampstead and, having been a bit of a local personality, is still waved at if he walks down Heath Street. So, why didn’t he ever stand to be an MP in NW3? The timing wasn’t right in 2010, he tells me, thinking back to his relocation to the coast. As well as Chris Philp did in almost beating Labour, there are a few Conservatives who wonder whether Mike’s man for all seasons popularity could have secured the extra 42 votes which ultimately split Chris and Glenda Jackson. His friends also suggest his energy would have led to a better result this year against Tulip Siddiq too, so I asked him: What about 2020? ‘No,’ he said. ‘I think the moment for Hampstead has gone. I’m still on the party’s candidates list, but I’m in Bournemouth now.’ And what does he do at Bournemouth Town Hall? He’s in charge of parking, the same role he held in the Lib Dem and Conservative coalition which ran Camden from 2006-2010.
FLASHBACK: D-DOG IN 1982.
THE skinny-beans Hampstead and Kilburn Conservative agent David ‘D-Dog’ Douglas has been seen in a suit for two days in a row in Manchester!!! ‘Once was shocking enough,’ says a colleague, more used to seeing him in heavy metal t-shirts and a skeleton cycling jersey. It wasn’t always like that. A dig through the archives finds a stolen snap of the young David Douglas enthusiastically applauding Margaret Thatcher at conference in 1986. He has a Thatcher fanboy t-shirt on, and peers out from some willowy ginger locks.
MOVE WIV ME, CHANT WIV ME
IT was a hectic day for the police in Manchester city centre yesterday. At the barriers to the conference, hecklers screamed ‘Tory scum’ and tossed balls at people as they walked in. By the late afternoon, the scene had changed and the police, unlike earlier in the day, seemed to be outnumbering the demonstrators. They held the line resolutely as the mobile anarchist disco sparked up the Macarena and the young people of Manchester came out to dance.
OLIVER Cooper checks into a lefty AirBNB