IT was all very convivial over a glass of wine and mince pie at the Town Hall last night, as the council time-warped back a few spaces to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the borough by letting likes of Dame Jane Roberts, Dame Tessa Jowell, Frank, Dobson, big Phil Turner and co back into the chamber for a night of reminiscing. There they all were, watching a video of themselves talking about how wonderful being a councillor had been.
Amusingly enough, this apparent bonhomie at an event designed to celebrate a united love for the borough regardless of political allegiance could not completely conceal the needy wish among our politicians to permanently be settling scores or ensuring their achievements are not written out of a shared view of local history. It was as if, on this Monday evening, a victory from Camden’s political back story would never be remembered again if it did not go on the record here. In fact, the film we were shown was quite comical for its overt criticism of political rivals, or dripping with so much subtext it should come with annotated subtitles if ever shown again to the public.
Take Raj Chada, the hard luck case when telling the story of Camden’s leadership in recent years. When Dame Jane Roberts stood down as leader late in 2005, she left him with only six months to save Labour from a local election defeat. He was quickly swallowed up as Labour voters punished Tony Blair, largely due to their anger over the Iraq War, by either voting for the Lib Dems or not at all. So when Raj came to speak on the film about the highs of being a council leader, the thing we found him celebrating was the fact that sixth formers had walked out in protest at the war. Annotation here: I always said that war was a bad thing and because of it I wasn’t leader long enough to give you something else to describe as a ‘high’.
Pam Chesters, the former Conservative group leader, delighted in the fact that the Tories had helped convince Labour rebels to vote to save the libraries back in the day: “We won. It was a great night”. And Liberal Democrat Keith Moffitt, the leader of the partnership administration from 2006 to 2010, was not going to let the camera stop rolling before reminding us that a) his team saved the Prince of Wales Road Baths in Kentish Town from being shut down and sold off, and b) his council scored the best ever marks in the audit league tables.
On it went, until Frank Dobson, who graduated from the Town Hall ranks to a lifetime in Parliament, took to his feet. Instead of reaching for his big book of anecdotes – we didn’t even get his favourite one about Lena Jeger and the piss in the lift – he launched into what was more or less an assault on Conservative housing policy. The party had turned into a hustings.
It’s night like this all make you think, you can take the councillors out of council politics but…